Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Samoan Christmas


Christmas in the U.S. is one of those monumental times. It is as if most of what we cherish is compacted into the holiday season. Christmas is an outpouring of generosity, love, and religious affirmation. It is hard to conceive a different Christmas than one’s own. Yet in Samoa, probably one of the most religious Christian nations on earth, Christmas seems very different.

Christmas is an important day here, too. Most of the churches have a Christmas Eve service, or one on Christmas Day. Catholics have both. However, with all the regular church services and daily prayer curfews, Christmas doesn’t have the religious fervor as in the U.S. It even seems muted and less attended in comparison to a regular Sunday service.

Christmas is the time for Samoan families to get together. Many Samoans living overseas visit their relatives now, probably because they can get time off and children are on break between school years. The roads become hazardous as foreigners in rented SUVs speed along the narrow and twisting roads. These alien visitors seem to always be in a hurry. Taxi drivers too rush to keep up with the bonanza of additional fares. What overseas relatives bring is cash and presents to replenish family members coffers. For Samoans, a relative living overseas is expected to help support those who live here.

There is little, if any, gift giving. White Sunday, the holiday for children in October, is the prime time for presents and new clothes. (I gave the children in our family Power Bars, sent to me by my daughter Teri. They were quickly eaten.) Some kids in other families got new plastic noise making submachine guns, a popular toy anywhere.

Christmas Eve is quiet and still. I mean really quiet. It is as if everyone is asleep or napping getting ready for midnight. Around 11:00 pm people begin to migrate to the road. In the distance is singing. As the sounds come closer, the music is from a group dressed in white shepard outfits. Later I find out the choir is made up a singers from all of Iva’s churches.

As for lights and decorations, a few houses have them. The village lights do blink on and off throughout the night due to several power failures caused by thunderstorms.

At midnight, one church rings its bell, people wish each other a Merry Christmas, air kiss one another on the cheek and head back to their homes to sit, talk, play cards, or go to sleep. I wait for the much rumored partying to begin. Alas, I can hear the clinking of a few beer bottles coming from dark places. Where is the all night partying and dancing in the streets? Maybe more is happening than I realize or I am not invited. Maybe the partying takes place on New Years.

At dawn on Christmas Day, people are out picking up the leaves which had fallen during the night before. They actually do this every day. It is still very quiet.

The storms during the night prevent my host family and me from going to the Catholic Christmas Eve service. They go to the Sunday morning service in another village. Not wanting people to think that without Mary I am on the road to perdition, I dress in my church outfit and walk across the village to the church du jour, this time the Assembly of God, only to find out they have only one Christmas service and that is on Christmas Eve. I hang my head in shame and walk back home. With this extra time, I make myself four cups of coffee and am juiced up for the rest of the day.

The big Christmas meal after returning from church has my favorites. There is a dish made up of fried pig’s lungs, heart, liver, and kidney with onion and laau pele (like spinach), another dish of chopped up chicken in a rice and noodle sauce, yet another dish of mutton flaps in a curried sauce with fresh green beans, and a side order of boiled breadfruit (see what you’re missing, Mary). In the Samoan tradition of reciprocity, I give the family a stick of imported Italian salami (hope you understand, Teri). Since we are always served first, with the best, and with more food than we can possibly eat. The uneaten portions are returned for the family children.

As the day progresses, volleyball games began in the hot sun; family members gather to be with each other. I bike to the Peace Corps office where I know I have access to the computer (no buses for the others to travel) to make this blog entry for anyone to read. It is now time to bike back and rest.

Wherever and with whomever you may be, may this holiday time be a reminder to the entire small planet we inhabit and the importance of one another.

Merry Christmas.

Home for Christmas


At midnight as Christmas Day begins, Mary’s once a week Air New Zealand flight leaves for the U.S. and a two week visit to see our children. She arrives 9:00 pm Christmas Day. There are three other Peace Corps Volunteers joining her on her leg to Los Angles. During her limited stay she is trying to use her time for our family. If she didn’t tell you she was coming, please don’t feel slighted. Triaging her time is hard. I thought it too soon to return after all the hardships of adjusting to life in Samoa. I also didn’t want to miss Christmas and New Years in Samoa.

The reaction by our host family to Mary leaving without me was unexpected. They had a hard time understanding why she was traveling alone and without me. They wanted to arrange a large gathering of relatives to escort her to the airport. It is what Samoans do. Mary did explain that in our culture it was permitted for a woman to travel alone. But one never knows what is lost in translation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Talent Show Photos


Sorry about these late photos of the talent contest. With 50 acts and poor lighting, it is hard to choose what photos to show.

Church Decorations

One of the 16 dance groups

Duet Contestants

Peace Corps Judges, Safyia and Jacob, with Samoan Judge

Just enjoying the show

Iva, Month Four, Progress Report


Along with all the extracurricular activities, we actually have a Peace Corps job, funded by your tax dollars. Here are some of the things we are doing.

Village Telecenter and Computer Training
Our request for a village telecenter was set back because there are no possible funds until at least next June. This means the telecenter is at least a year away.

Our efforts to use the unused computers for training at the local primary and secondary schools also have been disappointing. The principal at the primary school ask me to start training teachers. We set up a schedule of two hour sessions to begin the next week after classes ended. When I rode up on my bike the following Monday, I found the school building completely locked up and won’t be opened again until the end of January when classes start again. Likewise the large computer room at the secondary school isn’t available because no funds are available for electricity to run the air conditioning. Lessons for the school principal who has had a computer sitting on his desk unused for a year also are on hold.

If the schools are not more receptive to train their own teachers or open up to train Iva residents at the end of January, then we will have to find ways to turn up the heat.

Sewing Machines
Success! Our proposal for seven manual sewing machines was approved by New Zealand Aid. Mary went to Apia, got the check, and placed the order for them. They probably won’t arrive until the end of January. The administration is to be done by the Women’s Committee.

Iva does not have a place to store the machines or a place to do the training. The grant for the machines may now generate a new proposal to build a Women’s Committee House. Problems exist because there doesn’t seem to be any available land. Stay turned for our next major project.

Village Youth
The talent contest was our first attempt at trying to unite the village youth. What a roaring success. In fact, it has generated a sense of community and pride. New youth events are in the planning stage. A new series of talent contests modeled after American Idol with a resultant CD and a sports day are scheduled for the coming months. This bringing together youth from different churches and those who are considered losers has been tremendously gratifying for Mary and me. When you hear from other villages and from Apia talk about the talent show, our lava lavas almost come off.

Demonstration Garden
Suddenly my little personal garden is turning into a project with the Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry is hoping to encourage villagers to start their own backyard gardens to improve nutrition and to earn extra money. They say they are providing me with seeds and fertilizer. Samoans love vegetables, but seem reluctant to grow them.

I plan to expand the size of my garden after the holidays. It is nice to see villagers look into the garden and start to ask questions. I know that the first step is getting people curious. I might also start a nursery garden to grow seeds.

I am so proud of my cabbages. You would love them too.

Health Issues
As Mary is finding out, trying to cure the baby of scabies in our host family’s compound, tackling health issues is more than just providing medicine and a caring manner. Despite all of Mary’s earlier efforts, the baby’s scabies has reverted back to the original state.

Each issue or project undertaken leads us into new territory. As long as we continue to have the support of village leaders, we shall continue to gently push the agenda. What we are finding is that even the seemingly simplest projects have unknown cultural caveats

A Samoan Wedding


Iva’s much anticipated event of the year took place today, the wedding of the pastor’s daughter at the largest church in the village. The pastor’s family is also thought to be the richest. Hundreds of guests, many from New Zealand, the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Health, and we attended the gala affair.

Like other events of this magnitude, the bride and the groom knew almost no one. In fact, they have lived in New Zealand for most of their lives. No one we talked to had the remotest connection to the couple. But, weddings have always been statements. A Samoan wedding is no different.

For those into statistics, there were 40 attendants: 18 bride grooms, 18 bride’s maids, 2 ring bearers, and two flower girls. Five different ministers spoke during the ceremony. The choirs filled a quarter of the church with people and overflowed with the most marvelous music this side of heaven. White was the color of the day. All the pews covered in white linen, the choirs, and of course the bride.

The bride, probably the slimmest she is ever going to be, came down the aisle at about 250 pounds, the groom slightly less. The actual ceremony followed a familiar pattern. The signing of the marriage documents done as part of the ceremony was something new and very nice. No unity candle. The ministers spoke in Samoan about the importance of God as being foremost in their lives with sub themes of serving God and procreating. I think the bride and groom are lawyers.

The reception just blew us away. There was more food to eat then you can imagine a speech by the best man, no kissing, and of course, NO ALCOHOL. Pepto Bismo served to finish our dining.

The cake or I should say multiple tiers of cakes filled center stage. We couldn’t see the entire array of layers. Women fanned the cakes to keep the flies away. Yes, there was the traditional cutting of the cake with photographers trying to capture the moment and blocking the view. Whole tiers of cake were given to special guests. More than enough cake for everyone. As for the cake itself, it was like a Cuban Spice cake, filled with fruit. The ice cream was passion fruit.

What is truly Samoan is that the guests are the ones who receive the gifts, rather than visa versa. For well over an hour, there was an endless stream of fine mats, cases of corned beef, and money emerging from a tent behind us. Helpers ran helter skelter as fast as they could carry gifts. Oh yes, there was a freshly slaughtered cow, too. Truly amazing. We wondered if the gift giving would ever end and whether we would get any of the booty.

No guest leaves without something. We got a huge turkey baking pan filled with lobster, fish, and many other meats. We got to keep the ceramic platter as a party favor (Saves washing dishes; Mary’s initial concern)

There was some confusion about the water glasses. Some thought you could take them; others not. The ayes soon started taking the glasses. As we walked home with our tray, platter and glasses, a village matai offered to carry our tray, so we won’t have to in the heat. He spotted the glasses and told us we should not have taken them. After helping us home, he took our two glasses. Now someone will have to wash them.

There was a veil of sadness over the wedding. The bride’s father, pastor of the church for 34 years, died three days before. However, his wife never missed a beat as she conducted the choirs and filled in for her husband. The funeral is scheduled for next Wednesday. In Samoa, funerals are even bigger events than weddings.

The Ceremony

The Cake

Our Gift

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas in a Strange Land


Christmas is the time of year and time of life most filled with deep traditions. People go to great length to rekindle those traditions. Each year they make a certain cookie, hang an old ornament, and travel to be with others with whom they share a common history. It is a time of belonging.

Christmas in a strange land reemphasises the distance you are from your roots and from where you belong. You need to reconcile that you are an outsider looking in on what others hold dear and treasure. As much as you may try to bake that cookie, remember that ornament, you are still thousands of miles away.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mary’s New Laundromat

Mary got a new washing machine.
This hard-to-get bucket is her pride and joy.
She never has to call a repairman.

Mayor’s Bonus


An unfamiliar pickup truck pulled into our, the mayor’s, compound. The people deposited a large pig in front of his house, and then drove off. The mayor was out of town.

In Samoa, if someone else’s pig roams into your garden, you can shot the pig and keep it. Instead of keeping the pig, the aggrieved party gave it to the mayor, a neutral party; to either not let the neighbors know what happened to their pig or to show the pig was not shot for selfish reasons. I’m not sure which. It may be something else all together. Anyway tonight we dine on roast pig.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our Garden


Like many things happening to us in Samoa, we never know what word or action may trigger something beyond what we originally thought. Neither of us is aware as to how we actually got a garden or just how big it may become.

It started with a branch from a flowering shrub being stuck in the ground. A few days later our entire host family appeared and began clearing the land out side our house for flowers. Then a fence was constructed encompassing an even larger area for vegetables. I then got involved by clearing that area of grass and rocks. Before long they gave us bean seeds and cabbage sprouts.

Not knowing anything about tropical gardening, I went to the Department of Agriculture to see if they had some literature. The next day they sent out the head person on Savaii to see my garden plot. Now I am developing a demonstration garden for them, and they are to provide me with hard to get seeds. It seems people here do not have family gardens and just the fact that I have something planted gets the Department of Agriculture excited.

What is happening? People are not coming to see my cabbages. They are becoming curious as to what I am doing. I am now considered an information source for tropical gardening. It is amazing that in an agricultural country people don’t grow vegetables. I wonder if hemp, cocoa, and poppies can grow in this soil?

Just stick a branch in the ground. Presto, you have a flowering shrub.

Our host family starting the garden plot.

Mary helping our host mother.

No, they are not turtles.
Coconut husks protecting seedlings from the enemy, the sun.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Samoan Tale


It is said that Polynesians can only truly love something after they have ruined it. Here is my paraphrasing of a story by Epeli Hau’ofa from his “Tales from the Tikongs”.

An English volunteer was working in an office when he asked his Samoan boss,
“I say, where is everyone?”
“At the feast”
“What feast, may I ask?”
“A family feast”
“Do you mean to say everyone has gone to a family feast during working hours?”

The Samoan boss pretended not to hear. This is the most effective way Samoans have in dealing with nosey foreigners.

The Englishman asked,
“ Where are all the department vehicles? I suppose they have also gone to the feast.”
“That’s right”
“But department vehicles have nothing to do with a private family feast”

Speechless, impotent, and utterly indignant the Englishman stalked out, went home, and drank a bottle of whiskey. Over his next year of service, his health continued to deteriorate until he became a sick, old looking man. His Samoan boss loved him.

On the Englishman’s final day, a huge feast, lasting nine hours, was given in his honor, complete with prayers and speeches. He got even sicker and miserable as he said his farewells. He died on his flight home. He became forever revered by his boss and fellow Samoan workers.

The Englishman’s Peace Corps replacement turned out to be a hopeless case. Coming from a growth-crazed society he refused to be affected by anything around him. He decided to outdo the Samoans at their own game. If they used a department vehicle once a day, he would use it twice. If they called in sick twice every week, he would call four times. When he heard other foreigners decrying the rampant Samoan corruption and nepotism, the Peace Corps Volunteer merely said, “So, what else is new in the world?”
Since his Samoan boss could not drive him into self-righteousness and hence into early old age, he was heartily despised.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Witnessing a Traditional Healer


The baby with scabies living with our host family is almost one year old. Ever since we have been in Iva, he has been sick. Mary’s attempts to provide medicine to treat the scabies and recurring infections by taking the baby to the hospital have met with mixed results. In addition to the above ailments, the baby has developed high fever, swollen throat glands, isn’t eating, and coughs up mucus. It seems the family has lost faith in western medicine. At the advice of a local town woman whose baby just died two weeks ago saying that if she had taken her baby sooner to the taulesea (traditional healer) the baby would have lived, the family decided on a traditional healer..

The baby was taken to home of a very poor woman in her late 30’s with four small children. Mary went with six other family members. The healer asked our host family to bring a certain fruit which grows in a distant village and some chicken feathers.

The treatment consisted of first massaging the baby with oil hard on the cheeks and throat, proceeding down the sternum. The child’s teeth and gums were then rubbed with a cloth. The chicken feathers were dipped into the unknown juice and forcing the child’s mouth open to swab the inside of the throat. The child cried most of the time, vomiting after each swabbing. The procedure ended with wiping the mouth.

The idea of choosing traditional medicine over western medicine was difficult for Mary to endure. Yet, the faith you place in what healing techniques work is at the heart of any medical practice.

Mary is using all the strength she has to resist forcibly taking the baby to a western doctor.

Fine Mats on Parade


Fine Mats on Parade

Drums beating, women shouting, a parade went down the village road. The Women’s Committee were displaying their fine mats. These mats were also shown to Samoa’s Head of State, along with mats from other Savaii villages the prior weekend.

Fine mats are like money. They are usually given as gifts at very special occasions. Each mat requires hundreds of hours of painstaking labor to make. Mat making is a traditional Samoan skill much treasured. There are great attempts to maintain this skill among the younger women.

The Women’s Committee has set a goal for every family in the village to make at least five sleeping mats or be fined. Sleeping mats are of a much lesser quality, but still need to be hand made. As the Christmas deadline approaches families are busy weaving. Like other places, many wait to the last minute.

Iva Talent Contest


Some events are beyond description. You just have to experience it to get any grasp as to what happened. Miracles fall into this category for not only are they unexplainable, but have no logical explanation how they took place. The Iva Talent Contest was just such an occurrence.

The two days of rain stopped, over 50 acts put on four continuous hours of show until 11:30 pm, each act more amazing than the one before, no rehearsals, no run through, no technical problems, hundreds of spectators covering every patch of ground within eye sight and ear shot of the church step stage, emcees, judges, decorators, fund raisers, old and young, straight and gay, from all of the village’s six churches, everyone together to show their talents and make a statement to those doubters of the abilities of the village youth.

The first time ever village wide event is a major step in having the youth feel they are an important part of the community and when given the opportunity are a resource for the future development of Iva.

Peace Corps Helpers
Renee Moog, Nick, Safiya Mitchell, Paul Sylvester, Jacob Burney

Hopefully more photos coming.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Iva Talent Contest: Asides


There are too many occurrences challenging our way of thinking to list, but here are a few you might enjoy reading.

“The Sound of Music”- What a beautiful thing to experience as you listen to different groups practicing for the talent contest. The groups usually consist of mixed ages and gender. The joy they get out of signing and dancing is better than Julie Andrews on a mountaintop.

“Don’t tell them the rules”- If the contestants know what the rules are, they may change their performances.

“We have only $300 for prizes and need $1,200”- No problem, the mayor and an associate went off to Apia to collect money from villagers with jobs.

“What you cancelled a talent category that we have been practicing for a week?”- Don’t worry, we just add those groups to another.

“Do you know what that recorded sound is?”- It is a train whistle on the CD. I showed them the motion to pull the whistle chain. Big hit. Samoan’s may have never seen a train, but they sure know how to pull one’s chain.

Iva Talent Contest: Run-Up


It began about two months ago as a suggested way to have Iva youth feel a part of the village and has turned into a 50 act talent contest to be held December 8th. What is amazing about this first ever attempt to do such a thing is to view the developmental process via Mary’s and my western eyes.

There have been a number of meetings, none of which have started when stated, many of which participants are not aware, no agendas, and almost all of which is spoken in Samoan; yet, somehow participants register, prize money is collected, lights and sound systems are arranged, decorations planned, emcees appointed, and guests housed.

Our reactions are predictable. Mary’s concern is for the people who sit and wait for the others to appear. She also worries about where our guests are going to sleep? What are they to eat? I worry about how it is possible to schedule 50 acts within a 2 ½ hour program.

Our Samoan friends say “Aua Popole” and “Onasai” which mean Don’t Worry and Be Patient in Samoan. Of course, they know what they are doing and we…well, they are taking us along for the ride. What a wild trip it is!

Chicken Polygamy


Top Cock

Living among chickens and being somewhat an observer, I noticed certain patterns of behavior amongst my avian friends.

Being a rooster is a full-time job. He not only has to covet his hens from other roosters who want to mate and kidnap them, but he has to protect his feeding grounds from others.
His job begins in the middle of the night while still in his tree roost, by crowing to other roosters that he is on guard and ready to claw the breast of any intruders. As he roams around with his harem during the day scratching up bugs for the hens, he must keep them close by. Those hens who wander off are promptly screwed and given a peck on the head.

The top rooster currently has six hens. I really don’t know how he does it or how long he can keep it up. I think he began with two hens just a couple of weeks ago. Since there should be a 50-50 split between hens and roosters, I wonder what has happened to the other roosters. Maybe I am eating one now!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cerebral Wrestling


The Peace Corps experience puts you in a place and gives you the time to do a lot of thinking. Few of us are prepared to meet our own thoughts and difficult questions our brains ask us.

Some wrestle with questions of did they make the right choice, some with is their time here going to make a difference, and others with life in an autocratic-theocratic society. For me, the main mental struggle is how can I, a person of immense relative wealth, integrate into a primarily subsistence economy?

Here I sit, in a room with a propane gas stove, electric refrigerator, a mountain bike chained out side, all of which magically appeared, drinking a cup of coffee with a pen in my hand writing on a pad of paper to be transcribed onto a computer to be posted on the internet, watching children dangerously climbing a mango tree to get their breakfast. It seems what I require for subsistence living can only be attained in a dream by many around me. Yet there is a peace in their lives.

A family boy is able to create beautiful Samoan designs on cloth. The final products of beauty are given to others because beauty and his talents are to be shared. I now enter the picture providing money to buy more cloth, t-shirts, and inks in hopes of selling these items for money that the family desperately needs. What am I doing? Am I turning a thing of beauty and love into a commercial commodity for tourists? Am I inadvertently forcing my way of life on him? What does he think of me?

Those who contemplate joining the Peace Corps or a similar endeavor should be prepared. The struggles of climate, hygiene, language, and food pale in comparison to the wrestling match you are to face with your own values and way of life.

Kipi vs. Keepy


There are certain dangers when you hear a Samoan word that sounds like it could be an English word then assume they mean the same thing.

Our host father was going to cut back a flowering tree at the rear of our house to make room for a fence to keep out pigs and chickens from our new garden. Mary was standing by to give her opinion as to how much he should cut back. He grabbed a branch to cut and asked her “kipi”? Mary said, “No”. He took another branch and asked “kipi” again. Mary said, “No”, again. Now both seemed to be getting irritated with each other with each branch selected, when I realized what the problem was.

Mary thought he was saying “keep” in broken English while he was saying “kipi” in Samoan which means “to cut”. We all had a laugh, learning a little bit more about each other. (Samoan “I” sounds like a long English “e”.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Sixty Sixth Birthday


What, Me Worry?

Some birthdays are just more important than others. No one can question the significance of one’s first birthday, which undeniably is the most grand. Other birthdays also have a place of honor in the pantheon of anniversaries. The sixteenth puts you into a car, solo, the eighteenth in a casino, the twenty first into a bar, and the sixty fifth on social security.

The mystical birthdays are created by the numbers of your age. The highest order of mystical years is 1, 11, 88, and 111. You can manipulate these numbers any way you want and your age remains the same. The next order is 66 and 99. You can move these numbers about and you still have an age, albeit not necessarily the age with which you started, i.e. 66 can become 99, 69, or 96. The rest of your birthdays really don’t count for much, except maybe 100 because of the third digit.

So today I enter the mystical second order of my 66th year. I am happy to have reached it; I plan to enjoy every moment of it; I know it was a long time since the last mystical year of 11; and I look forward to 88. I also realize the date, November 28th, lasts longer in Samoa than in any other time zone. Time to party!

Culture Day, Iva Primary School


During the last week of the Samoan school year, all kinds of activities take place. Most parents of primary school children can relate to a program put on by the school, featuring the students. In Iva it is Culture Day.

The students are divided into four groups of mixed ages. They perform traditional Samoan songs and dances. Each group has their own costume. It is a contest with judges as the groups compete against one another in different categories.

One can’t help but be impressed with how Samoan customs are maintained and propagated, nor of the talents these young people possess.

Yes, there are lots of digital cameras and camcorders as parents record their own child’s performance. Will these moments end up in the stored photographs, 8mm movie, VCR bins of the future?

Iva, Month Three, Progress Report


This month has been a healthy one for us, just some minor skin and tooth problems. The baby who has been suffering from scabies and resultant infection has responded to medicines, but seems to be slipping back as to medicines used. It is hard to know when to voice an opinion on children’s health issues and when not.

A lot of the past month has been devoted to getting stuff for our kitchen. We have a propane cook top and refrigerator that we bought in Apia. The Peace Corps staff has been great in trucking it out to our island. Finding cooking utensils and food we commonly use is difficult, especially on Savaii. The search for a colander continues.

There was a required meeting for all Peace Corps volunteers. It was an opportunity for various staff members to make their annual reports, a love fest where staff tells the volunteers how great we are and visa versa. Gifts are exchanged to cement the relationship. New comers are welcomed into the fold.

Here are portions from staff reports:
Country Director- She reported the Samoa met the new accounting guidelines required by the federal government. The staff has been working on this the past year. We are all under a very tight budget of 1.9 million dollars U.S. for the 60 Samoan volunteers. As a result, we have to buy our own toilet paper and trash bags for our Savaii office.

Health Officer- She jubilantly reported that Samoan volunteers had zero pregnancies and STD cases for the past year, the lowest in the Oceanic Region. Kiribati headed the list in both categories. Just why Samoa is so low wasn’t explained. Neither was the reason why we have 10 cases of dengue fever reported so far this year against 4 for the entire year before.

Safety & Security- He reported so many facts and averages, I don’t know whether to feel safe or scared. We need to always need to keep our vigilance and report every crime observed. I don’t know whether he mentioned a terrorist threat or not.

There were other reports, games for five year olds which we played, and bland pizza for lunch. Of course the best presentations were done by the volunteers themselves. Dylan Ryder’s excellent closing video marked the end of the day.

Mary and I, as well as most of the Savaii group, skipped the Thanksgiving meal to be held the next day (Nov 17th) at the US Embassy. The food was paid for a prepared entirely by Peace Corps volunteers, out of our monthly allotment, to feed Peace Corps staff, guests, and US officials. As you can see, everyone is suffering from tight budgets.

And now, for what we actually came here to do:

Village Computer/Telecenter
Our request has yet to be reviewed by the Ministry of Communications. This is a major request and probably will take a while to work itself through channels. In the meantime, village residents think this is a done deal and so we try to lower expectations.

Sewing Machines
New Zealand Aid to whom we submitted the proposal said we should know withn the next two weeks. Our fingers are crossed.

Village Youth/Talent Contest
What started out as an idea to get unemployed village youth (can be up to 50 years old) to participate in an organized event has mushroomed into a village wide talent contest to be held on December 8th. This event has consumed most of our time.

Teaching Computers at Local Schools
Not much has happened at the Mataaevavae High School because of year end tests and the death of the principal’s father. However, we will probably start working with the high school after the end of the school year on November 30th.

In the meantime, a used computer has been delivered to Iva’s primary school. The teachers are really excited to learn how to use it. We start classes on December 2nd.

We have gone from waiting for something to happen to a period of really being busy with these schools and the talent contest.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Samoan Thanksgiving


The only people with a Thanksgiving Day vacation are the Peace Corps office staff. For the rest of us, it is another day, but with a big difference.

Back home relatives are gathering to enjoy one another and stuff themselves with morsels I can only imagine. Maybe they may even talk about Mary and me; say how strange it is that we are not at the table, as they chomp down on a turkey drumstick. They can only imagine what it is like to be living in such a different place, whereas we know what they are experiencing.

Please, no sympathy tears. Just be thankful for the overabundance of what even the poorest of us have.

A Day with Amos


Amos Cruz is a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching computers at Amoa Secondary School in Saipipi, Savaii. He extended his stay for a third year. He is the computer guru of Savaii who has taken his Peace Corps job beyond his own school and classroom. Besides his establishing the premier computer facility on Savaii, he has purchased with his own money twenty used computers from New Zeeland and is distributing them to public schools on Savaii, including the primary school in Iva. For most of the schools, this is their first computer.

I don’t know much about Amos personally, except he seems to be the quiet athletic type who is very dedicated to his work. I can sense the near panic state as he distributes the computers with only a few weeks left before he returns to the U.S. When he boards the plane for the midnight return trip home, I imagine if he wonders what the future fate of his classroom and computers is. Will his efforts produce the results he has worked so hard to germinate? But, this is the question that haunts many in the Peace Corps. Hopefully, he finds comfort that his example has inspired me. He has set an excellent example those about what being in the Peace Corps represents.

Amos in His Classroom

Amos's Keyboard Chart (I plan to copy it)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mary's Kitchen


Mary's New Kitchen

Tonight Mary cooked her first meal in her new Samoan kitchen. It has taken three months in Iva to collect the necessary food items, stove, refrigerator, pot, wok, and for me to get over my adversity to being too palangi. We had goulash.

A crowd gathered around her, watching every movement as she explained ground beef, tomato sauce, and elbow macaroni. Odors never before experiences rose from Mary’s kitchen. They all wanted to taste this strange food. They liked it! Can stir fry be next?

The Blues


We all know that life has its ups and downs. We somehow accept the ups as natural and the downs as treatable. A huge segment of western society is based on eliminating, alleviating, and curing the blues. Yet deigning the blues is deigning what makes us human. The blues suck and now I have them.

I ask myself why am I in this state. My projects are going great, I love Samoa and its people, my co-volunteers are wonderful, my wife is supportive, and I don’t even have any issues with the Peace Corps Administrators. There is no apparent reason for my mental condition.

Past bouts with the blues have lead me to seek its causes in others and outside of myself. This process gives me temporary relief and a superior feeling of blaming others. It is a quick fix but doesn’t guarantee the recurrence of the blues.

This morning I looked in the mirror. There starring at me was the source of my blues. Me. How could I be so stupid not to realize my blues are simply the readjustment of my expectations with the reality of my situation?

To eliminate the blues I would have to forgo expectations or even worse reality! I somehow have to come to grips with the fact that my wishes may not come true. I have to learn from my Samoan villagers to accept the downs of life on fate as I would accept life’s gifts. I need to smell the flowers around my house, make a lei of them, and give it to someone else. I need to step back, create new expectations and be ready to accept my fallibility whenever my expectations clash with oncoming reality.

Let the blues come. I don’t like you, but I know that the crest follows the trough. I want to enjoy the thrill of rough seas.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Our First Village Presentation


Last month we threw out the idea of a village talent contest for village youth (mainly idle young adults) as a way to get them organized and for them to feel part of the village. Our village Peace Corps Committee thought it was a great idea. We thought they said, “Go to it”.

Later we were told any such event would need the approval of the village council of matais. We waited for their monthly meeting. We were coached by others in the village on how to advise the mayor as the best way to present our case. We had both the highest chief of the village and the mayor’s support, but in politics you never are quite sure how things turn out. The decision of the council was to expand the event to include everyone in the village from 10 year olds on up, including themselves.

During the evening, the President of the Women’s Committee and our primary translator said she would not be able to attend our presentation of the event to the village the next afternoon at 4 o’clock the next afternoon. “What meeting?” We said. “Who called the presentation at that time?” “Didn’t you hear the horn blow to announce it?” Surprise! Surprise! Dido for our backup translator who informed us she would be gone too. “Don’t worry”, they said.

The next day we prepared flip charts for our presentation. We rehearsed what few Samoan phrases we knew, dress appropriately, and nervously awaited 4 o’clock. “Don’t worry”, the mayor said, “Samoans won’t come to a 4 o’clock meeting until 4:30”. We sat in the giant village committee house waiting. No one showed at 4:30. Village life continued as usual.

The mayor started getting nervous. He sent out a boy to blow the Conch shell horn to remind the village of the meeting. He went across the road to stop youths from playing volleyball. Still no one came.

The President of the Women’s Committee appeared and so did our backup translator. Still no one.

Then as is by magic people started to arrive. I don’t know from where. Before long there were about 40 people mostly late teens and early twenties, sitting quietly on the floor facing our flipcharts. Show Time!

The mayor said he would introduce us to the group. After a 10 minute introduction in Samoan, I thought he said most of what I was going to say. No problem.

I surprised the group by getting them involved with a couple of clap games I learned in training. Being on a roll, I got everyone doing an ice breaker game where people cross their hands in a circle, then try to unscramble themselves. It was a hit. I was hot.
I started my presentation looking out at an expressionless group. Nothing. No response.
Finally in desperation, I asked if anyone wanted to have a talent show. They all burst out with an emphatic “Yes”, followed by the same silence.

Mary also addressed the group about why we were happy to be in Samoa and especially the people of Iva. Went over well.

All the details, like place, who is going to perform, money, etc have yet to be worked out.
But stay tuned. The talent show is scheduled for December 1. Delete that. Make it December 8. Stay tuned, stay flexible, and don’t worry.

So far the only act is me doing a fire dance.

Why People Eat Ants


I have read about people eating ants, but until now I didn’t have the faintest idea why. Now I know.

Ants in the tropics are everywhere. They seem to even get into the tightest containers. After a while you begin to assume that ants are a natural part of your food. So why not eat them too? Let them suffer the agony of death by stomach acid.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mango Season


My two favorite fruits are peaches and mangos. Peaches get a slight nod because they are sexier, but taste wise it is a toss up. It is now mango season in Samoa. I want it to go on forever.

Competition for mangos is keen. Flying foxes devour them at night. Children climb up into the mango trees or knock them down with stones. The gigantic mango tree on our neighbor’s property and next to our house is protected by two fierce dogs. Undeterred by fear of heights or sharpness of fang, I am grateful to those children who bravely bring me these succulent treasures.

Assembly of God Church (AOG)


The AOG Pentecostal church in Iva is the most western and approachable of the village churches. The AOG church was founded in Tennessee and hosts a steady progression of people from the US. Also its evangelical format makes it the most involved church within the village. The Iva AOG church has out reach programs to everyone and has a resident bible school of troubled youth. The pastor is a vigorous man who speaks excellent English. He happened to be in the doctor’s office when Mary was sick and blessed her.

The church service itself mirrors AOG churches in the US. It has upbeat music with choir, band, drums, etc. Words to the hymns are projected on a screen. There is a period when people speak in tongues. Church goers knell at the alter and the power of the Holy Spirit is passed through the pastor.

He message seems to address the immediate problems people face. The belief the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer can alleviate suffering now rather than just in the afterlife is particularly appealing to youth send to the less established member of the village. I don’t know what percentage of Samoans attend the AOG church. It is one of the more recent churches in Samoa.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Food Adaptability


Nothing binds us more closely to our native culture than food. Nothing is more difficult to adapt to than the foods of another culture. Nothing prepares you for the gastronomical chasm you face when you live in a different world.

Talking about cooking, obtaining, and eating palangi (white people) food is the major obsession for many in the Peace Corps. Who has an oven or stove, who lives near a store that sells cheese, who comes into Apia or lives in Apia near a supermarket, who eats with the host family, and prepares their own meals all define the levels at which we are integrating into our new way of life.

Mary and I are currently at a food divide. Mary just can’t eat Samoan food (She is not alone in this aspect) while it doesn’t bother me. Our host family who normally brings us food for every meal is confused about what they are to do about our meals. We sometimes fix instant soup or peanut butter sandwiches when no food seems coming, only to be brought food later, or we sit waiting a meal and none appears.

To survive and preserve our own relationship, we have purchased a propane gas stove and soon to buy a refrigerator and cooking utensils. The next challenge is to find food on this island we can eat to cook.

I can tell those who frequent ethnic restaurants and think they can eat anything, don’t be too boastful. We were there once too.

Pulling Teeth


There is a group of three dentists from Portland, Oregon who have set up a free dental clinic at the local Assembly of God church. This group has been putting in long hours this past week giving much needed dental care to over 300 villagers. They have my admiration and are planning to return in about nine months with their families and equipment. Until then they have to work with only manual dental tools. The three procedures they perform are: 1) showing people how to brush and floss, 2) clean and scrape plaque, and 3) pull teeth.

As I watched them pull teeth from pretty young girls, I could feel both their admiration about their Samoan patients who never complained, never showed pain, and accepted their fate. You can see their desire to teach dental hygiene and the destructive effects of sugared drinks. Their gallant efforts to bring relief to some is against the immense backdrop of poverty which limits getting a toothbrush or floss and seeking care until the only remedy left is pulling teeth.
Scenes from a Samoan Dental Clinic

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Visiting Julya, Jan & Ray, and Catlin

Today I joined Julya Steyh, her visiting father, Ed, along with Jan Ott for a bike ride around their villages. It is fun to see where other volunteers live.

Julya is finishing her stay as a computer teacher this December. Her father is visiting for the second time from Seattle. His first visit was with his wife.

Jan and Ray Ott have been here for over a year and are on similar village development program as Mary and I. Jan is active teaching farmers how to castrate cattle and poultry training while Ray is helping teach wood working at the local school. He concentrates on those boys who will not go on to the university. Both have been Peace Corps Volunteers before in Morocco from 1981-83.

I also stopped at Catlin’s village. She is paret of my Group 78. She is working to build a pre-school and getting pig fencing for the village. She also is filling in for a non-existant fifth grade teacher every day. Her new dog is "PoPo".

It has been my longest bike ride to date. I can attest to the power of the tropical sun. Thank goodness, November 1 is a national holiday, Arbor Day. Little traffic as people planted trees or just rested.



The Samoan government conducted its first nationwide tsunami drill. The drill had been repeatedly announced for several days on newspaper, radio, and television. The Peace Corps also was expected to participate.

At about noon, we received a text message from the tsunami alert center. About ten minutes later, we received another text of a warning at which time people are to evacuate to a higher consolidation point. About eight minutes later, an ambulance with siren blaring announced the warning as it sped down the road. I started to walk up the road to the high school (our consolidation point) shouting “Tsunami” to the villagers. It was a lonely walk as the villagers greeted me from their houses. About another fifteen minutes the church bell sounded another warning alert. Still I walked alone.

At the high school, I sat under a tree while students continued their classes. One of the host family boys who was riding his bike home asked me why I was sitting alone under a tree. I told him about the tsunami drill. A short while later his father, the mayor and my host father, arrived with his wife. Another neighbor joined making it a foursome. About an hour after the warning, the all clear was texted. We returned home.

To put the whole exercise into perspective, one has to realize the good intentions of the international world community to fund such a warning system, flawed though it may be, and that a significant tsunami has never hit Samoa and if it did, the short time people would have between warning and wave, the acceptance by the villagers of “God’s Will” and protection, and the fact you don’t conduct a drill in the heat of the day.

I think my status as respected Peace Corps Volunteer dropped to that of “Village Idiot”. At least we four returned to the village. I felt a little better because one person is an idiot, two are stupid, but with four, maybe there is a germ of doubt.

Now if there was an actual tsunami warning, I would probably do what the rest of the village would do. I would run down to the sea with my camera to see what a tsunami looks like.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Matai’s Decision


Matai is the title given to the selected head of a family. This title enables the matai to represent the family at the village council and is required to be selected to parliament. The matai is responsible for the well being of the family and is the final decision maker in family matters. Our matai had to make one such decision.

Our matai’s only grandchild, a 10 month boy, has lived with the family since birth. His mother, the matai’s daughter, 24, lives in Apia with her “husband” and rarely visits her son. Both she and her husband seem unemployed. The paternal grandparents would raise the child until the couple is on their feet.

Two weeks ago, the matai’s sister and her 50+ American husband flew in from their home in Hawaii. She has been trying to have a child, but has been unsuccessful. They want to adopt the baby and raise him in Hawaii.

The matai’s wife and his children have not only raised the child but have completely bonded to him. The child was called KJ, in reference to the matai.

All parties want the child. The entire extended family is also affected by the outcome of his decision as to who would get the child. He made his decision and it is final.

City vs Village; Stuff vs Relationships


Being a city boy all my life, I developed certain snobbishness towards small town brethren. Now I find myself in a rural village of the third world country; I am not quite as snobbish, and in some ways resentful of my own pomposity. I see in Samoa people faced with the lure of the city or a foreign land without fully comprehending what is to be gained and what is to be lost.

There is no question the city is an economic engine. The city’s purpose for being is commerce. Its riches overflow into educational, ideological, technological innovations. The city produces stuff and status is measured by how much stuff you have. A premium is placed on change. What is lost is a sense of self identity with those around you. The bonds between people weaken in the process. The mystic of life and the forces which surround us seem to be lost in the struggle for stuff.

Village life is no idyllic panacea either. There are physical hardships and a certain static nature of thought. It is life at the subsistence level where relationships between people dominate in importance. These relationships are as necessary to life in the village as a salaried job is to a city dweller. Each day new levels of relationships subtly reveal themselves to me. Most interactions are unspoken. If you don’t look carefully, you could miss them.

I marvel at this country of Samoa which chose to maintain its independent place in the world and its least favored nation status over being a protectorate and opening its borders to foreign capitol. I see its people struggle between the world of stuff and that of relationships. I hope stuff doesn’t swallow them.

Saturday, October 27, 2007



Scabies is a skin condition caused by small mites that burrow into the skin. In the early stages, there is mild itching. As the condition persists open infected sores develop and itching intensifies greatly. As the sores are scratched, the scabies spreads over the body. It is highly contagious, especially among young children who bath irregularly.

In our household, we noticed small sores on an infant when we first moved to Iva. Over the past two months, we watched as the sores continued to spread over his body. He developed a fever and his crying in the night became worse and worse. We thought it might be scabies, but were unsure about our diagnosis and more importantly how much we should inject ourselves into family affairs.

The family took the baby repeatedly to traditional healers. The family put oils, herbs, and native ointments on the sore, but the condition just got worse. Finally we said we thought the baby should go to the hospital and we would pay for the expenses. Mary went by bus with the child and grandmother to the local public hospital where the baby was said to have scabies. Four different antibiotic medicines and baths were provided. Total cost $7.00 US. The doctor does not charge for children.

The question is why did it take so long before the child was taken to a doctor and what triggered the decision to go? Our first response was quick and simple, money. But things here are not as simple as they may seem. Certainly money is an important factor, but the family has money for other things, also one has to factor the fear or distrust of the hospital and unfamiliar medicines. We now realize the most important factor was when we said that we would take the child to the hospital. Their comfort level with us and our knowledge of a Western-style hospital overcame their anxieties. In this different world we find ourselves and the role we play in it are as frightening to us as the hospital is to them.

My First, His First Iva Haircut


One of the boys from our household brought over some electric clippers because he knew I wanted a hair cut. He never thought that I would ask him to do it. A first for both of us.



Iva, Month Two, Progress Report


Your Tax Dollars at Work

This past month we started applying for grants by visiting thirteen different governmental agencies, NGO’s, and stores for quotes in a one day period. My feet were bleeding at the end of the day. We met a lot of important people and people related to villagers in Iva. That means a lot in Samoa.

Here is where we stand on our major projects:

Village Computer/Telecenter
We hand delivered and presented a letter of request to the Ministry of Telecommunications detailing why Iva should be considered. The letter had numerous signatures of village officials to indicate the serious of the village in pursuing a center.

The project has taken on enormous importance in the village. It is as if the entire future of the village depends on getting this communications center. Hopefully, we get some feedback some.

Sewing Machines
The Women’s Committee decided on fewer but better quality sewing machines. We got their input on filling out the proposal form which required considerable thought about what would be done after we got the machines. This proposal is being hand delivered to the New Zealand High Commission this coming week.

Village Youth
Much to our amazement, the village mayor said he was calling a meeting of all the village youth the first week of November. We can decide on the day and what to do. We have no idea what we are doing.

Using Local High School Computer Lab
Negotiations with the school principle on having us teach some computer for teachers and students, and to also provide lessons to villagers is awaiting his meeting with the School Committee (Board of Ed). National testing is going on now, which further delays us getting an answer. We think he will agree because it is a way for the school to make some money.

Relocating/Rebuilding Village Primary School
We were asked to table this project since grants for this type of project seem to be on hold. No Money.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Churches of Iva: Roman Catholic


About 25% of Samoans are Roman Catholics who were among the first group of missionaries to convert Samoans to Christianity. The host family with whom we are with are devout Catholics. The church is across the road from us.

Every day starts with the ringing of the bell (gas cylinder hit with a hammer) at 5:00 am for Rosary. Like other churches there are two services on Sunday; one in the morning and one at 4:00 pm. There may be other services during the week as well. This combined with numerous other events during the week occupy a full schedule for parishioners.

Mass is festooned with fragrant leis which are ceremonially brought forward and placed around the necks of the priest, other church leaders, guests, symbolic icons, alter, pulpit, etc. A traveling priest conducts Mass and is shared by several other churches on the island. When an ordained priest is unavailable, services are conducted by local “pastors’.

Confession is held twice a year, before Christmas and Easter. It is done as a group. Communion and baptisms are done whenever a priest conducts Mass.

Catholics seem to be the most liberal of the churches. They do allow drinking of beer and Ava after the service. They don’t proselytize and don’t read who gave what size offering.

Trying to understand any faith as an outsider is a superficial and often wrong exercise. But like Catholic churches in other parts of the world, the faith somehow blends local customs into the religion.

An interesting footnote is that our host father’s father played piano in a Protestant church when Catholics did not permit musical instruments. He tried to dissuade his son from following in his footsteps which he of course ignored. He now does not want his son to play, but I hear the sounds of a guitar late at night.

Catholic Church in Iva


The Cow’s Tongue


Some people were fined a cow today for drunkenness and not showing up to work on the road. In Samoan fashion, a cow was butchered for the fine and divided among the villagers. No one wanted the head which was being carted away to the sea to be gleaned by the crabs so as to make a nice cow head ornament.

I asked about the tongue. It is the best part of the cow. I was looked at with disgust. I said you eat pig’s tongue; why not cow’s?

We retrieved the cows head from the sea and proceeded to crudely cut out the tongue. Bringing it back to cook, I let hang near my mouth scaring most of the village kids, some running away in tears.

I tried to describe that you cook it just like Samoan chicken, by stewing it for a long time. Well, I got a pot and cooked it over the wood fire. When done, I offered samples. Those who didn’t know what it was really liked it; those who did carefully chewed their morsel. The remaining tongue was fried in grease along with the liver which fit more into the Samoan cuisine of fat and lard.

It was fun to have our Samoan family try a food they had never had before. Maybe they might have a better understanding of what it means to eat Moray eel and seaweed.

Sorry, no pictures for you tongue lovers to savor.

Groups 1,2, & 79 Fia Fia


It is a Peace Corps tradition to welcome the new incoming group of trainees with a Samoan style party, called a Fia Fia. This Fia Fia was extra special because not only were Peace Corps Alumni from the first two groups of Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers in attendance, but it also was the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Samoa. Also joining in the festivities was Samoa’s Head of State, the Charge d’Affairs from the United States Consul, and numerous Peace Corps officials, relatives, and passing Samoans who just wanted to join the party.

The food was prepared and supplied by current volunteers who also provided the entertainment for the event. After the event the volunteers also had the honor of cleanup.

Preparing for the Ava Ceremony

Men's Slap Dance
(Note second dancer from left)

Feast Preperation

What's a Feast Without a Pig?

White Sunday


The biggest holiday in Samoa is White Sunday or Children’s Sunday. It is held on the second Sunday of October. The Monday following White Sunday is a national holiday. The best way to describe it is that it is Thanksgiving and Christmas all roll into one day with everyone dressed in new white clothes.

During White Sunday relatives come for from all over the islands to join together. The parents serve the children. The children perform numerous songs and plays in church in a reversal of roles. The children also receive gifts. The stores do a bonanza business. The traffic is heavy and the ferries run extra runs to accommodate the rush of passengers.

White Sunday was started by the early missionaries of the London Missionary Society in the mid 19th century. In a country where almost half the people are children it was a huge success. Soon the other churches conformed, not to pass up a good thing.

Unfortunately, Mary and I spent our White Sunday in an Apia Hospital. This was a big disappointment to the over eighty people who had come to our host family’s compound to feast and feast, then feast again. We just have to wait till next year to get our white outfits.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Struggling with Language


Languages have always fascinated me. I have never really been good at them, but like Sisyphus futilely pushing the round rock up the hill only to have it roll back again, I try to learn language after language. In high school, it was French and Latin. At the university, I managed to pass scientific competencies in French and Russian. In our travels, I dabbled in speaking Spanish, German, Dutch, Botswanan, Turkish, Italian, Russian, and French. Language books and tapes filled my book shelf. Now I am faced withy my biggest language challenge.

It is possible to be successful in the Samoan Peace Corps without knowing anything, but the basic phrases of Hello, Goodbye, Please, and Thank You. Many Samoans speak fluent English. English is the language of Apia and high school students have all their lessons in English throughout the country. If you live in a rural village, like Iva, the level of English drops off quickly. You are faced with the fact that you are not going to communicate effectively with the locals until your Samoan greatly improves.

Peace Corps language training is considered the best in the world. Essentially in eight weeks they bring you to a level of survival proficiency before they release you into the wild. This allows you to live at the lowest level on Maslow’s pyramid of needs. For many Peace Corps, they leave training at a much higher proficiency level and are able to carry on a lengthy conversation. I salute and envy them.

There are three types of Samoan spoken: Oratory, “T”, and “K”. Oratory is a very formalized spoken at Matai councils. Most Samoans don’t understand it. “T” is the type we are taught and is the language usually spoken in church and the language of print. “T” is what the early English Missionaries developed as they tried to transform an oral, unwritten language into a written one. This made it possible to translate the Bible and easier for them to speak. “T” represents how educated, middle class Samoans speak. “K” is the everyday spoken language and closest to the unwritten Samoan. “K” is the Cockney of Samoa and is the way to speak in the village.

Here is how a conversation for me goes in Iva where everyone speaks “K”. After the initial greetings which I understand, I try to catch a few familiar sounding words in “K” (where the “K” sound is substituted for the “T” sound in “T”). I convert the “K” word to a “T” sounding word. I translate the “T” word into English. From that one word or short phrase, I try to imagine the full context of the conversation. I then try the reverse response, thinking of an English word which I know in “T” and converting it to “K”. By that time, the speaker has already gone on to another subject. Rather than looking like an ass, I usually do the time tested response which is to smile and nod in agreement, like I understand what is said. The Samoan is amazed that even though I can hardly speak Samoan, I fully comprehend what he is saying. Of course, the reverse also happens when I speak in English.

The fun really starts when you are trying to do your Peace Corps job of developing the village by turning the village’s wants and needs into proposals actual results (More about projects later). One shouldn’t despair over the conflicts between nations, but should be thankful we are still able to walk on this earth. A lot gets Lost in Translation.

I give the mayor of my village, on whose compound we live, tremendous accolades. His English and my Samoan are on a par. We both struggle to convey our thoughts about the future of the village as he navigates the tricky waters of change and village politics while I navigate the waters of NGO’s , governmental agencies, and Western concepts. He has given me a list of the 10 different ways Samoans commonly say, “Where are you going?” He has taken one of our Samoan-English dictionaries in a futile effort to teach me more Samoan, but also to understand my English written proposals for which he wants the other village leaders to sign-off. It is a serious Tango we dance.

Mary has Recovered


Mary has been released by thePeace Corps from the hotel where she has been staying. She still has to take some anitbiotics, but is returning to our village of Iva tomorrow. Now it is to continue her Peace Corps projects where the Women's Committee is waiting to meet with her.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mary Hospitalized


Being ill is no fun wherever you are, but being in a very different place just adds to our Peace Corps adventure.

For about a week, Mary wasn’t feeling well. Sore neck, swollen neck glands, loss of appetite, hot, that tired achy feeling; all somewhat less than noteworthy. However when her temperature reached 103, we went to the local doctor in Savaii who said it was probably a viral infection and would clear itself. Nothing again noteworthy here, except his office did not have an aquarium or magazines to read.

The next morning, October 10, we noticed a large rash on her leg. The temp again very high. We went to the doctor again who diagnosed cellulitus. Mary could hardly move. The Peace Corps Medical Officer said she had to come immediately to Apia, an arduous ferry ride and 45 car ride away. Thankfully, the Peace Corps had a car and driver waiting for us at the ferry wharf. She was quickly admitted to a private hospital where meals are catered.

From the next four days, she received heavy doses of antibiotics and IV’s to combat her dehydration. She was released from the hospital on October 14, and is now at a hotel next door to the Peace Corps office. She is expected to be released this Friday October 19.

It seems that Mary had a blood infection of both staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria. This type of infection often comes about from a small cut or bite on the skin. One can think of the tropics as a giant Petri dish in which all kinds of bacteria easily grow on your skin.

We are really happy for Peace Corps insurance and medical staff who acted quickly and professionally upon learning she wasn’t feeling well, the local doctor on Savaii who treats Peace Corps, and the mayor of our village made a one day long trip just to see Mary.

Mary being Admitted
A Room with a View

For a more in depth perspective on medical practices, you may want to refer to my blog entry of September 1, 2007 , "Healing".

Meeting the New Group 79


I had the pleasure of spending time with the new Peace Corps arrivals of Group 79. I felt like a sophomore examining the new freshman class. They look so young, so naïve, so full of questions about what lies ahead.

Of course, the reality is the average age is greater than our group; they know their assignments; what they will teach; and where they may be placed. At least, I am Peace Corps Volunteer from Group 78 and they are just Peace Corps Trainees.

Bad Photo of a Good Group (79) in Class

Smitten (Bitten) Again


Back in September, I was painfully bitten while asleep on the top of the head by an unknown critter. Last night, I was awakened again with a similar pain shooting through my arm. Was it a bad dream? No, how could it be a dream with blood dripping from by elbow and the two little fang marks. Now I know what being bitten by a Samoan centipede is like.

At least I haven’t been bitten on the testicles as one Peace Corps Volunteer. I hate to think how that felt!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Churches of Iva (Overview)


One can not understand Samoa without understanding the depth religion plays in the society and culture. Christianity pervades every aspect of life here from the schools, courts, business, law, government, etc. It is a “Way of Life”, not unlike Islam or Christianity during the middle ages. Each day I discover a new aspect of how the church influences every Samoan, whether they actually attend church or not. It is almost impossible for a Samoan to envision another person who is not a Christian, just as is it almost impossible for an American to understand a theocratic Christian country.

What a society builds often reflects what they deem important. Americans build ballparks, corporate skyscrapers, freeways, and large houses. Samoans build churches. Churches are by far the most dominate structure in any village. They continue to be built, each bigger than the last, in the continuing contest of devotion. Samoans spend over twice as much on religion as they do on education. They donate even more in the form of animals and goods for fund raisers.

There are seven churches in Iva. Mary and I have attended each one to see what role they play in the community. It is part of our job as Peace Corps to understand how to get things done in this South Pacific world.

Rather than bore you with one long blog entry on all the churches, I shall make separate entries in the coming weeks under the “First 90 Days of Iva-Churches” label.

Preparing for Group 79


There is an excitement among us volunteers. At 5:00 am on Tuesday, October 9th, the newest group of Peace Corps arrives. They are affectionately called Group 79 by the Peace Corps. This is a group know as “Capacity Builders”. They usually work in a school and live on or close to the school they are assigned. (Our Group 78 primary lives in a rural village and tries to help in the development of that village. We are “Village Based Development” workers.) It is a time for us to relive our own arrival with its expectations and note how we are now.

Trapping Cockroaches


I set my mouse trap out as usual, only to hear it snap shut a few minutes later. A cockroach meets his maker.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Teacher's Day in Samoa


This morning we awoke to excited children carrying signs. Was it a demonstration, a protest against something? No it was Samoan Teacher's Day where the children parade down the street with signs of appreciation for their teachers.

There was never a flag pole at Iva Elementary School, built over 20 years ago. Yesterday the pole was finished. Today an historic faded flag was slowly raised for the first time by the school principal, Menime Namulauulu Filipo, as the children emotionally sang the Samoan National Song. The old flag was given years ago by the previous village mayor, Tafa Sa, to the current mayor, Tofilau Kapeli, to be presented to the school when the flag pole was built. The flag waves as a tribute to both the teachers and the country of Samoa.

Children Marching Through Iva

Raising of Flag for First Time In School History

A Peace Corps Tragedy


I don’t think anything is more tragic for the Peace Corps institution or for we volunteers than when other volunteers are terminated early and sent home for irresponsible behavior. This year, six Samoan volunteers have been sent home early because of what the Peace Corps labels as “Frat Boy” behavior, none from our Group 78.

The tragedy is that these experienced volunteers are in the middle of their projects and at the peak of their productivity. The people in their village become irate because their projects are not finished, damaging the reputations of Peace Corps alumni, those currently here, and those yet to come.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Day with Sophia (Safiya)


Sophia is a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer from our “Gang of Six” (Group 78). She lives in the Village of Mauga on our island of Savaii. Mauga is the smallest village of uor group with a population of about 80 people. Sophia, born in Jamacia, is from New York City. The village is very picturesque with traditional open fales situation around the rim of an extinct volcano. The mountains are is the village backdrop during the day and the Milky Way its ceiling at night.

Sophia has an enclosed room built for her as part of the Women’s Committee House. Women sleep outside her room every night to make sure she is safe. She is amazed by the unity of her village, expressed in the village’s efforts to manually resurrect an old well in the middle of the crater. (They just hit some water; the first drops being ceremonially given to the oldest person in the village).

Pre-school and homework centers are two of her projects. She has started both, as well as, three fund-raising events for supplies. She has even bigger plans for a playground, a library, and sewing machines. Sophia loves her village and from what we can see, the village loves her.
Sophia in Front of Her House

Sophia and Mary at Village Well

A Day with Jacob (Iakopo)


Jacob is a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer from our “Gang of Six” (Group 78). He lives in the Village of Gataivai on the south shore of Savaii. Gataivai is a large village strung out along the road much like our village. The village’s solitary Methodist church dominates the village. Pre-school, youth center, computer center, and other community buildings are located across the road from Jacob’s house and the church. Jacob has a room in a house of a large family next to the church.

Jacob’s projects are centered on the villager’s health, their community garden, and resurrecting an unused computer center. He has started an exercise and karate program for the youth, got more medical supplies for the health center, and has started computer classes for three village students. He partakes in the Village Council meeting with the Matais.

Jacob currently lives in Colorado where his father is a defensive line coach for the Denver Broncos. Jacob played football for Bucknell and has lost a lot of weight since coming to Samoa. He plans to eat his way back to his former size.

Jacob in Front of Telecenter Sign