Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Samoa on DVD

The quest to learn more about Samoa continues to grow as our departure date nears. Each bit of information is like a piece of a picture puzzle, but without the box top photo to let you know what the end result will be. Hoping to visualize Samoa is probably impossible. As a foreign exchange student once asked about his year in the United States said, "It is not like the movies. You have to go there to find out". I am sure he is correct, but be that as it may, our curiosity drives us to fill our ignorant void.

Samoa is usually a section of travelogues about the South Pacific. At least, they offer a comparison of Samoa to the other parts of Polynesia. What comes across to me is Samoa lacks the spectacular postcard scenery, posh hotels, or the hedonistic life style, like Tahiti (French Polynesia). No Western powers fought battles over Samoa, no epic novels or sea sagas written about it (Treasure Island, the exception), no strategic minerals are found there. Its most valuable export is its own people. If anything it was given its independence from New Zealand because it continued to drain their treasury. What Samoa does seem to have is the Samoan Way of Life. Samoans are said to be the most Polynesian people of Polynesia.

The Globe Trekker travel DVD, "Tahiti and Samoa", is fun to watch and available in many libraries. The recently released New Zealand made DVD, "Samoan Wedding", is actually about Samoans who have spent their life in New Zealand. A fun comedy with Polynesian actors, but hardly what the islands of Samoa are like. There are many travel books on the South Pacific. If you want to learn more about Samoa, check out the links on this blog of Samoan Peace Corps Volunteer Journals, and other related Samoan topics.

After all of our DVD watching, book reading, and blogging, I guess the only way to learn about Samoa is to go there.

Get back to the real world, Nick. Boxes still need to be packed, a house to move out of, a condo to move into, a son to graduate, guests to house, legal papers to sign, and over two months before departure.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Loufdoli (Spring I)

In this part of the world, weather is important for it can change quickly and profoundly. Yet, when I search for a term to describe what is happening outside my window, I am stymied. American Indians probably have a word for it, but I am not aware of one in English. So, I shall invent one: Loufdoli.

Loufdoli (n) 1. The time of year when the earth first begins to thaw. 2. The earliest part of the Spring season 3. Season between the last snowfall and Spring rains. 4. Disappearance of snow cover. 5. Sudden rush of raison d'etre. 6. Maple syrup time.

Loufdoli happens rapidly in Minnesota and is brief. One day you are wearing an overcoat, cursing the cold. The next day you are in shorts thankfully enjoying the sudden increase in temperature. You laugh at your friends vacationing in Florida or Mexico who are missing this resurrection of life and spirit.

The smell of Loufdoli most characterizes the season for me. The mixed odors of thawing earth and dog feces combine with the warmer humid air to produce a distinctive base aroma. There are also more subtle undertones of last fall's compost and the awareness automobile exhaust. Loufdoli is a virtual cacophony of scents bombarding our reawakened olfactory sense.

The early birds fly wildly about seeking prime nesting sites. A cardinal takes over a shrub next to the house. A swallow returns to check out a protected spot on our porch light. Canadian geese honk nosily as they swoop through the area. Other little migrates dart about on the way to Northern Canada. Loufdoli is this too.

One could write thousands of words trying to describe Loufdoli and yet never capture its essence. Like the really important things in life, Loufdoli is too complex for words. One needs to experience it, rather than write about it. And that is what I plan to do.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dr. Jennifer Dick

Going into the Peace Corps can have unexpected consequences.

Yesterday, I met Jennifer Dick, MD, to have a sebaceous cyst removed from my neck. Dr. Dick is a single, beautiful, dermatologist in her mid 30's. During the course of the initial exam, the subject of me going into the Peace Corps arose. She too had harbored the idea of joining the Peace Corps before entering medical school. Then something happened.

Suddenly we began to talk about her travels to Asia and especially India during college. Her interest in both religion and biology. Her family, her home town of Fairmont, MN, her desire to maybe do something with the Gates Foundation. Within a total of fifteen minutes, as she operated inches away from my carotid artery, we moved into the complexities of human spiritualism and the mysterious connections of the biological world.

As I left the clinic, my neck bandaged, she was talking to another doctor. Her back turned to me. I savored this Peace Corps inspired moment. I then walked crossed the street to where the oil in my car was being changed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What I have learned, so far: about others & myself

I should say what I think I have learned about others and myself during these months before departure. My world seems to be evolving rapidly, so my observations today may differ from those of tomorrow. But let me try anyway.

About Others.

People seem to be divided into different groups as they try to understand why we have joined the Peace Corps.

One group I classify as the "Good Samaritans/Americans". These people believe that we have joined to help others, to better those less fortunate, and increase the prosperity of those who live in the backwaters of the world. Altruism, self-sacrifice, doing good are terms they use when talking to us.

Another group are those who think we are escaping from something. They don't know what that is yet, but are sure they will find out about it later. They conceive of ghosts in our closet. These people never say what they think.

Still another group is sure we are simply stupid to give up what we have gained over the years. They are sure we are touched by some mental illness. In other words, they can't figure it out, so the it must be us who are touched, not them. This group is typified with words like, "Ya sure", "sounds great", "awesome", and "I wish I could do that".

There is yet another group whom probably will miss us when we are gone. They seem to be figuring out what their life will be like in our absence. They face an empty hole in time. A hole we would have probably filled if we were not leaving. This is the most difficult group to confront, because they leave a hole in our life too.

About myself.

What I have learned about myself may be delusional, but I believe it anyway.

Stuff... Collected over the years. The measure of your success. The incessant rhythm of our society... has become just, stuff. Junk, crap, garbage. The joy of getting rid of it seems better that the pleasure of accumulating it. The decision as to what to keep, what to discard, defines what you consider important. Houses, furniture, cars go. The photographs, cassette tapes of children/parents, VHS videos, scarps of paper with words, mementos from people and places, these are the things put into boxes for when we return.

Faith. Not faith in God, but faith in others. Faith in human beings to do the right thing and to make the right decisions. For when you distance yourself from those closest to you, you lose what little influence you may have had on them. And, faith in those people whom you are about to meet to guide you and keep you from harm.

Fears. Fears, yes I have a few. I wonder what I will be like after the Peace Corps. Will I be like "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"? A person whose experiences in another world, make him a stranger in the world he once inhabited. How will I appear to others, others to me? Do I become a mental constant traveler?

Excitement. There is a rush in preparing for the Peace Corps. Almost like taking a drug. The immensity of going doesn't seem real. Time is flying by. Major events in my life are happening every day, yet I am almost ambivalent about them. I am ready to go, now.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Our New Minneapolis Condo

Front Entry
After selling our house, the question arose as to what should we do next. We decided on buying a condominium and fortunately found one in our favorite Minneapolis neighborhood, Linden Hills. This area is near the lakes, parks, buses, and within easy walking distance to stores.

Living Room

The 1,000 sq. ft. corner condo has two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, hardwood floors and is on the top (4 th) floor. It seems to be in excellent condition. The building is an older one, but converted to
condos about three years ago. We take possession on March 30, 2007.

Our son, Nicholas, plans to rent it while we are in Samoa. He has an accounting job in downtown Minneapolis. This sounds like a win-win for both of us.

Dining Area
It is a nice feeling to know we have a place to return.
Our new address is:
2700 West 44th Street, Unit 405
Minneapolis, MN 55410
Map of 2700 W 44th St Minneapolis, MN 55410-1900, US

Roof Top Patio (Overlooking Lake Harriett)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Craig's List or What I Learned about E- Selling

CraigsList is an internet sales service. At least for the household items I want to sell, CraigsList differs from other services like eBay in that it is aimed at a sales within local market, the buyers typically pay cash rather than through PayPal, pick up their items rather than have them shipped, and it is FREE (I think). It really works. But that is not the reason for this blog posting.

I listed the items I wanted to sell with pictures. I really marked things down. Immediately my phone began to ring and emails began to pour in. Soon I found myself juggling times when people could come and see the items. People began to arrive in a buying frenzy. Before long people who had arrived early were reselling things to people arriving later. It was like a Turkish Bazaar. The neighbors were going to call the police because of all the activity in front of my house. Just about everything I had listed was gone in a few hours.

As a courtesy to others who were either coming later or who were seeking additional information, I began to call and email those who missed out. I wrote or simply said "Item has been sold. Thank You".

Much to my chagrin, I got back emails chastising me for not being sensitive enough in letting them know about a lost sale. They even suggested phrases which I should have used to ease their pain.

Dear Abby, "Where Did I Go Wrong? I can't sleep knowing these souls are in torment over not getting my $25 lamp set."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

From a PC Volunteer in Samoa

Below is from David Gertan, Seattle, who currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, He was kind to comment on our blog and to answer some questions we had. With his permission, I thought you might be interested in what he has to say:

Comment on blog 2/25/07
"Malo Soifua Lau Susuga,

You'll understand that soon enough. You'll probably understand it better than me because you're going to be VBDers. VBD is tough work, so pack a lot of patients and tenacity in that 80 lbs. (Actually, NZ Air lets you take a hundred). No matter how hard it gets, you just step back and remember you're just a little left of Paradise.

Like you, I traded in a job and house for that illusive "something more". Smart move. :)

Congratulations and welcome!"

Response to our questions on 3/7/07
"We're looking forward to you coming. There is already a couple here and they are doing smashingly well as VBDers like you. However, if your pictures are recent, they are a few years older than you. This is their second tour in the PC -- the first was in Morocco in the '80's I think. Age is revered here and you'll likely get preferential treatment, whether you want it or not.I'm not the one from St Paul, that's Arona/Aaron. He's a good friend of mine, though. I'm the one from Seattle (there are actually four of us).

Okay, to answer your questions....It took about two weeks for me to get used to the heat. We started training in the hottest part of the year and it's been getting easier ever since. I have a lot of desert camping experience (yeah, Burning Man, I'm such a statistic!) so I drank from 2 up to 3 ltrs of water a day, more than most I think. I'm acclimated now, it's cooler this time of year and I work in an air-conditioned room so I drink about half that now. Our training started in a hotel and most rooms had AC. That eased us into the heat. In our village, we had a nice breeze off the ocean and some of us went swimming after classes to cool down. The women swam less. It's "fa sa" (forbidden) for women to bare shoulders and for either sex to bare legs above the knee, so I think it wasn't all that fun for them to wear all that cladding while going into the water.

The beds varied from fala (mats on the floor) to full-on beds. No one I know of slept on a fala during training although some do now by choice and I'm considering it. The mattresses aren't as good as at home. Usually they are like a hospital mattress with no box spring. I had a thermarest before I left and miss it immensely but conversely I sleep just fine on my mattress that feels like wadded up newspaper in a trash bag -- I'm healthier now than before so I sleep better.

Internet access for me has been through primarily three internet cafes and the two Peace Corps offices. The Apia office has internet with very limited access hours and usually a list of people waiting to get on -- fast dial-up speeds. The Savai'i office has open access 24hrs -- slow dial-up speeds, and like the Apia office, no laptop hook-ups. Downloading music, software and large files is prohibited. The internet cafes are in Apia. CSL, the cheapest if you have a laptop, is the source for the other internet cafes so it can bog down sometimes and has regular business hours -- DSL speed. Green Turtle is near the PC office and expensive if you have a laptop (.50 a minute) but it has hours from 7AM to 10PM, which is unheard of for most businesses in the country. It's also the fastest in my experience. There is another place near CSL and "Koffee Haus" (a nice little restaurant for breakfast you should try) but I only went there once.

I don't use calling cards. Two of the internet cafes have Skype and that is the cheapest way to call. I bought my own headset for that. I use my Digicel cellphone which is about 1.10 USD per minute to call home ($2 in WST, the Samoan currency). I think that's good for the occasional call home. SamoaTel's cellular service "GoMobile" also has cheap rates to the states, a little cheaper than DigiCel but the coverage is more limited. Both cell companies are promising broadband internet access over cell this year -- but that might not happen on time. I used the same system (called EDGE) in Seattle before I left and it was very fast and reliable, DSL speeds. All but two of us have cellphones we bought here.

Yes, I've been sick. I just got used to having something or 'nother. Then it sort of trailed off after a while. The two biggest illnesses I have had, both during training, were giardia and a combo viral/ strep infection in my Eustachian tubes. I didn't even know I had any Eustachians before I came here. Neither came even close to life threatening and I haven't been sick since training. I've also had several skin infections. We were hyper-trained on dealing with all of these illnesses. Our RPN and medical officer is about as competent as they come. She's the greatest! Right now there are two serious illnesses to be careful about and you'll be briefed on how to identify and avoid them when you get to LA and then again several times during training. Being a couple will help, if you can take turns being healthy. It's rare to hear anyone complain about an illness, like having to pay taxes.

We were asked to put together packing lists for the next group. This is what *I* would do, take it with a grain of salt: http://davey- dave.com/?page_id=49. Also PeaceCorpsSamoa.com has some advice on shipping, flights and making phone calls. It's not too active right now because there are more people reading than contributing.

Let me suggest one thing. Take care of business at home and concern yourself about Samoa later. You really need to bring almost nothing from home, and especially not your worries. I think I could have easily survived arriving with a camping chamois, a Nalgene bottle and the clothes on my back, buying everything else here. There are people who will shop and ship things I can't find here.

I'm not really in Samoa for self-denial or maudlin sacrifice. It's not one of the three goals of the PC. Getting that box of chocolate, coffee, and music makes me happy and I can approach my job with a positive attitude. A healthy psyche does wonders for the job. I think my friends and family get something too from sending a care package.

The anxiety is a kind of good one, huh? A little exciting? Feel free to get cold feet from time to time. We all did. It'll go away.Looking forward to meeting you too."

Monday, March 5, 2007

Affects on One's Family

My Family
Front: Sam (Grandson), Matt (Son-in-law), Kim (Daughter), Christine (Sister)
Middle: Steve(Son-in-law), Greg (Nephew), Nick (me), Nicholas (Son)
Rear: Teri (Daughter), Mary (Wife)

One of the many offshoots about joining the Peace Corps as an older adult is the affects of our actions on our children. As course, we discussed our thoughts with them before applying. We knew they have grown into responsible adults. But as our departure date draws closer, the reality of what we are doing is beginning to have its consequences.

For those of us who have lost their parents, there comes a time when you realize you are truly on your own, maybe even a sense of abandonment. There is a fear of maybe you can't make it and a feeling of losing someone who truly cared for you. My children exhibit some of these same emotions. Of course, the Peace Corps is not forever, but I sense my children may view it that way.

My children also have a concern about our safety. I guess living in a third world country does conjure up horrible images. It is hard to think of your parents living in a place without 200 TV channels, shopping malls, and snow. I just try to reassure them that an organization that requires you to wear a bicycle helmet is one concerned about safety.

As a parent. it is hard to feel their anguish and sadness, but at the same time reassuring to know you can return to people who love you.

Friday, March 2, 2007

(H)eat Your Heart Out, Samoa

Just think Peace Corps Samoans, you who sweat 24/7, what it would feel like to jump into a three foot pile of snow right now, or feel the cooling embrace and the tingling sensations of snow flakes melting on your skin, maybe even hear the sound of spinning tires. Sound like paradise to you?

Of course, it is human nature to desire what one can not have or to seek paradise. So this picture of me after shoveling our driveway for the fifth time in 24 hours is more a reminder of a life once lived and to be careful about pinning for tropical isles after a Minnesota snow storm. Sometimes wishes do come true, then what?