Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thou Shalt Not…


The Bible is the basis for village law and breaking one of the 10 Commandments is a very serious offense. People with village titles, like Matai or Chief, are expected to set an example for others to follow. If they break a Commandment, the penalty is severe.

Just the other day, a married man and married woman, both with titles were brought before hundreds in the village because they were having an affair. Three different groups each are to decide the punishment. The groups need to be unanimous within and between them. Final decisions must be approved by the High Chief. Both of the adulterers are at least in their 60’s.

Adultery ranks with murder in seriousness of crime. The punishment can be the harshest of all which is large fines and banishment from the village of not only the offender but all members of the family. Here the entire family pays the price.

My Biggest Frustration


It’s electronic technology. If we didn’t have any electronic gizmos here, I think I would enjoy Samoa even more. But we do, and that’s the source of my frustration.

My lab top computer power plug hardly ever works. It could be the male part, the female part, the wiring, the transformer, etc. I spend hours wiggling the connection in hopes of finding the “sweet spot”. Whenever I do, it seems a bird flying by can cause it to lose power again. Sometimes the “force” is with me and power just flows for no apparent reason.

My U.S. cell phone has a broken microphone. I can hear desperate “Hellos” as the caller wonders why I don’t respond. They call back and get the same result. Now no one calls me, but it may be for reasons other than my cell phone.

Email or specifically Yahoo email is a real problem on the computer the Peace Corps has provided for all the volunteers on Savaii. Yahoo just won’t allow us to open, send or reply to email. We have complained without success. Someone said this type of problem is due to all the security filters placed on government computers. I guess there is some consolation knowing we are helping to fight the War on Terror. But what about Gmail or Hotmail, or MSN, why not them too?

Foreign governments and good hearted NGO’s ship computers on a regular basis to Samoan schools and telecenters. There they sit mainly because no one knows how to work them and no one is around to teach them. Soon they break and become trophies.

Maybe the source of my frustration is not that electronic technology is fallible, but there is no place to get this stuff fixed or to find parts. You just have to live with it broken, or do without.

Time for a midday nap. Ah, fa’asamoa. Now that’s the life!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Drinking Water


Samoa has lots of water. It falls from the sky almost every day. For our area of Savaii, each village has its own water supply either from a river or underground spring. We are lucky. Other parts of the island must collect rain water from their roofs because the lava rock is so porous. No matter what the source of water, it comes untreated at the tap. This is a problem since typhoid, giardia, and other nasty creatures want to enter your body.

To treat our drinking water, Mary and I have a double filtration system. You put water in the top bucket where there is one filter and gravity pulls it down through the second filter in the bottom bucket. We add two drops of bleach to each liter of water as a final step. We drink about six liters of water a day. Now you know.

Our Water Filtration System

Roller Coaster Emotions


Two days ago Mary was in tears, depressed about the many things we face just being immersed in unfamiliar surroundings. Probably, the deeper reason was she didn’t feel a sense of purpose here.

Last night she met with the Women’s Committee about their desire to get manual sewing machines for the village women. The women seemed committed to the project with specific ideas on how to proceed.

The wheels in Mary’s mind started to whirl. She could hardly sleep last night. This morning she took the early bus to town, as happy as I have ever seen her here. She has raison d’etre.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bitten in the Night


In the middle of the night, I was painfully bitten on the top of my head. What bit me is unknown. What is known is the mark it left and the venomous pain cascading down my scalp. Who or what can resist secretly kissing a bald man’s pate?

Work Progress Report, Month One


From reading this blog, you may get the impression we are spending most of our time trying to adapt and survive in our new village. This is mostly true, but we also have a Peace Corps job to justify the use of taxpayer dollars. Our job title comes under the rubric of “Village Development”.

Our village, Iva, has requested in their application for a Peace Corps that we work with four main village groups, under the authority of the village mayor (pulenu’u) who is also the head of our host family. The groups are:

Taule’ale’a or untitled men. These are men who are out of school and who primarily do the physical work of the village, mostly on the plantations.

They want to provide the labor to build e new 14 room primary school on a large tract of land near the secondary school. The Village Council committed to provide 25% of the cost for school building materials.

Our job is to assist the village in getting the funds for the remaining 25% of the materials and 100% of the funds to construct a 2,100 security fence around the school. So far, no formal applications have been submitted.

Autalavou or village youth. This group is unmarried with a wide range in ages from very young to older, some with children.

They want to teach computer skills to the youth, especially the older youth who are unemployed and have dropped out of school. They hope computer skills will help them get a job.

The village currently has access to no computers, nor to anyone with knowledge of computers to teach even fundamental word processing. The only computers in the village are located in a beautiful facility at the secondary school, where there are no computer classes, no internet, and limited access to computer lab for students. The computer in the principle’s office sits covered with a cloth. The computer lab was funded by a grant.

Women’s Committee. This is the second most powerful group consisting of married women, with some unmarried mothers.

They want sewing machines so village women can make their own clothes and avoid buying them at the store. They need some one to teach them how to use a sewing machine, and they need land to construct a building to house the machines and hold classes.

At present, no funds or site exist.

Village Council. This is the most powerful group that has decision making power over all other groups. It consists entirely of 130 titled people (Matai’s, Orators, and Chiefs). All are men, except one woman.

We have yet to meet with a council representative. They say because of language difficulties. Their Peace Corps application states a need to manage the mangrove trees and find uses for the hundreds of acres of unused farm land. I sense there are other unstated projects.

Maybe we can meet with a representative to get a better handle of their requests.

Miscellaneous Requests: We have been approached by individuals asking for money to mainly re-establish farms and lifestyles destroyed by the two major cyclones (hurricanes) of the early 1990’s. Since we are Americans, ergo millionaires, their requests seem quite reasonable to them.

Each group and individuals within these groups have their own agendas. We have been trying to meet with these groups and their leaders to learn more about them, and try to understand how we may assist.

With all these requests, the villagers are slowly getting over the fact that we are not coming with money. Our job is to help the villagers find ways they can help themselves, either by applying to the government or NGO’s for grants, or to find ways to finance their projects. This is a difficult concept in a subsistence economy where the primary source of government funding is foreign aid and primary source of income for families is from remittances of family members working overseas.

Triggers of Time


Time seems to be passing differently here. Those events which for me mark the passage of time are missing. The days getting shorter, the leaves changing color, the beginning of the football season don’t exist anymore.

Yes, there are new triggers denote time’s periodic cycle. I just don’t know what they are or their importance to the people around me and myself.

A Child’s Day


This is the usual daily routine followed by the children in our host family.

5:00 am: Church
6:00 am – 8:30 am: Chores, etc.
Girls: Daily pick up the rubbish (mainly leaves), help prepare breakfast, take care of baby, cleanup.
Boys: Feed pigs
8:30- 2:00: School
2:00- 5:45: Chores, etc.
Girls: Wash clothes, dishes, weed, cut grass (with machete), take care of baby. Play volleyball or just hang out with friends.
Boys: Work on plantation, bring back food, feed pigs, prepare pig food (mainly coconuts from the plantation). Play rugby or soccer. Hang out.
5:45: Warning bell for afternoon prayers.
People are to stop what hey are doing and return home.
6:15 - 6:30: Afternoon prayer time (Lotu Afiafi)
Everyone in village in their home for prayers.
6:30 – 7:00: Shower time
7:00-9:00: Dinner, cleanup, church functions many nights, watch TV news, hang out with friends and relatives.
9:00-10:00 Homework
10:00-11:00 Bed time

Boys are responsible for taking care of the pigs and maintaining the plantation to feed the family.
Girls are responsible for doing household chores, keeping the grounds neat & tidy, cutting the grass (with machete), and taking care of the baby nephew.

Hanging out (Tafao): A time for visiting with relatives and friends, just sitting around, like kids do everywhere. There is a lot of social interaction between the kids in different age groups. Hardly any scheduled events outside of church.

Collecting Coconuts

Baby Sitting

Our Host Family


The Tofilau Kapeli Family
Front: Fa’apisa (8), Tali (14), Manuli (11)
Middle Row: Salote (49), Fanali* (27) with KJ (8 months), Ime, Tofilau (53),
Rear: Fiaputa (16), Sefo (18), Taitaia (19)

All the children pictured are going to primary or secondary school. Fanali left for Rome the day of this for the next four years to train to be a teacher in a Catholic College or to be a priest. KJ is the grandchild of Easter (not pictured). Ime is the sister of Tofilau and lives nearby.

Not pictured, not living at home: Filipo (29) was living in Australia for the past two years and maybe to be a priest; Easter, mother of KJ in picture, we think is married to a man who plays basketball for the Samoan National team, Eneliko (22, male) a student, lives and works in Apia.

Understanding a Samoan family can be a challenge. The family who provides us with food and shelter is no different. We do know they have 10 children, of whom six live at home. There is a constant flow of brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and other relatives who either live in the surrounding houses or are constantly coming and going, sometimes staying, sometimes leaving children behind.

Tofilau is the head of this family with titles of high chief, orator, and Pulenu’u (Mayor of the Village). His parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are buried in large concrete tombs in the front of the property for all to see. These are constant reminders to him and everyone else of the legacy he bears.

The picture is taken includes the graves of Tofilau’s parents. This is one of the most important places on the property. There are other graves in front of our house of family ancestors. These types of graves are in front of people’s houses and are reserved for those family members of high village rank. The sites are often decorated and people sometimes sleep and play on them.

Villages in Samoa are made up of huge extended families with roots that go back hundreds of years. They are tied to the land and to their membership in the village. Many Samoans live and work in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States to support their families in Samoa. These remittances from children abroad seem to be the main source of income

The Throne (PG-13)


Let’s face it. There are few places better suited for everyday meditation and deep thinking than the throne. In a way, throne time is a period of renewal and rejuvenation, as well as, relaxation. The throne is egalitarian. Everyone is a king. The world just outside is not so scary from your perch.

From my Samoan throne, I have the added pleasure during my allotted time of neatly tearing and folding two sheets of paper on my thigh, one for the soil, the other for packaging, to deposit in the box next to my throne to await eventual pickup and incineration. A flush and away to a new day.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To Be or Not To Be


One of the main reasons for joining the Peace Corps is to experience another culture by actually living in it. The question soon arises as to how much of this new culture do you actually want to experience or, more fairly, how much of the new culture are you able to tolerate before reverting back to more familiar ways. I am sure every person who has lived abroad has faced this dilemma. We are no different.

Like Maslow’s pyramid of needs and wants, we are now at the bottom level of survival that is food and shelter. Shelter we seem to have made the steps to the Samoan way. Food is a deeper issue.

On thing good about Samoa is there is lots of food and it is prepared for us as if we are royalty. This is the Samoan way of treating guests…us. But the food is very different and we know it creates demands on our host family to prepare it for us. Efforts have been made to accommodate of tastes, but it is still different.

Now do we prepare our own meals and maybe offend our host family who may think their ways are no good or that we are ungrateful, or try harder to adapt to the culture in which we are so fortunate to be living?

Down Days


Well, I guess you have to expect some Down Days even in paradise. Lately a lot of things have been getting to Mary. Maybe it is the feeling you always look like you have come out of a steam bath fully clothed, or it is the strange food which you just can’t eat, or it is the lack of privacy and constantly being in a fish bowl with people around you seemingly 24/7, or it is the inability to communicate in any kind of meaningful way because of both language and culture, or the constant going to church and the ringing of bells, or the heat, or missing our kids, her family and friends, or seemingly being dropped off and forgotten by the Peace Corps, or no available Internet, or getting sick on ferry rides, or facing huge requests for projects from the village, or just being so far away, or…, or things I do or don’t do. Take your pick. At least, tomorrow is another day.

Racing Ants, Flies, and Mold


Mealtime seems like a race between you, ants, flies, and mold. It is as if we all want to share the same plate. The ants are small little devils constantly on patrol. If the item has any food value, the ant siren is sounded to the brethren. If they are left unfed, then you become the food.

The flies aren’t really too bad, but they are bothersome. I really don’t know why they annoy me. Maybe it is because they can fly and I can’t. I have perfected my skills by killing them with my bare hands. This has given me somewhat of a celerity status.

Mold is sneaky. It is hard to have sympathy for a fungus. Mold just appears as if by magic. You are never sure the extent of the fungi’s fingers. Mold makes you chose. Do you cut it out, eat around it, or discard the only bread you will get in a week?

Large cockroaches are also in the race. They have the decency to come out at night when you are done eating and asleep. There are other things out there too. I just don’t want to think about them.

September 12th


Yesterday, September 11th, passed by without ever realizing its significance. It was just another peaceful day in Samoa.

Village Justice, Samoan Style


In Samoa, criminal matters are almost always handled by the Village Council which consists of over 100 men with Matai titles. An offense is brought before the council by the Matai who represents the offended family, the council discusses it, comes to a consensus about whether the charge is valid and what penalties should be imposed.

Penalties, sala, can be harsh. If the individual cannot meet the demands of the sala, then the person’s family must come up with the sala. Usually the penalty is a monetary fine, but if the family does not have the money, then livestock or some other foodstuff is substituted. The sala is then divided among the villagers. The person offended gets a share like anyone else. This sharing among the villagers is something to behold.

Today a person had to bring three cows, a fine mat, several cases of canned mackerel, and money for killing someone else’s calf to eat. This is done before the entire village council and other villagers to see. This is a huge penalty imposed on a poor family. The cows are then butchered and divided among the Matai. The canned mackerel is divided among those without Matai titles, because of their lower rank.

We got a large piece of beef because of our guest status in the village. Since there is little refrigeration in the village, we are eating beef tonight!
Dividing up the Fine for the Village

Our Share



What is it like to be placed in a position of high respect and honor without earning it? For some, this may be an enviable situation, for us it makes us uneasy. The father of our host village, and also its mayor, told us that we are to be treated as if we were his parents and he would provide for whatever we want. In Samoa, this is about as high as you can get. It is the Samoan way. Both of his parents are deceased.

We already have experienced being placed in a position of honor when attending a meeting, social function, or just visiting. We are guests, and guests in Samoa are automatically given a place of honor.

The complex system of respect is something to see when you get on a bus. Young boys get up and give up their seats first to a woman, older person, or Palangi (white person). If the bus is crowded, the men get up and move to the back. If the bus is really crowded, people begin sitting on laps. If the bus is exceptionally crowded, which is the norm, there is an elaborate hierarchy as to who moves and sits where. Young help women and their elders get packages on and off the bus. It’s automatic. It’s Fa’asamoa (the Samoan Way).

We grapple with the sudden respect we are given. It goes against how we were raised. How can we possibly live up to what others have taken a lifetime to achieve?

A Day in the Life


Our day starts at 5:00 am when the empty gas cylinders which serve as bells for the Catholic Church across the street. They are hit with a hammer for five minutes to announce morning rosary. Sunrise is about 6:15 am which is our signal to get out of bed. For most Samoans, the day is already in full swing.

Some mornings I take my mat to a nearby open fale to do some stretching, push ups, sit ups, and leg lunges, noticing a marked decrease in strength since being here. There is no need to work up a sweat that comes naturally later in the day.

Mary gets out her curling iron in a feudal attempt to fix her hair in this humid climate. Then a little makeup is applied to make one feel presentable.

Breakfast is usually brought to us by our host family. Our host mother who cooks on a wood stove wonders if her meals are to our liking. Most mornings we have fired dough balls (panekeke), papaya, bananas, and sometimes eggs, if bring them from the market. Other foods I won’t even try to explain.

I make some tea, cutting my hand on a new ceramic teapot which chipped on the trip from the market in Apia. I have to stop the bleeding, quickly apply antiseptic, in a race to prevent the cut from becoming infected.

When breakfast comes, the woman points to a cup used the previous night to drink Milo (a chocolate flavored drink). I don’t pay much attention to her motions until later when I noticed the two drowned cockroaches in the cup. No problem. The roaches are soon devoured by the constantly roving chickens outside our porch.

Going to our dish strainer, I take out a clean upside down cup and notice a huge spider, about the size of my palm, in the cup taking a nap. Depending on to whom you talk, these spiders are either harmless or can give you a nasty bite. Out to the chickens goes the spider; into the cup goes the tea.

After their breakfast chores, the neighborhood kids begin to arrive. They are all out of school for four weeks because of the South Pacific Games. Why all the schools and universities close for four weeks is a mystery to me. I guess some of the schools are used to house visiting athletes and for administrative purposes. To be fair, all kids throughout the country get a holiday, but then again the South Pacific Games are special.

Our ad hoc language lessons begin with the children who really think it is funny the way we speak Samoan and our attempts to remember what they just taught us. The process is two way with the children wanting to learn English. There is a tension between Mary and me as we each struggle in our own way to learn the language and communicate with those around us. It seems those adults who do not speak any English, expect us to come to the village as fluent speakers, while those adults who do speak English don’t want to mess around with our faulty Samoan. Thank goodness for the children.

Today we, I should say Mary, does the wash. We have postponed until there is no clean underwear and hardly any other unsoiled clothing left. Mary and some of the young girls go to the vaita’ele (fresh water pool and spring near the ocean) to do the wash before the sun gets too high.
The Happy Washerwoman

At a Samoan Washing Machine

A neighbor boy and I ride our bikes to the market (about 3 miles away) to get some vegetables, mail a RSVP letter declining an invitation to wedding in the US, and to see why his and my cell phone aren’t working. His phone is locked out by the telephone company because someone complained that the phone was being used for bad language. My problem is easier to understand. The speaker is broken and it might be repairable in Apia which is a three hour one-way trip away. He decides to get another SIM card and new phone number. I decide nobody wants to hear my voice anyway, and text messaging is cheaper. It rains on our return trip. The rain is warm, and I need a shower.

For lunch, we eat a brightly colored Tang, the same kind of fish my daughter, Kim, has as a pet in her aquarium. Mary hasn’t quite adapted to Samoan food yet and doesn’t eat the fish as she returns to the toilet for the fourth time, so far today.

Later we learn, the village mayor (pulenu’u) on whose property we live, is mad at me because he thought I had gone to Apia to submit a grant application for a school fence without his prior approval. In actuality, Mary and I went to “The City”, Apia, for a few days of the South Pacific Games. But things being “Lost in Translation” are to be expected here.

A water pipe leaks. The plumber comes. The water pipe still leaks and will be fixed tomorrow when he comes back with the part.

The nearby high school in Iva has been waiting for weeks for the arrival of a Peace Corps Volunteer, Dave, formally assigned to that school. He is to bring and replace some computer power supplies so they could use computers which have sat idle for months. Dave arrives and waits at our place for a teacher whom he has been in contact with comes to take him to the school. The teacher arrives and says he will return shortly. Nine hours later, well into the night, the teacher returns. Dave sleeps overnight with us, catches the 6:00 am ferry back to Upolu, leaving the power supplies with me. Dave has no plans ever to return to the high school.

Mary and I start to work on our Peace Corps 90 Day Activity Plan. One of our objectives is to visit as many homes in the village as we can. This is done to introduce us to the village and to get some idea about future projects. Fortunately a neighbor woman who speaks good English, one of our host family’s children, and Mary set off with a list of questions. Nervously, Mary goes from house to house, basically knocking on doors (but there are no doors!). After visiting five houses, she returns totally confused as to who was who, numbers of children, whose they are, etc., but with the satisfaction of a job well done. Some people are happy to meet her; others indifferent.

Meanwhile there is a big meeting of Matai’s (Lords of the Village) outside our fale. We think they are finally getting ready to meet with us. But alas, the meeting is to settle some dispute where insulted some chief. The Matai’s decide to throw the whole family out of the village by 3:00 pm that day. The main culprit hightails off Savaii to catch the next flight to New Zealand. When the Matai’s speak, that’s it. Period.

For dinner, we have things previously purchased from the market which we share with our host family. It consists of mutton flaps, vegetables and rice. Quite tasty. Our host family is really trying hard to please us, for which we are very thankful. For your info, the meat sold here consists of mutton flaps (sheep ribs), turkey tails, turkey wings, and salted (corned) beef brisket. There is some fish and fruits of the sea available when caught at the local market. Food here is either home grown, junk food, expensive, or stuff which has little or no value in the Western world.

Tonight is the final night of the South Pacific Games (Oceania’s Olympics). We can hear that most of the TV’s are tuned to it for boxing. I want to watch too, and especially to await the finals for basketball. Our host family’s TV antenna was broken earlier by their daughter’s one year old whom they are raising. No TV there. I go next door to visit George, a former boxing coach who has lived most of his life in Hawaii, because he loves sports and has a new TV just for the games. All he gets is black and white snow. No TV there either. I guess I will just have to read about the results when the new encyclopedia comes out. We don’t get a newspaper on Savaii either.

The kids gather again on our little porch. We cut an imported apple to share among them, a real treat. It rains hard, but they are unfazed in their west clothes.

Samoa is a peaceful, happy place. We are glad to be here among these beautiful people, away from the rest of the world and its insanity.

Time to eat another banana and listen to the chirping of the geckos above us before falling asleep at 9:30 pm. Soon the church gongs will sound to announce a new day and a new adventure.

Manuia le po. Good Night.

SPG, South Pacific Games


For the past two weeks, Samoan society has been focused on the South Pacific Games (SPG). This is like the Olympics for twenty two South Pacific countries, excluding New Zealand and Australia. Millions of dollars have been spent on the construction of entirely new facilities, including a natatorium with 50 meter pool, gymnasiums, boxing rings, and lots of viewing stands, tracks, playing fields, etc. Much at the expense of the Chinese who want Samoa’s vote in the UN to be reunited with Formosa and whose companies did most of the work. The roads in Apia have been repaved, traffic lanes painted, and traffic signals installed. A new marina built in anticipation of the yachts expected to arrive. Apia hardly looks like the same place when we arrived last June.

Like all such events, there is a crazed nationalism which tends to run rampant. New Caledonia is running away with about every other metal; Tahiti capturing a large share as well. Supposedly the reason is because the French are filling the roosters of these French speaking countries with Europeans. Your nationality is based on your passport and the French have only one passport f or French speaking countries. No one mentions, teams like the Samoan basketball team have only one native Samoan, the other players all from America, but with Samoan passports. International sport is a crazy affair.

Just what happens after the games is probably, nothing. Those who thought business would boom are disappointed to learn that almost all the foreigners were either the athletes who have no money to spend or VIP guests who were treated gratis. The facilities, although first class, have few local athletes to keep them going. But the games did help to focus the South Pacific’s attention on Samoa, at least for two weeks.

Anyway, I got a pass to the games as a “Media Liaison” for basketball. I wrote articles for the official games web site. For this, I was fed and given free rein. However, writing about 10 basketball games in two days didn’t give me anytime to see anything else. But I did get the chance to witness some of the inside stuff that happened. But this is an open blog, so this news must be kept “Hush, Hush, and Confidential”.

The Luau


A couple of nights ago, I was asked if I wanted to watch our host family clean a pig, formally Snoopy. Snoopy was being donated to their Catholic Church as part of a fund raising luau, being held by several Catholic Churches. There was going to be a lot of food, including Snoopy. Since it sounded like a great feast and we had to eat, we bought two tickets from our host family.

Before going to the luau, we stopped at the Peace Corps office in Saleleloga (the main berg, market, and ferry location) where we met some other Peace Corps Volunteers. Well, we talked and when we arrived at the luau site, it was over (times being lost in translation). The people at the luau wanted to refund our money, but we refused to accept their offer.

Upon returning home, we joked with our host family about how Snoopy was eaten so quickly that we missed eating at the luau altogether. Big mistake. We had no idea what a problem it would create by not accepting the refund.

We found ourselves hard pressed to explain that it was our fault for missing the luau and we wanted the church to keep the money. Of course, there is a lot more to this complicated story then I am prepared to write or for you to read. The moral is this seemingly simple third world country is a very complicated place.



The business of healing body, psyche, and soul is huge and encompasses the disciplines of religion, art, and some science. Living in a very different society forces one to look more closely at the society left behind. Let me try to explain.

Here in Iva a two year old neighbor girl was very sick with a fever, swollen throat, and cried throughout the night in considerable discomfort. The grandmother took the child several times to a traditional healer where the child was given massages with certain leaves and oils, she also went to the local hospital where the child was diagnosed with mumps and given an antibiotic, and then she went across the street to the Catholic church to pray and accept God’s will. After several days, the child was better.

Why did the child get better? Of course, your answer depends on what you believe and the amount of faith you place in that belief.

Like a Venn diagram with overlapping circles, most of us like to cover our bets by not relying on one method of healing alone, but we do tend to favor one method over the other. Samoans are no different. They just tend to favor different circles than Americans. They place as much faith in their circles as we do in ours. It really isn’t worth a debate. Who knows, maybe we somehow mystically heal ourselves despite our interventions and circles, or failing, accept our fate as mortals.

Food Shock


Our Peace Corps training prepared us well for language, living conditions, disease, safety, and some cultural differences. It didn’t prepare us for Food Shock; what we would experience food wise after being left at our new village, on our own.

In Manunu I now realize we lived in a protected food bubble where our host families were told the types of balanced meals to prepare for us, and were generously paid for our room and board. This combined with a competition between the villagers about who made the best meals, created a sort of Samoan gastronomical paradise and spoiled us for what was to come.

The Peace Corps dropped us in Iva with all sorts of stuff, but nary an scrap of food, nor any instructions as to what we might expect about eating. (Sorry, we did have a class on edible native plants and instructions on a kerosene stove, should we want to order one.)

Thank goodness for Samoan hospitality and their disdain for starving people. Our Iva host family gave us food, and continued to give us food. The same food they grew and ate. Lots of it. The food is simple, consisting almost entirely of taro, breadfruit, cocoa, papaya, bananas, fried dough, raw dough, and some fish. Samoans may be known for their generosity, but not their cuisine. We were hungry most of the time. We were experiencing Food Shock. We finally rode our bikes into town where we discovered a store that sold crackers, peanut butter and jelly. Currently, our main stables.

We are slowly working out an arrangement whereby we buy such things as eggs, vegetables, bread, mutton flaps, rice, and other specialty foods for us and them while they prepare us one meal a day. The family cooks on wood and lives in the back. This seems to be working out, but one never knows what may be lost in translation.

We are living with a wonderful family who treats us like royalty, but their lives are very different from what we have known. No food goes to waste. What excess they give us is fed to the children afterwards. They told us that they live like Jesus.

Several other Peace Corps Volunteers from our Group 78 have also experienced food shock. Some say they are hungry all the time. Maybe my ire is more at the Peace Corps for overlooking this important aspect of adjusting to village life than anything else.

Week One in Iva


What is it like? You may ask. Well, living here can be compared to tent camping in a crowded public campground in the middle of a hot, humid summer, filled with lots of Latinos, kids and pets. No privacy, noise, activity everywhere, and bad food. Your best friend is toilet paper. You compete with ants and flies during the day for space and food. Now add to that the fact that you are trying to set up your house and can’t find even a Phillips screwdriver anywhere. Common things you have taken for granted, just don’t exist, or if they do are cheaply made and expensive. A person could get stressed out, and we have, at times. We have to remind ourselves that this is exactly why we volunteered.

We are on the compound of the village mayor or pulenu’u. He has a large Catholic family of ten children, six of whom live here, ages 20 – 8, along with a baby grandchild of a daughter who lives in Apia. The adults speak little English, but the oldest girl here speaks good English and is our teacher. Also living in other houses on the compound are various other relatives, most of whom seem to be women with children. It may take us a while to figure the relationships out. The children are great and are always around wanting to help, or simply just to sit and stare at us.

Some of Our Guests

Our Samoan is rapidly improving. I guess this is total immersion. We are both grateful for the language and culture lessons we received during our training weeks. Our language trainers really helped prepare us to at least survive one week.

We have already been put to work as Peace Corps, measuring for a 1,000 meter fence proposal for a new school, and going with the women’s committee to inspect houses to make sure they are clean and sanitary. This village has been waiting for a Peace Corps Volunteer. Just how we can meet all their requests remains to be seen. At least, it isn’t like we don’t have anything to do.

Whereas everything in the training village of Manunu was supervised, the villagers on their best behavior, and the Peace Corps the focus of attention, life in Iva is almost the opposite. We have to figure things out for ourselves, the villagers go about their daily activities without concern about us, and we are more an oddity than anything else.

There are lots of little things to complain about if we were someplace else, but..

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moa Samoa, Samoan Chicken


The next time you buy chicken without the skin, you should consider Moa Samoa. The chickens here are truly range fed and fat free. They spend there entire lives running; running from dogs, from cats, from pigs, from cars, from people who are trying to eat them. Their food is organic. No supplements for them. It’s bugs, worms, anything that moves. These birds are tough! I mean tough; no matter how you cook them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gang of Six, Savaii

August 23, 2007

Today begins the new life on the island of Savaii for the "Gang of Six". We consider ourselves to be the Delta Force of the Peace Corps, dropped into remote areas with grand expections for our mission and mostly our wits to help us survive.

Gang of Six: On Ferry to Savaii

Mary, Safyia, Kate, Ben, Nick, Jacob

Our New Home

August 23, 2007

This is our new home in the Village of Iva for the next two years. We are very fortunate to have such a nice place constructed for us by the villagers. This is a remote village on a rural island, so communication and almost everything else known to us is unfamiliar.There is so much to tell about all our new experiences and environs. I hope you learn with us about this place called Samoa.

Our New Home
Front Porch and Local Gathering Area

Dinette and Work Desk

Future Cooking Area

Shower, Toilet, Vanity, Water Filtration Area

Master Bedroom Suite

Front View

Rear View

Main Street (Only Street) Iva

Catholic Church across the Road

Some of the Children

Swearing In Ceremony, Manunu


After twelve weeks of training, today marks our official induction into the Peace Corps. We are to become “Peace Corps Volunteers, PCV”.

The morning began somewhat auspiciously. On the journey from our Apia Hotel to Manunu, we approached a speed bump. Instead of slowing down our hired bus continued on towards another bus which was on the speed bump. It suddenly became apparent WE HAD NO BRAKES! As our bus served to avoid the bus ahead of us, an oncoming pickup appeared at the speed bump. Without even downshifting we hit the speed bump at full speed miraculously squeezing between the two vehicles. Unperturbed our diver continued on. After yelling at him to stop, the bus finally came to a halt on an upgrade. We quickly disembarked thankful we had avoided a real tragedy.

The Village of Manunu was decked out for our ceremony which was held in the church. There were speeches by various officials, staff, and a speech in Samoan by Lini in our group and one in English by me. A big lunch was served followed by more hugs, kisses, and gifts.

Somehow the whole event was muted. Maybe we were tired of it all and simply wanted to move on to our permanent villages; maybe the goodbyes to our host families were just one to many. The whole event, although well done, didn’t have the impact we had anticipated months before. But at least now, we were Peace Corps Volunteers.

Upon returning to the Peace Corps office in Apia to pick up our bicycles, mosquito nets, water filtration systems, locks, door entry codes and other stuff, bedlam reined. No one seemed to know or care about us anymore. It seemed like staff were preparing for the next group as we struggled.

That night the current volunteers held a nice pizza party for us at the hotel. We were now part of their world. It was the end of us being “Trainees”.

Official Manunu Departure


Just when you think you can’t take anymore celebrations and goodbyes, the village has a huge ceremony the next morning for our departure. The village paraded out to us and to our amazement we were presented with all kinds of food, including a freshly slaughter cow (a major honor), a huge cooked pig, many smaller cooked pigs, taro, canned mackerel and corned beef. Then there was another round of tears and hugging and kissing. We all were overwhelmed and exhausted by this final event.

On August 22, we again return to Manunu for our swearing in ceremony. Who knows what awaits us?

Final Fia Fia


For the past two weeks we have been practicing for our going away fia fia, never quite realizing just what a night is was going to be. Our ladies had to learn a traditional Samoan dance to the song “Red Hibiscus”, our men a traditional Samoan slap dance, and together we rehearsed a short religious play spoken in Samoan. As you may see from the practice photos, we were not always in sync.

The actual fia fia is really a huge event done outside in front of the church. It seemed that everyone in the village either sang or danced. It lasted for over two hours. The dancing and singing were truly amazing. The men’s performances exuding strength and virility, the younger women beauty and grace, and the married women sang traditional songs. Each group would pull some of us out of the audience to join them. The men tended to favor our younger female volunteers while the married women grabbed our males. The unmarried woman Samoan girls just remained lovely and elusive. I was pulled out and suddenly this woman jumped up on me, knocking off my glasses. It was that kind of night. A night when traditions ruled and inhibitions tabled.

We in the Peace Corps seemed to thrill the crowd. Each villager bragged about the performance given by their “Pisikoa”. Unfortunately, the lighting was terrible and the flash on my camera not strong enough to capture the event. Well maybe even if I could have taken pictures, it still would not have captured the night. As they say, you just had to be there.

Ladies Rehersal

Men's Rehersal

Ready to Perform

Men Set to Go

LPI Language Proficiency Exam


Today marks our final and most important assessment, the Language Proficiency Exam. The Peace Corps wants us to score at least at the Intermediate Low Level of the LPI index. This level is one in which we should at least be able to survive on out own. We are to be able to tell people about ourselves, find our way around on buses and the ferry, shop for food and items, and ask other people about their families, etc.

The test is conducted in 20 minute sessions by an independent tester and is recorded. Our group all passed. Of course, they are many who greatly exceeded the minimum level.
The pictures may give you some idea of the tension as we awaited our term. Mary was the first to go, and had the rest of the day to relax.

What? Us Worried?

Mary, the first to be tested
Waiting for their turn in "The Box"