Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Extra Cash?


There are many good causes asking for your donations. I would like you to consider helping me out in Samoa as one of them, but without the overhead costs. The needs here are almost overwhelming. You can take any area from education, to health, to small business, to home gardens that cry out for assistance.

If you would like to donate directly, you can go to your local supermarket service counter and send a Money Gram or Western Union to me. I shall do my best to carry out your wishes on its use and from whom it came.

If you would like to donate a large tax-deductible sum ($1,000+), the Peace Corps has a special partnership program with some matching funds, if available. This is a longer process, requiring the submission of an application to the Peace Corps for a specific project.

All donations are to be used to help Samoans help themselves, rather than direct handouts to individuals.

To donate directly, wire funds to:
Nick Shuraleff
Westpac Bank
Salelologa, Samoa (Western)

If you or a group of you want to participate in the Peace Corps Partnership Program, please let me know about how much you want to contribute and we can develop a proposal together.

If you want or have contributed, please email me at:

Please note: The United States sends no foreign aid to Samoa and the Peace Corps provides us with no funds with which to do our projects.

Read More about Our Adventures


The March issue of the magazine, Minnesota Good Age, has an article about seniors in the Peace Corps, featuring us. I don’t know where you can purchase the magazine, but the article should be available soon on their website

A Samoan Catholic Wedding


Except for the stray dog at the altar, weddings in Samoa are somewhat similar to those in the U.S. There is the bride in her white dress, the best man, maid of honor; some weddings meticulously planned, others hurriedly performed. Even the wedding vows seem the same. Weddings are meant to be statements, for whose benefit is debatable.

Last December I described the wedding of the pastor’s daughter from the largest and wealthiest church in the village. It was meant to be spectacular and it was. In Samoa you measure the success of a wedding by how much the guests get to take home, instead of visa versa.

My measure of a wedding’s success is did I have fun. By these standards, the more modest Catholic wedding yesterday is what a wedding should be, a celebration. Booze, dancing, laughing, and soapy speeches make weddings memorable. Samoan Catholics seem to do this the best.

Like other Samoan events, Mary and I are totally lost. Since there are no written invitations, we don’t even know whether we are invited, let alone being honored guests. We have no idea what is happening at the reception until a village leader calls us to do a Samoan dance to everyone’s delight.

Samoan dances are filled with all kinds of sexual moves. To the table shaking, thumping beat of Samoan-rap-reggae-rock music, it is the seniors who dance as the younger guests watch. It seems the dancers are recognizing old love affairs with their graceful, alluring movements.

We watch, drink, and stumble with our Samoan as the bride and groom leave. It is time for us to take our gifts of food and cake back to share with host family. The music ends, but the drinking and unknown happenings continue into the night.

Month Six Progress Report- Iva


School has started and the overseas relatives have left. Suddenly things are picking up in the village. People are busy making up for lost time. No midwinter blahs here.
My motto for this month is: “Learn by Doing. Teach by Example”.

Village Computer Training/Telecenter
We are still pursuing this major project by staying in touch with the Ministry of Communications as we see whether are proposal is accepted and the funds are available in June.
The principle at the local high school that originally indicated we could use his computer lab to teach people in the community has changed his mind. He does not want to open up the lab to anyone, even if he can use the extra money. Some of his school staff that was expecting us to assist is extremely disappointed. The computer lab is used to teach English. There is no one to teach computer. The facility just sits. You figure.
In the mean time, we have started computer training for an hour a day to the teachers at the local primary school. Most of the teachers have never even used a typewriter.

Sewing Machines
Construction is continuing preparing a building for instruction on the sewing machines. A schedule still needs to be prepared for classes.

Village Youth
We have been given the go ahead to submit a proposal for a basketball court to be constructed at the local park.

Home Gardens
In addition to my backyard demonstration garden, we are clearing ¼ acre for an expanded Demonstration Garden for the Ministry of Agriculture. This is consuming most of my time.
Meanwhile a group of local women plan to pay back loans by gardening. The loans are mostly to poor women who use them to pay for personal essentials, not gardening tools. I think they want me to submit a proposal for gardening tools. More on micro loans later.

New Primary School
Relatives of Iva residents living in New Zealand for a new school are collecting funds from their Samoan countrymen. They rejected the idea for Iva residents coming over to collect. It seemed they are worried about one for the pot, one for me.
After the funds are collected, we are to submit a proposal for a 1,500 meter fence around the school.

Small Business Development
Using my host family to learn how business is done in Samoa and my own money to seed start-ups, we have successful begun a popcorn business of making popcorn, which is a popular treat and selling it at the large bingo games. No one in the village is selling popcorn. Also a business making and selling T-shirts is taking off. Early sales have to Peace Corps to determine styles, patterns, and colors. We also have a store in town selling them. We are currently building inventory with a goal to sell to resorts. Nowhere on Savaii can you buy a souvenir t-shirt. Both businesses are profitable, even after paying me back the start-up costs. Now we have to make a decision as to the next step.
I plan to take what I am learning to conduct business lessons in the village. One thing is very clear; doing business in Samoa is not like in the U.S. I am learning a lot.



My first exposure to breadfruit was watching a TV rerun of Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty” on the ship’s ignominious South Sea voyage to get breadfruit trees to feed England’s West Indies’ slaves. Now I am the one who eats, or am fed, breadfruit almost everyday.

Breadfruit trees are very common. They are quite beautiful with large decorative leaves whose shape is found in many Samoan patterns. These leaves fall throughout the year and are picked up by children every morning as their first daily chore. The trees fruit twice a season; the second fruits somewhat smaller than the first.

Boiled or baked breadfruit is a stable for both humans and pigs. To me it tastes like a mouth full of unsalted soda crackers. Putting coconut cream on it provides a sweet lubricant.

At night the unpicked overripe fruit comes crashing through the trees, splats on the ground, and looks like white vomit. You can hear the pigs scurrying to eat this treat. No food goes to waste in Samoa.

I now wonder whether it was Captain’s Bligh’s harsh discipline of his sailors (He was acquitted of that charge), the lure of South Sea’s wahines, or the thought of breadfruit that caused some of his crew to mutiny. Somehow a movie made about eating breadfruit just doesn’t quite have the audience appeal as a lashing with the “Cat of Nine-Tails”.


Breadfruit Trees in Front of our House

Computer Lessons


Here are two recent experiences with trying to give computer lessons:

1. While I was trying to teach how to use the computer to teachers, all but two of who had never even used a typewriter at Iva’s Primary School, I held up the mouse to explain how it is used. The teachers all started laughing. There was a real mouse running along the shelf behind me.

2. I received an email from a newly arrived Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to teach computers asking if he could borrow a computer for a while. It seems his school has no computers.
My reply, “Welcome to Samoa”

Going to the Movies


Someone told me it is Academy Award time, so maybe it is worth a comment about going to the movies in Samoa. Samoa has one theatre, The Majik, located in Apia. I consider the theater to be modern. It has two screens, sells popcorn and candy, is air-conditioned, and has first run movies for $2.25 US. I have only seen three movies there. The only one worth remembering is “The Transformers”. Whatever the Academy Award nominees or winners are, I doubt they have been shown for long, if at all, on Samoa’s silver screen. Even though the movies are not memorable, watching the Samoans watch them is.

American movies are filled with “in” stuff designed to generate certain responses from the audience. When your audience “doesn’t get it” or misses the point of the scene altogether, it is time to check your cell phone for missed calls. This may blind the person behind you, but since there are no explosions in the scene, it doesn’t matter anyway. The din of ringing cell phones really isn’t a problem, because it tends to drown out the constant chatter and the crying of babies. You do realize you are in a different place when Will Smith, sobbing, kisses his dying dog that has just saved his life and the audience laughs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sophia Mitchell is Missing


Sophia Mitchell, New York City, from our Group 78 has been sick with intestinal problems since before December. She has lost 30 pounds with intermittent trips to the local hospital. Two weeks ago she was flown to Hawaii for further tests and treatment. The Peace Corps decided her condition is chronic and did not want her to continue as a Peace Corps Volunteer. This news was not only a blow to Sophia, but also to her fellow Group 78 volunteers and to her small village.

Sophia had really clicked with her village of Mauga (mountain in Samoan). This village of less than 100 people encircles an ancient crater. The stars and mountains are its backdrop. Sophia had several projects underway. She was starting a preschool, had brought the Red Cross to train on health issues, got a grant for school books for the preschool, and had painted a map of the world on preschool wall. Her love of children and the villager’s love for her were apparent when I visited her (see my blog DATE). She was just hitting her stride when illness overtook her.

Our Group 78 considers itself special. We all have a dream of successfully complete our 27 months of together. Maybe we are an arrogant and idealistic group, but let’s face it, we are damn good! No matter what we may feel about out manifest destiny, we as mortals cannot long escape the fickle finger of fate.

Sophia, born in Jamaica, has a natural flair. Her smile, her colorful outfits, her hairstyle, her passion for Hot Tamale candies, her concerns for others; all this and more is Sophia. She shall continue somewhere to finish the work she started in Mauga on the Samoan island of Savaii. Sophia may have left Samoa, but she is still part of Group 78. Even though she is missing, she is not gone. She is our “Taupou”*.

*Title given to a village maiden for her charm, looks and manners. Among her duties is the preparation of kava during important ceremonies.

Reality Bites


Samoa can leave you with the feeling that all is well. In fact, the Samoan government does not even keep track of poverty. However from where we sit, Samoa looks quite different.

Today, two of the girls from our host family (4th and 7th grades) came home early from school crying. Upon asking if school let out early, we discovered the family did not have the $7.50 US to pay for both semester school fees and were sent home until they could get the money.

Women in the village are taking out loans at over a 30% interest rate to pay the fees and start up expenses of school. They hope to repay these loans by starting small businesses of which they have no experience. There is a neighbor girl of 14 who is not going to school because of fees. It goes on and on.

These people are not lazy, not irresponsible. They are poor. It is easy to criticize the ways of the poor when sitting on gilded chairs. Their hopes and dreams are the same as others. Their world is different.

Joy of Farming


As a person who grew up in the middle of Detroit, it is hard to imagine what it is like to be a farmer. I did watch my immigrant Russian grandfather tend his large garden, chickens, and rabbits under the shadow of Hamtramck’s Dodge factory. My parents would occasionally take the family to visit the farm of a fellow immigrant, the Gorrs. Outside of a small garden in the back of our Detroit city lot home and my attempts at a backyard garden in Minnesota, my association with the soil has been mainly cutting the grass and raking leaves. Farming seemed a step backwards in man’s quest for the stars.

Now I find myself living with farmers. Farmers who not only grow the very food they eat, but whose hopes for their family’s future depend on their farming skills. There is a joy and satisfaction to farming I never knew. Sore muscles, dirt under the fingernails, the effects of fertilizer, watching for rain, counting leaves and sprouts, clearing the land, or watching pigs eat are the ways and talk of the farmer. To eat the food you produce is a joy every home gardener experiences. This satisfaction of being engaged with the physical world of work brings clarity to life often elusive in service occupations in which most of us are thrust.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spare the Rod


The bible says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child. Not too long ago the use of corporal punishment as way to teach children was an accepted axiom in the U.S., both at home and in the schools. Now newer psychological methods of corrective action (punishment) replace physical ones. We are so convinced of these newer techniques that we have passed laws prohibiting the use of corporal punishment not only for ourselves, but have pressured other countries to do the same. In Samoa corporal punishment is illegal; however, it is widely practiced.

For many the use of force on children is so abhorrent as to cause mental anxieties. Yesterday, Mary watched a 10-year-old neighbor girl being trashed and pulled by her hair by her mother for apparently not picking up the leaves and/or doing her homework. We know and greatly like both. Every fiber in Mary’s body wanted to intervene and stop this mismatch. The effects on Mary may be longer lasting than to either mother or child. These memories are really the hardest and most enduring aspects of living in a very different culture.

Mary and I were raised differently. She never experienced corporal punishment; I did.
Whether corporal or psychological techniques are used it seems that most children grow up into responsible, law abiding adults. The children of Samoa seem to be a happy lot. Their parents are loving and caring.

As for me, I prefer the swift and clear-cut action of corporal punishment when oral persuasion fails. I certainly do not condone either physical or psychological abuse. As to the long-term effects of the two contrasting styles of our parents, others have to be the judge.

Working Together


Valentine’s Day emotes thoughts of love between two people. Indeed, it does for Mary and me. Layered over these endearments are the harsh realities of living together and working together in a foreign land. For us, living together part as gone rather well. Much like in Minnesota, we each have our domestic roles to fill. We have found continually being together without the release valve of separate friends and activities, manageable. The hard part is finding our occupational Peace Corps niches. The challenge is for each of us to develop a purposeful Peace Corps job where no specific job tasks exist.

In the U.S., both couples may work, but rarely do they work together in the same place on the same task. The skills of successfully living together do not necessarily transfer to working together. We and two other Peace Corps couples grapple with this fact as we try to define and execute what we are to do in our villages. It is difficult enough to structure a meaningful job for one and may be insurmountable for two. Someone gets left out, standing in the heat.

My personality blends well with our ambiguous mission. I relish starting things from scratch, organizing, problem solving, and using my domineering style to get action from others. Mary is the consummate listener. She can calm the most troubled beast. Her skills require picking up the nuances of others and translating them back in a suggestive, supportive manner. This is very difficult when faced with linguistic and cultural obstacles.

We are still young lovers, impatient in the game of Peace Corps. Like most young lovers, idealistic; but as a couple of oldies, knowledgeable that living and working together takes more than Cupid’s arrows.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Garden Treasures


You never know what kind of rocks are hidden in your garden.



If you are a Samoan who hardly ever reads and you see a book with a bookmark, what would you do? Of course, you would pull it out, examine it, and place it back somewhere in the book.

Now, what page was I reading?

Storm at Sea (ESC)

As we sat trying to concentrate during our sessions, the roar of 15 foot waves crashing on the barrier reef reminded us of the Pacific Ocean’s power and somewhere, maybe hundreds of miles away, there had been a terrific storm.

Castrating Cattle (ESC)

Jan Ott, from Group 76, gave a demonstration on castrating cattle and to teach men the method from Peace Corps Volunteer Shawn's nearby village . Some of the village men asked why castrate the young bulls?

We Peace Corps males watched with shivers up our spines as Jan expertly removed the bull’s “Essence of Manhood”.

No female members of our group came.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Early Service Conference (ESC)


One of the happiest times is when our Group 78 gets together. This past week (Feb 4-8) we went to a required Peace Corps event called Early Service Conference held at Faofao Beach Resort at Saleapaga on the island of Uplou. We stayed in Samoan style beach houses next to roaring waves. We stuffed ourselves with such rare delicacies as cheese, grapes, and salads. Sessions were held to improve our language, learn more about writing proposals, teaching methods, and another retelling of Peace Corps rules.

Group 78 seems to have a special place in the minds of Peace Corps trainers. One of the staff who has trained over 20 groups remarked that our group was the very best. We feel that way too, but exactly why we are held in such high esteem is difficult to understand. The trainers feel it is due to their new training methods. Maybe it was the training village of Manunu. Maybe it was the preparation of the villages prior to our arrival by the Peace Corps staff and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Of course, we feel we are just a talented group with a sense of purpose. The bar is set high for us. We like that honor.

Our entire group of sixteen is still together after eight months. The only person who did not attend was Sophia Mitchell who was flown to Hawaii for treatment of a nasty tropical intestinal problem. There seems to be a genuine caring and interest in what each of us is doing. As the oldest person in our group, I feel this kinship which crosses age, gender, and talent boundaries. Just whether our group falls into the long standing “Early Separation” statistic of 29% remains to be seen. We still have nineteen more months to go.

What were beneficial to us all were the individual presentations about our highs and lows. We all have had them. When we were working actively on our projects seems to mark the high times; the lows during those inactive periods waiting for something to happen, when we just couldn’t get others to share our enthusiasm.

Some in our group are having problems with their initial placement; some have already been reassigned to new villages and/or jobs. Peace Corps does a lot to properly match the volunteer with the job and does not take moving people lightly. Many times the problems works themselves out as both Samoans and the volunteer readjust their expectations. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there.

In trying best to describe Samoa and the culture we find ourselves in, the word “convoluted” came up. No one can think of a better word. We are all trying to connect the dots. The lines don’t seem to go in a straight line. Just where the line goes, we don’t understand, but somehow the dots get connected. We just need plenty of patience and not to worry.
Group 78 with Language Trainers
(Sophia Mitchell, missing)

Language Classroom

A Little Evening Entertainment