Sunday, March 30, 2008

Red Sky in the Morning

Don’t worry, there is no fire.
This early morning red sky is the signal for another beautiful day in paradise.

Lawrence’s Four Mothers


For those who have not been regularly reading this blog, a summary of baby Lawrence is due. Lawrence is a 15-month-old child of the oldest daughter of our host family. For his first year his grandmother at our family compound raised him. The mother lived in Apia with the unmarried father. Last November our host father’s sister and her 50+ American husband visited Samoa from their home in Hawaii. Since the sister did not have any children of her own and since she tried every known medical technique but failed to get pregnant, it was decided that she could adopt Lawrence. Lawrence’s mother and father then returned to live with our host family around Christmas. Lawrence’s mother is pregnant with her second child, due in April or May. The Hawaiian sister talked about returning that time to get Lawrence.

Overlying this Samoan saga is the fact that Lawrence has been plagued with severe skin infections since we arrived over seven months ago. Here enters the fourth woman-mother force, Mary, with an interest in Lawrence. Each force has Lawrence’s well being at heart, albeit they differ from one another.

Birth Mother: has bonded to Lawrence along with the father. Neither wants to give up Lawrence or the new baby. It appears that they may permanently live in Iva.
Grandmother: has raised ten children of her own besides Lawrence and feels she can give him a stable home.

Hawaiian mother: has been promised Lawrence, if not Lawrence, then maybe the unborn child. She has started adoption proceedings.

Peace Corps Mother: can’t stand to see the baby continue to suffer from skin infections, has lost faith in Samoan hospitals, can’t seem to make any progress in getting the skin infections cured, nor can she understand how the other women can tolerate Lawrence’s affliction.
As far as Lawrence is concerned, he is a happy child with a severe, but seemingly normal itch.

Talomua/First Taro


Talomua is when the young men present the first fruits of the new taro to the village chiefs or party of visitors. Today a Talomua was held in Iva for all the villages on Savaii’s eastern shore (most densely populated part of Savaii) and Savaii’s first within recent memory. The Ministry of Agriculture conducted this old custom for local farmers along with the Prime Minister as a contest for cash prizes, somewhat like a county or state fair, but with a definite Samoan twist.

During the Talomua there are long prayers, long speeches by dignitaries, and even longer greetings by village orators. Of course the main event is the giving of gifts, fine mats, cooked pigs, and slaughtered cows to the ministers, guests and officials. Iva villagers received cash for putting on the affair, prizes handed out, and exhibited produce sold. Food was served to all. A pickup with beer pulled up. Everyone went home happy, many with extra cash in their pockets.

Events like this remind me of a certain universality among peoples, filling the same basic needs for community, but each doing so in their own unique way.

Presenting Ava Sticks to Guest

Some Mighty Fine Veggies

Kate Everett, Peace Corps Volunteer, Assisting with Judging



To the casual Samoan visitor one would think with all the roosters crowing, hens clucking, and chicks beeping that Samoans are awash in their own poultry meat and eggs. As many things in this convoluted world, such is not the case. Outside of the infrequent chicken, which happens to end up in the stew pot, Samoans import the chicken and eggs they eat.

The imported chicken or more correctly the hindquarters, for the exporting countries eat the breasts, comes frozen and is like the chicken you would by at your local supermarket. Eggs, maybe not so.

Eggs are sold un-refrigerated. One never has any idea how long they have been sitting on the store shelf. But not to worry, because eggs are naturally sterile and since the hens have not had the pleasure of being near a rooster, there are no little chicks greeting you when you crack them open. Still it would be nice to see an egg with a little firm albumen surrounding a lightly colored yoke.

Why then do Samoans have chickens? Chickens eat bugs. Also if you are really hungry or broke, they are available for the catching. Since chickens roam freely, nest in the bush, and feed themselves, they are relatively carefree. Problems do arise when these feathered friends decide to scratch for bugs in your vegetable garden.

Please excuse me. Right now I need a rock because a hen and her chicks are in my cabbage.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Progress Report, Month Seven


The Garden Project
The month of March can be summarized as our garden month. The clearing of ¼ acre of rocky soil, the planting of 10 vegetable beds, and lugging water buckets has kept us very busy. We have never worked harder in Samoa. Our technique of getting people interested by actually doing things seems to be working. There are a number of families who have started gardens with us supplying the starter plants from our nursery. The Ministry of Agriculture has watched our demonstration garden grown into a vegetable farm. We have been trading the hard to get seeds with others. Our objective is: “If you don’t have a job, you should have a garden”.

Telecenter/Computer Training
We got some good news, or I should say a good rumor, about our proposal for a telecenter. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, to whom we report, indicated the Ministry of Communications is strongly considering our proposal. We know they currently do not have the funds, but the rumor has had a real positive effect on us.

Teaching the teachers at the local primary school how to use the computer they have been given is a real disappointment. Over the past month, I have met initially with only three groups of teachers (14), almost all of whom have not even used a typewriter. Training sessions are continually canceled, forgotten, or not attended. There is a total lack of interest in learning how to use a computer. I don’t blame the teachers or the school principle since there is no reason why they need to use a computer to conduct their classes. Until there is a reason or requirement to learn how to use a computer, the computer will sit covered, unused, and eventually corrode. I do plan to meet with the school principle again at the end of the month to see if there are a couple of teachers who may want to learn.

Our effort at teaching computers at the high school likewise has been a disappointment. Earlier we thought we were scheduled to start training teachers at the schools beautiful, but unused, computer center. The principle seems to have a change of heart and doesn’t want “outsiders” there. Since these computers are suppose to be available to the village, we need to bring the Iva Village Council into the picture and have them put some pressure of the principle.

There are many schools in Samoa with successful computer programs, but these schools are headed by principles that are knowledgeable about computers. These leaders push their staffs, students, and community. I think the principles at our two schools simply don’t know how to use a computer and are reluctant to show their ignorance.

Sewing Machines
The Women’s Committee has finished building a room to store the machines this past month. Now it is time to start providing lessons to the village. This activity is at least moving forward.

Village Youth
The person on our Peace Corps Committee who represents the village youth and who so ably organized the talent contest has gone back to school in Apia. We need to find a replacement and start planning another youth activity.

Small Business
The two pilot small businesses I have started using my host family seem to be doing well and are profitable after paying me back my initial start-up loan. Popcorn is being sold at the local bingo parlor, and T-shirts are now being sold in a tourist café located at the ferry wharf. I plan to get a silk screening machine to handle the increased t-shirt demand. Just how I am going to handle the income from the garden still needs to be decided.

Party at Rosie’s


Rosie, not pictured, is a teacher in Group 79 who lives in the village of Fusi several miles up the road from us. She lives by herself in four-bedroom home with all the amenities. Since nature abhors a vacuum and Rosie is good host, a number of Peace Corps had a spaghetti dinner at her place. We were the only non-teachers at the party, amazed at the posh living conditions the schools provide for Peace Corps teachers. What would we do with a microwave, washing machine, TV, internet access, and hot water anyway?
P.S. This is the best picture I could get of this elusive group.

John Kleive's Visit


John Kleive is a Peace Corps Volunteer, Group 79, who stayed with us this weekend as he experienced the island of Savaii for the first time. He is a fellow Minnesotan from the northern city of Ely. He is the oldest Samoan volunteer, being a couple of months older than I am.

John teaches welding to second chance kids at Don Bosco School in Apia.
He is well qualified for the task. John not only was a welder, but also taught welding in a Minnesota high school before joining a French welding supply company as their welding expert. Seeing the lack of welding supplies by which to conduct his classes, John has been able to have a friend in the welding supply business ship much needed supplies to the school.

Heavenly Music


The singing of the various church choirs practicing for Holy Week services floats over us as we sit on our porch. The music is so beautiful with complex harmonies and rhythms. No matter what your religious belief, the music is heavenly

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What We Eat


Here are our typical daily meals:

Breakfast or Morning Tea
Mary almost always starts her day with a bowl of oatmeal. If she has them, she adds raisins or bananas. Since I start earlier, I have a couple of cups of “coffee” before joining Mary with either oatmeal or more commonly toast with peanut butter and jelly. Our host family used to bring us fried dough every morning, but has ceased to do that seeing we prefer to make our own morning meal.
Lunch or Heavy Meal
Our host family makes this meal for us that can appear anytime from 11:00 am to 2:30pm. About half the time the meal consists of canned mackerel cooked with some fresh vegetables. Rice or ramen noodles may be added with a little onion. Depending on what is being shared, mutton flaps or chopped chicken hindquarters replace the canned mackerel. Once in a while, we get two meat dishes. Soy sauce may be added for flavoring. All these meals are cooked in a pot, kind of stew or soup. Breadfruit is the usual side dish.
Dinner or Afternoon Tea
We never know when or if this meal may appear from our host family. When it does come anytime between 6:30pm to 8:30, it is usually rice mixed with a sweet coconut cream or in a sugary cocoa soup. Due to the meals irregularity, we usually have eaten something before it appears. Our meal may be anything we have available from canned tuna fish, apples, oranges, crackers, sandwich cookies, popcorn, or my favorite, toast with peanut butter and jelly. Lately we have been eating a salad made with the leaves of a plant that grows behind our house.

What makes mealtime unpredictable is our host family is working at the plantation, so lunches are often prepared after returning from morning activities or evening meals when they return late from their afternoon plantings. Children usually come home from school very hungry and devourer the remainder of lunch.

Mary cooks very seldom now as we have gotten used to our new way of eating. Another factor is that there is really not much in the stores you can buy to cook in a way we used to eat. The selection in Savaii is very limited. It seems that even restaurant meals have lost their appeal (Mary may differ on this point).

Please don’t think all Samoan Peace Corps eat as we do. Those that live in Apia, can easily get there, or whose families shop in Apia have a wide selection in the supermarkets from which to choose and can get ingredients to prepare almost any American dish. They or their host families may even have ovens to bake or roast. Those really up on the economic ladder may even get meals prepared in a fry pan!

The real advantage of our diet and activities is we have not gained weight and none of our host family can be considered overweight, a rarity in Samoa. Our food, if it grows in the ground, it is fresh. If it is frozen, refrigerated or has a label, it is imported, even eggs. Our true luxury is the refrigerator. We infrequently have any food to store, but there is nothing like a cold glass of water; better yet drinking cold coconut water straight out of the fruit. Yum!

Rocks Can Bring Us Together


One of the difficulties we have been facing as a Peace Corps couple is finding projects we can do together. Now we have. It’s rocks. No not diamonds, albeit I am sure, they would work. It’s lava rocks in our large garden.

We have started to clear a 1/4-acre of lava rocks, mostly several carats in size, to make beds for vegetables. We dig them out together. Mary usually lies in the dirt, sieving the soil between her fingers. I use the pick. We use the rocks to make mud less pathways around the compound. What better way to bring you and your spouse, or whomever, closer to you and share trying to clean the black soil from your bodies at the end of he day?

A Calm


There is a relative calm in our lives. We seem to have adopted a rhythm of life that is harmonious with our surroundings. The Peace Corps bureaucracy seems remote. Our daily routine, our attitude about the pace of Samoa, and the speed of our projects are now taken in stride. Even the food we get seems more palatable. Mary is even beginning to like it! She hasn’t cooked in quite a while. Our families are doing well and have seemed to adjust to our absence. It is a time for us to enjoy the stillness of tranquility.

Austrian Visitors

Act 1

While staying in the Savaii resort village of Manase and conducting T-shirt market research at the resorts, I met Kia and Mani , a young couple from Austria, who have been traveling since early December to New Zealand, Tonga, and now Samoa. They were nice enough to participate for two hours of my research. I invited them to stop and visit us. Sure enough they took me at my word and appeared two days later to spend the night.

I think they really enjoyed staying with us and living in a rural village. They plan to come back for the weekend.

Act 2

Austrian Visitors Return

True to their word, our overnight Austrian guests, Kia and Mani, returned to stay for another two nights. What a wonderful couple they are, ready to try almost anything.

During the three days away, they:
Climbed Mt. Silisili, Samoa’s highest peak of 1,800 meters (6,000) feet in one day. Usually a two day climb for good climbers, three days for many. Their guide, who was expecting a two-day trek, left them stranded on a lava field on their way down. He said his job was to only take them to the top.
Slept overnight in a huge Banyan tree (Canopy Walkway).
Saw the Alofa Blowholes.
Went two times around Savaii on a bus.
Went to Afu Aau Waterfalls and Tia Seu Burial Mounds.
Any one of these activities would test a traveler.
As if they hadn’t punished them selves enough, they came back to visit us.

While with us:
We found a nightclub on Savaii and danced a good part of the night away.
I had to tell the Samoan men that Kia was my daughter, but even that did not stop them. Beer, hormones, and a pretty girl can make many a man go crazy.

Ever willing to try new adventures, we dressed in Palm Sunday costumes and did church. Mani and I actually went twice!

The best times for Mary and me was just sitting around, sharing our life experiences (Theirs seemingly more than ours). It was sad for all that they had to continue on their journey. We have their Austrian address and an invitation to visit them. We warned them to be careful with their invitations. They say the wine there is very good. We all know that Mary will go anywhere for a good glass of wine.

Mani & Kia, Austria

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nick and His Beans


The Long Beans in Samoa are about 2-3 feet long. It takes them about three days to grow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Paul and Renee

It is difficult to say “goodbye” (Tofa, in Samoan) to fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. It is especially hard when they are members of your same training group and in your same program. Such it is with the other married couple, Paul Sylvester and Renee Moog, who have decided to return to their home in Portland, Oregon.

Paul and Renee labored a long time over their decision. It took them over a year for the application process before coming to Samoa. They have been here for nine months. A younger Renee had been in the Peace Corps in the African country of Senegal. She knew French and her Samoan was something to be admired. Paul had traveled and was an excellent carpenter who built most of their seaside Samoan house in their beautiful village of Ma’asina. He also was our resident expert on bicycles and gardens. They both had developed friendships with people of their village.

But there comes a time when you decide that the Peace Corps and/or Samoa are not for you. They made the right decision. Sometimes the chemistry or place just doesn’t work out. It is time to move on to something else. Mary and I shall miss them.

Dawn of Tomorrow

There is a weird feeling that comes over you when you are able to look at tomorrow. This is what happened to Mary and me, along with our friends Paul and Renee, as we stood early in the morning on the western most part of Savaii which is just to the east of the International Date Line. When you look out you see clouds and sea that are one day, 23 hours, ahead of you. When the sun sets, it is setting in tomorrow.

There is something mystical about “out there”, tomorrow. Even before the International Date Line was created, Samoans knew there is a force “out there”. It is the force of Nafanua, the legendary Samoan warrior who was thought to be a man by the enemy until her lava lava came off in battle. Cyclones come from “out there”. “Out there” can be a dangerous place.

The great feeling about looking at tomorrow is thou the clouds are dark and the weather maybe stormy, there is a hole through which light and the promise of better times can be seen.

An Alien World


I feel like I am living in an alien world. Not the world of the Samoans, but the non-Samoan world, what I use to call “My World”. My contacts with “My World” seem distant and removed, almost relevant, to my daily life.

The Peace Corps has successfully done its job. I am now firmly established at my assigned village. In a way, I am like a child who appreciates their monthly living allowance and knows they are ready to come to my rescue if needed, but am happy they are far away.

My fellow Peace Corps comrades are a great group and fun during those times we are together, but they are scattered throughout the country. Although they are very accommodating, their language of pop culture and future careers uses different words than I know.

Without the constant bombardment of news, water cooler gossip, or dialogues with old friends, my past frames of reference no longer hold true. It is as if unknowingly I have crossed an invisible line out of “My World” into another world. I don’t understand this new world in which I find myself, but I seem to oddly fit.

Mary hasn’t crossed this Rubicon. Maybe she never will. Maybe her visit to Minnesota over the holidays helped her to maintain or reconnect to the world “back there”. She may be the Flying Nun who helps me return to “My World” when our tour is finished. Until that time, hold on tightly Mary, we still have lots of flying yet to do!

Want a Banana?


First Steps


Lawrence, the household baby, has been Mary’s major concern ever since we arrived in Iva. She thought there might be a problem with him since he didn’t seem to be putting things in his mouth, crawling about, or pulling himself up on furniture. At fourteen months, he just stood up and started walking all over the place. He seems alert and in all ways a very normal child.

Lawrence is also the child who has been suffering from a severe skin disease since before we came to the village over six months ago. After repeated trips to the hospital his skin problem, earlier diagnosed as scabies, is now diagnosed as a staphylococcus skin infection. He is back on heavy doses of antibiotics, which seem to help, albeit new sores keep appearing.

The permanent status of Lawrence, previously KJ, is still uncertain. The most recent information we have is that his birth mother, who is scheduled to deliver another child this May, wants to keep Lawrence and her new baby. We believe she previously signed him over to her married aunt who lives in Hawaii and is childless. It appears the aunt has been told that Lawrence is becoming attached to both this birth parents and our host family. “I’ll take the new baby”, says the aunt. Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Day in Our Life


There is no such thing as a typical day in anyone’s life. Below is a highly selective composite of our “typical day” activities.

I usually wake between 5:30-6:00 am after a sleep interruptus of dogfights, roosters, geckos chirping, and church bells. After about ½ hour of stretching and exercises, it is time to make a cup of what some call coffee. Then it is trying to remember the brilliant thoughts that raced through my head that night, select a few for entry in my journal.

Mary gets up around 7:30, makes her tea and relates to me her crazy, convoluted dreams while I reciprocate with my own convoluted thoughts.

Breakfast for Mary is almost always oatmeal with bananas and/or raisins. For me, I prefer toast with peanut butter and when available eggs. Sometimes our host family brings us a loaf of bread, or when we walk across the road to the small store, we buy a couple of extra loafs for them. Samoan breakfast (called morning tea) is very light compared to American ours.

Mornings are a busy time. There is the parade of school children dressed in their uniforms after they have done their early morning chores. For us lately, we have been spending our mornings preparing what was once the family’s trash heap into a garden. Mary also usually does her washing at this time or does her favorite thing, which is to take the bus to the Peace Corp office to catch up on email or to try and find something she can cook. By noon, the sun takes its toll. It is time to rest.

Lunch is typically the big meal of the day and consists of canned mackerel in a soup with some type of homegrown vegetable, rice, or ramen noodles. The side dish can be either breadfruit or taro. When our host family is in the chips, chicken quarters or mutton flaps are substituted for the canned mackerel.

At 2:00, it is time to go to the local primary school to teach the teachers about computers. This process has been mostly going, only to find they have some meeting or whatever. No problem, we are a patient lot and get ready for the next day.

Interspersed throughout the day are periods of contacting various government agencies about their services and arranging meetings, doing Peace Corps paperwork, and studying Samoan.

Later in the afternoon, it is usually back to water the garden and do some weeding. About 6:00 the church bells ring and it is “Sa”, prayer time when everyone has to be in their house. The evening meal (called evening tea) is again a very light meal, many times consisting of a rice-coconut cream dish, or a peanut butter sandwich with sandwich cookies as a special treat. We also have started having green salads from the leaves of a bush behind of house. Sometimes, Mary finds food she can cook. This is usually in addition to what we get from our host family.

The evenings are typically spent on our porch with the ever-present host family and neighbor children. This is also the time when we meet with the adults of our host family, Peace Corps Committee and village officials to discuss current and proposed projects. By 9:30 we are ready to take our evening shower and hit the ever so good bed, knowing that tomorrow is another day.

Sera’s Choice-Act I


I am helping our host family’s son with his 13th level English lesson. The lesson is a play that is discussed in class and later to be performed. That is not unusual. What is unusual is the subject matter of the play.

The play is about a native Fijian girl, Sera, who falls in love with a Fijian with an Indian heritage (Similar to a black-white situation in the States). The play’s themes run from interracial marriage, to sex, infidelity, physical abuse, religion, career choices, parental consent, what constitutes a friendship, deceit, values, traditional vs. modern lifestyles, etc. These are subjects many young people face and have to make decisions. It is hard for Mary and me to imagine this play being part of the regular school curriculum in an American high school without the indignant protest from some parental or religious group.

We are only at Act One. Just what are Sera’s choices how she arrives at her decisions we just have to wait. Until then, we sit befuddled about how Sera coexists with the other things we have observed.

Leap Year


Leap year is man’s effort to force his concept of time and reason into a universe, which knows no time, or reason.



Today is asiasiga in our village. People have been working for the past two weeks, and feverishly this last week preparing for the Women’s Committee to inspect their homes and property. This is to make sure the homes meet village standards for health and appearance. It is one reason why Samoan villages look so pretty and clean. It is also a time to make sure families are not falling through the cracks. In a way it is like American property and health codes, but with more teeth, because the omen’s Committee assesses fines, which is their primary source of revenue.

The most visible preparatory activity is cutting grass. All sorts of techniques are employed to trim the tropical grass. The most common is cutting grass with a machete, next is using a whippersnipper (Weedwacker), and the slowest, but most ecologically friendly, a horse. Weeding of flower gardens and roadways is meticulously done by hand.

When I first arrived in Samoa, I thought asiasiga and the hours in preparation were the dumbest use of time and energy. I now question my earlier judgment. What a wonderful way for people who have little not to lose sight of life’s beauty.
Yesterday, I weeded the flower garden by hand. I am ready for asiasiga. Don’t the flowers look nice?

Shopping for Chicken


Samoan Supermarket

Mayor Reappointed


Back on January 14th I wrote about our nervousness over whether the village mayor would be reappointed. The mayor is our contact with the Samoan government, the head of our Peace Corps Committee, and is the host family where we live. His not being reappointed by the Village Council of Matais would mean significant changes in our life. We thought that his reappointment was a simple matter. However, like most things we are experiencing, what we think happens, what does happen, and our understanding seldom relate to one another.

It seems the mayor has been reappointed. His friends’ submitted papers to the government with the appropriate signatures of village chiefs then left for a three-week trip to New Zealand. Before leaving to get money from his relatives, he borrowed a significant amount from us to pay for a large meal and payments to the village Matais as a thank you for extending his term another three years. (Loan to be repaid upon returning from New Zealand.)

The great thing about politics worldwide is forget the rhetoric, just follow the money.