Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kaitlin (Kati) Everett Leaves


Kate Everett

Kati started out her Peace Corps Village Based Development job in the Savaii village of Tafua-tai. She later transferred to a job in Apia with the Ministry of Agriculture. With over a year of service she decided to return to her home on a New Jersey farm and continue her graduate studies. One year in Samoa and the lengthy Peace Corps application process are no small achievements.

I know the children of Samoa and Group 78 will miss her.

Horse Whisperer


As Seabiscuit stands motionless watching me do stretching exercises at dawn’s early light, I wonder what is going through her brain. What can all those ridiculous gesticulations mean? Such a strange and unfamiliar creature I must be.

She, like me, has time to observe. She tied to a tether, me to an island in the middle of the sea. She cuts the grass finer than any lawn mower, fertilizing at the same time. She is a true Green Machine, albeit with a strong basenote. She has a purpose in my world, which is probably not apparent to her, as she goes about trying to stay alive. Do I in hers? Probably so as I go about trying to stay alive.

New Bed Partner


My life really started to change about a month after Mary returned to the US. I got a new bed partner. Instead of a wife, I now have my computer, headphones, and DVDs. Pillow propped against the headboard, I watch umpteen espisodes of “Weeds” as Samoan children peep through my windows. As for me, I am OK. Of course, I am.



Samoans describe their island country as a peaceful place. I am slowly beginning to understand what they mean.

Peaceful is not the absence of fear, strife, or timetables, as we may define the word. Peaceful is a state of being all unto itself. It shows itself most dramatically in the way Samoans walk. It is an easy gait. They are in control.

Rat Disturbance


It is one of those cloudy, rainy, chilly mornings when you just want to stay wrapped in your sheet and enjoy that wondrous state between being asleep and awake. Then it begins; the gnawing.

I don’t mind sharing my little house with a family of rats or their squeaking brood, but gnawing while in a state of nirvana really pisses me off. Pounding on the wall, stops them not. Have they no respect for an old man?

Thursday, July 17, 2008



The author, Virginia Wolfe, defines a friend as someone who will listen to you talk about yourself. The next closest to that description of being my friend is reading this blog. Ergo, you are my friend.

It is not my intention to collect friends, ala Facebook or My Space, but I am flattered you take some time from your busy life or boring job to click on this site. I probably don’t know who you are, but I hope you get some insight about my struggles and me. Some have suggested I write a book about my Peace Corps experiences. If I do, it will be fiction. No one would ever believe the truth.

Half Way Week


This week marks the halfway point in our 27 month Peace Corps adventure. I feel like I have just started. Already there is a sense of panic as the end is closer than the beginning.



My host family seemed more curious than usual about my Peace Corps Trainee’s, Trent Lobdell, routine insulin injections and his blood sugar meter. The matai’s wife asked to have her and her husband’s blood sugar measured, just why seemed odd given their limited knowledge of western medicine. Her blood sugar read a normal 105; his 190, a Type 2 diabetic. One could read the apprehension on his face before the reading and the fear afterwards. The results were not unexpected. Trent’s advice was to go to the hospital for treatment.

Indeed “Bad Blood” was in the matai’s family. His father and other relatives had it. Earlier a doctor said he should watch his diet and drink lots of water. What else was said to him, who knows?

My matai (54) is in his most productive years. He is mayor of the village, president of his church, head of his own 10 children and extended family, expanding the plantation to provide more income, and of course, me as another responsibility. Money is extremely tight and maybe he thinks spending money on himself extravagant. He probably could make it through the next 5-10 years before the unseen fires in his body and who knows what else begin to burn through.

Diabetes affects 25% of Samoans. Overweight, smoking, diet, little exercise strike even the most casual observer as a formula for en ever increasing health burden on the country and families. One look at Samoans and the way they live and eat would indicate that the estimate might be low, except for school age children who are very fit.

Maybe I can couple my earlier floating proposal for a Weight Control Clinic with testing and awareness of diabetes. Certainly the two are related. This is a monumental potential Peace Corps project for me. Without the mayor’s support, nothing happens, but maybe, just maybe, he can be nudged forward so that “Bad Blood” is not viewed as a personal weakness, but as a village health issue waiting for his leadership. Wish me luck.

Trent Lobdell, PCT, Visits


Trent (26) is a new Peace Corps Trainee from Indianapolis, an Aeronautical Engineer from Purdue who arrived in Samoa June 4th. He is in Village Based Development with a specialty in Small Business, like me. He is also a Type A diabetic. As part of his training, he is to find his way to my village where for four days he is to observe first hand what may await him.

As we talk and as he assisted in planting cabbage, going to a plantation, meeting my host family and other villagers, and observing my daily housekeeping routine, I recall my experiences as a Trainee and the profound influence my trip to stay with an experienced Peace Corps, Derek Marshall, had on me.

I try to relate that Peace Corps is an adventure you have willing joined. Like all adventures there are good and bad, exciting and dull times. It is the journey itself where you muddle through in the fogginess of the unfamiliar, which makes it so worthwhile, yet unexplainable to others and untenable for some. I think Trent already knows this. He is ready to make the trip. It is good to know the Peace Corps pipeline is still filled with talented young people.
Trent Lobdell in my guest house.

Tossing rocks for mangos.

A Call from Pepe


Pepe owns a little gift and sandwich shop near the Savaii Peace Corps office and ferry wharf. As an entrepreneurial woman she was eager to sell to tourists at the wharf t-shirts, which the boy in our family hand printed. Since we didn’t know what would sell, it was on a consignment basis. Test sales seemed good as we waited for the tourist season to begin in May. Then in April, I saw that Pepe’s shop was locked with our merchandise inside. It has been locked ever since with Pepe in New Zealand for an impermanent period of time.

While having a brew with some Peace Corps Trainees, my phone rang. It was Pepe from New Zealand and wanting to pay me for the locked t-shirts. Her brother was sick and she had no idea when she would return. Would I please e-mail her the amount owed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008



I love a good exorcism. One reason is my name, Nick, is one of the few proper names in the dictionary. It is one of the names of the devil. The other is to witness the power of the clergy over the strongest of all religious forces, evil.

I have witnessed what my own exorcism was like during the christening of a friend’s baby at an Orthodox Church (I was exorcised and baptized as an infant also in the Orthodox Church) and now two adult exorcisms in Samoa. As I watched the Samoan pastor commanding the devil to leave the man’s body, the man’s agony in front of the congregation, and the congregation’s support during the procedure, my thoughts turned not to the validity of the devil or exorcism, but whether evil, just like any other human religious construct, exists at all.

The concept of evil and Satan does help to label events, which we do not like. But like the sun rising and setting does not explain the relative motion of sun and earth, evil does not explain why all things great and small have terrible things happen to them. Maybe good and evil are figments of our thoughts. Just as the sun was once thought to revolve around the earth, maybe the concept of evil also limits our capacity to imagine a universe beyond good and evil?

Knee High, Fourth of July


It’s a good omen in Minnesota when your corn is knee high at the Fourth of July. This isn’t Minnesota, but my corn is knee high.

Normal BMI


About three years ago, I set a goal to reach a normal BMI* (Body Mass Index 18.5-24.9) within a reasonable amount of time. I always had exercised and did weights at a health club, but still maintained a fat ass of 200+ pounds (BMI 27.4). I realized exercise was not going too get me a normal BMI. I would have to change my eating habits.

I began by cutting out those foods with delicious but useless calories, namely peanut butter and deserts. Slowly I began to lose weight and found myself eating less of all foods. At my Peace Corps physical two years ago, I was at 191 pounds (BMI 26.1). At the time I left for Samoa one year ago, I had finally, just barely, crossed over into the normal range (BMI 24.8, 181 pounds).

Now I am at 174 pounds (BMI 23.8), squarely within the normal range and the Peace Corps nurse is worried that I am too thin. Add to this depressing news is research which indicates that if you really want to reduce the risk metabolic syndrome diseases (you already know what they are), you should have a BMI between 21 and 23. Be small. What’s a guy to do?

Some interesting side effects of my experiment on myself are uplifting. I know my heavy (good) cholesterol is up; my low (bad) cholesterol down. From two years ago my blood pressure went from 134/84 to 134/71; my pulse rate from 70 to 51; my waist from 38 to 34. Most importantly I feel great, or I just may be fading into black.

If there is a moral to this blog entry, it is to be careful of the goals you set. For if you reach them, there is always someone or something that changes the rules of the game.

* To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters (1 pound = .456 kilos, 1 inch=.025 meters). You can always Google.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Adjusting to Apart


Twenty four to twenty seven days are how long experts say it takes to adjust to a new environment or situation. According to that measure I have adjusted to the single Peace Corps life without Mary. I feel confident of the road ahead, but something is missing- sharing.

Sharing, not in the psychobabble sense of sympathetic dialog, but sharing in the being broke together, watching the children graduate together, and digging in the dirt together type. It is being together during life’s events that make being a couple so worthwhile.
This is the part of life when the experiences and emotions of the other become your own. It is now the absence of sharing I rue.

To be sure, I am having many experiences with others. Yet with them, as wonderful as those experiences are, they are a moment in time, not a gap to be renewed in the future.Gaps are frightening for they somehow, unpredictably get filled. Just how our gap of the next 15 months is to be filled is the Phase II of our Peace Corps adventure- apart

Mighty Pisikoa


Mighty Pisikoa

Pisikoa is the Samoan word for Peace Corps, but it means more than that! Early Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa were leaders in the construction of “water toilets”. These toilets took the place of earthen latrines or simply shitting behind a tree. (To use you simply dumped a bucket of water into the pisikoa to flush into the hole below). This was a monumental improvement in public health. The toilets thus became known as, Pisikoas.

As piped water became available, flush toilets of the John Crapper variety, replaced the Pisikoa, but mostly still flushing into a hole in the ground. Pisikoa have been banned throughout most of Samoa, however many of these concrete monoliths remain, an undedicated testament to the Peace Corps.

Peanuts and Okra


My first crop of peanuts is in the bin. Peanuts are easy to grow and probably the most nutritious of my gardening attempts. They also can be stored without refrigeration. Yet for all their advantages, Samoans only seem to eat them as a snack or treat rather than incorporate them in their diet as a substitute for high fat imported meat. Most of the peanuts eaten are “Americana” canned variety from China.

As my peanuts dry in the sun, I need to protect them from passing children who want to “borrow” a few. These peanuts are to be distributed in the village to be planted, not eaten first. Just whether they make it to the soil as seed or feces remains to be seen.

Okra is my surprise test crop. Samoans have trouble when I pronounce it, confusing okra with “oka”, a favorite raw fish dish. I fried some up and let the neighbors try it. They all said they liked it. I am not sure if their compliments are just “Samoan Nice” or the fact that Samoans seem to like anything battered and fried in oil. I plan to let my current plants go to seed to distribute in the village.

One of the reasons why food of these foods seem logical yet difficult to incorporate into the Samoan diet is the same reason we all seem to fall into an eating pattern, habit. Why try something new when the tried and true will do even if it “is bad for you” (“makes you fat” doesn’t rhyme)?

Peanuts Drying in the Sun

Seeds Freed


Free at last! Free at Last! Spared from the burning fires of the Quarantine Department the released seeds shall quickly find their way into my garden. There they face their next test, survival in a climate very different from where they came. They too must learn to adapt as they serve. May Burpee’s sunflower and head cabbage rule!

The worse part of this seamy seed saga is I don’t know who mailed the seeds. The package was destroyed, the identity of the shipper with it. So, who ever you are, please come forward. I want to thank you.

A Samoan Winter’s Day


Just before dawn the neighbor children came running wildly out of their house swinging their arms and jumping about. What was happening? Maybe this is the beginning of some new exercise program. Then it struck me. They were cold and warming up. For me, perrrrrrrfect.