Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Justin “Iusi” Newnum Leaves


Justin is the eighth person from our original group of sixteen to leave within one year of being in a village. He says the village didn’t have anything for him to do and he got tired of reading books, watching DVDs and TV. He plans to return to his Tennessee home before graduate school at the University of Iowa in Occupational and Environmental Health with an international emphasis. He came to Samoa right after his undergraduate graduation.

Like others departing before him, ET or Early Termination leaves a hollow feeling for those still here. For the remainders these departures can strengthen ones resolve to continue what is a seemingly impossible mission; for others it is a reconfirmation that other options are available.

Trying to understand why Samoa has a vastly higher number of volunteers ETing has lots of people scratching their heads. One reason may be the Samoans themselves. For Americans who are used to a constant flow of praise and recognition even for the smallest of deeds, Samoa can be a lonely place where one gets little or no feedback, let alone praise. It is not that Samoans are not appreciative. They just don’t show it. Living with the unfamiliar takes its toll on all who enter its gates.

Why We Have Lungs


The local high school held its first Science Fair today. There was an impressive assortment of exhibits presented with clarity by the students. I asked one of the students whose exhibit was about how lungs work, “Why do we have lungs?” Her answer was, “Because God made them.” Thus is education in Samoa.

Month XII Progress Report


The Roman numeral used to mark my months in the village is a statement. If the NFL can do it to designate one meaningless event from another to sell beer to an audience that doesn’t understand Roman numerals than I can do it for a readership that does understand them and the significance of these progress reports, which may or may not be apparent to this blog’s author.

Village Health
With the upcoming testing of 700-800 villagers this August 28-29 for diabetes and high blood pressure by a team from the Diabetes Association of Samoa and a group of newly arrived American specialists, health issues may become my primary emphasis in the months ahead. I fully don’t understand the ramifications of what I have started.

Garden Project
I am happy to report there is a glut of Bok Choy (Chinese cabbage) being produced in the village. Undeservedly, I shall take credit for this overlooking the real motivators of rapidly rising food prices and hunger. My focus is to continue to produce and give away otherwise unavailable seeds for sweet corn, okra, sugar snap peas, green peppers, sunflowers, and peanuts. I am becoming an “expert” among the locals. Of course, it doesn’t take much to become an expert. When I asked the Agriculture Department why I had such a poor corn yield, they asked whether I planted during a full moon.

My bees still languish in another village, native jays eat my watermelon blossoms, and I killed a chicken leaving tens of others to feed on my cabbage. I can chin myself eight times.

Telecenter/Computer Training
The Ministry of Communication is waiting to see if a proposal will be granted this October. If so, my village is up there in the hunt for a telecenter.

As for training teachers on how to use the computers they already have, my boyish enthusiasm is gone.

Small Business
Working with a one-armed single mother on better ways to run her little store is a real pleasure. She wants and is eager to learn basic business skills. Other stores seem interested as to what I am doing. It seems I have been viewing a lot of her DVDs lately. I plan to approach them with my “consulting” services soon

First Anniversary Thoughts


Today marks the first anniversary of becoming an actual Peace Corps Volunteer, PCV. It is the day when the Peace Corps Slogan of “The Hardest Job You Will Ever Love” becomes reality.

“The Hardest Job” part seems at first self-evident. You live in a third world country without the readily available stuff you have grown to accept as your birthright. You are the stranger who must find ways to adapt to your new world. There is no scale to measure “Hardest”, but soon you begin to understand that it is or will be unlike any other job you shall encounter.

As for the “Love” part, I love it. Love, of course, can be fickle and metamorphose into many different forms. Maybe it is duty, obligation, or challenge that keeps one going, but in the end it is because you love this job.

The Peace Corps has three goals often buried in the thousands of paperwork pages.
- To help other people on interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served.

The first goal has some measurability to it and is often thought to be the most important because you can write reports about projects. This is the world of Peace Corps Staff. It marks being accountable to justify Peace Corps existence.

The second goal is like looking into a bowl of Ramen soup. It tastes good and is good for you, but you don’t know where the noodle begins or ends. You just spoon in and start eating.

In my case, the third goal is probably best answered by Samoans. They must wonder why I write my name on constantly disappearing pairs of flip-flops. However when I hear Niko, or Pisikoa, or kapisi (cabbage) spoken when I go by, or when a new visitor asks where I live and is proudly escorted to my house, I know something good is happening.

Beautiful Failure


I’ve had many failures in my attempts at gardening, but none so beautiful or so bitter as my Italian Cicoria Rossa di Chioggia. No one liked it, even me. The Women’s Committee dumped a whole pot of soup after I coaxed them to try it. Others simply spit it out. After a nurturing three months, it was time to add over 100 head to the compost heap.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Samoan Saturday Night


The full moon casts its opaque light on the clouds and the passing figures seem like ghosts along the road. A guitar plays as children softly sing to its strumming. Open houses are lit for all to see inside. A trade wind sea breeze gently blows. There is peace here; quiet here, almost unreal to my past experiences. It is a time for me to go to bed swaddled in tranquility.

Home Improvements


After one year of looking at the toilet while eating and searching for a gate hook, I finally found one. Even the simple can be difficult here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008



To'ona'i is the main Sunday meal held after morning church. Preparation begins the day before with a trip to the market, slaughtering of animals, and the collecting of taro. The boys and young men of the family usually do the cooking on the traditional Samoan oven or umu.

The meal is served first to the titled men, their wives, and guests who sit on the floor in assigned places (not unlike how we assign seats). Young girls fan away the flies as you eat with your hands. When you are finished, the uneaten food is taken to the back to be consumed by others and a bowl of water and towel are brought to wash your hands. Samoans don’t talk while eating and may exchange a light chatter after the meal. Then it is time to rest for the rest of the day, allowing your gluttonous behavior to digest.

This is what my children ate:
Salad- none
Appetizer- none
Main Meal- taro and roasted green bananas, palusami (coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves), mutton flap soup with Chinese cabbage (bok choy), roasted pig, and octopus.
Desert- none
Beverage- Cocoa Samoa

Bon Appetite

Tulafale Trainees


Iva's Orator

Manunu's Orator

Village orators (Tulafale) or talking chiefs hold a very high position in the village. They are the ones who not only speak for the high chief and ask questions during village meetings, but also speak for the village when greeting visitors or being hosted. Orators hold the village symbols of power and respect when speaking, the fue (fly-whisk) and to’oto’o (walking- stick). They are eloquent and imposing.

Matt (Tulafale Trainee) with wife Kim (Faletua Trainee)

Me with son Nicholas (Tulafale Trainee)

All Samoan orators start somewhere and looking the part is an important first step. For the second step, both Nicholas and Matt have matai titles waiting for them when they return to Iva. As for the guy in the blue shirt, he is beyond hope.

Month Eleven Progress Report


What happened? How can this be month eleven already and me forgetting to post this blog?

Garden Project
The focus of my garden project is slowly shifting to these main areas:
1) Providing Seeds: One reason for limited types of vegetables is the unavailability of seeds; the other is that Samoans, like everyone else, are hesitant to try new foods. I am letting those crops, namely corn and okra, which I know will be eaten, go to seed. Of course, this is fighting the desire to eat one’s own seed crop.
2) Killing Chickens: The chicken population is thriving and getting fat eating my cabbages. They not only eat the leaves, but also break them in their mad scramble to gorge themselves before I get there with my slingshot (Peace Corps prohibits the use of firearms). So far they have ruined hundreds of cabbages while I have only killed one.
3) Bees: My two bee hives languish behind the copra plant in the neighboring town of Salelologa. There doesn’t seem to be any rush to help build my bee shelter. My veggies don’t produce fruit and Lester, the bee man, hasn’t called yet to get his money.

No news on telecenter funding.

The principle of the primary school met me at the market and wanted to know why I was not at the school. I reminded her that she had told me months ago that her teachers were not interested. I did meet with her. She wanted me to teach them “computers”. I said that until she requires her teachers to have a specific application for the use of the computer there was no point in teaching them “computers”. I tested the computer to make sure it still works and cleaned the rat shit from the computer table.

Small Business
I started working on some basic business practices with a young one-armed single mother who is running a family store in the village. The woman is a willing and intelligent person who really wants and needs to learn ways to increase business. It is a learning process for me too.

Future Projects
I spent a lot of time the past month politicking. Here is what turned up:
1) What they want:
a. Matai’s/Village Council:
i. Submit proposals for the construction of a new connector road for the mountain plantations.
ii. Get funding for pig fencing to contain village pigs.
b. Women’s Committee
i. Submit proposal to get fabric and sewing accessories for single mothers.
ii. Submit proposal to get a sound system for village fund raisers
c. Farmers
i. Seeds
ii. Market stand build on the road to sell produce.

2) What I want:
a. For what they want
i. Get me estimates for the cost of their projects. I am there to assist not to do all the work. No estimates forthcoming as yet.
b. For what I want
i. To start a village wide weight control program to slow the rise of diabetes and high blood pressure. Bingo! I think I hit something.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Samoan Tour


The great thing about having visitors is that you get to see new sights and revisit some old ones. Here are a few of the places my children and I visited:

Savaii Island
Suifaga Beach: Great Italian restaurant with sea views, air-conditioned guest houses with hot showers. Expensive.

Aganoa Beach: Surfer’s beach. Quiet Cove. Good snorkeling. Off the beaten path.
Manase Beach: Main tourist destination with resorts for the well and not so well healed traveler.
Alofa Blowholes: A great way to blast coconuts 50 feet into the air.
Lover’s Leap: No guard rails to stop you. Love is not worth the leap.
Canopy Walkway: Above the rainforest with excellent views of sea and mountains. Also a wonderful way to spend the night in a tree atop the forest canopy.
Lava Fields: Hard to farm. Once a Savaii Hot Spot.
Samoa Dinner: Grab a mat. Dig in with your hands. The food is great.
Lucia’s in Salelologa: Good inexpensive food at blue lagoon with cold beer and few prying villagers. Peace Corps hangout, but you need to gone by 5:00 pm to catch the last bus back.
Savaii Peace Corps Office: A dump with rat holes, leaky roof, and water most of the time on the toilet floor, but with dial-up internet and no Peace Corps staff.

Upolu Island
Saniatu Waterfall: Near our original training village. Great swimming hole. Very private.
Papapapa-tai Waterfall: Tourist destination. High, and mighty. Great to photograph on a clear day.

Fagaloa Bay: Drive up a dangerous mountain road and this view awaits you at the top.

Bahai Temple: One of seven Bahai temples in the world.

Hidden Garden Fales: A Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Apia. Small, personal, and hidden.

Father’s Day- Samoan Style


Three of the most important days in Samoa revolve around the family. Mother’s Day (May), Father’s Day (August), and the biggest, White Sunday (Children’s Day) are all held on Sunday with the following Monday a national holiday. Small gifts are given and special church programs occur. Most of all it is a time to do nothing but recognize the importance of family. That is what comes first in Samoa.
Two Fathers in Samoa

Children Honoring Fathers

Departure Aftershocks


Culture is a deep and unspoken way of life. When amidst your own culture, it is hard to fathom that you have a culture at all. When outside of your familiar world, you can offend without even realizing it until it boils to the surface in anger.

Today the President of the Women’s Committee gave me a strong reprimand for not telling her when my children were leaving the village. The Committee wanted to have a farewell tea for a proper Samoan goodbye. This was unknown to me. How is a person to know what to do if no one gives a hint about proper etiquette?

If you meet a foreigner who offends you, be kind and instructional. They probably just don’t know.


Suddenly, they are gone, swallowed by the departure gate to return to their world leaving behind memories and photos. Oh, but those remnants of time are so precious.

Please excuse my indulgence if I post some blogs about our experiences in Samoa.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Adult Children at Play


There is a child-like innocence about Samoa. It may a freedom from what we call civilization. To watch your grown children fall into this world somehow makes a parent both proud of who they have become and happy for what they have retained.

As a preschooler, my son, Nicholas, played for hours in our sandbox. The joy he got from making roads for his matchbox cars has not been lost. He is now an accountant with KPMG.

My daughter, Kim, has always loved tropical fish. She worked for many years in a tropical fish store where she met he future husband, Matt. Now they both marvel for the first time at the beautiful fish they once both sold. She is now a high school biology teacher. He is a landscape designer.

Nicholas Playing in Sand

Kim and Matt Chasing Fish

Friday, August 1, 2008

My Children Visit


Still Smiling after 46 Hours of Travel

Kim, Nicholas, and Matt (lump under sheet) Asleep at Hotel Wharf

What a joy to see my son, Nicholas, my youngest daughter, Kim, and her husband, Matt, who arrived at 1:00 am today after a 2 day trip, including a 17 hour lay over in Fiji. To add to the adventure of their trip we slept on benches at the wharf awaiting the first ferry to Savaii at 8:00 am.

Blog entries may be spotty over the next two weeks.
Kids do demand a lot of your time, no matter what their age

Day with Group 80

Group 80 is the newest Peace Corps group to be thrown into the fire of training. I spoke to them, probably too long about my experiences with trying to do small business in Samoa, which was brief, and hopefully some things I wish I would have been told when I was in their situation. They are a much younger group than my Group 78. They all stayed awake during my session. I hope that if I was not educational that at least I was entertaining.

Land, Labor, Capital


In two days I try to teach new Peace Corps trainees what my experiences about doing business in Samoa is like. Below is my attempt at comparing how we look at the classical economic principles of land, labor, and capital verses how Samoans treat them.

We view land as a resource. We buy, sell, or lease it depending on our needs. If we don’t need it anymore, we sell it.
Samoans view land as a heritage. The land defines who they are and their roots. Relatives are buried in the front of their land to mark their right to it. Money is sent from relatives overseas to maintain a family member for the sole purpose of securing their heritage to the land. How the land is used , if at all, is secondary to its symbolic significance.

We buy and sell our labor. It is how we are able to live in an industrialized society. We have time clocks and annual reviews to measure how much our time is worth.
Samoans don’t sell their labor. They give it. Monetary inducements have only a minimal motivational elect. When Samoans want to do something or are told to do something, they do it quickly and well. If they don’t want to do it, they generally don’t do it.

We view capital as money to be saved for future use or reinvested to earn even more capital.
Samoans generally don’t think in terms of capital. They may have pigs, cows, and fine mats, which are akin to their concept of capital. These may be given away as part of a fa’alavelave, but have limited monetary value. Hoarding or saving money is almost an anathema. Money is to be shared, used for an immediate expense. Or given to the church in return for God’s grace.

As all abridged versions of life, the above is a gross generalization and may not reflect the views of anyone else. But, it is the way it is.