Thursday, January 29, 2009

When the Unusual Becomes the Usual


When do you cross over the line to when what you thought was odd becomes the norm? There is no epiphany or burning bush to mark the event, but you begin to realize that being told one thing and having another constantly happen, flies in the morning, sweat, food that just keeps on coming, or men wearing flowers behind their ears are now what you expect.

Adaptation is one of those high school biology terms and is a feature of all living things. The principle seems straight forward enough, but the words are just ink on paper, to be memorized, never able to convey the full force of their meaning. Adaptation only means the ability to survive in a different environment. There are no qualitative modifiers to express the linkages to what once was, that is for poets, not scientists to describe, or try.

Justice Served


A representative from the government and one from the Peace Corps spoke to my host father, the mayor, about his son burglarizing my house. The government official, the mayor’s boss, said he would lose his job if it happened again and his son reported to the police. The Peace Corps staff person kept the meeting peaceful.

By chance a few of the village leaders were at the mayor’s house. They were shocked to learn of the events. The leaders have the ability to remove the entire family from the village if they so choose. The village was to be put on alert to watch the comings and goings of the son.

I still don’t know how the boy broke into my padlocked room, but since all padlocks of a certain model have the same key, there really isn’t any need to get keys duplicated. I just hope my new padlock is not as popular a model. No meeting of the entire village seems to be in the offing as would happen to any other individual, but I guess you have to get what slice of justice you can when you are able. At least my pair of Dickies work shorts and headphones have been returned and that is good. The son has his head shaved. Why, I am not sure and that is unexpected. It is time to move on to pricking people’s fingers and reading glucose levels. Amen.

School Tax


Free education does not exist in Samoa. Each student pay a fee which escalates with each grade level. Although the amount seems small by American standards, these fees can be a burden on poor families with many children. Fees, school uniforms, and the pressure of helping out the family at home, the emphasis on learning English or computers at the exclusion of more vocational subjects are some of the many reasons students drop out of school.

School buildings, such as the new primary school being built in my village of Iva, are the responsibility of the school district. When funds are needed, each matai (head of a family) is accessed to supplement what can be obtained from outside donors. Like the U.S. those districts able to raise the money or have leaders interested in education have the best facilities, while the others fall into disrepair. Samoa does not have property or income taxes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Progress Report: Month XVII


This past month was marked by my three-week visit to Minneapolis and by sorting out the burglary of my Samoan house. However, there is still lots’ happening.

New Primary School
Construction on the new primary school has begun with the clearing and grading of 10 acres using heaving machinery.

The local hospital is prepared to have another clinic. They want to test everyone in the village for diabetes, hypertension, and BMI within the next month. This is in addition to the first round of testing conducted last August.

I have brought four blood pressure cuffs from the U.S. and purchased in Samoa a glucose monitor, test strips, and a scale for conducting individual tests on people who miss the clinic. I have started testing villagers on my own. This project may end up consuming most of my time in the months ahead. Donations are graciously accepted.

As I guessed, my host family just doesn’t have the time to devote to my garden in the back of their property. The squash is consuming the garden like a weed. It is even in the trees! I am finally getting fruit. So after clearing out a lot of weeds from my absence, I planted some experimental zucchini and some bush beans. I have come to the resolution that my garden may return to the trash pile it was before Mary and I arrived.

Hope does spring eternal and a newly married young neighbor and his wife have started a garden next door. Also the President of the Women’s Committee may release her cleared land for a community garden. The neighboring village is also ready to start family gardens, although I noticed the family garden plot in the front of a community leader has returned to grass. At least they are proud of the sunflowers I gave them. I have also planted some flower seeds. Maybe you can’t eat them, but there is more interest in flowers than food.

I am really happy that a number of the newer Peace Corps Volunteers on Savaii have started garden projects in their own villages. It is fun to compare notes and to know of their successes.

Small Business
I bought over 60 DVDs in the U.S. for the rental store across the road. She is happy to pay me for DVDs I have no interest in watching. Now I know why a one star movie can still make money.

Sewing Machines
Sewing classes are to begin again next month.

I showed the New Zealand High Commission my washboard in hopes of generating some interest in having them fund their importation. I may find out more next month. Afterall, how can they fail to support a business owned by fellow Kiwis?

Talent Show
What do I know? After first learning the village wanted another talent show, then learning just before my vacation that there was no one to organize one, I find out that they had one on Christmas Eve. This was not as big as the one before, but a show nonetheless

Peace Corps Baccalaureate


Mary is one of the first students in the U.S. to pursue a Peace Corps Baccalaureate degree from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN. This program takes into account her Peace Corps experience as she writes numerous papers about life in paradise. After unable to find a Samoan speaker to test her language proficiency, the university now accepts the Peace Corps internationally accepted language test. She plans to finish her degree this year after her hiatus from the University of Minnesota.

Charge D’Affairs Visit


Robin Yaeger, me, host mother and grandchild, George (Robin's Assistant)

The top U.S. official in Samoa for the past six months is the Charge D’Affairs, Robin Yeager. She is a career diplomat in the Foreign Service responsible for a staff of 19 people and she reports to the U.S. Ambassador in Wellington, New Zealand. Robin is a gracious person opening her private residence to Peace Corps for the Election Returns, Thanksgiving, and Obama’s Inauguration. Her visit to my humble home and her treat of a restaurant meal helps to bring the U.S. a little closer to Savaii.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Monkey


Whoever has the monkey has the problems, so the old management adage goes. For the past week the monkey has been on my shoulder trying to figure the best way to handle the repeated breaking and entering through the locked door of my house by the mayor’s, my host’s, 19-year-old son. After informing the mayor I am reporting these incidents to the Peace Corps for further action he has decided to take the matter before the village council. The mayor is the chief law official in the village whereas the council is like the judge and jury. He and the Peace Corps can now share the monkey. We shall see what actually happens. Until then there is a bounce once again in my step. Maybe that wasn’t a monkey after all, but a gorilla.

Sunday, January 18, 2009



A Peace Corps Volunteer’s responsibility is to report all security issues. With my wise wife’s counsel, this is what I must do. Once these wheels are set in motion, it is hard to know what happens. I do know this is what my host family dreads the most. Now to inform them of my decision so they can prepare themselves for the coming storm.

Sleepless in Iva


Tossing and turning in my bed, contemplating the infinite number of scenarios and words to be spoken, life seems the same as before. The criminal walks freely, albeit sheepishly. My host family is considerate almost to a flaw in hopes the incidents are soon to be forgotten or forgiven again. If I acquiesce my moral fiber is sacrificed to the gods of expediency and hypocrisy. If I press my case, the pain may be unendurable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009



There is a strange quiet on village nights. Usually there is a cacophony of barnyard sounds with roosters crowing, pigs grunting, and dogs fighting. I soon realize that I have been gone during the holidays when guests, feasting and revelry are at their peak in Samoa. No creature or plant is spared.

I am putting out an APB to see if my feathered friend survived the stew pot.



As my saga unfolds, I marvel at how differently Samoans and American view punishment for a crime. For me it is clear, you punish the person who committed the crime and hold him responsible. For Samoans it is clear too. It is the whole family that is held responsible and must share in the punishment. Thus pressing a crime against a Samoan is not as simple as one might guess, even when it is clear about the criminal action.

Another Low Point


That horned creature, dilemma, is in front of me. On one dag is my own dignity and self-respect for what I feel is right; one the other hangs disgrace and economic hardship, which may befall my host family.

Maybe making no choice is the best choice at this time and let the force be my guide.

A Bad Day


Some days are just bad. You just have to endure them. Such a day is today. The hot humid rainy weather is nothing compared to the agony caused by a delinquent child and having to witness the parent’s grief. Their grief is also mine for I am the victim of a thief.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Back Again in Samoa


Items missing from my house, a garden overrun with weeds, Samoan family members anxious to hear about Mary and wanting to see what fills my bags, along with the hot humid air greeting upon deplaning, all signal I am not in Minnesota anymore. My mind is foggy from jet lag, but I share the feelings of other Peace Corps Volunteers on the flight that it is good to be back, uncertain of the months ahead; knowing those left behind are well.

BITUSA- My Sister, Christine

My three day visit to Christine, my younger sister, at her home in Eugene, OR is a trip into the joy and energy of childhood tempered by experiences of life. You know your presence is something special when you can sleep on her Sleep Perfect bed under a level 4 down comforter for warmth after reciting endless stories about Samoa.

BITUSA-Paul and Renee


How much fun it is to visit early return members of our Group 78, Paul Sylvester and Renee Moog, at their home in Portland, OR. Crab kiesh, olive bread, various cheeses, wine, Paul’s own freshly pressed cider, and home decor give no hint of their time in Samoa.

Friday, January 2, 2009

BITUSA- Looking Ahead

Phase II of our Peace Corps odyssey, being apart, is probably more difficult for my wife, Mary, than for me. Her compassion for others includes not only her renewed connections in Minneapolis, but those left behind in Samoa, those who entrusted me to deliver their sealed letters telling of their love for her and pleading for her return. She carries the burden of those voices.

As we talk about how to cope with this transitional part of our lives from wage earning parents to retired empty nesters, we see no clear path ahead, which combines in a “meaningful” activity the caring demeanor of Mary with my desire to get things done. One could say that returning to college to complete her degree, voluntarily teaching English to immigrant children in the Minneapolis schools, and being an empathic friend are all meaningful activities, and they are to an extent, but they don’t have the excitement of getting the Peace Corps’ acceptance letter and the anticipation of what lies ahead for the two of us. She must redefine her Minneapolis life while I continue in Samoa.

Countless others face the same transition as Mary and I, probably with the same unclear vision of the path or the definition of what is meaningful. Yet we all somehow can look backwards and see clearly the road we have been following and the consequences of our actions. We are not lost. Our actions are not meaningless. We, as Americans, are just incapable of trusting tomorrow to destiny, but that is our fate.