Monday, April 27, 2009

Progress Report: Month XX


This has been a double “X” month with no more X’s to be added.
Here are a few of the many balls I have in the air:

Diabetes Testing and Health Education
I have tested over 700 people for blood sugar and pressure, as well as Body Mass Index for most. The impact is huge since this is the first time most people have been tested or weighed. I plan to follow up with a weight control program for most groups and hope Peace Corps in their own villages continue with an education program about the relationship of weight to health.

I have gotten approval from the principle of the high school to provide some additional education with the science and home econ teachers.

There is no word yet on my grant proposal for 12 scales. Without them, it is hard to see how a weight control program has a chance. The amount is $640 USD.

Happily gardens are flourishing with other Peace Corps and in neighboring villages. I have turned a large part of my own garden into a seed factory to supply much needed seeds for others. I have a couple of extra garden forks and plan to use them as prizes to continue momentum.

Primary School
The village is waiting for materials from JICA, the Japanese funding agency. JICA is delayed due to a staff shortage. Meanwhile many of the village elders are in New Zealand, including the mayor, to hit the people with Iva titles for their contribution. I have authority to sign for them while they are away.

Sewing Machines
Lessons have started again at the house of the Women’s Committee President, but no one showed up. As long as she continues to keep the machines locked up at her house, I am sure the women of the village would rather do without than to have to deal with her.

Bread Baking
Delayed over Easter and my own schedule, soon to be held this coming Monday and the pastor’s house.

Small Business
The young owner of the DVD rental store has taken a loan to repaint. She continues to save her money for a trip to the U.S. Presently; the chosen color is out of stock.

Savaii Health Fair
I have arranged dates (June 12-13) for a health fair at Savaii’s new market with its manager. Neither he nor I understand just what might be inside this Pandora’s box.
Already professional musicians from Apia have volunteered to be part of the entertainment. I envision a “Fair” with tables for various health organizations, testing stations, food, game, dance and song. I think I may not have fully described what I plan to do with the market’s manager. I am in the process of getting volunteers to help save me.



Who, me?

The continuation of the Samoan family and its connection to the family’s land is an important part of Samoan culture. To insure this connection, the first grandchild is often “adopted” by the grandparents to live and be raised by them on the ancestral land. The child’s parents typically may live abroad or away, essentially giving up the child's rearing to the grandparents.

This practice confused both Mary and me as we wondered how our own host family’s daughter seemed to easily leave her first born (Scabies Baby) and the family’s first grandchild with the grandmother who claimed the child as her own. While other grandchildren may move away, the first grandchild becomes a permanent resident on the family land, just as his ancestors before him.

The Snail Huntress


Giant African Snails are an invasive animal in Samoa causing tremendous destruction in parts of this island paradise. In Jenny Koch’s village of Tufutafoe they are particularly numerous. These snails seem to eat only those things that people eat and can destroy the urge to garden.

Alas, Samoa now has the Snail Huntress, a.k.a. Jenny Koch, to hunt down these creatures and put them in salt water where their precious bodily fluids are slowly sapped from their slimy bodies. Jenny hopes this technique serves as a deterrent to others to stay away from her own garden plot.

Every problem presents an opportunity and Jenny is seeking ways to market the briny snail carcasses. Who knows maybe some day, you may be paying a lot of money for a delicious platter of African Snail. Jenny is currently looking for some taste testers.
Snail Huntress, a.k.a. Jenny Koch (80)

A slow death for snails in salt water.

African Snail shells and a foot

Road Trip: Ancillary Projects


With samples of okra and seeds, I introduced okra to the villages tested. Relating how to cook it the same way Samoans cook green beans, the two families I stayed with tried it. They said they liked it, and they got seeds. I plan to return in two months for testing and check the okra crop.

Ben Harding's host family eating okra for the first time (very civilized indeed).

Pineapple Jam
The pineapple season was supposedly over, but in Jenny’s village of Tufutafoe they still had some fresh pineapple. Being starved for the stuff, I said I would teach the women how to make pineapple jam. Pineapples, a kerosene stove, and large pot quickly appeared. With eager women pacing the floor, I hurriedly made a large pot full of the jam. I may never be remembered for testing blood or okra, but I don’t think I will be forgotten soon for the jam.

Making pineapple jam during a break while an eager Matai watches

Testing Road Trip


The people in very remote villages rarely are tested or go to the hospital. With help of Peace Corps Volunteers, over 200 people now know about their blood sugar and pressure, as well as weight and its relation to general health.

Village of Neiafu/Ben Harding, Peace Corps (Group 78)
At three different sites and in people’s homes, one hundred fifty people were tested. Ben did an outstanding job in organizing this event with pastors and women’s committees. He had posters about nutrition and ways to reduce the risk of diabetes and hypertension. Spencer Narron (Group 80) from the Village of Falealupo rode his bike ten hot and hilly miles to assist.

Ben Harding (78) talking about nutrition and weight control.

Spencer Narron (80) doing blood pressure and me princking a finger.

Village of Tufutafoe/Jenny Koch (Group 80)
Jenny quickly organized the Women’s Committee for testing in her small village. Again Spencer Narron rode his bike the three miles to do blood pressure readings. Jenny quickly learned how to get blood out of callused fingers and measure blood sugar. With the Women’s Committee serving what seemed to be a constand stream of food, fifty people were tested.

Jenny Koch (80) testing blood sugar with Spencer Narron (80)

Food break before we get started in Tufutafoe.

View from Women's Committee House in Tufutafoe.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Christa and Jara


Christa was from a small Bavarian village and Jara from a similar village in the Czech Republic. They met and were living in New Zealand as a Water Quality Technician and teacher respectively when the golden promise of life there tarnished. They were on their way to the U. S. to walk the 2,300-mile Appalachian Trail via Samoa when I met them and invited them to stay with me for two nights.

Christa and Jara were the Walter Middies of many people’s fantasies. Yet when we talked about families, and children there was a slight hesitancy in their talk. They did plan to return to their native land as a couple, but not just yet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Village People

Some recent photos of people around me.

Jumping to Conclusions


We all seem to keep repeating the same mistake of assuming the worst when we should be the best or allow our biases to fill the gaps of the unknown.

Some young boys were selling banana chips to Christa, Jara, and me while walking around the village. Jara paid for five bags and the boys handed the chips to him. Since we didn’t want to carry the chips, I told the boys in Samoan to put them on my porch. Upon returning, there were no chips. I knew these to be good boys, but we laughed about being had. When going to sleep, Jara found the chips safely put under the sheets on his side of the mattress.
For months I have been fuming about a missing plastic cone used to make filtered coffee. I was convinced it was stolen during my visit to the U.S. Alas after retrieving some stuff from under my bed; there it was where I had put it so it would not be stolen.

Christa and Jara


Christa was from a small Bavarian village and Jara from a similar village in the Czech Republic. They met and were living in New Zealand as a Water Quality Technician and teacher respectively when the golden promise of life there tarnished. They were on their way to the U. S. to walk the 2,300-mile Appalachian Trail via Samoa when I met them and invited them to stay with me for two nights.

Christa and Jara were the Walter Middies of many people’s fantasies. Yet when we talked about families, and children there was a slight hesitancy in their talk. They did plan to return to heir native land as a couple, but not just yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Buses of Savaii


Nothing gives you a better feel for Samoan life than riding on one of these colorful Savaii buses. One the bus here is always room for one more person. There is a movement of people and an hierarchy of who sits where or on whose lap. The music blasts to rap and religious songs.The buses stop when you want to get off and pick you up wherever you may be standing. The drivers waive to me or sound a blast on the air horns as we recognize each other. It is Fa'asamoa at its finest.

One of the Buses Servicing My Village.

Bus departing from the wharf, as if the start of a race.



The first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox is the quintessential day of Christendom, Easter. In a theocracy, like Samoa, Easter and Holy Week are not just religious events but national affairs. I have been attending numerous churches as each celebrates in their own unique way. It is my attempt to understand a little more about this place and to expose myself to Samoans in hopes they want to understand a little more about me.

Easter Dinner

Upper Left: Roast Pork; Fried Chicken, Sashimi with Cole Slaw; Palusami and Taro

Lower Left: Vegetable soup with Mutton Flaps; Octopus in Coconut Cream

Cooking at Samoan Oven (Umu)

Null Days


Null days are not dull days. They are filled with activity. However, when you think about them, it is as if they never happened. The days pass so quickly even milestones become blurred. Plants grow taller, young girls develop breasts, and you have more wrinkles, so something must be happening during that blink of father time’s eye.

Savaii’s Semaphore


Semaphore, traffic, or stop-and-go light, whatever you call them, you must have one to prove you have arrived as an advanced society. The island of Savaii has arrived. The new signal is complete with high cement curbs, islands, handicapped accessible walkways, talking pedestrian walk signals, and enough lights to be viewed without turning your head. The only thing missing is traffic.
P.S. The lights have been turned off for safety reasons.

Who are These People?


Susan and Robert, U.S. Central Pacific Command

Repeated calls from an unlisted number usually means an “important” person is trying to contact you, but whom? It is Samoa’s branch of the U.S. State Department asking if I would meet with two U.S. visitors.

I meet Susan and her underling, Robert, at the Savaii wharf. They introduce themselves as from the U.S. Central Pacific Command, based in Hawaii. They speak with a light southern accent and say they want to learn more about Samoan culture after their visits to Tonga and Fiji. They are just gathering information about ways the U.S. can help Samoa. They spend a lot of time in museums; of which I now know Samoa has one.

I take them to my house. We talk about the things I am doing in Samoa. Robert snaps some pictures of piglets for his children? After a few hours they continue on their circumnavigation of Savaii. But who are these people?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Iva Teachers Lose Pounds


The 1 ¼ tons of Iva’s Primary School teachers were weighed one month after their initial tests and weigh-in. This was part of a monthly program to reduce levels of blood sugar and pressure. Of the eleven teachers present, seven lost an average of six pounds each, three had no change, and one gained a little. This was a small victory for all. Blood sugar and pressure was not measured this month.

Conversations with Ross


A man, I call Ross, is the mayor of the nearby village, Lalomalava. He is a loquacious fellow with whom I have conversations as we sit by his roadside vegetable stand. He seems to appreciate my working with him and his villagers as his village starts a home garden project.

Ross is a devout Mormon. He feels it is his mission to baptize me as a Mormon so that I may enter the gates of heaven. These conversations have peaked his curiosity in meeting a person who does not believe in the afterlife. Ross is troubled by my reticence to be saved, others who have left the Mormon Church, and by his failure to convince others of his point of view. Ross is a cleaver and skilled crusader.

A common sermon in the various churches I attend is about staying on the straight and narrow path. Ross reminds me of this teaching. I ask why each church has their own narrow path to salvation and people should not stray from it? How can there be so many paths? Maybe the path is wider than anyone realizes or there is no path at all. Ross says his path is the only correct one.

One cannot fault another for being intolerant when their deep beliefs are challenged. Indeed the Peace Corps adventure puts all to the test of separating those things of which you should be intolerant from those that are simply different.

Somebody’s Fool


If Mary, my wife, has a day, it is the 1st of April. Every year she gets me. I must be the best fool in the world; so gullible I swallow even her cheapest tricks.

It starts before marriage with an urgent message from a Mr. Doug Graves handed to me by my secretary. I dial the number and ask for Doug Graves. The receptionist informs I have just called a cemetery. Ha has can be heard over the phone and from my secretary in the outer office. It gets worse with passing years from plastic sandwiches to bugs, etc. etc. The pranks are endless; her creativity, infinite.

This year she texts me that a Peace Corps Volunteer is not returning to Samoa after a visit to Minnesota. I relay the text to other volunteers only to discover the volunteer landed that morning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tropical Downpour


Wind, fire, and rain are still mystical forces to me with rain being the most sensual. Created out of air in a cloud, rain falls to earth bringing life, but not sleep as it pounds on metal roofs throughout the night.



For many Peace Corps Volunteers, the path afterwards is clear, graduate school. Peace Corps is a line on the resume to be referred in the life ahead. For others the void at the end is huge and the offering to extend your stay another year tempting. This is especially true for some of my fellow volunteers who find themselves without a clear-cut reason to return to the States. Getting into the Peace Corps is easy compared to leaving.

The Peace Corps does make it enticing to stay a third year in country with a month's paid return trip before starting either in the same capacity or a new one. There are also yearlong programs offered for Peace Corps in China. To go to another country is more difficult and requires reapplying as a new candidate for a full two year term. It is good such opportunities exist for these volunteers are at the height of their skills.

In many ways ending your Peace Corps stay is like being discharged from the military. You are given your walking papers with a handshake and the words, “Good Luck”. One can’t fault the government; their responsibility ends with that handshake and a return ticket. There are Peace Corps Alumnae groups in most cities to make you feel not so alone in readjusting to the life you left.

As I listen to the boom boxes playing their mournful music for love gone wrong, love estranged, love betrayed, or simply no love at all, I think that the words “Peace Corps” could replace the word “love” and the lyrics would make sense, for “Breaking Up is Hard To Do”.

Everything’s Broken


One can quickly come to the conclusion that Samoans really don’t care about stuff. There is so much broken stuff. There is some truth to that observation. However, on closer inspection one realizes that Samoa is at the end of the stuff chain. They either get stuff of very low quality, breaking quickly, and rather expensive by Samoan standards, or cannot be repaired because lack of parts or expertise. The stuff collects as there is no place to put it, kept in hopes that someday it can be repaired, or never used as a way to protect against it breaking.

A certain mental paralysis begins when you expect that whatever you get soon shall be trash. You begin to accept what you see happening repeatedly as normal. The misfortunes of others become your accepted way of life. Of course, the propensity to rush to judgment applies to all aspects of living. Sometimes one needs to be reminded that for everything there is a reason, even if you can’t accept it or see it.



When do you stand up and say, “I’m as mad a hell and won’t take it anymore”? With me, probably too often as the scars of past skirmishes mar my body and dwell in my mind.

Timing of a confrontation is important. You want to be prepared, have your courage at the max. Unfortunately this rarely happens. When you thought you had the winning hand, the deck gets reshuffled and you end up with aces and eights. But play the hand you must.

The sewing machine wars are now underway due to my “heated discussion” with the Women’s Committee President in front of her troops as I bicycled down the road. It is time the “people” learn the “truth” about sewing machines locked away for none to use; it is time for action, and the adversary is engaged. She is a formidable one at that, weighing in at 250 pounds to my 180.