Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jacob (Iakopo) and Shane (Sani) Depart


Jacob Burney, Colorado, and Shane Twilla, California, depart tonight, reducing our Group 78 from the original sixteen to four.
Jacob Burney contemplating the vastness of the Pacific
Jacob, June 2007

Jacob is simply taking a 30-day reprieve before he rejoins the Peace Corps for a one-year assignment as an English teacher in China. Jacob is a fellow Savaiian with a strong interest in youth and athletics. He leaves behind a weight room, a reestablished telecenter, and created computer classes in a nearby village now taught by a new Peace Corps Volunteer. Jacob remains as enigmatic as ever.

Shane Twilla leading us in a Samoan dance

Shane, June 2007

Shane returns after five operations on his foot persuaded him that two years of service and suffering fulfilled his Peace Corps comittment. Shane is our most decorated Group 78 member with a large Samoan shoulder tattoo to accompany his large collection of body art. He leaves behind a full tenure with teaching assignments and cattle/dog castrations among his many successes. Shane remains as loquacious as ever, be it in Samoan or English.

Both are missed and served the Peace Corps well

Progress Report: Month XXI


Diabetes Testing
There is a pause in testing new people as I compile the results. I gave my findings to a newspaper reporter and the nurses at the hospital. The reporter promises to write an article, and the nurses’ plan to follow-up on the newly discovered cases. Other Peace Corps Volunteers are scheduling testing programs for their villages in the remaining months. They also seem very committed to continue health programs after I leave.

Savaii Health Fair
What started as a thought during a restless night is now a full-fledged project (I dare not say nightmare). The dates have been moved to June 19-20. I have spent lots of time arranging space, entertainment, sponsors, participants, etc. When the nurses asked if it could be their fair, I almost kissed them. This needs to be their event with a lot of Peace Corps assistance, but in the background. There are still political hurdles to overcome. These things must be handled very delicately.

Where ever I go I carry samples of okra for people to try and seeds to plant. There are all types of missionaries in Samoa and I have to count myself as one. Conversions are slow, but one villager said she sold five okra pods for $5 ST, a very high price. She is now a believer.

Most of my success is in other villages. Some of these villages have Peace Corps Volunteers; others have village leaders wanting to help generate income. There are individual farmers in my own village with successes, but no village leaders.

I still maintain my own garden with okra, of course, corn, cabbage, peanuts, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and sunflowers. This gardening thing has got a hold on me.

New Primary School
Construction materials are ready to be delivered as soon as the school committee returns from their fund raising expedition to New Zealand. Hitting up Samoans living in New Zealand with titles from Iva seems to be the main source of funds/taxes for village projects.

I have submitted a proposal for a security fence to enclose the ten-acre school site.

Final Goal
I hate using the word “goal”, except for soccer or hockey, but I want my picture taken with the Minister of Health as she undertakes a program to educate Samoans that obesity is unhealthy.

A Song to Myself


This blog started as a Song to Myself. It is nice to know others may enjoy it and use their minds to picture this adventure. The fiction created may be more or less exciting, more or less noble, or more or less difficult than it actually is. The reality doesn’t matter, for what we imagine, is. For who can truly experience the life of another?

Walt Whitman expresses it better than I.
“Each man to himself, and each woman to herself, is the word of the past and present, the true word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another- not one,
No one can grow for another- not one.

The song is to the singer and comes back most to him…
And no man understands any greatness or goodness, but his own, or the indication of his own.”

Saturday, May 16, 2009

COS: "The Survivors"


Our group has been labeled “The Survivors” by Peace Corps staff, a somewhat apropos title since the program “Survivor” is currently being filmed not far from our resort.
However, the moniker sadly refers to the fact that of the original sixteen who started the Village Based Development program last June, 2007, six remained at Close of Service. Just what is to be learned from this fact is for others to decide.

We took the road less traveled.

Where it got us.

Group Photos of Group 78 Samoa


There are only of few times when all the members of Group 78 are together. Here are photos of those times.

Departing from Los Angles Airport, June 5, 2007:
Front row: Safiya Mitchell, Hannah Goldman
Middle row: Crystal Ochoa, Mary Shuraleff, Erin Jenkins, Renee Moog, Kaitlin Everett
Back row: Shane Twilla, Mark Miller, Justin Newnum, Benjamin Harding, Nick Shuraleff, Christian Heath, Paul Sylvester, Jacob Burney, Donna Barr

Arrival in Apia, Samoa, June 6, 2007
Front row: Christian Heath, Kaitlin Everett, Hannah Goldman, Justin Newnum, Erin Jenkins, Jacob Burney, Renee Moog
Back row: Crystal Ochoa, Safiya Mitchell, Benjamin Harding, Mark Miller, Nick Shuraleff, Mary Shuraleff, Donna Barr, Paul Sylvester
Not pictured: Shane Twilla, detained by Samoan customs because of a plastic whiffle bat

Dance Performance at Training Village, Manunu, June 18, 2007
Front row: Hannah Goldman, Shane Twilla, Christian Heath, Safiya Mitchell
Middle row: Donna Barr, Mary Shuraleff, Erin Jenkins, Crystal Ochoa,

Kaitlin Everett, Renee Moog

Back row: Nick Shuraleff, Mark Miller, Justin Newnum, Paul Sylvester,
Jacob Burney, Benjamin Harding

Early Service Meeting at FaoFao Beach Resort, February 6, 2008
Kneeling: Christian Heath, Jacob Burney
Front row: Crystal Ochoa, Erin Jenkins, Hannah Goldman, Kaitlin Everett, Renee Moog
Middle row: Benjamin, Harding, Donna Barr, Mary Shuraleff, Setu Timoteo (Language Trainer), Leata Lima (Language Trainer),
Back row: Justin Newnum, Mark Miller, Nick Shuraleff, Shane Twilla, Paul Sylvester, Onofia Simone (Language Trainer), Sau Pita (Language Trainer), Henry Tamasese (Training Director)
Not pictured: Safiya Mitchell who was hospitalized.

Close of Service Meeting, Coconuts Resort, May 13, 2009
Front row: Shane Twilla, Erin Jenkins, Jacob Burney

Back row: Nick Shuraleff. Christian Heath, Benjamin Harding

COS: Coconuts


COS is “Close of Service” in Peace Corps parlance. It is the last official meeting for our Group 78. It is a meeting to go over paperwork for departure, to prepare us for our return trips as each member departs over the next three months, and for staff to collect our thoughts about the program. The meeting is usually held at a nice resort, this one being Coconuts on the south side of Upolu. You might say it is our reward.

Room with a View at Dawn

Our Meeting Room
Bedroom with Air Conditioning (A/C Not Used)

Bath/Shower with either Hot or Cold Water (Bad Mixer)

100 Years


Today marks the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth. Born of serf parents in a central Russian wheat field, his words still reverberate. He remains alive in my mind and memory even after his funeral nineteen years ago. We live, he said, as long as others care to think and remember us. Memories eventually fade but the resultants of our deeds last forever.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mother’s Day: Samoan Style


In the U.S. mothers can look forward to a card, a call, and a restaurant meal. In Samoa, mothers dressed in their finest whites, perform. In the churches mothers act out skits, songs, dances and moves long since held in abeyance to the delight of all. This is truly their day.

Dinner with Claudine


Our deal is I help her with her DVD rental store; she takes me to dinner at a nice restaurant. To Lucia’s Seaside Lagoon Restaurant we go, me somewhat nervous about the coming evening. It is her first time ever to Lucia’s and my second time that day, earlier taking okra for the cooks to prepare.

She spills her banana smoothy. The staff whom I know and guests from New Zealand who I met during the day watch intently this unlikely couple. Claudine reveals her past as a top student; Goth, complete with pink hair, black nails, piercings, and bangles; and her conversion from Atheism to Mormonism. She explains why she is sending her 22 year-old sister to live in New Zealand, leaving her first born to the father’s parents and taking the second born with her. She wants her sister not to get pregnant again by her husband, and to become a Kiwi citizen. At 23 Claudine is the oldest of five children, aunt to four, mother of a two year old. Her dreams deferred as she assumes more responsibility.

As the evening progresses and she continues to talk non-stop, the questions I wanted to ask this ½ Samoan. ½ Chinese woman about how she lost her left forearm or who is the father of her son seem trite. I pay for the meal for the treat is mine.

Tattoo Parlor Networking


You never really know. So here I am in a packed tattoo parlor wanting to get a quote for a tattoo, but also in a hurry to locate newspaper columnist and Jazzercise studio owner, a Ms. Nina Netzler von Reiche. Her newspaper article talking about obesity in Samoa and using a new term, diabesity, to relate weight to diabetes meant she is a person I need to meet.

But how do I find her or introduce myself? Just ask in a tattoo and ye shall receive her cell phone number.

The tattoo? Ms. Von Reiche? That’s another story

Brown Bread


While chatting with the owners of Savaii’s largest bakery, I was asked if I had any bread recipes for whole wheat bread. I said I knew how to make it, but you need whole-wheat flour and molasses. She asked, “What is molasses?” I told her and said how it gave bread that nice brown color. “Oh”, she said, “I use soy sauce to make brown bread here”.


Most spurn unreachable people preferring to donate from afar. A special few like Peace Corps Special Needs Volunteer, Rosalinda Wong of Group 79, seek them out.

A 14-year-old encephalitic boy, Sekai, lives in the house next to mine. At six months the boy had a fever, filling his brain with fluids. Requiring 24/7 attention, the boy is unable to walk, control his waste, or talk. He mainly lies naked in his house moaning and masturbating, attended to by loving parents, younger brothers, and sometimes his grandmother. He is a child many parents pray never happen to them. The family receives no governmental support. For Rosie, he is her greatest challenge as she tries to fulfill his mother’s wish, have Sekai ask for her by name.

Also near me is a 10-year-old girl, Sili, with Down’s syndrome. The school is unable to handle her; her single mother is occupied with chores, as Sili spends her days roaming around the village. She is a pretty but fearful girl whom Rosie says can be taught to read and maybe become a productive adult. Rosie only wishes she could have started working with Sili earlier.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cinco de Mayo 2009


Papaya and tomato salsa with banana chips. Ole!

Jim Metzer does the honors.

Old men like Cinco de Mayo too.

Peace Corps Volunteers from Savaii and Upolu, plus one.

Let the pictures be a thousand words of the Cinco de Mayo party at Lucia's Salelologa, Savaii

When Harry met Sally


“Men and women can never be friends because sex always gets in the way”, is an often-quoted line by Harry in the movie, “When Harry met Sally”. These words, taken as a truism by many women and clerics, may apply to other animals as well.

This morning the two equine lawnmowers that keep the grass trimmed and fertilized seem particularly frisky. Harry tied to a tree whinnies wildly to the nearby tethered Sally. “Can’t we just be friends” a passing horse whisper interprets Harry’s sounds and Sally’s coy behavior for me. So each tied by human restraints does the next best thing, which is to eat. Sally flicks her tail while Harry stomps his feet, both wondering what could have been.



The President of the Women’s Committee is the closet I have come to a tyrant, a person who uses authority or power harshly. Just how a person obtains this power and maintains it made we wonder. After all a tyrant is just one person and for a tyrant to exist others must cede power.

There must be something in human nature that permits tyranny. Maybe it is our need for order over chaos, or to be ruled rather than anarchy. Tyrants must also possess a knowledge of human traits, which is sometimes used to turn a noble cause into their own aggrandizement. Maybe in the end we accept tyrants because they are not worth the effort to dethrone, some battles are just better off not fought