Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Youth at Work


Village youth are a busy lot. Here are some uniquely Samoan chores.

Sweeping the grass.

Roasting cocoa used in making Samoan cocoa.

Grating coconut meat to make coconut cream.

Chopping wood with the universal machete.

Staff Appreciation Tea


The outgoing group of Peace Corps Volunteers usually gives an Appreciation Tea. The tea reflects what has happened over past two years. Both our Group 78 and Peace Corps staff has been decimated by unexpected early departures, terminations, and budget cuts. For the “Survivors”, a cream filled cake topped with strips of chocolate is a good way as any to say, “Thank You”.
Seated: Tapulolou “Tapu” Siuli Tuailemafua, Programming & Training Specialist
Front row: Faleseu “Seu” Pita, Programming & Training (Language) Specialist; Fata Esera Lafi, APCD-Capacity Buidling (Teachers)
Back row: Tuila Pati, Medical Officer; Erin Jenkins, Group 78; Christian Heath, Group 78; Ana Lamositele, APCD-Administration; Kellye McKenzie, APCD- Village Based Development; Dale Withington, Country Director; ??; Henry Tamasese, Training Manager;

Help the Poor


“Help the poor” is or was a phrase used during my Halloween Days growing up in Detroit. For Halloween it was clear, you took from the person who had it to help the person in need, namely yourself. But what happens when roles are reversed and you are asked to “Help the poor”?

The conceptual gulf between those who give and those who receive is huge. It is like getting candy. The recipient should be grateful for getting anything, even if they wanted a Snickers bar and got an apple instead. As the donor, you want a blessing, a sign of gratitude, or even a simple “Thank You” to acknowledge your generosity. The problem lies in that neither the recipient nor the donor ever feels the transaction was fair. The recipient didn’t get what they wanted or needed and the donor feels unfulfilled. As a result, gifts such as traffic lights, which are disregarded and new markets, which are unfit for either buyer or seller, happen all the time; both parties trying to make the best of good intentions.

As I ponder my Peace Corps mission and live among the poor, I grabble with the question of just what do the poor want from the rich. Certainly people will take “stuff” when it is offered, but stuff without the recognition of a person’s dignity is just that, “stuff”. Dignity comes without any strings attached to it. People want to be appreciated for who they are, what they believe, and their way of life, not who you are. Giving without preconditions is a large order. Maybe the only reward is internally; you tried your best to “Help the Poor”.

Progress Report: Month XXII


Health Fair & Clinic
Organizing this event took up most of my time this month. The challenges presented and the hurdles overcome were just details. All seemed to think it was a success. For me the most important result was the establishing a linkage between the National Health Service on Savaii and the island’s Peace Corp contingent for the continuation of what my tenure has started and even newer projects in the future.

Diabetes Testing
There was a hiatus in my individual testing of villages, soon to be reestablished in July.

Bathroom Scales
New Zealand AID came through with the approval of my proposal for twelve bathroom scales. These scales are to be part of a island wide weight control program in villages with Peace Corps Volunteers, the National Health Service, and the Ministry of Health.

New Primary School
Construction is underway with 20 –30 men working every day. The proposal for a fence to enclose the ten-acre sight is now in the hands of the Australian government. I still want to submit one more proposal to get funds to level the school grounds for student activities.

A more difficult task still remains to be done. A meeting needs to be arranged between the primary school principal and teachers with the school committee. It seems no thought has been given as to what is to go inside the school once it is built.

New Business Development
The person who made the Health Fair banners lives in a nearby village of Lalomalava. He also has an on going fabric printing business. I mentioned about making tee shirts to sell at the island’s resorts and how my earlier efforts could find no one to make the shirts. With money he earned from the banners, he plans to pursue this opportunity.

Final Goals
My desire to have my picture taken with the Minister of Health took a step backwards when she failed to attend the Health Fair. She is still in my crosshairs.
Expanding my testing and weight reduction programs as well as garden program to other Peace Corps is well underway.

Sun Time


Coming from a time-oriented, time-conscious culture to a place where time is still governed by the sun takes some adjustment. In Samoa the length of day varies by only about one hour throughout the year, but even that small difference has major repercussions. Summertime, our winter, when the days are longer, time is said to “fast”. Wintertime time is said to be “slow” and what usually happens one hour after sunrise in the summer, now is one hour after sunrise in the winter. Sun time sure beats watch-time. No one is ever late, especially if is a cloudy day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Savaii Health Fair and Clinic


The two-day Health Fair of June 19-20 is, as they say, “History”. Over 74 people actively participated from seven organizations, including 19 nurses from the National Health Service, 17 Peace Corps Volunteers, and 30 entertainers. About 150 people were tested for diabetes and hypertension. Presentations were made on the Swine flu, breast-feeding, obesity, diabetes, and nutrition. In true Samoan tradition the program started late and finished early each day with a tropical downpour putting a real damper on Saturday’s program. Venders were great setting up tents and supplying equipment as promised. But again in true Samoan traditional there was food, music, dancing, and no worries about what so ever.

I felt the most important aspect of the program was letting the National Health Service see Peace Corps Volunteers in action. I was asked by them if more joint projects could take place. Follow-up meetings were scheduled to take advantage of Peace Corps talents and energy.

Plaza Area in front of New Salelologa Market

Setup and ready to go

Niafoua Asiata,
Head Nurse of Savaii Hopsitals.
Once she came on board, things really happened.

Got to eat before we can do anything.
This was a real healthy but untypical meal.

Nurses testing

Nurses dancing

Plaza fountain.
Wind blew all the water out of it.

Youth Group from Iva Congregational Church with a “Say No to Drugs, Yes to Jesus” 30-minute dance routine. They were great!

Roselinda Wong and Jim Metz doing some Samoan dancing.

Erin Jenkins trying to teach Rosie Wong the “Red Hibiscus” dance number, if only she could remember how to do it.

Peace Corps Participants: Day 2
Front row: Elizabeth "Elisa" Gartley, Hannah "Ane" Siemering, Erin "Lini" Jenkins, Rosalinda, "Rosalina" Wong, Briony "Leone" Donahue
Back row: Benjamin "Peniamina" Griffin, Paul " Paulo" Reinking, Anthony "Antonio" Della Posta, Philip "Filipo" Owen, Nicholas "Niko" Shuraleff, James "Semi" Metz

Peace Corps Participants: Not Pictured
Trent "Leni" Lobdell,
Spencer ”Simi" Narron
Jennifer "Sieni" Koch
Benjamin "Peni" Harding
Blakey "Peti" Larsen
Supachart "Suapi" Tauthong

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Niko’s School: A Village Project

Construction materials have arrived and the village men have been summoned to start construction on the new primary school. Today the job is to fill in the foundation space with rocks before concrete is poured. Most of the later work is to be done by a crew of 21 people; 9 from the island of Upolu, and 12 from our village. The workers live at a house at the construction site.

I have been told a stone monument is to be built as a testament to my service in getting the school for the village. This is a little more than I can handle, but who am I to refuse the thought anyway.

Market Banner


Health Fair and Clinic week is underway with this large banner at the central market in Salelologa. Flyers are being posted on buses to inform those people without radios, or TV. Of course, the best and fastest way to get a message out is via “coconut wireless” (word of mouth), combined with the word “free”.

Tattoo Mystique


There is an aura about a tattoo, private to the owner, and maybe baffling to those without one. Just why a person would paint their body is as varied as the patterns of ink gun imprints. The mystique lies in the permanency of that ink.

Tattoos are meant to communicate, but mostly to the wearer than the observer. The message works it way through your skin, even if the wearer cannot see it. Henna, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and billboards are for fads and the cause d’jour. Tattoos are forever.

Not all tattoos conjure warm thoughts. If you are contemplating one, here is my advice:
Never refer to a living person. Angelina Jolie learned the hard way about that rule.
Be sober and solitary. Tattoo orgies are dangerous affairs.
Don’t use a tattoo to vent a grotesque fetish, vendetta, or political cause.
Sayings in English, Oriental, Arabic, Hebrew, or any other foreign language have a way of being either passé or will be misinterpreted by someone.
Religious symbols remain, faiths change.
Tattoos feel like sunburn. Start small. Big sunburns can really hurt. Don’t let the process scare you.
Make sure the tattoo is important to you.

Now go and get one.

I’m Ready


There was a time when I couldn’t say, “I’m ready”, but now I can. Now is the time for me to leave Samoa. I have never been busier, never felt so much more to do, never felt better about sustainability for some of my projects, and never more in control of what I am doing. It can’t get much better, but the hard part of saying “goodbye” still remains.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009



As the Health Fair nears, the task becomes tenser of meshing the policies of the Samoan National Health Service with foreign funded health organizations. I think this is the first attempt to put them together at one event, if not under the same tent. Sex is the issue.

You can have skits about AIDS, but can’t pass out condoms. You can’t do PAPS smears because rumors may spread that clients are promiscuous. The taboos are numerous, but not as bad as Dana and Kate said about Texas laws and education.

Health Fair and Clinic Participants:
National Health Service- Nurses to test blood sugar and pressure
Red Cross
Kidney Foundation and Dialysis Center
Diabetes Association
Family Planning
AIDS Foundation
Animal Protection Society
Peace Corps

Dana and Kate

Dana Green and her granddaughter, Kate, stayed with me for one night. I met them as Dana struggled with her huge backpack and Kate with a small shoulder bag at the ferry wharf. I invited them to stay with me to sample village life.

Dana was from Canyon Lake, Texas while her granddaughter was from Willis, Texas. They were on their way to Western Australia with intermediate stops in Samoa and New Zealand. The trip was a high school graduation present for Kate’s good grades. Kate could choose anywhere in the world to go, but South Africa was deemed dangerous, leaving Western Australia as about as far away from Texas as you could get.



Stefano was one of those hyphenated people, a 60+ Greek-Australian whom I met walking on the road as he passed out bible quotes. He told about preaching in the marketplace earlier in the day. A pastor heard him and gave him a place to stay for two nights. Since Nicholas was a Greek name, he joined me at my house to discuss religion, and his life.

Like all recollections of the past, Stefano’s life had some glaring inconsistencies and gaps. He was what you might call a world-traveling monk living on an Australian pension. One thing was obvious. The Holy Spirit possessed him and the Devil everyone else.

Stefano returned to Australia after leaving me with a CD about how I could be saved. He took with him two packages of my okra and a jar of papaya chutney.

P.S. No Picture. Dead camera batteries.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Village Boys

Some of the village boys enjoying Samoan Independence Day. Their laughter still rings in my ears.

That’s Gotta Hurt

The dogs eventually disengaged, quietly lying down to lick their respective genitalia.

Tattoo me


Just do it! Well, I did.

I couldn’t leave Samoa without a tattoo. The cigarette-smoking artist, working out of his Savaii house, and being fanned by his wife put a traditional Samoan design around my calf. The outer line of squares represents the legs of a Samoan (k)ava bowl (tanona), The next inner lines are fish, one of single fish and the other of kissing fish with a sideways “W” representing a sacred and nearly extinct Samoan bird (manuma). You have to use your imagination on the centerline for it represents the old wooden Samoan pillows (ali).

The most often question, "is it painful?" Well, da.

Savaii tattoo parlor

Start of design

It's a male bonding thing

Burying Your Child


No nightmare is worse for a parent then the death of your child. It just is not suppose to be in the order of life’s events. Yet, of course, it does happen.

Such a funeral happened today. The child was a 20-year-old mother of a set of three-year-old twin girls and a two-year-old boy. She had an apparent epileptic fit and downed swimming alone at a nearby pool. (The same pool Mary just to do her washing). I knew her and her family well. The twin girls continued to stay with their maternal grandparents while the boy already lived in another village with his paternal grandparents. I never saw the father, supposedly the son of a preacher man.

This funeral began at the hospital freezer where it was stored. A chapel at the hospital was used for religious service, as the body was claimed. People were transported in a rented bus. The body was placed in the back of a pickup truck along with relatives and the funeral procession slowly snaked it way to the church in our village. The body was then laid on the top of the tomb next to the house for everyone to see and touch. After the review, large amounts of food were given to the many guests who have suddenly appeared. The deceased family members, who have preparing food for days, felt the free food was the only reason people came. This might be true, but for the many children, this might have been the first time they have witnessed the body of young person.

At the end of the day, the body was placed in the tomb by the child’s father behind the tomb of her grandparents and sealed with cement. Only pictures and the child’s offspring remain.

Children Viewing Body
Family Photo, missing a few with one added.

Father with grandson in foreground.

Build it. They will come.


For months I have been watching the construction of a new Catholic church in the neighboring village of Salelologa. The site is next to the old church, which hardly ever seemed to be filled. Who is crazier; they or we? At least they get eternal life; we get more expensive tickets to a sporting event.



A horn blows about fifteen minutes before sunset. Children conclude their games, and farmers wrap up their late afternoon chores. The horn blasts repeat, accompanied by the clanging of a church bell. The streets become deserted. All is quiet. It is time for Sa, prayer time at the end of the day.

During Sa, the streets are lined with white shirted matai. These men police the village to make sure no one is one the road. If you are noisy or caught walking, you are fined. You can often hear hymns and prayers by those who take Sa religiously.

Not all villages observe Sa. My village has Sa every day, including Sunday. Afternoon prayer time is written somewhere in the Bible when you are thank God at the end of the day and praise Him for the new day beginning at sunset.