Friday, July 31, 2009

The Meeting


A much-anticipated meeting was held today between the nurses from the various hospitals on Savaii with some Peace Corps Volunteers who are assisting me in diabetes/hypertension screenings. Each Volunteer described their background, some in Samoan, and their participation with the screenings. The nurses were impressed. The meeting opened the door for further participation for Peace Corps involvement in assisting the National Health Service at the village level.

Seated: Nick Shuraleff, Principle Nurse/Hospital General Manager, Niafoua Asiata, to his left.
First Row: Jenny Koch
Rear: Spenser Narron, Ben Griffin, Ben Harding, Paul Reinking

Clock on wall does not work.

Swine Flu


I don’t know what is happening in the rest of the world, but in Samoa “Sine Flu” is the topic de jour. To date sixty-seven cases are reported, three of whom are from my island of Savaii, all from the same Mormon high school. Hospitals are swamped with people. The anti-viral drug, Tamiflu is available to Peace Corps Volunteers with instructions to start taking it 48 hours days of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Consumption of pork is down. People are wearing masks designed to filter asbestos fibers, not microbial viruses. Schools are closed. Meetings are cancelled. People are sleeping late. All is normal here.

Note: The cost of Tamiflu to Samoans is $3.50 USD.

The Myth of Stress


Myth is a belief not based on reality. The belief is so strong as to override what some may consider common sense. Unreality becomes transformed into reality. We all have our myths to help us explain what we otherwise cannot. One can laugh at the “ridiculous” myths of others until you find yourself to be an “other”. So what is stress if nothing more than an imagined force? Samoans and other Oceanic cultures don’t even have a word for it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ton of Teachers, Update


From March, 2009 when the twelve teachers at the Iva Primary School were first weighed at a total of 2,741 pounds to today’s weigh-in at 2,662 pounds, ten of the teachers have lost weight, one the same, and one a slight gain. This is a major achievement for the group. It is also the first time they have participated in any kind of a weight control program.

I shall try to get them a scale. Hate to lose this momentum.

67 Year Old Man in Tree


This is a bachelor neighbor, Toi, helping get pick breadfruit for our family meal.

Progress Report: Moth XXIII


Diabetes/Blood Pressure Testing
My joining forces with the Peace Corps Alumnae screening for cataracts and giving away reading glasses kept me busy for a large part of the month and made it easier to get villagers to get blood tested. It also enabled other Peace Corps Volunteers to come face-to-face with more of the members of their own villages and set the stage for their continued participation in joint Peace Corps-Samoan Health Service programs.

My individual testing is now over. I plan to hand over my testing kit to another Peace Corps Volunteer to be used by yet more volunteers during the coming year.

Bathroom Scales
The scales are purchased and are supposedly at the airport from Fiji to be used by Savaii PC Volunteers to help with village weight control programs.

New Primary School
The roof is on the first of three school buildings. Construction on the other school buildings is awaiting materials.
A side benefit of the school project is the village is responsible for feeding the construction workers. I haven’t eaten this well in months.

Garden Projects
My own garden is in its final planting of peanuts, which require little maintenance. Sweet corn makes up my evening meals. The remaining Bok Choy, head cabbage, and beans are part of my daily family meals. I don’t expect my host family to continue, but I really don’t care. The garden has given both Mary and me hours of pleasure. Now there is little to do with it. I wonder what I would have done without it.

I don’t expect many new Samoans to start gardens, but some will. Many will wonder what happened to the Peace Corps who gave them jam and spicy chutneys.

The number of Peace Corps who have their own or a community garden continues to grow. Can gardens be the answer to Samoa’s high Peace Corps turnover rate? Few of the volunteers after my group have left early, none with a garden.

Departure Plans
August 11th is when I fly out of Samoa bound for the Philippines to visit an AFS foreign exchange student I knew in Minnesota and check out the Peace Corps. I return to Minneapolis and my family on August 23rd, which marks date I was originally scheduled to return. Another adventure waits as I go through readjustment to an unknown future.

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.

Inspection Day

My Flower Garden Ready for Inspection

Women Sweeping Grass Clippings

The pitch is feverish as entire families prepare for the monthly inspection by the Village Women’s Committee. Grass is cut and then swept up. Weeds are pulled by hand from gardens, roads, and walkways. Bushes are trimmed. No one wants to be fined or worse yet thought of not keeping the village looking beautiful. This is Samoa at what I once considered asinine and now join the frenzy to make sure my little flower garden passes muster.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Recap: Joint Eye/Blood Testing Program


The village-testing phase by the team of five former Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers (2000-2002) and four of their wives is finished. The team was headed by Christian Small and Shawn Barnes, both of whom are now medical students at the University of Hawaii and fluent in Samoan. The team tested more than 1,000 Samoans over 40 years old at nine sites on Savaii for cataracts, glaucoma, giving out sunglasses to all, and standard reading glasses. They sent those with cataract problems to be operated on by an eye surgeon joining the team today at Tuasivi Hospital. The program was free, paid for with donations from the U.S.A.

I was able to join their adventure and with the assistance of most of the current Savaii Peace Corps Volunteers was able to test 544 people at seven of their sites. In the process the current volunteers were trained and gained the experience to continue blood testing and weight reduction programs in their own villages over the coming year.

Here are some photos to give recognition to those Peace Corps Volunteers, current and alumns, and their wives who gave so much to help the people on the island of Savaii, Samoa.

Inez Paul (Blair Paul’s wife) interviewing for eye testing

Ben Harding (78) explaining in Samoan diet issues

Jenny Koch (80) and Spencer Narron (80) testing blood

Alisia Small (Chris Small's wife) & Trent Lobdell (80) testing

Taylor McFarlane (Phil's friend), Rosie Wong (79), Phil Owen (81), Anthony Della Posta (81) testing

Alisia Small and Nick Shuraleff (78) testing blood

Glodynne Wong Song , Iva resident, taking info for blood testing

Soupy Tauthong (81) testing near-sightedness

Ryan Keogh (P.C. Alum) testing for nearsightedness

Briony Donahue (80) testing for farsightedness

Roselina Kapeli, from my Iva host family, testing her mother Saloti

Rosie Wong (79) and Jim Metz (80) checking for cataracts

Shawn Wilson (P.C. Alum) and Crissy Keogh (Ryan’s wife) dispensing eye drops

Blair Paul (P.C. Alum) , Crissy Keogh, and Otila Wilson (Shawn Wilson's wife) dispensing glasses

Shawn Barnes, (P.C. Alum) pencil in ear, Crissy, and Ryan Keogh with Christian Small ((P.C. Alum, unseen) in booth with blinds doing retinal testing

Chow time in Iva, the last stop.

Chris Small (P.C. Alum) doing cataract surgury at Tuasivi Hospital

Ben Griffin (80), just looking good, with Trent Lobdell (80)

Self-Limiting Illness


Our Samoan Peace Corps Medical Officer uses the term, “self-limiting illness” to describe a number of medical conditions not requiring her immediate attention. These illnesses include a list of infections, diarrhea, colds, low-grade fevers, etc. Each volunteer has a medical kit containing over-the-counter drugs, a first aid kit, manual, and asked to be patient before calling her 24 hour cell phone. As I am suffering from a “self-limiting” flu, her words linger in my brain.

It is difficult to imagine an American doctor using the term “self-limiting”. Both the doctor and we are culturally conditioned to take action. “I don’t care what you do, just do something” are our words. So, the doctor does. We happily give our insurance card; the doctor happily looks at the bank account. Our illness either goes away, or prolonged and made more tolerable, or we die. At least, something is done.

In nature and for those living close to it, there are few sickly creatures, for death comes quickly to the infirmed. It is the manner of all things. What difference does one day, or one year make against the eons of time? I know the answer to the question. Yet, all within me cannot accept its conclusion.

Gardening Successes


Here are two of several gardening success stories:

Trent Lobdell took the lead with his Safotu Women’s Committee Community resulting in the sale of their first cabbages a few weeks ago.
February 22, 2009

July 13, 2009

Geraldine “Tini” Ropati is a young mother living next door to me in Iva, here pointing to her emerging corn seedlings.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When Average becomes Normal


Of the 1,000+ Samoans I have tested, 70% of the women and 49% of the men are obese. The average woman in Samoan is 196 lbs, 5’2”; the average man is 206lbs, 5’7”. This corresponds to 35% having diabetes and 30% hypertension. It is a fat nation suffering from the effects of obesity, yet how does one make Samoans aware that what they see all around them is not normal?

To complicate matters, Samoans feel they are different from Westerners. They make the comparison based on what they see on TV, movies, and the backpacking type of tourist common in Samoa. When I speak, who am I to refute what seems normal all around them?

Cost of Stuff


Some Peace Corps Volunteers upon returning home express disgust with American’s seemingly wanton consumption of material resources. I feel they may be confusing who we are with greed. To me it is not that we are consumers of stuff, but that we are consumed by stuff.

Stuff is who I am as an American. It defines me. It is as much a part of me as my politics, philosophy, behavior, and family. To understand me, or American culture, I think one needs to understand the importance of stuff.

My fourth or fifth rake is broken by carelessness of the people who took it without my permission. It is not the absence of a rake that pisses me off, but the casual disregard about telling me, or replacing it. When I find out about it, a simple “Please forgive me” is the only effort for compensation.

The cost of the rake is not what angers me. Samoans don’t understand, it is “my rake”. It is a part of me you have violated. Don’t they realize they have crossed a sacred cultural divide?

Well, I just have to live with my cultural baggage, as they have to live with theirs. Maybe that is this Peace Corps adventure

Recycling- Samoan Style


Ben Harding, one of Group 78’s Survivors, is as conscientious and dedicated a Peace Corps Volunteer as there is. After writing proposals and helping to build water tanks and a school fence for his village, he built of recycling bin with left over materials, placed it in front of the school, arranged for the recycling NGO for a pickup, and got the school kids to energetically comb the village for refuse. In two days, the children crushed cans and the bin overflowed with litter. Then…

· A school inspector stopped the children from collecting trash. Explanations unclear, saying it is the Women’s Committee job to keep the village clean.
· The NGO responsible for recycling did not return phone calls. The prearranged pickup never happened.
· Ben stands by one of his monuments wondering what went wrong.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 4, 2009

The Peace Corps was invited the Charge d’Affairs of the U.S. State Department, Ms. Robin Yaeger, to attend an Independence Day celebration at the Robert Lewis Stevenson Museum in Apia. Members of the U.S. Navy who are on a humanitarian mission Samoa for three weeks and other South Pacific nations with medical teams, veterinarians, and construction crews were present. Samoan officials and other dignitaries also attended. One of the highlights was a softball game between the Peace Corps and Navy personnel.

The Ship: U.S.S. Robert E Byrd

A cargo ship hurriedly refitted for this mission because the original hospital ship was in quarantine due to a sailor contracting Swine Flu. The ship is in Apia harbor.

The Team: The Islanders
Front Row: Christian Heath (68), Ben Griffin (80), Igor Popstefanija (81), AJ Della Posta (81)
Back Row: Casey Burke (80), Jim Metz (80), Spencer Narron (80), Joe Brown (81), Paul Reinking (81), Jordan Knight (81), Ben Harding (78)

The Fans/Results

The Final Score was 14-4. The game ended after the ten run rule. It should be noted the Navy team claimed a handicap since there was no beer and a barbeque on the playing field.

The Celebrities
Arrival of Samoan Head of State

Peace Corps Country Director, Dale Withington, and wife

Peace Corps Medical Director, Teuila Pati, and Withington’s baby.

Rear Admiral Somebody presenting Something to Samoan Head of State

Miss U.S.A., aka Kate Shantar (81)

Miss Samoa (She is from Utah)

Samoa’s Prime Minister and me

The Grub
What a spread! And an open bar stocked with wine and beer.

The Fireworks
Sparklers were all Samoan Law permitted.

The Dance
As the evening drew to a close (8:00 pm), Peace Corps dancers took to the floor as U.S. Navy band played on. Please note dancing with a partner was a first-time experience for many volunteers.

Pictured left to right: Eric Martin’s (79) mother and John Kleive (79), Roselinda Wong (79) and Trent Lobdell (80), Spencer Narron (80) and Jenny Koch (80), Erica Wales (80) and Joey Carmelo (80)

Testing with Peace Corps Alums


Five former Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers from the years 2000-2002 returned to Samoa, two with their Samoan wives, to conduct eye exams for the next month throughout various villages on Savaii. They also gave out free reading glasses and sunglasses. I tagged along with them do my tests for diabetes and hypertension in a three day visit to the village of Palauli. Two hundred eighty Samoans over 40 years of age were tested.

We were so busy, I didn’t have much time to talk to them or even get all their full names. We were scheduled to rejoin forces this coming week when I can find out more and report about their extraordinary mission.

Group Picture with Vaiola (Palauli) Women’s Committee

Completing Research Questionnaire

Current Peace Corps Volunteer, Supachart “Soupy” Tauthong (81) doing an eye test

Peace Corps Alum, Blair, giving out reading and sunglasses

Testing blood with my assistant, Elisia, the wife of Peace Corps Alum, Chris