Monday, August 31, 2009

Back- Week One

I have done dinners with my children, friends, a wedding, passport renewal, the public library, applying for a Seniors bus pass, surfing the Internet, pacing the floor, looking out windows, Netflix, cycling, recycling, sleeping with a down comforter, watching endless hours of Ted Kennedy's funeral or health care reform babel, driving miles for a bar of soap, read countless back magazine issues on "How to...", and rejected the notion of buying a boat to sail the seven seas. In other words, I have previewed my future.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Reflections Upon Arrival


The fog of jet lag clouds my mind about where do I fit after Peace Corps. The way of life I originally had before Peace Corps seems trite compared to the last two years. Already cold winds blow in Minnesota as I try to reacquaint myself with my native culture. What made sense before appears stupid to me now. But this rejection upon returning is not uniquely mine, for I have heard it from other returning Peace Corps and the foreign exchange students who have lived with us. The hardship of fitting into a Samoan lifestyle needs to be repeated one more time.This is not a pleasant time for me and probably for those around me.

What is pleasant is my Samoan health projects have "legs". A Brown University professor who has done similar studies in Samoa wants to talk. Peace Corps Samoa wants to stay in contact as they develop a new program centered on education and health in rural villages. I have no idea where all this may lead, but it is nice to think past efforts may have some sustainability.

In the meantime, I organize the many photos for CDs and prints to be sent back to those people left behind. I look at their faces. I wonder what they are doing. What will happen to them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Welcome Back


On the three legs of my return flights from the Philippines, my whole being begged for someone to ask, to understand, to recognize what an incredible Peace Corps adventure I just experienced. I listened to a Japanese businessman talk about his difficulties in consulting with Americans about advances the rest of the world made made over the past 40 years on nuclear power plant construction. I sat next to numerous travelers absorbed in their own electronic worlds. At the Seattle airport, the immigration officer asked me the routine questions about where I had been and what I was doing. As he stamped my passport for re-entry, he quietly said "Welcome Back". He knew. He had been in a similar situation, maybe as a solider. I almost cried.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Philippines: World's Most Exotic Food

They wanted to know if I wanted to eat what "Cuisine Magazine" calls the "World's Most Exotic Food". Of course, I did. It is Bulat.

Bulat is a 10-14 day old fertilized duck egg. Yummy.

The Philippines: Fiesta Day 2


Day 2, Sunday, is devoted to eating and fun. Hundreds of people fill the streets going house-to-house of relatives, friends, neighbors, or passersby where they enjoy some of the many dishes prepared over the preceding week.

Cleaning chickens.

Making spring rolls.

Table set for a king with some mystery foods, others not so mysterious.

Dancing at someone's house.

Nothing like a Colt 45 to liven a party.

The Philippines: Fiesta Day 1


Each town has a Catholic Church. Each Catholic Church has a patron saint. Each patron saint has a day during which a two-day celebration occurs. Day 1 has a parade of high school drum, glockenspiel, and dance corps; groups of teachers, senior citizens, and civil employees; and the military with live machine guns. There then follows competition between the high school groups on the main plaza. The night has a dance on the plaza where seated at paid tables around the plaza sit the gentry as hundreds of spectators watch the politicians throw money in the air as they dance to the Curcha Mayor. Occasionally the band plays a cha-cha or tango as other couples strut their stuff while fireworks light the night sky. I left at 1:00 am, as the night was just beginning for many.

A high school group lead by Number One, followed by a the main corps.

Marchers do a step with a limp, not an easy way to walk.

Groups stop along the way to perform their numbers. Girls all wear heavy makeup no matter what the age.

A group performing before the judges on the town plaza.

"The White House", Delores City Hall.

The Philippines: Transportation


Jeepneys are a uniquely Filipino mode of transportation. Each one decorated differently. They originally were old jeeps converted into buses. Now they are everywhere. You just hop on and keep your head down. These are in Manila.

Jeepney in the town of Delores.
Girl on left is AFS French exchange student. On the right is former AFS student with whose family I stayed.

Three wheeled motorcycles are the next step down. I liken them to bumper cars at an amusement park. There seems to be no limit as to how many people and goods they can carry.

Pedicabs are the cheapest way to get around.

A water taxi

The Philippines: Manila


Manila is a city of 18 million people, crowded, horrendous traffic, smelly, and dirty, but surprisingly quiet.

Manila skyline

Street where I stayed in an apartment

The Philippines


The Philippines is a mixture of Spanish, Asian, and American cultures with traditions being Catholic and Spanish. It has the feel of Mexico and Latin America with American commercialism layered over many spoken dialects of the archipelago. Whatever was Filipino has been buried by 450 years of Spanish rule, followed by 100 years of American occupation. This is a place where everyone is scrambling for Pesos. It is a madcap dirty crowded frenzy of a place with ads promising lighter skin, brighter clothes, sweeter breath, but no toilet paper.

Leaving Samoa and Peace Corps


The plane banks to the east heading for Australia and the Philippines where it is already tomorrow today. For the first time I see Samoa from the air. There is the “Jewel of the Pacific” all green and lush, surrounded by a ring of white waves and turquoise lagoons. Then it is swallowed by the immensity of the sea, ending my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, beginning my life trying to digest all that has happened.

I don’t feel sad, but glad to have had the good fortune to participate in this grand adventure, glad to be included with the cream of America’s youth. Now I must answer the well-intentioned questions of others seeking to sample part of my experience. Soon all that I will have left are a few souvenirs from Samoans to be placed on my wall, trophies of the contest, and memories of the Good Old Days.

July, 2007

July, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Village Farewells

My Host Family on Father's Day
Women's Commitee President, Me with a To'oto'o
Women's Committee Tea
Tafa Sa (Chief Orator), Women's Committee President, and Iva Mayor

Namesake Babies Malia and Niko with Parents Mayor of Lalomalava, Ross, and Family
My Parents Ashes in Flower Garden next to my Fale

My last ferry ride

Exit Interview


The last official act as a Peace Corps Volunteer is an exit interview with the current Country Director, Dale Withington. His key question to me is “Should the Peace Corps stay in Samoa?” Truly a disquieting question.

The question reflects the low morale and high level of early volunteer terminations, which has plagued Samoa during the first eighteen months of Dale’s tenure. I say, “has” because in my opinion the current volunteers are very different than their predecessors. The more positive attitude reflects changes made in training and preparation for village life, but also a productive interaction between experienced and newer volunteers.

My answer is “Yes, Peace Corps should stay”. The sour apples are gone and new programs, more thoughtfully conceived, await those who follow.

Call 911


“There’s a fire on the dance floor. Call 911” is the name of the song pulsating with the group of Savaii Peace Corps and some young Samoans from my village as we danced the night away at Kokonuts Night Club in Salelologa. This marks my farewell Peace Corps bacchanal. For the Samoans, Kokonuts is their first venture into a nightclub. The lead singer is a friend of mine, dedicating many songs and tributes to me. Yes, “Niko is in the House”, just a wild and crazy guy.

Note: A Savaii nightclub is like no other, half roadhouse, half, dancehall, and half a place to legally have a drink. Men outnumber women about 10 to 1. For those men unable to find a female dance partner, they either dance wildly by themselves, with each other, or with a male-female, departing into the night with whomever they danced.

Kokonuts Band

Jm Metz and Rosalina Kapeli (from my house family)

Nick Shuraleff and Jenny Koch

Spencer Narron and Trent Lobdell

WHO Presentation


Some things go better than you can ever have hoped and my presentation to the U.N. World Health Organization on the results of my diabetes and hypertension screening was just such and event. What I thought was going to be only for a few people turned into an group of some of the country’s most influential health leaders and Peace Corps Director. I owe the gathering to Ms. Fuatai Maiava of WHO for taking the initiative. My message only lasted for 30 minutes followed by over an hour of questions and comments. My results are now loaded in the flash drives of most attendees.

The main thrust is to squarely talk about the relationship between obesity and diabetes/hypertension. Obesity is the mountain before this country with a rate of over 60% clinically obese. Already the country is swamped with the effects of obesity and it is like a huge tax on everyone. The discussions show just how difficult it is when you are trying to tackle such complex issues as “lifestyle” diseases. At least the meeting helps officials get one step closer to the mountain.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Boy’s Bedroom


This is a typical Samoan boy’s bedroom. All you need is a mat, pillow, a few sheets, and a corner.

Fia’s Sprayer


There is difficulty in deciding who gets what of my stuff. For my garden sprayer, the best in the South Pacific, it had to go to Fia. She is a mother with at least four little kids and the only person in Iva who actually raises vegetables for living. I have worked with her for the past two years.

Road Switch


September 7th is Samoa’s Y2K. Relatively speaking it probably costs more than the big non-event cost Americans at the eve of this millennium. Samoans are switching from driving on the right side (American) of the road to the left (British). Those with left hand drive vehicles predict Armageddon, but unlike Y2K something is going to happen.

Samoa has always been more economically and socially tied to New Zealand than America. The current switch is back to where it originally was when the Americans left a lot of left hand drive military vehicles and poured aid into Samoa after WWII. But times and alliances change. What once was, is now again.

The irony of the switch is two years ago when I first came here there was one traffic light in the country. The South Pacific Games in August-September of 2007 changed all that as the government spent millions and took millions to showcase the country, Savaii’s lone semaphore being the last to be erected. Now the government must spend millions of which it does not have and shall not receive within the foreseeable future to reverse the face of the showcase.

Whatever happens won’t change things much. There has always been a mix of left and right hand drive vehicles making it interesting as to what side of the car you enter to ride shotgun, or whether it is safer to walk facing traffic or go with the flow.