Monday, December 28, 2009



Over the past two years I have played over 2,000 the games of two-suite Spider Solitaire. My combined winning percentage has increased from about 20% to its current 41%. How can this be?

To increase the combined winning percentage means I have to win at a percentage rate considerably higher than cumulative average. Since the computer theoretically deals the cards randomly, I must be aware of some patterns in the cards, which enable me to increase my chances of winning. Against this backdrop is the fact my brain has been losing 5,000 neurons a day since I was 20 years old, or about 87,600,000 brain cells. I must be learning, as I am getting dumber. Wisdom.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Church Dedication, Salelologa


Ceremony is very important in Samoa and one of the most important is the dedication of a new church. I have been watching the construction of the Catholic Church in the neighboring village of Salelologa over the past year. The Catholic Church dominates the “skyline” as you approach on the ferry, eclipsing the once dominant Methodist Church. This morning is the giving of gifts. Well kind of, gifts of pigs, cows, canned corned beef, frozen mutton flaps, and fine mats move back and forth between giver and receiver, money goes in just one direction.

The ceremony goes something like this. Each village is lead by a dancer who can be man, woman, or child. The lead dancer is an important honor. This is followed by elaborate introductions and words of praise in formal language by an orator from the guest village with responses from an orator representing the church’s village. There then is the presentation of gifts. Tonight is a party at the church (Thank goodness Catholic’s do not ban beer). The first mass is tomorrow morning.

New Catholic Church, Salelologa

Dancer, Man (My host Matai)

Dancer, Man

Dancers, Women

Dancer, Child

Host Orator

Orator, Iva

Orator, Woman

Fresh Beef

Church While Under Construction

Primary School Dedication


The main reason for my return to Samoa is to be present for the dedication of the new primary school and supposedly to be honored for my efforts in helping the village get the funds from the Japanese agency, JICA. The school has three separate buildings on a ten-acre site, making a campus with the adjacent Mata ae Vave High School and Prince Edward Park.

In this convoluted place, nothing is, as it seems. The school dedication, for which the village children are practicing songs/dances and feast preparations, is to be held on December 22nd, after being told December 20th and me buying a return ticket for December 21st. If there is going to be a monument to recognize me or the renaming of the school, it may have to wait until after the dedication, the finishing of the second toilet, the construction of a new assembly hall, the clearing of the rugby field, the acceptance of my proposal for a new fence, and the collection of money to pay all the creditors. By that time, people may say, “Niko, who is he?” That’s the way I would bet.

Entrance from Prince Edward Park.

School Front View

School Front View

School Rear View

Porch View of Two Buildings

School Committee Members

They took an active role in construction

Old School

Materials were used from old school for new school. Existing buildings to be used for construction of assembly hall.

Samoan Beauties


Times are a little different than whaling days, Gaugan, and before the arrival of missionaries when sailors jumped ships. However, this has not stopped men from losing their hearts to South Pacific beauties. These are some who live around me.


“Prostitution in Samoa”, this headline, subsequent expose, plus the shock of the police chief to learn that prostitution exists in Samoa became the most widely read story of the year. The undercover reporter, Tia/Roselina Kapeli, is a member of my host family, a journalism student, and part-time employee of the newspaper. She is now a minor celebrity and needs to be driven or take cabs after one of the prostitutes beat her up when she was discovered to be a reporter. Prostitution is punishable by five years in prison.

You can read her story at (Paper editor did not use her name in byline to protect her). I am really proud of her. Who knows what lies ahead?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Manunu Revisited


Manunu is the name of our original training village in June of 2007. This small mountain village of about 100 people is also the site for the most recent group of Peace Corps Trainees. It is to be the site for a third group within the near future. The village has that effect on both volunteers and training staff, as close to magical as you can get. I rented a car and went to see if the magic was still there after an absence of 2 ½ years.

The village definitely looks more prosperous. Maybe the infusion of Peace Corps money on such a small place has something to do with it. A new meeting hall for the village’s solitary church is most conspicuous. New out buildings and remodeled main houses also suggest something happened over the intervening period.

My personalized welcome at the church service and the appearance of some familiar faces was moving. The sermon had numerous references to the Peace Corps and me. The people really wanted to know about Mary. She still comes the closest to a saint. So I gave my best to canonize her to the congregation, explaining why she did not accompany me to Samoa.

The members of our former host family are well and happy to see me. The youngest children who did not remember us at all and the oldest greeted me with enthusiasm. The two teenagers, who do remember me, spoke not a word, never smiling. But 2 ½ hours after 2 ½ years is about the most you can expect before words run out and it is time to leave.

2007,2009: Manunu Village Green, houses surround this circular area.

2007: Former Shower/Toilet

2009: Now a new store, Under Construction

2007: Former Cooking House

2009: Now Rebuilt, Enlarged with Eating Area

2007: Latoa, Family Matriarch

2009: Latoa, 78 years old

2007: Sioka

2009: Sioka, now 14 years old

2007: Oli and Children

2009: Oli and Children

2007: Sherry with Mary

2009: Sherry, now 16 (in back doing dishes)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Samoan Office Christmas Party

The Peace Corps Staff invited me to their office Christmas party. In many ways these affairs seem to have a common theme. This one is no exception, but with a definite Samaon flair.

It Starts with Food

Some Drinks

Then Karioke

A Samoan Dance

Finally, Neighbors Crashing the Party

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Group 82 Swearing In


After nine weeks of training, fifteen women and five men took the Peace Corps oath today at the Pasifica Hotel in Apia and officially can be called Peace Corps Volunteers. All are going to posts in rural primary schools to assist in the teaching of English as a Second Language with a secondary mission of a health related project. This marks a sharp departure for Peace Corps Samoa, which over the past several years volunteers focused on teaching computer skills in secondary schools and another group focused on development in rural villages (my program).

For me in the audience to watch their proud smiling faces brings back fond memories when our Group 78 took a much shorter version of the oath. Of course each class anywhere feels that their training was the toughest and they the brightest, never to be matched. What more can be added to “Congratulations” and “Good Luck”?

A side result of the program was the seeing familiar faces from our old host family and pastor from our shared training village, Manunu. Their coming up to me with hugs, kisses, and necklaces made of candy, just made up my mind that I must go back and visit them before I return home.

Group 82

Corrina Chang singing in Samoan

Old friends from Manunu
Reverend Roma (right), Oli, from our Manunu host family (left), and two people who I forgot their names



All the time, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I never went fishing. Well, I finally got my chance.

Deep Sea Sport Fishing

I went out with the Peace Corps Country Director, Dale Withington, and his German friend from UNESCO, Jon, to participate in Dale’s first Samoan fishing contest. We were out for 10 hours in heavy, rainy seas. I couldn’t take a picture or even pee because at no time did the boat come close to being still, let alone have a predictable moment. Like all fishing trips stories abound about the “one” that got away. This “one” was a sailfish I was bringing in to the side of the boat when the line broke, or the gaffer, Dale, muffed. We later discovered that sailfish would have put us in first place. For all our efforts, we did catch three tuna and felt like our bodies had been beaten up the next day.

The Boat & Crew

The Catch

The end result, delicious "Oka", raw fish

Spear Fishing

Ben Harding who is from my group and has extended for another year, took my to the reefs outside of Apia. Spear fishing, nothing to it. You just pretend you are a fish, lull them into complacency, and spear them. I have seen it done hundreds of times on television. The details are too ugly to tell. Ben did get two nice reef fish and I took his picture.

Apia Changes


Over the past two years there have been major changes in Samoa’s capital city, Apia?
Can you find them?
June, 2007

December, 2009

A Clue



It is hard for me to feel the full impact of the tsunami that hit Samoa in September after I left in August. Here are some stories and photos to give you some idea.

The Earth Quake

Preceding the tsunami, Samoa was struck by a huge early morning earthquake, which lasted about 90 seconds. Everything was jumping around. Although Samoa gets lots of earthquakes, there was nothing of this magnitude before. No one suspected the earthquake had triggered the tsunami 20 minutes later. There was no general alarm sounded.

The Erica Wales Story

Erica is a Peace Corps Volunteer who was awakened by the Peace Corps’ Medical Officer, Tuila Pati, and told. “Run Erica, Run for higher ground”. Erica ran from her seaside house as waves chased her up the hill. Fortunately, the Peace Corps staff had received a tsunmai warning from Hawaii, saving Erica’s life. Her house was totally destroyed.

Tsunami Photos

Note how high the water went up the side of the hill and how small the people are

Beachside Road



Note the number “9” painted on the road and beach fales.

Faofao Beach Resort



Searching for bodies

Some Peace Corps and Samoan Volunteers

Shane Tewilla's (Group 68) Beachside House

Fortunately Shane left Samoa before his house was destroyed.