Monday, January 25, 2010

Empire Builder: West Bound

Mary and I really enjoyed our train ride to Seattle from Minneapolis/St. Paul. The two day trip included two nights in a "Roomette", which can best be described as sleeping in a pup tent. Once you got used to dressing laying down and the rocking motion with a few jolts of the train, the minor inconveniences were replaced with the helpful staff and the lugubrious fellow passengers. Indeed it was the socializing and the events during the train's leisurely pace which made the miles fly by.
Some of the events included:
An Amtrak wine and cheese tasting party.
A wildcat fight between two women passengers.
Wonderful meals prepared on the train with fresh flowers on table.
Dinner seating "Community Style" which put a new table partner across from you at each meal.
Hearing many life stories from young and old; some warm, others tragic.
The train running ahead of schedule.
Life on the train:

Dining Car

Our Roomette, Seat with a View

Cozy Sleeper

North Dakota Scenic View

Montana Scenic View

Approaching Seattle, Olympic Range with Puget Sound

Seattle, End of the Line

Monday, January 18, 2010

Next Adventure- Amtrak


This Wednesday night, Mary and I head off to the Pacific Northwest via Amtrak's Empire Builder. Stopovers along the way include Seattle, Vancouver, BC, Portland, and Eugene.

I have always wondered what a long distance train trip would be like. Why not? It is part of my readjustment therapy.

If you want to follow along, this is the Amtrak web site and our schedule:

Lv: Wed
Empire Bldr 7
St Paul 11:15 pm

Arr: Fri
Seattle 10:25 am

Lv: Sun
Cascade 510
Seattle 7:40 am
Arr: Vancouver 11:40 am

Cascade 513
Vancouver 6:40 am
Arr: Portland 2:55pm

Cascade 507
Portland 6:15pm
Arr: Eugene 8:50pm

Lv: Sat
Coast Starlight 14
Eugene 12;44pm
Arr: Portland 3:40pm

Empire Bldr 28
Portland 4:45pm

Minneapolis 7:05 am

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ice Skating

1/15/09What a joy to be out on the ice again. There is something accelerating about the sound of skate blades as I wind my way through a frozen waterway at night with bridges passing overhead and the glare of lights off the ice. I have to weave my way amidst the small children who whiz about like flies. There are the teenagers and visiting foreigners experiencing the joy of winter, the bite of cold air that makes you feel alive, the warmth of warming house, and the taste of hot chocolate.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Certificate of Appreciation

Some things, which at first glance seem inconsequential on omission, end up having lasting negative affects; such as, not saying an appropriate "hello', or "thank you".

On my flight back from Samoa, I had an empty feeling. There was nothing from the Peace Corps to show that I had completed or had even served in Peace Corps. How was it that "Certificates of Appreciation" are awarded for what may seem to be the most trifle of deeds, and even to the strawman in the "Wizard of Oz", but none to Peace Corps Volunteers? How difficult was it to print out a standard form, using Microsoft Word?

Upon further inquiry to Peace Corps Samoa, I was told Peace Corps offices in Washington, D.C. had to be first consulted. The response was that there was indeed an offical Peace Corps "Certificate of Appreciation" issued by the Director of the Peace Corps. No one to my knowledge has recieved such a document.

Maybe I haven't waited long enough. It has been only five months since I left. If my service doesn't warrant a certificate, please let me know. I can frame that document with my acceptance letter from President George W. Bush.

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Taps" for Samoa


My last Samoan sunset from Aggie Grey's Resort where the sun disappears into tomorrow, on the other side of the International Date Line.
It is time to sound "Taps". My Peace Corps adventure and mission in Samoa is over. It is time to return home, knowing that something has happened by coming here for both my wife and me, but not to understand or appreciate the totality of the experience.

I don't think much harm has been done, maybe even some good. Man's quest to seek greener pastures seems universal, never satisfied that being alive is enough quest by itself.

I am glad and fulfilled to have returned a second time, to follow-up, and to know it is time to move on and call it a day. Then again, there is the adventure of tomorrow.
As with any adventure, it is the people who linger in your memory. Here are just a few:
Group 78
Our Peace Corps Trainers still label our Group 78 as one of the best ever. Maybe they see something that the rest of us missed. Certainly we hold the highest rate for early terminations. The group is now dispersed throughout the world. The road of life is a long one, Samoa just a chapter.

Leaving LAX bound for Samoa (June, 2007).

Front: Crystal Ochoa , Safiya Mitchell, Mary Shuraleff, Hannah Goldman, Erin Jenkins, Renee Moog, Kaitlin Everett

Rear: Shane Twilla, Justin Newum,NickShuraleff , Jacob Burney, Mark Miller, Benjamin Harding, Christian Heath, Paul Sylvester, Donna Barr

Prior to Group 78's Samoan Dances at Training Village Graduation (August, 2007)

End of Service Conference (May, 2009)

Training Village, Manunu

Training villages are a special place for Peace Corps, and ours is no different. The small mountain village of 100 people, Manunu, is where our impressions of our Samoan life formed. Manunu has since become the training village for Group 82 and is rumored to be the training village for more groups in the future.

Manunu Village Green

Saniatu Waterfall, a short walk from Manunu, the most beautiful place on earth

Our Iva Host Family, the Kapeli's

Living two years with a family of a different culture is the true test of adaptability for them and you. There needs to be a willingness by both parties to roll with the peculiarities, a respect for each other, and a bonding, which neither can fully understand.

Since Samoan families are ever evolving, changing, and related, there is no way to get a picture of the same people at different times

September, 2007

August, 2009

December, 2009

Our namesakes, baby Nicholas and Mary with Kapeli daughter, Easter, and father, Visi.
August, 2009

The Children of Samoa

No one can leave this place without the vision of children dancing in your dreams. It is a magical time of life in a magical place. May the magic stay with them as they mature, for they have given me a magic I wish all could share.

Baby sitting sisters

Sisters, with a cousin or two

Boys at play

Mango season

South Pacific innocence

Death of a sister

Children at work, selling fish

Iva rugby team, future matai (heads of households)

Adult snapshots

Ross, Mayor of Lalomalava, with son bidding my farewell at ferry.

Fia in her cabbage patch

George, the tragic Samoan chief

With my alter-ego, the President of the Women's Committee

Leona with donated bike

Ah, the good life! A Vailima beer, and a friend at the break of day.


There is no way one can capture or try to convey experience. It is up to the imagination and memories to reconstruct the past. As for the future, it has to drag along the past. We all have a book to write. I guess I am not ready to write mine. So it is goodbye to our Peace Corps adventure, the morn is at hand for a new adventure.

Tomb for Ashes

Before I left in August, I privately sprinkled my parent's ashes in the flower garden next to our little house. Several days later my host mother asked what the Grey stuff was on the black volcanic soil. I told her, never realizing the impact of my actions. To think that I thought it important to leave a remnant of them and ergo me. It resulted in my host family saying they were going to build a small stone marker over the spot for remembrance and to protect the soil from pigs. Some may wonder why it is hard to leave this place. It is just to painful to stay.

Desperate School Teachers


I learned my bedroom was used by the primary school teachers while I was gone to house the school's computer and copy machine as the old school was being torn down. They had a wonderful time laying on the bed joking about me as they worked into the night. A cheeky group indeed!

Return Trip Summary


Here is a follow-up summary of what I found about my Peace Corps projects upon returning to Samoa in December:


Jim Metz (80) donating blood pressure monitors to Head Doctor and Nurse at Tuasivi Hospital on Savaii

What a joy to find that Jim Metz (80) and the Peace Corps are expanding volunteer involvement in the area of obesity/diabetes/hypertension. They are putting together a program in conjunction with the Samoan National Health Service for a in depth health program for twelve rural villages, centering on weight control and the relationship between weight and health. This program includes skits, dietary education, weigh-ins, and screening villagers.

New Peace Corps Volunteers whose primary job is to teach English in rural primary schools will have secondary health projects in their villages. Since schools offer an excellent venue to introduce children to health issues, but also is a great way to educate parents on life-style related diseases.

Over twenty blood pressure monitors were donated by various manufactures in the U.S. to the hospital at Tuasivi, Savaii. Jim Metz simply emailed them and asked if they would donate. It was that easy, but took the initiative of Jim to get it done.

The dozen scales which I had donated and distributed to other Peace Corps Volunteers and organizations on Savaii are being used, more or less. However, it was discovered that simply putting scales for people to weigh themselves is not enough. More emphasis needs to be put on the benefits of weight control, especially with those who already show signs of diabetes and hypertension.

In my own village of Iva, I was totally surprised to discover how many people are doing things differently because of the health clinics conducted earlier. You just never know what effects you may have.

I met with Dr. Stephen McGarvey from Brown University about his coming 2010 research project. His research team plans to screen 3,000 Samoans to see if their is a genetic component to account for the high degree of obesity. I have since discovered that a niece of a fellow Minnesota book club member is going to be part of the research team.

Note: I never was able to get my picture taken with the Minister of Health. In fact, I was advised not to per sue the matter.

Vegetable Gardens

Host mother in garden, December 2009

Garden 2008

The garden Mary and I worked to clear in the back of our host family's house is still producing. In fact the family has grown and sold several crops of cabbage and peanuts since I left. Although weeds have taken over a lot of the garden, I realize that my host family just doesn't have the time or resources to maintain its size. Nonetheless, the garden was the first things I was shown when I returned. They continue to grow okra and have discovered the joy of cooking with hot green peppers.

Much to my delight, the mayor of neighboring village of Lalomalava showed me his own garden and said that most of the twenty families who took part in the village's home garden project still have active gardens. These vegetables are sold at the mayor's vegetable stand.

Trent Lobdell (80) reported his village's community garden has really taken off, now that the Women's Committee realizes they can make money.

Sewing Machines

The machines are still safely locked in the back of Iva's Women's Committee house. In a conversation with her, she said that they had recently been oiled and that after the first of the year she was going to let selected older ladies take the machines to their homes where they can teach sewing to younger members of their families. Not quite what I had envisioned, but maybe a small step towards their wider use.

Talent Show
The 50 act, village wide talent show bringing together all churches and open to all villagers that Mary and I helped to organize in December 2007 was not be be repeated. However, several of the Iva churches organized talent shows for their own young organizations and with other similar denomination churches during the Christmas periods of 2008 and 2009. This just illustrates the degree of difficulty in organizing events within a community governed more by religious factors than secular ones.

Primary School

Sticks and stones last. Maybe the new primary school and its dedication the day after my departure ends up being the lasting legacy of our Peace Corps experience. The important thing is the school is built. Soon over 400 desks arrive from New Zealand to fill the larger, better ventilated classrooms in hopes that education can help Samoans adjust to life's pressures without losing their own identity.