Monday, May 30, 2011

Low Point

May 30, 2011

It had to come. Now it is here. The low point of my stay.

The problem is Samoa Challenge does not fit into the primary objectives of the two organizations which are to help execute the program, the Peace Corps and the Women in Business Development. The Peace Corps Volunteers are all primary school teachers trained and assigned to teach English as a secondary language. Women in Business Development personnel are trained and are very good assisting rural women in various business activities.

Samoan health is certainly an interest of both organizations, but to ask them to interject energies and resources on a short term project not in the mainstream of their activities, such as the Samoan Challenge, is just unrealistic. Similar issues are why the Samoa Challenge from last year had such a difficult time.

The Samoa Challenge is an excellent and most needed project. There are numerous organizations in Samoa where it would fit in very nicely. For example there NGOs like the Diabetes Association, the National Kidney Foundation, the Heart Foundation, or the Red Cross. There are the governmental giants like the Ministry of Women who implement health projects such as the popular village jazzercise programs, and finally the Ministry of Health which is responsible for the country’s health and who ends up footing the bill for this epidemic of obesity and its related consequences of diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. Any of these organizations would be a better partner.

A driving force, such as me, is needed to implement this program. To a large extent my past success is due to my fellow Village Based Peace Corps Volunteers from Group 80 and Jim Metz who identified with the project and felt comfortable operating in rural villages, as well as, the involvement of community nurses at the National Health Service hospital. Both groups had the skills and desire to make their health program successful with little effort or resources. These associations are missing in the Samoan Challenge of this year and last.

My strategy is to continue ahead, like Sisyphus, with organizations to which I have been assigned and hope for the best, but at the same time begin to involve those organizations who already have ongoing health programs to see if they might be better suited to continue the Samoan Challenge.

Pineapple jam, coffee, and spoon

May 29, 2011

There is a famous sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden called “Cherry and Spoon”, but what good is it? You can only take pictures of it with the Minneapolis skyline as backdrop.

Give me a large pineapple and voila! Jam.

I am taking a sample to the office tomorrow. Hope I have some left for my own toast.

Looks like Koko Samoa

May 29, 2011

Tap water

You never know what comes out of your water tap here in the “Big City” or even if anything comes out at all. I call the stuff, “Chunky Mocha Water”, others say it looks like Koko Samoa, a Samoan cocoa drink, but sure doesn’t taste like it, still others say they have found it offered at Starbucks.

Fortunately, Peace Corps provides a water filter and a dropper to add a few drops of bleach.

When you take a shower or wash clothes, you wonder.

The Amazing Race

May 28, 2011

The Samoan Victim Support Group is an NGO which is trying to reduce the amount of domestic violence and to provide a shelter for those victims of abuse. The Group has been successful in raising awareness of people’s legal rights regarding domestic abuse with signs and pamplets throughout the country.

Supy Tauthong is an Peace Corps Volunteer who extended for a third year and is working with the organization. He helped to organize “A Samoan Amazing Race” of 8 four member teams who raced frantically through the streets of Apia for two hours trying to earn prize points and generally creating quite a stir doing various stunts. Fun event for a serious cause.

Peta, Supy, and Rosie setting up registration desk
Group photo of participants
Aussie team, Australian Youth Ambassadors
Hats team
Just couldn't pass by a photo shot with a member of the Fedora Society
The Supersize team
Instruction time
LeMans style start of race
Vailima beer team doing task of washing windows at local gas station
Lonely volunteer waiting to be discovered at Fish Marketbus station
Reading task instructions at Tanona Hotel
Doing the task of swimming in hotel pool while guests watch
What a refreshing task, indeed
Another team discovers the pool
Racing to another task
Registering the results

Samoan Long Boats, Fautasi

May 27, 2011

It is hard to believe that Samoans, related to Hawaiians and other Polynesians, were at one time seafarers crossing great distances. Today the tradition is kept alive by annual long boat races and the sound of the coxswain’s, posini, drums. Here a crew ends its daily practice in Apia harbor as they prepare for Independence Day, June 1-2, races.

Lunch with Miss Samoa

May 25, 2011

Miss Samoa is more than a pretty talented young woman. For Samoans she is an icon, which they greatly respect. This year’s Miss Samoa is Jolivette Ete; a chemical engineer, pianist, poster girl, and athlete. During her reign she is assigned to the Samoan Tourist Authority where Jim Metz, a third year extended Peace Corps Volunteer, is also assigned and who helped arrange a meeting with her.

Jolevette is easily recognized, even with a wrist wrapped in an Ace bandage for playing touch ruby. She is a strong believer in the Samoan Challenge and would like to be its Spokesperson, providing she gets approval from the Tourist Authority. It is not often you can find such a committed spokesperson.

By the way, she bought lunch, some say out of pity.

My Bus, Vaivase-Uta

May 24, 2011

For me, riding public transportation, regardless of where, gives a better pulse of local people than any other single thing. In Samoa, the buses are privately owned and most have wooden carriages, continually refurbished over the years as they are refastened onto a Toyota diesel truck chassis. Switching from left to right-hand drive creates little problem, as a new entrance was cut out and reconstructed on the opposite side. It is this type of ingenuity, which characterizes living in a place like Samoa.

When I lived on Savaii, the bus schedules were synchronized to the comings and goings of the ferry. Although fewer in number, village people just didn’t use them as often, preferring to stay in their own locale.

Here in Apia and on the island of Upolu the number of buses is considerably greater as well as the percentage of people using them, especially commuting in from distant villages to work in Apia. The bus schedules are synchronized to certain allotted time slots at the main bus station located at the fruit market. There must be hundreds of buses constantly arriving and departing from the 10-15 bus spaces. Distant buses leave their villages early in the morning, with the bus and driver waiting the rest of the day to take passenger back on the return trip. Local buses, like mine, make several trips a day on what you might call a schedule.

But here as anyplace else, why take the bus when you have money for a car or taxi? Heaven forbid you walk. The result is ever increasing traffic jams. These new urban travelers miss sitting on the edge of your seat next to a fat Samoan, or people sitting on each other’s laps, as the “Bus Music” blasts away and the driver smokes away.

One of my buses, the one with blue hood and red windscreen, lined up at Apia market station My most colorful bus with mini-lights blinking both inside and outside to the beat of the music

Waiting for the red roof bus on a rainy morning

Challenge Kick off

May 24, 2011

The biggest challenge to Samoan Challenge III is getting the Peace Corps Volunteers, who are all primary school teachers, involved. They represent the outreach to the rural village segment of the Challenge and who are somewhat tainted by hard feelings regarding last year’s Challenge.

The teachers have a point about being asked to do an additional Village Based project at a time when they are in the classroom, tutoring, or preparing lessons. They are also not familiar with the workings of local village politics and church organizations. Likewise, the National Health Service and the Women in Business Development (WIBD) organization, who is sponsoring the event, are not comfortable with the fact that they cannot count on teachers during school hours, which is the time they conduct their village activities.

Against this backdrop, I presented my revised program to the newest group of Peace Corps teachers. My main message to them is the same as to the Samoans who participate, “Try”. I think they will and for that I am happy.

My WIBD boss, Tusitina Nu’uvali, also did a fine job describing her organization’s role in the Challenge. She sited 5,000 as an overall Challenge target, but did a reversal on me when she agreed under pressure that the Challenge would provide gifts to Peace Corps village participants. The next day I asked her if she realized what she had to commit doing. Her jaw dropped when asked, where are we going to get the money for maybe 2-3,000 prizes? In true Samoan fashion, how to pay for things comes later. It was good to get her public support.

The next task is how to get scales and materials out to 35 Peace Corps throughout the country. In true Samoan fashion, I shall be concerned about that later.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Boss

May 26, 2011

Here I am with my Women in Business Development boss, Tusitina "Tina" Nu'uvali, at a recent training session for new Peace Corps teachers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Survivor" Returns

May 23, 2011

The TV reality show "Survivor is returning to Samoa to film two more seasons. This is the second time they have done back-back seasons filmed in Samoa.

The producers first wanted to film the new episodes in Tonga, but returned to Samoa because of inadequate facilities on this neighboring country. Of course, this has created some political problems with Tonga feeling slighted.

The program is causing problems with the many tourists who are having their hotel reservations canceled to make room for crews and cast. It is estimated Survivor will spend $3.5 million here.

Will "Baddest Survivor", Russell, also return?

What I am eating

May 22, 2011

My eating has definitely changed from when I lived with a host family on Savaii. Grocery stores surround the office building where I work with the fruit market across the street. There is also time for me to prepare meals without the hungry eyes of village children. It is just me.

Still I miss a lot of the traditional Samoan foods. The young Samoan girls in the office have no idea how to prepare the many dishes I was able to buy from village women trying to earn a little extra money. There are a few stalls at the fruit market where I can buy some traditional foods. The women can see me coming from a mile away.

This is what I prepared today:

Yellow Fin Tuna Steak. Purchased at the fish market, a four mile bike ride, as a five pound slab which is enough to make 12 meals. Cooked in a little certified organic coconut oil. Raw in the middle.

Papaya Salsa. Made with local papaya, fresh green spring onions, garlic, salt, coconut oil, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, hot local chili peppers.

Stir-fry green beans and Samoan Roma tomatoes with onions and garlic.

Breakfast is usually oak meal with honey or toast, or leftovers from the night before.

For snacks, I really like the ripe sweet Misiluki bananas and kind of a cookie, called Keke Saina (Chinese cake)

I haven’t weighed myself yet, but I may be a candidate for my own Samoan Challenge.

Tuna steak, stirfry veggies, and papaya salsa
Misiluki bananas and Keke Saina

Blakey’s Picnic

May 21, 2011
Blakey Larsen, St. Paul, MN, a third year Peace Corps Volunteer, has a dual role of organizing gatherings. This one is for Group 83, the newest teachers who have been locked in a 1 ½ week training session and who are candidates for the Samoan Challenge. I thought it best to check them out and visa versa. No better way than a beach party barbeque

Cook, Robert Gonzales

Cook, Devon Childress

David Macmanie and Karen Corey with Karen's visiting parents.

A little poker after the picnic with the boys at Apia Central Hotel

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keke Pua’a (Pork filled cakes)

May 16, 2011

Keke Pua’a is banned from my office by the Executive Director. Anyone found eating one is fined. What goes inside these cakes is a mystery to me, but I must admit they are good.

Now the Executive Director is away and all the women can talk about is Keke Pua’a. There is Keke Pua’a everywhere.

War in the South Pacific


Greatly enlarged satelite view of Minerva Reefs, or the Republic of Minerva

Minerva Reef consists of two coral atolls in the South Pacific whose treacherous lagoon is sometimes used by yatchs avoiding storms. It claimed by two of the few countries in the South Pacific with standing armies, Fiji and Tonga. The Minerva Reefs have been part of Tonga for 40 years, but last year Fiji claimed them and sent its navy there to destroy navigation lights on the entrance to the lagoon.

Meanwhile, last week a Tonga navy vessel sailed into Fiji waters to take Fiji Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara to Nuku'alofa. Mara was facing charges of plotting to overthrow dictator Voreqe Bainimarama.

Mara is from the Lau Islands, part of Fiji, but culturally and historically part of Tonga. In the 1850s one of his Tongan forefathers, Ma'afu'otu'itonga, a Methodist, waged war on the Fijian Seru Cakobau who was based on the island of Bau

Cakobau ultimately won and Lau became part of Fiji. Bainimarama comes from the Bau line.

However, the Lau Islands provided the leader crucial to modern Fiji: Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was Fiji's founding prime minister and later president. The runaway colonel is his youngest son

The first broadside in the latest skirmish might well have occurred in 2009, when several yachts bound for New Zealand were chased out of Minerva Reefs' lagoon, a stopping point for those travelling here, by Fijian navy boats.

Minerva Reefs were claimed by Tonga in 1972 after the shadowy US Phoenix Foundation shipped in dirt and declared it a republic.

The late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV loaded a ferry with soldiers, a convict work detail and a four-piece brass band and sailed the 500 kilometres to personally haul down the "Republic of Minerva" flag. As he raised his own banner, he declared it a Tongan island.

Fiji's Foreign Affairs deputy permanent secretary Sila Balawa said last year it objected to Tonga building structures on Fiji territory.

In November 2009 the Fiji patrol boats arrived in the lagoon and chased yatchs away.

The king claimed in it 1972. Since then we have been maintaining patrol and put up a lighthouse for the safety of seafarers," he said.

"We have developed a lot, and we are surprised at what is happening."

The Pacific Forum recognised Tonga's annexation of Minerva in 1972 but Fiji, which is now suspended from the 16-nation body, has not formally accepted it.

This all seem foolish but the reefs have taken on more significance as their possession gives rights to lucrative undersea minerals. South Korean, Chinese and Australian interests are seeking prospecting rights in the area.

Keep in touch with what is happening out here. Major wars have been started over less.

Monday, May 16, 2011


May 14, 2011
United States is not the only country, which sends youthful volunteers. Japan also sends their equivalent of the Peace Corps, called JICA. In some ways they perform many of the same tasks as Peace Corps, some are teachers, others do specific jobs with governmental agencies and NGOs. In other ways they are very different.

It is hard to say JICA is a volunteer organization for they are paid well both during and at the end of their service. They also can drive and are given motorbikes. The term of service is one year, rather than the 27 month Peace Corps tenure. JICA tend to be older than the twenty-something’s who make up the bulk of Peace Corps and have ongoing careers.

In many ways JICA are envious of Peace Corps, which they hold in high regards. They only receive two weeks of in country training before they go to their assignments. This means they have almost no feel for Samoan or Samoan cultures before they come to grabble with actually doing something. Japanese are notoriously poor English speakers, even though they are well versed in English reading and writing. This makes them even more isolated in this foreign land.

Since Peace Corps and JICA share some common experiences, it is only natural for the gregarious Americans to invite the Japanese to a party. We both try to decide whether to bow or shake hands, best to do both. Peace Corps prepare a truly American meal of tortillas, salsa and beer while JICA bring their food of numerous raw tuna dishes, rice, a kind of meat loaf, and some Japanese intoxicants.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Market basket day at Women in Business

Village women with fruit/veggie baskets in my office. My boss, Tina, wearing Sombero.

Two more work associates, Tilo with hat, and Elina.

One of the businesses the Women in Business Development (WIBD) organization, where I am assigned, promotes is organic fruit/veggie baskets. The village women bring them into my office area to fill orders WIBD have collected from more prosperous Apia residents.

Wintertime in Samoa


Two sheets required to keep warm during a Samoan winter.
St. Nick hangs in my house confused. He lost his bearings when the North Star disappeared over the horizon.

South of the equator it is wintertime. This is the time of year the aboriginals in Australia named a "Three Dog Night". Here in Samoa it is a two sheet night.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It’s the Culture Stupid

May 7, 2011

For those who have never worked in a foreign country, it is difficult to imagine why there can be so much misunderstanding between two people from different cultures even if they can speak the same language and seemingly agree on certain points. Let me try to elaborate.

After three frustrating weeks of trying to come up with a plan for my project, “The Samoan Challenge”, I finally had a meeting with my Samoan sponsoring organization, “Women in Business Development” (WIBD). I presented a very simplified program of providing a basic framework and letting Samoans develop it further in their own way. This would meet The WIBD’s objective of a program maybe workable in rural villages, the Peace Corps objective of having volunteers participate in a significant health project, and my objective to get rid of 5,000 pink wristbands.

WIBD said my plan was the plan they wanted last year! They blamed the Peace Corps for making last year’s program too complicated, leading many participants and Peace Corps to simply bail out. Also, WIBD was not aware all Peace Corps then and now in Samoa were teachers, usually unfamiliar with the complicated politics of village life, and not Village Based, as Mary and I.

When I brought this up to the Peace Corps staff, they were amazed at how after so many meetings with WIBD, they had never expressed any concerns about the program’s direction, nor even after WIBD attended the training of Peace Corps, and did they not know that all PC are primary school teachers?

Another case study was when explaining to a Samoan woman that after my Peace Corps job in Samoa, I was returning to the States and going to marry a Samoan man and an American woman. What she heard and thought for quite a while was “I am going to marry a Samoan man”. This really didn’t upset her because in Samoa “Fa’afafine, man-woman” are quite acceptable, so my marriage might be strange, but not out of the realm of possibility. She was relieved to learn, a Fa’afafine I am not.

Still another case study was this past week when I sat for an entire day’s program with thirty WIBD employees. WIBD had hired two women from New Zealand, one with multiple educational degrees and the other a psychotherapist to conduct a training session. I asked the educator what she wanted the people to walk away with. She rambled on about something to do with team building and the evils of office gossip.

One of the exercises was to break into four groups and work together to build a tall giraffe out of newspaper, tape, and string, an exercise familiar to anyone in a western organization. One of the most successful groups was the one which approached the task in a typical Samoan manner. They selected a leader, in this case an older man amongst the women, and followed his decisions. The women in his group were quick to point out that their leader was very good in listening to their ideas, but he made the final decision which they accepted. Everyone in that group felt their giraffe was the best, which it was. The educator gloriously wrote many words on a whiteboard expressed during the ensuing discussion and espoused how everyone should work together in some vague democratic manner. She then took a picture of the almost blacked whiteboard. She totally missed how Samoans actually do work together.

Another exercise was to discuss what you found difficult about yourself (presumably work related). I said “It was the man in the mirror”, leading to a quick suggestion that I should break the mirror. Anyway several of the women broke down in tears as they revealed typical office problems, the psychotherapist listening with empathy and care as she encouraged even more to be reviled in this group of work associates.

I had to contain myself even more when the consultants put a bowl of chocolates in the middle of the circle during the “difficulty” segment. On top of that, they exhorted the group they were to take just one when their turn came for a candy. It was like putting raw meat in front of hungry lions. There was no understanding that in Samoa take one, means one handful.

The task before me was even further complicated during lunch. Here I was working for probably the most health conscience organization in Samoa to reduce obesity and promote “natural, organic foods” when trays of the most delectable and greasy food were served. In true Samoan fashion, people heaped piles of stuff on their plates. When finished with one plateful, they heaped on seconds. The only food left over was the cucumber, asparagus sandwiches. I sat there wondering if even my sponsoring organization was capable of participating in this project I am supposed to do.

The final segment had to do with gossip and the destructiveness thereof. The Samoans are masters of gossip. It is one of the reasons they can sit around in a circle for most of the day. In fact, Samoans have different words to discuss different types of gossip. They are light years ahead of us. Whereas Gossip might be very destructive in western decision making, it is not a big deal in Samoa where the decision is made by one person, not by a vote, regardless of what appears to be happening. I had to laugh as the consultants efforts educate about the evils of gossip actually fed the flames of future office gossip. I laughed even harder when at the beginning of their program they had everyone agree that whatever was said during their program not to be discussed outside of the room. What planet did they come from?

Eureka! We have a failure to communicate here.

Indeed, thinking you are both on the same wavelength is difficult even in your own culture, but extend that to a different way of thinking and interrupting the same word, you get a feel of why so many efforts of world peace, understanding, and aid end in failure. This Peace Corps stuff is hard work. The temptation to write off your efforts as falling upon dumb aboriginals is your own failure to realize the ignorance and shortcomings of the man in the mirror.

Somehow I have to learn how to operate in a culture with little or no feedback, thus reinforcing my notions of progress when there isn’t any, and Samoans have to grabble with my directness and lack of formal protocol, thus reinforcing their notions of my rudeness when I simply want to meet a deadline to get things done. I guess that is why the project is called,” The Samoan Challenge”.

My friend, Georgette

May 6, 2011

Samoan’s keep asking “Ua iai se uo?” which means literally means, “Do you have a friend (now)?” When a young man says this to a young girl, this means “How about me (now)? Let’s hop to it!” When said to an older white man, it means, “Do you have a Samoan (woman) living with you (now)”. If I reply no, they want to know, “Why not? What’s wrong with Samoan women or worse yet, you?”

Well, I do have a female Samoan living with me. Her name is Georgette. She comes out every evening at dusk and eats the bugs off the floor, walls, and ceiling. What more can a man ask of a uo?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Samoan Fishing Contest

May 2, 2011
Samoa has an annual week-long national fishing contest. This Mahi-mahi is one of the first fish to be weighed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

John Kleive Departs Samoa

April 29, 2011

John, a former teacher, sailor, French welding supply company employee, motorcyclist, storyteller, and Samoan Peace Corps Volunteer from Ely, Minnesota is packing his bags for good.

John came to Samoa in October, 2007 as a welding instructor at Don Bosco, a Catholic school for boys in Apia. John’s experience and background far exceeded the resources of the school, so John did what comes quite naturally to him, got a welding distributor friend of his from Las Vegas to donate thousands of dollars’ worth of welding equipment.

Even before his permanent assignment at Don Bosco, a member of his host family in his training village named a baby after John’s deceased daughter. John promptly set up a fund for her later education.

John’s love of the Samoan lifestyle, his association with the Brothers at Don Bosco, the contribution he was making to the welding program, and the relative luxuries of his house, all went into his decision to extend a third year with Peace Corps.

John was not yet done. The Administration at Don Bosco said he could continue to stay and teach outside of Peace Corps from October to May with full benefits, even though the Samoan school year is from February to November. This was almost too good to be true. Now John could live on his boat at Superior, Wisconsin, during the Minnesota summer, and spend winters in Samoa.. He took them up on their offer and pictured the rest of his life spending life as all those who toil dream, even now with a car. Alas, personalities at Don Bosco changed and with that the failure of them to offer John another year teaching and his apartment.

Now John is packed to leave Samoa, maybe for the last time this Monday, May 2nd. There is one last meal at Samoa’s Yacht Club where John has a table reserved for him every Friday night of meeting friends. No longer are the many world-wide contacts he spends hours talking to over Syke going to get his calls from Samoa.

For me, John’s leaving for Las Vegas in May to pick up his stored Harley Davidson motorcycle the hit the road visiting friends and children along the way, including Mary, is expected. The emptiness I feel is not that I may not see John again, for we are planning a trip to The Gambia in Africa this September, but knowing that for him his Samoan adventure is completed. What awaits now is maybe a new motorcycle and I am sure more new stories to tell.

He leaves with a new Samoan wristband tattoo and a smiley face tatoo on his ass. I know Samoa and Don Bosco will miss him.

One of John's favorite activities, sitting at his bedroom desk talking over Skype to friends around the world.

John and I enjoying our Last Supper at the Yatch Club overlooking Apia Harbor.