Friday, July 29, 2011

“Survivor” Food

July 27, 2011

I was just delivered 500 bottles of honey. My honey supplier, Lester, told me how busy he was supplying honey to the “Survivor”. It was the food they seem to be surviving on.

The “Survivor” program is filming two more seasons of the program in Samoa. This is their second two season session. Can it be Lester’s honey?

Coconut oil verses Honey

July 25, 2011

As a reward for participating in the Samoa Challenge, I am giving out 500 ml bottles of Extra Virgin Coconut Oil or Samoan Honey, both items promoted and sold by my sponsoring organization, Women in Business Development (WIBD). For curiosity I decided to do a little test.

One test was to determine if Samoans had a preference for cooking oils. I set up 500 ml bottles of palm oil, sunflower oil, soya oil and WIBD’s coconut oil in the WIBD office and asked how they would use the oils. Sunflower and soya oils were ruled out immediately. Hardly anyone had ever heard of these oils. The choice was clear. Palm oil was used for cooking while coconut oil was used for massages and hair oil. Hardly anyone associated coconut oil with cooking even though their employer WIBD was promoting it as the “Healthiest Oil on Earth”! I was in trouble.

I set aside a bottle of coconut oil of the same size bottle of honey, and then asked which they would choose. Almost everyone chose honey. I asked why? “Because you can eat it!” was the reply.

Lastly, I asked if they got the bottle of coconut oil instead of the honey what would they do with it. Most said they would put it into smaller bottles and sell it. They could never use 500 ml of coconut oil in a number of years. Coconut oil sold in the market was vastly more expensive than honey or any other type of oil.

Coconut oil was made by native Samoans and used for cooking before the cheap palm oil and money from overseas changed both the production of coconut oil and even the recognition of its use as cooking oil. I have used coconut oil for cooking and it is the best, if not the healthiest.

Now I have five hundred 500 ml in my house to distribute. That is one Hell-of-a-Massage!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Volunteers in Action

July 22, 2011

If I said a hundred times how proud I am to have the opportunity to work these Peace Corps Volunteers, I haven’t said it enough. They represent what I feel the United States represents, giving of their time and talents to help others without any hope of being rewarded and maybe not even being recognized.

Of course, some come with warts, some with no idea of their next step, and others to build resumes. Most have thought of joining the Peace Corps years before joining. Some have parents who encouraged them to step outside of their familiar boxes and venture to an unknown land, knowing of the dangers, but also to help their children grow.

Here are a few who helped the past week:

Dan Butterfoss (back row)

Mike Abouraad
Katie Klane

Rivka Rocchio (husband Chris, not pictured)

Beauty of Samoa

July 21, 2011

Sometimes one can get so wrapped up with the little things in life you forget just where you are. Samoa is called the “Jewel of the Pacific”. This is a beautiful place. This is a view from my overnight cabin. The view combined with the cool trade winds makes missing the heat wave in the upper Midwest seem a little more bearable.

South Sea lagoons can be among the most breathtaking vistas on earth, but they also can be very dangerous. This is a view of a lagoon showing the “cut” in the barrier reef. As the tide rises and falls, the water in the lagoon rushes through this opening. During high tide, the incoming water fills the lagoon. During low tide the flow is out to sea and anyone caught in its current goes out to the big stuff which waits on the deep side of the reef. One Chinese tourist tested his swimming skills at this cut, only to never been seen again.

Cabal of Seven

July19, 2011

Due certain expressed sensitivities and in preserving Peace Corps harmony, the text of this entry have been deleted.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Return to Iva

July 16,2011

What has happened to Mary and my host family over the past two years? I was able to spend a few hours with them on my most recent trip to Iva on the island of Savaii. In many ways they typify what family means in Samoa.

Our old little fale, house, is now occupied by the head of the family’s younger sister who has returned to permanently stay with her American husband after living in Hawaii for a number of years. She is the woman who wanted to adopt the young boy and grandnephew of the boy she is holding, Lawrence, named after her husband.

The daughter in the front row is pregnant expecting in November and is back living with the family after being a journalism student and reporter for the Samoan newspaper. I don’t know any details.

The other three girls are still in school. Although there are plans that the two oldest will go to New Zealand to continue their schooling and probably gain a dual citizenship.

Others not pictured are an older son studying for the priesthood who fathered a child with the woman in the next house; another son who has returned to a Catholic high school in hopes he eventually completes his education; a daughter and mother of Lawrence who lives in Apia with husband, her son, Nicholas, and daughter, Mary, and her younger brother; the eldest son who is living in Fiji and soon to become the village priest; and another older son, who has a son of his own with another woman, but is married to a Tongan.

As I sat in an open house with my host father and mother, I was amazed at the pride the man had for his expanding family and the acceptance of the woman. It really didn’t matter how the family grew or what the children’s futures may be, for they were an aiga, family. Somehow they would all look after one another under the grace of God.

O le Pokolame Piniki

July15, 2011

O le Pokolame Piniki or the Pink Program is my new moniker for the Samoan Health Challenge. The pink wristband defines and identifies the program. It is what people want. People even promise to eat less to get one!

Since all the Peace Corps Volunteers are rural primary school teachers, the program expanded to include students in grades six through eight. The wristbands are a way to get a health tip flyer to their parents. What a hit! The teachers are also drawn into the program as they explain the flyer to the students.

At a resort I was staying, four Australian tourists remarked about driving through a neighboring village with students at the side of the road raising their pink wristbands in the air.

Operation “O le Pokolame Piniki” is off and running.

Devon Childress
Matt Kaplan

Yours truly

Being Female in Samoa

July14, 2011

Living in a traditional society is hard, especially for Westerners. Many join the Peace Corps to be an agent for change. Of course, the change envisioned is to bring your view of enlightenment to others.

Females are particularly prone to this notion as they grapple with their new “lower” status is Samoan society. If you are married, as Mary and I, you find it is your husband who is heard and given credit, even if are the one responsible. If you are female and young, only the strongest in language skills and personality seem to thrive. If you are older and female, you may fall in between. This gap is especially evident during the first year of service.

As time passes, those still here find either Samoans have seen the light you bring or you have seen and figured out how to negotiate your way in the fog. It probably is a mixture of the two with the latter being the predominant hue. Whereas others thought you a complete incompetent before, you now find yourself leading an exercise group at 5:00 am in the morning or having other teachers wonder if some of your methods may have some validity. You may even be contemplating extending your service into a third year. Flip a coin as to who is the wiser.

I being the old, white man with a string of degrees have an easier time of fitting into a more respected role. I can blow into a school, command attention from principle, teachers, and students about the Samoan Challenge whereas the younger female Peace Corps teacher struggle. I can help them get started and give the program a legitimacy they could not.

I do have a lingering question though. I wonder if young females understand their responsibilities to old, white men with a string of degrees when they return home.

Dana Gray
Elisa Law

Lilly Watson

Monday, July 11, 2011

Month Three

July 10, 2011

A village Challenge Group exercising at 5:00 am

Three months have passed since my arrival to respond to a need to complete the second half of a two year Samoan Health Challenge grant. During that time intelligence was gathered, scouting expeditions probed for a pathway, plans were drawn up and revised, now for the battle. Like Pogo of the comic strips, “We have met the enemy and it is us”.

The apathy given to this project, and ergo me, by my the administrations of the “sponsoring organizations”, Women in Business Development and Peace Corps, and by many of the Peace Corps Volunteers is only overshadowed by the responsiveness of the Samoan people. They fully understand their own health predicament and want to be shown a way out. It is when I honestly talk to them face-to-face about what they already suspect, but like all humans, don’t want to face, that I realize the importance of my stay. Their faces are what keep me going.

What is hard to accept is the reality of the NGO and governmental world. This is not the results oriented world, in which I find my reality. It is a world of fulfilling the requirements and budgets of the funder. Results, both long and short term, are of little or consequence. It is the process that matters. So organizations move from fad to fad depending on the “cause d’jour”, be it tsunamis, climate change, obesity, breast feeding, animal rights and all other rights, abuses and all other abuses, inhumanities and all other inhumanities, freedoms and all other freedoms, wherever and whenever good and guilty hearts fork out money, filling out long reports to be filed for posterity only. Mission Accomplished. It is maintaining the organization which counts.

Please don’t misread me. I am not saying this is bad. It is just hard being from one world and trying to exist in another.

My battle plan for the next seven weeks is to engage the enemy, take their money, and do my best to assist those for whom it is intended. Then to get on the plane, return to my family, and say I met the Challenge. I tried.

Wristband Magic

July 8, 2011

For months I have been trying to arrange a meeting with a representative from the Ministry of Health. Finally after two cancelations, I had the opportunity to meet with the Principle Officer for Health Programs arranged by a summer intern in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.

The meeting progressed cautiously as we both assessed the other’s motives and interests. The Principle Officer warned me about duplicative and unauthorized programs with possibly conflicting messages. She was skeptical. I was on thin ice as she glanced at her watch.

I then showed her the wristband on my wrist and explained that anyone who pledged to “try” got one as a reminder to themselves and also it served as reinforcement as it had to be explained to others.

“How simple”, she said. “Do you have any extras?” “I want 1,000”

“No problem”, I said,” but how about starting with 500?” “Would you like one on your wrist?”

“Yes. I gained so much weight when I came back from New Zealand”, she said. “I am meeting with the all the department heads this Tuesday and can’t wait to tell them about how I am going to use these wristbands in our new national exercise program aimed at company and organizational employees.”

I also gave her a jar of my mango salsa which is almost as magical as pink wristbands.


From Volunteer to Employee

July 7, 2011

My rental car, a Toyota Cami, of unknown year and kilometerage. These used right-hand drive are flooding the Samoa market, as Samoa turns to Japan and China as a main trading partner.

When Mary and I were living in a rural village from 2007-2009, we felt like” real Peace Corps Volunteers”. We were out there amongst the natives, trying as best we could to understand them. We tried to use our skills in some way to help them. Objectives and goals were unclear, wondering what I am doing here. Our reception met with both joy and trepidation. We had the “Peace Corps experience”.

My first couple of months was a transitional period. There were some objectives and goals, albeit rather hazy. I worked in an air-conditioned office in “the city” surrounded by stores and people who would rather speak English than Samoan. I had a job description, a budget, and a title. Still I took the bus, rode my bike, and walked. I mixed with the locals and other volunteers easily.

Now I have a car with a schedule to meet the objectives and goals for which I was brought here to do. I have a “job”!

I knew this was going to happen and indeed I am progenitor of my own situation. I am really not sorry, but a little nostalgic for the Peace Corps Volunteer I was.

It is time for me now to hit the road and help those Peace Corps in their own villages as they grapple with their own and other people’s Challenges, to be a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bats for Dinner

July 7, 2011

I have never eaten bat before, but I understand they are deelicious. The bats in Samoa are called "Flying Foxes" and they eat fruit. Watching them as they fly at dusk is like seeing a squadron of bombers.

Here is one Peace Corps Volunteer, Elisa Law, who taped her "Eating Bat Brains Experience"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Company Social Night

June 30, 2011

It happens all over the world, the need for companies and organizations to have a “compulsory social night”. These events are organized by a socially aware employee to build harmony among people who would rather be home and who cannot stand another moment of listening to their manager’s pontificate about how great everything and one are. The usual draws are prizes and free food with a “uniting” theme. The social night for Women in Business Development’s theme is “Oldies Night”, ` the food is a large pizza for every two people, the prizes are for most weight lost, best costume, and the “Employee of the Quarter”. This is the first of what is planned to be many social nights.

As with many events like this, there are surprises. Sleeper employees suddenly come to the fore. Those quiet, diligent people who make up the backbone of any organization, others never notice reveal their alter-persona, take their prizes and awards, then return to their own private and productive lives.

Party organizer and manager

Former Samoan Peace Corps who married a Samoan, still pitches baseball at 66, wears
high school uniform

Lost over 20 pounds in six weeks, married father of two

Return to Faofao Beach Resort

June 28, 2011

Someone once said that life is filled with years of ennui and a few moments of sheer terror. It was the terror that changes your life. For Samoa, the most recent terror was the tsunami of September, 2009. I stayed at a rebuilt resort at the center of the tsunami and once thriving resort area located in the Alipata area.

Of course, the resort was just a shadow of itself, but what struck me were a few beautifully carved wooden artifacts made by her son which I remember when our Peace Corps group stayed there in 2007. The owner said how she had found them buried up on the side of the mountain behind the resort.

I guess she was amazed at my memory, but I was more amazed by the tremendous effort and determination to rebuild her life when the others had permanently fled the area to higher ground.

Yes, the carvings were a reminder of the terror she had experienced, yet they serve as an inspiration to continue a new and changed life.

Beach fale at Faofao, a very nice way to spend the night, fanned by the trade winds to the roar of the surf crashing on the barrier reef.

Déjà vu and Aufaga too

June 28, 2011

Natalie Ziemba is a first year Peace Corps teacher in a rural primary school in Aufaga on the island of Upolu. She is trying to form Challenge groups but her efforts so far have failed. When asked what she had done, I could not help but relate to her frustrations.

Like Mary and I had done previously, Natalie walked the road in her village, stopping at individual houses, and then put up signs announcing a meeting for those who are interested in joining the Samoa Challenge (We did the same for a talent contest). No one showed, even those who said they would. Her heart and spirits were broken. I said not to worry I think I can relate to your situation, so off to Aufaga I fled.

We started with the teachers in her school. We got out the scale, put up the measuring tape, literature, and those mighty pink wristbands. Before long the teachers were enrolled, enthusiastic to others join them, some from other villages. Next target was the church, the minister was out of the country, but the leader of the young adult group was in the middle of his daily activities. When shown the Biblical quotation about God’s word on the “body being his temple”, he too was on board and was ready to get his group involved.

This is the way things work around here, build it or set it up and they will come. People don’t have appointment calendars; they want to make sure something will happen by seeing it happen first, then maybe. Of course, getting to the right people and referencing the Bible helps too.

For teachers who are used to the discipline of small children in a classroom, interacting with adults in the village can be a daunting experience. It is just another part of “The Challenge”.

The epilogue is yet to be written about Natalie and Aufaga, but they are on their way. They just need to “try”.