Saturday, October 17, 2009

Village Stay

This is a blog just to let you know that I will not be able to update my blog for about a month, as we are heading to a village without internet. Please check back later in November and I hope to have a good update for you all.

Also, last night I believe I felt my first earthquake. My roommate and I both felt are beds shaking as we were about to fall asleep. Not a major one though.

Stay well and I'll talk to you later!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Haven't I Met You Before?

I know you have all met someone before who reminds you of a friend, co-worker, or family member. You do a double take and sometimes find yourself looking really hard, trying to figure out how their gestures, expressions or physical appearance could be so similar. It’s kind of weird, and you often debate whether or not to tell them that they are a spitting image of someone you already know.

By now, you may have guessed where I’m heading with this. From the first day I arrived in Los Angeles for staging, and began meeting other Peace Corps members, I noticed some who reminded me of friends, family, and even professors. At first, I thought there were just a few who had similarities to those I already knew back home, but as the days passed, it just became strange.

Yesterday I was sitting in our pre-service training class and counted across the room...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7!!!! Seven Peace Corps Trainees who remind me of someone I already knew! I know you’re dying to know if you’re on the list, so here’s a few to read over. For the sake of protecting people’s identity in a google search, I will only use first names, or only last names in some situations. Also, I will provide a scale to represent their overall likeness. 1= slight resemblance 10= strong resemblance

Peace Corps Trainee Alli, reminds me of my friend Becca who was in the trombone section of the Notre Dame Band. Scale: 7
Casey reminds me of my friend Ellen from Holy Cross College. Scale: 5
Corina reminds me of my sister’s friend Emily from St. Mary’s College. Scale 7
Elisa reminds me of my very good friend, Claire from Holy Cross College. Scale 6
Emelie reminds me of my mom’s best friend’s daughter, Amber. Scale 4
Jenny McC. reminds me of my friend Mary from Holy Cross College. Scale 7
Kathleen reminds me of a former professor from Holy Cross College, Mrs. Baldinger. Scale 7
One of my language instructors reminds me of a former professor from Holy Cross College,
Fr. Thomas. Scale 5

Thanks to all those involved. You’re helping me feel more at home in a country halfway around the world! If you’re not on the list, don’t worry, I still think of you and miss you just as much. Now for some other news...

In case you weren’t aware, Samoa has some problems with wild dogs. They roam the streets and travel by themselves, as well as in packs. The Peace Corps safety handbook recommends that we carry a stick to fend off any would be attacking dogs. Last night myself and about 6 other trainees walked downtown to Apia to find a place to eat. Soon we saw dogs near one of the intersections. They were waiting at the light and we commented on how neat it was that they were crossing at the crosswalk. What wasn’t so neat was when they started following us. My friend Leah told us to remain calm. Soon they had us circled. They weren’t growling, but looked very curious and made us feel like we needed a way out.

We tried crossing the street, but they followed us over, we crossed back over again. My friend Leah and I picked up some broken asphalt and a small 2 by 4. Her and I crossed back to the other side and the dogs continued following our other friends on the opposite side. We thought it would be best to monitor the situation from the other side of the road.

We finally made it to a more populated area where there were restaurants. We felt a little silly with all our "weapons" in hand. We still didn’t know what to do to make the dogs leave, so Leah lifted the 2 by 4 over her head as if she was going to throw it. Just like that the dogs ran across the street. In the end we were fine, but were reminded that many of the dogs do bite. Next time I’ll be ready to fend them off with a good piece of lumber.
Thanks for reading. I hope you are all doing well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Turquoise & Devastation

Peace Corps serves in countries all over the world, and as a result, it must tailor each of its programs to the particular challenges which may face a volunteer in their particular region. Today we received water safety training, seeing as how we our located in the middle of the South Pacific. Water safety consisted of a training session by an expert diver and then a plunge into the turquoise waters off the shore of Samoa.
We left the hotel at 8:45a.m. on a local bus, which is basically four wheels mounted to a bunch of lumber. They are quaint and charming for the first 20 minutes, until the wooden seats and lack of shocks take a toll on you. Nonetheless, it provided us our transportation to a tropical paradise.
Our training took place in crystal blue waters that I had never seen before. The scenery looked like one of those wallpaper settings you can select for your computer. After going over the do’s and don’ts of swimming in the lagoons around the Samoan islands, a group of 23 loaded onto "Shillo II," a large sail boat with a lower cabin. The wind was brisk and made for a lot of wave action. Off in the distance, I could see the waves breaking on the reefs. Heading away from shoreline, I looked back to see the palm trees lining the sandy beach, some leaning at 45 degree angles out over the water. Once at our anchor spot, we put on snorkeling gear and plunged into the very warm water. Snorkeling can be a lot of work on a choppy day, as the waves break over your head and send salt water rushing down your snorkel. One gulp of unwanted salt water is enough to cause frustration. Three gulps was enough to remind me that I was a beginner.
Our snorkeling revealed a whole new world. Coral reefs were stacked like skyscrapers below the surface, and fish of many different colors and sizes could be seen just feet away from us. Blue star fish were nestled safely on the ocean’s bottom. Every direction I turned revealed a different part of the underwater puzzle. The water was in fact turquoise, glistening beneath the sun’s rays.
Following our snorkeling adventures, we loaded back on the bus to continue traveling around the island. We made an hour stop at another beach that had white sand and slippery rocks lining the perimeter. The waves crashed with such force it made me feel so powerless.
The power of the water was fully realized when we later drove to the Southeast side of the island to view the devastation from the tsunami which hit in late September. It has claimed over 150 deaths in Samoa. I remember watching the news coverage back in the United Sates, feeling so bad for those who lost everything in an instant. I was happy to see that the networks and cable T.V. were devoting so much time to the tragedy. Many news organizations even sent correspondents to report on location. This was good work, and helped generate assistance from around the world. The Samoans were in need of all the help they could get.
But then something happened. David Letterman admitted having sexual relations with members of his staff, and it later was reported that he was allegedly blackmailed by an executive producer at CBS News. All of a sudden, Samoa became a small side note scrolling along the ticker of the cable networks. Do you think the Samoans had their mess cleaned up as fast as Letterman got into his? No. They were still searching for bodies and cleaning up the devastation that nature’s furry had left behind. Today I saw that devastation. It was pilled up on the edges of what was dubbed a tropical paradise. It was hanging in the trees and probably still floating in the water. The devastation was still there. Those people living there weren’t able to forget about it after three days and turn their attention to some other story. Those people are forced to mull about, salvaging what they can of their possessions, and burning those things that are ruined.
As we made our way through each village, you could see exactly where the water had its grasp. Steep cliffs inland were only devastated to a certain height, and above that it was still lush and green, never having been disturbed. Below that mark, it was a tangled mess of palm trees, scrap meddle, cars, and lumber.
What reassured me that the Samoans would be ok, was when driving by, I saw families spending time together. One family’s house was half demolished, yet they were gathered around the dinner table eating a meal. Some houses had nothing but a foundation left, yet I saw kids playing with smiles on their faces. They waved at us, and I realized they didn’t know the full impact of what had happened. But I also saw parents take time to wave to us, and I knew they were aware of the impact. They had lost everything, but still waved at us as we passed by what was left of their houses. Those who were picking up the pieces of their lives weren’t as lucky as those who were picking up the latest headlines on cable T.V. They were still there, trying to make sense of nature’s wrath.
I write this with a disappointment for those who cover and report the news. I want to work as a broadcast journalist when I finish my time with the Peace Corps. I only hope that my time here will help make me a more valued employee, so that I can identify and continue addressing those stories which are in most need of being covered. For those who view the work of the news organizations, I ask that you be vigilant of those who are forgotten in an instant by the fast pace marathon that is the media.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun in the Sun

Trying to build a blog from the bottom, I’ve asked myself what might be some basic topics to touch on early in the game. After a long day of sweating, and receiving a bad sunburn, I thought the heat would be appropriate.
Having just lived one of the coolest summers on record in Michigan, I forgot the power of the sun, even if it is 93 million miles away from Earth’s front door. Each day near the equator is intense. The sun beats down on you in a way that it doesn’t on the hottest day of the year in Michigan.
A group of us left the hotel at 6:00 a.m. to go for a morning run. At 6:00 a.m. the sun isn’t too bad; by 6:15 the sun is hot, and by 9:00 a.m. you would think it was high noon. After our sweaty run along the seawall, we headed into Apia to buy cell phones and look around. When we left the hotel, some trainees were applying sun block. I told myself, I didn’t need sun block, I don’t burn easily and we would be walking in and out of stores. It was hot today, although I don’t think as hot as yesterday, but by the time we returned to the hotel in the early afternoon, I had been burned on my neck with a farmer’s tan I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Living hear involves not only sweating, but wearing it, smelling it, and trying to clean it off. I’ve given up on the last. If you take a shower, you only find your efforts to be wasted because by the time you walk down the stairs, you’ve begun to perspire. I’m learning how to deal with it.
Of course, after sweating, clothes are wet, but it’s hard to dry those clothes without a dryer. I could try to find a place to hang them in the sun, and that might be a little ironic to hang the problem in front of the cause, but regardless, it would work. However, my clothes lines here at the hotel are limited, so the clothes hang in the room on hangers, chair backs, backpacks etc. In the end, they remain damp and leave a weird smell hanging in the room that reminds me of a boy’s gym locker.
For all the complaining I do, the sun and heat make life so enjoyable, and a part of why two different cruise ships have docked hear in the past couple of days. The sun also helps make snorkeling in the 80 water a little more tolerable. Heat allows for towering palm trees, banana trees, and rainforests to grow, making this country a little more exotic.
I"ve talked to current volunteers, and they say that we will get use to the heat. That makes me feel better. For all the complaining that I have just done about the heat, please know that I love the heat. Weather makes us funny and plays with our mind. No matter how hot and humid it may become here in Samoa, I will stay refreshed knowing I will be avoiding all snow for the next two years. Until next time we meet, so long from the South Pacific!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Someone in Samoa

I am currently writing this post from Samoa in the South Pacific! However, let me take you back in time to describe how I got here and what my emotions were along the way.

On the evening of October 4, 2009, I began packing my suitcases for a 27 month excursion to the South Pacific island of Samoa. I was preparing to leave for my training and service in the Peace Corps! The evening was spent meticulously placing items into my four pieces of luggage, (2 checked, 2 carry-on). At first, I was functioning normally, but soon it became a real chore as I started growing more nervous. I was excited to be leaving, but just knowing the time was hours away caused me unneeded distraction.

At 4:30a.m. I had the goal of being done at 5:30 a.m. to get a couple hours of sleep. When 5:30 came, I quit setting goals and just dug in for the long haul. The next hour flew by and I finally weighed my luggage to find that it was overweight! Never mind, I would take care of it after a quick sleep. At 6:30a.m. I crawled into my bed at home for the last time until December of 2011. At that moment, the emotions hit me: all I wanted to do was have 8 hours of sleep in my own bed, but I had to wake up in an hour and try to get rid of extra weight from my luggage and say good-bye to my parents.

After my hour nap, my alarm rang and I awoke to the worst migraine headache I’ve had in years, along with a stomach ache of nerves. I was pins and needles, trying to stay focused on what had to be done, but at the same time, not having the full power to control my thought process. By 10:20a.m., I had everything loaded and my mom and dad took me to South Bend, Indiana where my flight would depart at 12:41p.m. After a tearful good-bye, I was off for Chicago with a connecting flight to L.A.

In Los Angeles, I grabbed my baggage and climbed aboard a shuttle bus to our hotel. When I got on, I saw two girls near the back of the bus who had large, oversized bags of luggage. I had a pretty good idea where they were going. Before long we were introducing ourselves and I felt like I was on MTV’s Real World and I was meeting my new roommates. We arrived at our hotel and spent the next 24 hours with our group having staging and preparing for our flight to Samoa.
After a 10.5 hour flight from Los Angeles, California on Tuesday night, our group of 23 landed at 5:30a.m. local time on Wednesday October 7, 2009! Our Air New Zealand, Boeing 767 landed safely in Apia, the capital of Samoa. It was still dark when we descended the staircase to the tarmac and began our walk into customs. When we had our luggage, we were greeted by current Peace Corps staff and Peace Corps Volunteers, who presented us with freshly made leis for us to wear. Soon we had our luggage loaded onto a flatbed truck and loaded the bus for our journey along the shoreline back to our hotel.

Later that morning, we had an Ava Ceremony with all the Peace Corps Trainees, staff and current volunteers. We knew this ceremony was going to happen, but we were still nervous because of the fact we had to recite some Samoan phrases. The Ava ceremony involved us all sitting in a circle, cross legged. Sitting with your legs straight out in front of you is considered rude in Samoa, so the legs remained crossed for the whole ceremony. Different members of the staff spoke to the group in Samoan (we had no idea what they were saying) and then we were presented with the Ava to drink. We recited our Samoan phrase and finished the cup of Ava. This occurred for each of the volunteers.

Later that afternoon we were about to begin our first session of training when we found out there was a tsunami evacuation for Samoa, due to an 8.0 earthquake near Vanuatu, a nearby island nation. We were evacuated lickety split and went to higher ground for about an hour until the all clear was given. There was no tsunami in Samoa. During this whole process, I found out exactly how prepared the Peace Corps is to handle these situations, and how professionally they did so. I feel completely safe here in Samoa, knowing the proper precautions to take if this were to happen again. It was weird having it happen on our first day though. This tsunami warning came about two weeks after the large earthquake and tsunami which affected part of the island and killed more than 150 people. Samoans are more aware of the situation, and are on high alert. I have yet to feel an earthquake.

Over the past few days, I have found the transition to be painless. The people who are a part of this organization are driven and motivated and have such a desire to serve and be a part of this country. We thrive off of one another’s ambitions and work to support each other. We have begun our training classes which are intense, but we find ways to relax: going for a 6a.m. runs along the ocean seawall, and getting a strawberry milkshake from a nearby ice cream shop. These things help remind me of home, while at the same time taking place in a whole other world.

For now I will say good-bye. Most posts won’t be this long, so don’t let me scare you off already. There was a lot I wanted to set the mood for this first major writing. Until next time we meet, so long from the South Pacific!

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Address

Kyle Kincaid PCV
Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia, Western Samoa
South Pacific

I would love to hear from all of you!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Moonlight in Michigan

My final night in Michigan for the next two years is one to remember. I am at my Grandma Ruthie's house at Klinger Lake. The moon is sparkling across the water, reminding me of how much I love my family, my friends and my country.

These past weeks have been a whirlwind. I've been to St. Louis, MO; Houston, TX, Rockford, IL, South Bend, IN... So many people to see and so little time.

This journey began back in February, when I submitted my application to the Peace Corps. It has taken countless hours of preparation to get me to the point where I am right now, hours away from beginning an experience of a lifetime.

Tomorrow I leave from South Bend, Indiana at 12:41p.m. and fly to Chicago, Illinois for a connecting flight to Los Angeles. I will have one day of staging in L.A. and then leave at 11:15p.m. for a direct flight to Apia, Samoa (10hrs. 15mins.)

I am hoping that this blog serves as a way for me to stay in touch with all my family and friends so that they can more fully understand the experiences I have. Feel free to leave comments and stay in touch. I will need your prayers and support.

I am excited to meet my new friends from the Peace Corps, and then the Samoans who I will live with for the next two years. This will be hard work, but it will be good work.
For now, I will say so long. Thanks to all those who have helped get me to this point, and to all those who have made these past few weeks in the United States so special. Goodnight from Michigan!