Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Challenges Begin

This is the first view of my village when you start coming down the hill from the bluffs. My house is pictured below and has two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a nice living room.

Dear Friends,
I’ve been so busy this last month with language, cultural, safety, medical and teacher training that I’ve barely noticed I’ve been without the internet. On the one occasion I did have internet access on Halloween, I was so overwhelmed that I had the internet, that I could barely make my brain work that fast. Also, every minute I’m online, it costs money, so it doesn’t make reading an email as enjoyable. I have been typing these blogs on my laptop and then copying them to save time.

Following is a time line of events of the last month’s activities, extracted from my journal. Feel free to read as much or as little as you like. I wanted to give some account of my time, because it has been an important month of growth and new challenges I could never have imagined. There have been great days, and there have been really bad days. Here we go.

10/17/09– Arrived at our training village of Manunu. Met host families and settled into our new space. I have my own fale (house) with a bed and table and chair. I eat my meals with the family and share their toilet and shower facilities. I have electricity in my fale and am still able to use my electric shaver! My host family has a flush toilet and the shower is a pipe with running water. The water is cold, but feels good on the hot days. Started wearing my lava lava, which is a wrap around "skirt" that is traditional dress for men here. The fancy ones have pockets sewed in, while the simpler lava lavas are basically a piece of fabric you wrap around your waist.

10/18/09– Ate Samoan pancakes (greasy) for breakfast. Attended church and became emotional thinking about the next 27 months. Met two Samoan kids at a neighbor’s house. I asked the first boy what his name was. He said, "Kyle." I asked the boy sitting next to him, what his name was and he said, "Howard." Howard was my Grandpa Blonde’s name. Kyle and Howard are not common Samoan names. I was not having a great day, so I like to believe that Grandpa was saying a "hello" and "hang in there." It was an awesome moment. Later, I was in the familie’s living room and they were listening to church hymns on the radio, then my favorite church song began playing, "O God Beyond All Praising." It was being sung in Samoan. Another great moment on what was a day of homesickness.

10/19/09– Time seems to be crawling. A day seems like a week, a week like a month! Got a text from Katy Nykamp, who served in the Peace Corps in South Africa for 27 months. Knowing she did this provides motivation. Also heard from my sister Jenny. She’s another person I look to for guidance, as I remember how she moved to Houston, Texas in 2002 to serve in Teach For America for two years. Good to hear from both of them. Jenny told me it might help to look forward to one special thing each week if times are tough. They are tough.

10/20/09– Began writing multiple entries into my personal journal. Spoke briefly with Kellye, the Associate Peace Corps Director. She wanted to know how I was doing. Ate last bag of M&M’s from L.A. Airport. Won’t be able to get more until we are in Apia.

10/21/09– Had dream last night about Mom, Dad & Jenny. Went running at 6:00a.m. for 30 minutes. Went to nearby school to listen to panel of teachers / principals about Samoan schools.

10/22/09– Learned a Samoan "slap dance" from host family for community dance tomorrow night. Went swimming at the waterfall near our village after training.

10/23/09– Looked through pictures from home. Thought about what those people would be telling me to help me get through my homesickness. Went to Samoan dance. Each volunteer performed separately for the rest of the village. I did my slap dance.

10/25/09– Choir sang, "God is so Good" in church today. This is a song my sister Jenny & I learned at church when we were young. We learned it in Swahili from a visiting priest. Today I got to hear it in Samoan. We lost our third volunteer today. The first went home because of medical reasons. The other two found that the program wasn’t for them. We’re down to 20 volunteers from Group 82. "Group 82" indicates that we are the 82nd group of volunteers to serve in Samoa since the program opened here in 1967. Currently there are volunteers serving in Samoa from groups 78, 79, 80 and 81. We will be sworn in on December 8th.

10/26/09– Had language presentation today, describing our host families in Samoan. ‘O lo’u ‘Aiga Samoa. (My Samoan Family). Went for walk and to get ice cream but they were out of my favorite flavor.

10/27/09– Sent a text message to my cousin Ryan and his wife Jennifer wishing them luck. Jennifer was scheduled to have a c-section and give birth to their identical twin boys. I later got a text back saying Michael and Thomas Wells were born at 12:19 and 12:20 p.m. Congratulations! My Grandma Ruthie now has six Great Grandchildren!

10/29/09– Wrote letters to send home tomorrow.

10/30/09– Received very first piece of mail from my friend, Katie Mixon who works at my mom’s school. It was great to receive mail! It put me in a great mood.

10/31/09– Went into Apia for the morning / afternoon. Got to ride into town on Samoa’s public transportation system: the bus. Arrived in town just before 9:00a.m. Mailed five letters to family and friends back home. Went to the internet cafĂ©. Saw the new Michael Jackson movie, "This Is It" at Samoa’s only movie theater. It was a really a nice movie theater. We bought popcorn and coke and enjoyed the movie. This is a movie I probably wouldn’t have seen back home, but it was so good to see something familiar. I knew my sister Jenny had seen the movie already. I found out later that my mom was watching the movie at the same time I was, but back in the U.S.! Ate lunch in town before heading back to the training village. The trainees put on a Halloween party for the Samoan kids of the village. Most of the kids had never celebrated Halloween. We had mask making, pumpkin designing, limbo, musical chairs and relay races. They each got one piece of candy. They had a great time and so did we.

11/1/09– The time changed back home today. Now a sis hour difference.

11/2/09– More mail today! Received two large packages from my mom. They were full of stuff that I didn’t have room for in my luggage due to the weight limits. It was the weirdest feeling to be opening up the boxes and going through all this stuff. It was a piece of home which had just landed on an island in the South Seas. When I left home it was just "stuff." Suddenly it was a connection with my life back home. I started smelling the towels and they reminded me of doing laundry at home. I smelled the board shorts and they still smelled like Kohl’s and it reminded me of the day I bought them with Jenny when I was in Houston. Mom also sent one of my books by Tom Brokaw, "Boom!" I hadn’t finished reading it at home. I’ll enjoy reading it here.

11/4/09– Taught in a Samoan classroom today in grades 3 & 4. Did a lesson on nouns. Students did a nice job. Language is still a work in progress, so that was frustrating at times. They were excited we were there.

11/6/09– Beginning to get sick. Have 100 degree fever. Attended planning session with Samoan teachers we would be teaching with next week in their classrooms. Planned our lessons for our co-teaching.

11/7/09– Happy Birthday to my uncle Bruce and Aunt Sandy! Wish I could be there for cake and ice cream. Still have a fever. It comes and goes. I’m on Tylenol to keep it under control.

11/9/09– First day of co-teaching. Taught in a sixth grade class. Students did a great job. I can make improvements before my next visit on Wednesday.

11/11/09– Happy Veteran’s Day to those who have served or are serving around the world. Being away from home for more than a month, I have a new outlook on sacrifice and service to our country. (More on this in future blog). I had the second day of co-teaching. Things went much better today and students seemed more relaxed in classroom. I had a good working relationship with the teacher. When we left the school they had a ton of fresh fruits and some cake for us. I ate the best pineapple in my life. Also had some type of "banana soup." It was sort of like bananas mixed with a tapioca mixture. It was actually pretty good.

11/13/09– The Country Director and Associate Peace Corps Director were here today to announce our sites: the villages where we will be living and working for the next two years, beginning in December.

11/15/09– Today was my 25th Birthday! A couple of interesting facts: I’ve never been out of the United States before on my birthday, so therefore I’ve never celebrated my birthday in another hemisphere, or during spring, which it is here. I had received some birthday cards a couple of days ago from family back home, but saved them for today to open. Having the cards helped me feel closer to them. Received calls from my dad, mom and sister. After church, my Peace Corps friends gave me a book with illustrated pictures. It was a very uplifting, original creation written by my good friend Leah, about how I ended up in Samoa, and that I’ll always have the support of my friends. Everyone signed it and it is something that meant so much. I will be holding onto it for the next two years, and reading it on the tough days. I also received a pineapple from Leah and some chocolate chip cookies from my other good friend Emiilie. Due to village rules, the Peace Corps couldn’t have a party for me without having to invite the entire village, which would have been hard to provide for. They are planning something in Apia. However, my host family found out it was my birthday and had a huge feast for me with some extended family who came in from town. They also bought a huge industrial size container of ice cream. After everyone had ice cream, they sang to me, "Happy Birthday" in English and then in Samoan. I started to cry. I was thinking of my family back home and all the times they had sung to me over the years and how I wish I could have been with them. Yet, I was so happy that strangers on the other side of the world would take time to celebrate my birthday, and sing a song to me which had so many memories from the past 25 years! It was a birthday to remember.

11/16/09– Was driven to my new village where I will be living for the next two years, beginning in December. We are visiting our sites for today and tomorrow. I am in a small village right on the ocean. It is located next to the largest mountain on the island of Upolu and is a very scenic area. It is very remote, as you must travel here by a long winding, narrow road along some high bluffs that stretch along the ocean. My house has two nice size bedrooms with a living room, kitchen and two bathrooms (plenty of room for those who visit me!). No one has lived in the house in a long time, so it is being repaired by members of the school committee. To get from my house to the ocean you must walk down a hill for about five minutes. I have a great view of the village and ocean from my kitchen window. I also met with my principal, teachers and then stayed the night with the vice-principal and her family. She gave me a tour of the village.

11/17/09– Met with the Women’s Committee and matai (village leaders) of my community to discuss possible projects I can assist them with over the next two years. It was basically a meet and greet. As is normal Samoan custom, we sat cross-legged on the floor during the whole meeting, which lasted for 1.5 hours. My legs felt like they were going to fall off, but I made it through. Visited the school again and had dinner with the vice-principal and her family.

11/18/09– Took the 6:00 a.m. bus from my village to Apia. It was a beautiful ride into town which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. It was nice to arrive back in town. I had three great meals for the day. Pancakes in the morning, lasagna for lunch, and a huge hamburger with French fries for dinner (with a banana smoothie). After dinner a group of us went to the movie theater to see "2012." I wasn’t that impressed with the movie, but it was still nice to get out to the movies. We also had class earlier in the afternoon and discussed our development projects. In addition to teaching English, we will all be working with our own communities to help address their needs and help implement plans to accomplish the projects they want completed, such as water tanks for the village, or sewing machines for the women’s committee.

11/19/09– Second day in town. Had more classes and was able to get on the internet which as I have said before is so weird after going weeks without it. In the evening the Peace Corps celebrated my birthday by fixing my favorite meal of spaghetti at the hotel. They had homemade garlic bread and salad which was awesome. The meal reminded us all of home and we smiled the whole night!

Well that is a summary of the last month of training. Thank you to those who read all, or even part of it. I’m glad that you are able to read about my experiences. In future blogs, I plan on going back to more of a "topic" or more focused summary, but as I said, I felt this past month was so long, yet so important that I decided to write about it this way.
If you have anything you would like me to write about in the future, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to my list. I would love to hear some of your ideas. I hope everyone is doing well and that you are getting excited for the Thanksgiving holiday! Take care and enjoy the turkey!!! Gobble, Gobble!
This is my fale where I slept in the training village. It has electricity run from my host families house!
These are fire dancers from a party the current volunteers had for us the night before leaving for the village.


  1. So proud of you! Sounds like you're having so many wonderful experiences!

  2. Hi Kyle, I Googled you and came across your blog. Sounds like you are having a wonderful experience in Samoa. We do miss seeing you around school. Loved reading your journal of adventures. Happy 25th. Look forward to following your blog.