Friday, March 26, 2010

He said “Thank You,” and I cried

After two months of teaching in the Samoan classroom, I shed my first tears at school the other day. However, they weren’t tears of frustration or sadness, they were tears of happiness.

For reasons I can’t discuss in this blog, one of my year 7 students missed three weeks of school, and left me wondering about him each day. Wednesday was his first day back at school and he came into my class with a smile I’ll never forget. I could tell he was excited to be back, and maybe even excited to learn.

We were talking about verbs that day and I had the students play “verb bingo” by looking for the verbs on the grid as I called out the different words. When the bell rang for lunch, I had the kids give me their bingo chips and boards as I walked around to their seats. When I got to the boy’s seat who had been gone, he handed me his papers, looked straight into my eyes and said "thank you" with a huge smile on his face. He reached his hand out to shake mine and I started getting tears in my eyes. I said "your welcome" and told him he was doing a good job. He was the last one in the room and before he left, I had to go to the corner and face away from him so he wouldn’t see me crying. He said, “have a nice day.” I managed to respond to his polite comment and told him to have a nice day as well.

At that point, for the first time since being in this country, I truly realized what my purpose is here. I felt as though I had been lifted out of this fog and could see my future here so much more clearly. This student’s simple remark of “thank you” and the smile that came with it, made all the hardships of the past six months worth it.

My mom has been a teacher for 30 years and my sister for nine years. I’ve heard them tell countless stories over the years of those students who said or did the most amazing things that reminded them why they love teaching. It’s not a job they took for the summer vacations or snow days, it’s a job they took to change a child’s life. After all these years of hearing their stories and not completely being able to relate to them, today I’m happy that I can.

The next day that is challenging, frustrating, and leaves me wondering what I’m doing here, I hope I can remind myself the way I felt this week and the way I made that boy feel after his time in my class.

Those Brave Enough

Remember those paper American flags that came in local newspapers in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001? They could be seen on people’s front doors and behind the counters of the local coffee shops. They served as reminders of our true love for country and most deserved recognition of those men and women fighting to keep it free.

As heart felt as those flags were, the paper they were printed on soon faded and for many, including me, the true understanding of sacrifice made by those men and women off at war.

I’ve now been living and working in Samoa for my Peace Corps service for nearly six months. During that time, I have been able to gain a deeper appreciation for those men and women who put themselves in harms way to protect our country.

Of course, I supported our troops before I left for the Peace Corps. However, being here away from family, in another country, with another language, culture, climate and life, has made that respect I’ve always had for them gain this new pulse. When I’m having one of those bad days or weeks, and feel discouraged, I try to remember that I’m not being shot at and having to wear bullit proof vests, glasses, and walk around in the dark with night vision goggles. I’m living in a country so peaceful that it doesn’t even have its own army. I may live in a remote village with limited phone and internet access in the country, but I have them and I can always go into town to watch a movie at the theater and grab a burger and fries.

I now know the gut-wrenching feeling of having to say goodbye to family for two years and then living my most challenging days ever, without them here at my side. But the one thing I can’t wrap my head around is the sacrifice that those men and women with children make when they leave for war. The bravery of their mission begins the moment they hug and kiss their three year old son or daughter goodbye, with the prayers that they’ll be reunited.

Not everyone is meant to join a service organization such as the Peace Corps or a domestic program such as Teach For America, and not all of us are called to serve our country in uniform to keep it safe. Nonetheless, I’ve realized that whatever sacrifices you may have to make in your life, whatever hardships you may face, you can stop and try to relate to those men and women who are brave enough to sacrifice their own lives for ours.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

16 Random Things I Thought You Should Know:

1. Ants are more coordinated at carrying a dead bug down a vertical wall than across the horizontal floor.

2. While playing cards at my neighbor’s the 12 year old boy accidentally touched the bottom of my bare feet with his hand and got this grin on his face and started to laugh. It took me a few minutes to figure out he was fascinated at how smooth the bottom of my feet were. Samoans have calluses that allow them to walk on anything, including broken glass (I’ve seen it happen).

3. There have been two babies in my village that have received the name “Kyle” since my arrival. Just a coincidence? I don’t think so—in which case I’m honored.

4. If a Samoan say it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain. If they say it isn’t, it isn’t. They have this special awareness of nature,
something the weather forecasters in Michigan could use.

5. Bread left out of the refrigerator will start to mold within two days of its purchase.

6. Driving is done on the left hand side of the road. It had been the right as recent as September 2009, when the controversial
switch occurred.

7. 70-80 earthquakes occur each day, although most of them are too small to be felt. The big earthquake which caused the
devastating tsunami on 9/29/09 was an 8.3.

8. Samoa is made up of 9 islands, with two major islands, Upolu and Savai’i. The combined land area is roughly the size of Rhode Island.

9. I have this tropical shirt I bought back in 9th grade for a “tropical dress-up day.” Somehow it still fits 10 years later and who
would have thought I would be living in a place where it looks completely normal.

10. Samoa is the 10th country I’ve set foot in, outside of the United States.

11. If you ask a Samoan a question, you may just receive the “Samoan Yes,” which often can be translated to “I don’t know
what you’re talking about.”

12. The island nations of the South Pacific have a special phone service called the “coconut wireless.” If you buy a candy bar in
Apia at 9a.m. on Saturday morning, your host village will know about it before you return at 1p.m. the same day.

13. Cockroaches are as plentiful here as the common housefly back home. The nicest most modern homes still have cockroaches
that find their way inside to torture the homeowners.

14. Cockroaches are plentiful, but aunts are worse. They can be broken down into about three sizes. There are really small ones
that can find their way into ANYTHING, and there is a medium and large size. The larger black ants can bite and I hear
cause a little pain.

15. There is a very nice public library here in Samoa, but Samoans aren't allowed to check books out. On the other hand, foreigners, like me, are allowed to. Samoans don't
have a great history of returning borrowed items.

16. The prisoners here in Samoa are let out for the weekends (no joke). One of the most serious
offenders said he needed to visit his traditional healer and was permited to
leave, never to return. I'm not sure if he's been captured since.

Picture Blog

So this is a spider that lives in my bathroom. I plan on having an 8x10 made and placing the following caption below the picture: "He hasn't bit me yet, but then again, I'm not company."

Another possible quote might be borrowed from the great movie, "The Shinning." "Here's Johnny!"