Friday, October 22, 2010

Char's Letter

I recently received a letter from a good friend of my mom’s, Char Snyder. In the letter Char asked a number of questions and then kindly apologized if she was too nosy asking any of them. But she had no need to apologize because they were great questions, and questions that help me reflect on my time here in Samoa. They are the types of questions which I never ask myself, yet great to-the-point types of questions that are important to think about. Therefore, I thought I would take this opportunity to look at a couple of the many she asked and share the answers with all of you.

Three questions stood out to me the most:

What do you miss the most? (other than family)

After living away from home for a year, you might think that this question would be easy to answer, when in fact, it is one of the hardest to respond to. The longer I’ve been away, the more I’ve realized that I can do without almost everything that I had before which made life convenient. I had a car, but now I can’t drive. I use to use a washing machine, and dishwasher on a weekly basis, but now I do those chores by hand. I use to walk into stores that had a sliding glass door, but now I have to pull or push. I use to peal off stamps and they’d already be sticky on the other side, but now I have to lick them. I use to pop popcorn in a microwave, now I pop it on the stove. I guess maybe this is what it was like to live in the 1970’s?

Each of these examples shows how life has changed for me, but to say that I miss something the most is very difficult to do. But perhaps the thing I miss most isn’t a thing, but a concept. What I really miss at times is the language and culture. Even though I’m living in a country where many people know at least some English, it has never been the same as when I was living at home.

While I’ve been living here and learning to speak a new language, I’m often thinking two thoughts in my head at any given time during a conversation. The first is, “what are the words I need to make this thought make sense?” The other is, “is this person understanding what I’m saying?” Recently I’ve noticed that when I’m watching a movie and two people are speaking to each other, I find that internally, I’m asking myself if the other person understands what the other person is saying. Or if one of them says a big word, I think to myself that the other person won’t know that word. And then I catch myself and say, “of course they understand, they are both speaking English.” That is when I miss being around those who speak English as a first language. Volunteers obviously have the opportunity to speak English when we are together, but it never seems to last long enough. I’m looking forward to the day when I can go from the morning to the night without thinking about what I’m saying or what others are saying to me. To go to the gas station and talk with the sales clerk, or go to a restaurant and be able to eavesdrop on the person sitting next to me will be an amazing experience.

Did you feel prepared?
Yes, but let me explain. I’m not sure if anyone can fully prepare for the experience that the Peace Corps throws at a volunteer, especially given the fact that each volunteer has unique situations that belong only to them. But at the same time, when I look back at all the challenges I’ve faced, I feel as though I had the right “tricks in the bag,” to solve the problems and come up with a reasonable solution to each.

What is the most unexpected delight about this adventure?
My unexpected delight has been being so highly thought of by the people in Samoa. This is a culture that is very friendly and very neighborly. As a Peace Corps volunteer, that places me at a certain level by itself in terms of the kind of respect I receive from Samoans. This is true wherever I may travel in the country. Many times when visiting with a taxi driver in the capital they will ask me what I’m doing here. When I tell them I’m a Peace Corps volunteer living and working here for two years I am frequently thanked by them for my service. This type of general respect exists throughout the entire country from village to village.

But then there is another type of respect that I receive within my village. This is the place where they know me much better than any taxi driver ever would. These are the families that live beside me and whose children I teach. I walk down the same road they do and ride the same bus they do. I speak the same language and wear the same cloths. Because of all of this, I am, in a way, a superstar in my village. It is a type of attention that many volunteers experience in posts all over the world, and a type of attention that Peace Corps reminds us will vanish once we return to the United States. Here in the village I am like the fish in the fishbowl with everyone looking in. But back home I’m just Kyle, not Kyle the Peace Corps volunteer.

It is hard for me to go for a walk through my village and not be followed by 10 children or waved to by 10 adults. When I go for a walk everyone watches and takes notice. I’m not saying that I like this type of attention, but it does make me feel special and loved within the village.

Once I return to the United States I hope to develop closer relationships with my neighbors wherever I may move to in the years ahead. As Americans we tend to stick to ourselves and maybe just wave or smile at our neighbors, instead of really getting to know them. I love how Samoans interact with one another and treat one another as family.

Random Photos:
My year 7 students loved cutting card holders for the backs of the library books! It kept their attention for a few hours and they wanted to do more!

Let's just say it was easier going up the coconut tree than going down it.

I realized one day how lucky I am to have such great tropical fruits available and for very little money if at all. The coconuts I had my neighbor get and the mango (front left) is from a kid at school. The bananas were just a couple tala at the market and the papaya (large, center)was a couple tala as well!

Teacher's Appreciation Day was in September and one student gave me an ula. Here we are together. He got some brownie points!

My sister Jennifer and I are famous at my school where the students have taken to using our names in their graffiti messages.

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