Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wild Wilma

It didn’t ask permission before coming ashore; it just did whatever it wanted to. The ocean’s wild and forceful waves came pounding over its normal boundaries and displaced corral, sand and seaweed in an event which reminds us all of the power of nature. Cyclone Wilma, which was suppose to hit Samoa, luckily, passed to the south and spared this tropical island for the most part. However, despite the cyclone not hitting directly, I could certainly tell that there was a storm out over that ocean somewhere, because for three days, the sea was putting on quite a show for its spectators.

Beginning on Friday evening, the waters around Samoa were turning up the bottom of the ocean floor as one wave after another crashed with violent force. Saturday was impressive and Sunday even more so. Each time I looked out over the water, or walked along the shore, I thought I had seen the biggest wave ever, but then later they would get bigger. Saturday morning I was out jogging my usual route which stretches high above the ocean and overlooks the rugged rocky shores below. Very little slows me down when I’m out for a run, but on Saturday, the sight of a huge wave crashing into the rock face caused me to stop without hesitation and gaze at the sight. For five minutes I stood there in awe of that ocean and reminded myself of how spectacular God’s creation is. The force He unleashed when He created those waters is one that has not been tamed since, and only could be by His hand alone.

Saturday afternoon, I walked down through my village and saw the excitement on the faces of those in my village as they watched the waves right in front of their houses. I knew then that this particular storm must have been impressive, if it was drawing the attention of those who’ve lived next to the sea for their entire lives. Some of the kids followed me as I took pictures of the waves and I could hear the excitement in their voices as they pointed in all directions as the waves became bigger.

Sunday morning I woke up to a stiff wind and rain. The rain later tapered off as I prepared to walk the 15 minutes to church in the neighboring village. Walking down the steep hill towards my village, I could see the ocean was still going at it, unleashing one wave after another. As I approached the other village where I was attending church, I could see that the entire road had been covered in corral, sand and seaweed. The ocean had thrown its waves over the road when high tide had come in and left one wondering where the road actually was. I thought to myself how my family back home in Michigan is slowed by snow drifts this time of year, and here I was dodging chunks of corral as my obstacle.

After church, I walked back to my village as the barrels on the waves seemed to be the largest I have ever seen before in my life. Water was still splashing up onto the road in some spots, causing me to run to avoid getting hit by a wave. I noticed that the very same sand volleyball court that people were playing on Saturday evening was now littered with all kinds of rocks from the ocean. It amazed me how with no effort at all, it had done so much damage. It would certainly take a fair amount of effort to remove it.

Sunday evening my neighbor and I went for a walk so I could take pictures of the road. I kept hearing him talk about the size of the waves as we walked through the villages. He was thoroughly impressed by the sites. We sat for a while and watched the ocean. Sometimes the sea would have waves extending three deep, all crashing at the same time, as if they were all lined up and taking a bow together. Each time I saw a wave start to form, it left me wondering how big it would get before it broke. Off in the distance I could see the rocky shoreline I had seen while jogging the day before, still being slammed with one wave after another, as water went cascading straight into the air after impact with the solid rocks.

On Monday we had the grand finale, from cyclone Wilma. The skies opened up and rain came down in all directions for hours. The rivers coming down out of the mountains near my house were overflowing onto the road, damaging all the work that had just been done to reseal and smooth it. Just when I thought it was raining as heavy as it could, it would get a little harder. The rain resulted in small mud slides, causing breadfruit trees and coconut trees to slide down the slopes near the road. It was another amazing day to watch unfold.

Now the word from the Peace Corps office is that another tropical cyclone could form by Thursday. I had a feeling that we might get a double punch, but we’ll have to wait and see what forms and where it goes.

I’ve been in fascination with weather events before: blizzards, thunderstorms, dense fog and torrential rains, but these past few days have rekindled my respect for Mother Nature and the way in which she makes herself known. Although the seas may be calming here in Samoa, I’m confident they’re getting violent someplace else in the world. They keep us feeling small and reminding us how fragile our lives can be. While praying that everyone has remained safe, here’s a big thanks to the South Pacific, for a wonderful weekend show!

Waves crashing in front of my village.

Big waves.

The road in the village next to mine where the waves covered the road with corral and sand.

Road after high tide came on shore with wild waves!

This was a volleyball court on Saturday, but on Sunday?

More waves!

During the worst of the rains, the river behind my house came over the road which had just been redone and tore it to pieces.

After the river let up, this was the damage to the road. Milo was checking the road conditions with me.

The river behind my house was out of control. The white PVC pipe is the water to my house, which was torn apart.

Waterfalls behind my house on Monday.

Another waterfall behind my house.

A rock that slid down the mountain's edge and onto the road leading to my house.

A waterfall flowing with force near my house.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cyclone Preparation

Text message from Peace Corps office this morning.
Throughout the day, all of us Peace Corps volunteers have been receiving text messages and even phone calls from the Peace Corps office with updates on the cyclone which is expected to either hit Samoa or pass nearby between Samoa and Tonga. We’ve known the weather was going to be bad since the beginning of the week, but today received the news confirming that the tropical depression is expected to form into a cyclone (hurricane) and either hit Samoa or pass nearby.

Last February, many of us experienced Cyclone Rene’s outer bands of wind and rain, which were quite impressive as she passed to the East of Samoa. This cyclone is forecasted to be a low-level cyclone, meaning it won’t have the force of a major cyclone such as a category 5. Nonetheless, a certain sense of “survival mode” mentality has gone into effect as the storm is expected to arrive by Saturday morning.

So what does this mean for me? A busy Friday night is ahead of boiling water to stockpile, as well as charging the batteries on my phone and other electronic devices, since losing power will almost be certain. Since I was already in town today, I am now able to stock up on food at the grocery store, considering I haven’t been at my house for the last week, due to an English camp I was helping run in another village.

Unfortunately, I cut my hand this morning on a piece of glass, and just the sight of the blood made me light headed. I had band-aids and a triple antibiotic cream with me, so it wasn’t too bad. I never get cuts, so something little tends to worry me more than it should. I did see the Peace Corps nurse who said I had nothing to fear! It’s just going to make doing all the laundry that I need to do, a bit harder the next few days.

Well that’s your Friday update. I better be off to head to the store and then back to my village. I’m hoping for a smooth couple of days, and for no major problems. Until next time, have a good weekend!

This was the result of pushing trash into a garbage bag that had a piece of glass in it. Of course, I was the one who put the glass there the night before.

The kids played games today for the last day of English Camp. The human knot was one of the events!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Transoceanic Journey

Flying over a smaller island of Samoa before landing.

Within less than a day, I changed countries, hemispheres, time zones, currencies, seasons, languages, and sides of the road when driving. I left a country of more than 300 million and entered one with only 175,000. I went from a continent to an island. These may be a lot of changes, but it seems as though I’m handling them very well—and admittedly, much better than I had ever anticipated.

After one month in the United States, visiting with family and friends and indulging in several restaurant visits, my time there ended, now over one week ago. Many people asked me if I was ready to go back to Samoa, and when my answer was always yes, they seemed to express a sigh of relief—this being that they knew how rough my first couple of months in Samoa were, now over one year ago. But if you had told me a year ago that I would be all smiles while landing in Samoa after a joyous holiday with family in Michigan, I would have said you were crazy. But time and patience have that way of changing someone, as it has me.

Perhaps, most of all, I was anticipating see the kids who I had taught for the past year. They are my best friends in Samoa, and help provide me with that motivation when I can’t find any myself. They are the ones who never seem to be in a bad mood, even if I may be. They’re the ones who have been most patient with my language skills and have helped me in learning it.

Last Wednesday evening, I was able to meet up with many of them. Running on only a couple hours of sleep since Tuesday morning, I still was eager to take a walk through the village. Walking past the first house in my village, four kids playing in a tree near the road starting shouting my name and saying hello. They said this with a bit more zeal than they had a month ago. I guess absence does make their hearts fonder to me. About half way down the road to the village’s center, three boys from my year 7 English class came running up to me shouting my name and gave me big handshakes. They followed me as I went visiting different houses and delivering chocolate I had brought from home. We walked over to the neighboring village and then back to towards my house. They kept asking where there chocolate was and I told them maybe tomorrow I would give them some.

Before my plane landed last Wednesday morning, we glided in over the Pacific Ocean and over some of the smaller islands that make up Samoa. The sun was just starting to break over the horizon and the sky looked warm, even through the thick barrier of that airplane. I had left a landscape covered in snow and entered one with coconut palms. When exiting the plane, the first thing I noticed were the smells—always a huge first impression on my travels. It smelt tropical, warm and humid. I could feel the warmth blowing at my skin. The jeans I was wearing suddenly became a ridiculous wardrobe for the climate I was in.

Last time I exited the airport, back on my first arrival in October of 2009, I was dealing with a whole new life that was about to unfold, but on Wednesday, I knew the life I was entering, and it gave me confidence. The people, language, trees and buildings were all familiar. Riding in the taxi with another Peace Corps volunteer we both looked out the window with great interest, soaking in a life we had been absent from, yet had kept on living. My friend Corina, who I was riding with, commented on the first fly that landed on her in the taxi which reminded me that I hadn’t had to deal with that for 30 days.

I had dinner that night with my neighbors who I have grown close to this past year. The husband and Milo—one of my best friends—were in the capital for a few days so I was sorry not to see them, but we still had a nice dinner. After a month at tables and T.V. trays, I was back on the ground, eating with my legs crossed, and had no complaints about it.

I thought I would have experienced more culture shock coming back here, but it has felt like a seamless transition from America to Samoa which of course are two different worlds. So this gives me much hope for my remaining eleven months. I am eager to begin school and get back to teaching. Break if finished in a couple of weeks and then I will be busy once again with the students. I know this last year is going to go quickly, and I’m trying hard not to take one day for granted.

Riding in the bus back to my village last Wednesday, I was in awe of the amazing view as we climbed the road up around the mountain which extended our line of site over the Pacific Ocean. With the waves crashing below and the palms swaying in the breeze, I realized again how lucky and fortunate I am to have this experience. My trip back home to Michigan was well worth it: I was able to visit with my family and friends and in the end, my being away from Samoa helped allow me to appreciate it even more than I ever had.

Our plane from L.A. to Samoa

Looking a bit sleepy after a day of travel

Breakfast on the plane was very delicious!