Saturday, February 12, 2011

2nd Year Momentum

Peace Corps Samoa volunteers and staff
at this year's All Volunteer Conference.
Somehow another two weeks have slipped by and I’m left wondering what to write about for my blog. Since no one topic comes to mind, I’ll just give a quick overview of the past couple weeks, and perhaps some of you will enjoy a look into the life of a PC volunteer.

It’s been a solid two weeks in my village! I didn’t go into town last week on purpose. After my trip back to America for the holidays, and then two weeks away from my village for meetings, I had only been at my house for a couple of days in the past month, leaving me with a longing for the old routine.

Being back here in Samoa for my second year of service has left me looking through a different lens. A few days ago I celebrated 16 months since arriving in Samoa. Normally an anniversary day like that would be a joyous occasion for me and leave me longing for the next one to come around. But now I’m at the point where each month’s anniversary is a reminder of how short my time here in Samoa is. Another volunteer and I were discussing a couple of weeks ago how we finally “get it,” in terms of realizing why a Peace Corps service is 27 months long. We both commented on how that first year is about getting our feet wet, meeting people, learning the culture, and becoming comfortable with just being here. For me, I feel that my second year already has a momentum that my first year was lacking. This in no way leaves me feeling as though my first year were “lost,” or “wasted.” That first year had to be the way it was in order to get me where I am today!

This has been a bad week for me in terms of health. A slip in the mud last Saturday caused my knee to hit a rock and although the rock looks the same as before our run-in, my knee has been sore since then. Then with a cold arriving and a couple days later, the worst stiff neck I’ve ever had (it lasted three days), I was left unable to go for my evening runs. But this provided me with the perfect opportunity to work on school projects. That momentum I mentioned earlier has been noticeable at school. For the past week, I’ve been working at school until 7p.m. in my classroom, making resources and lessons for the kids.

School began on January 31st, and I knew going in this year that these first weeks are very slow in the Samoan school. Many students don’t even come to school the first week. Since there is no janitorial staff at the schools, the kids spend the first week cleaning the rooms, moving the desks and picking rubbish up around the school grounds. Instead of bringing paper and pencils to school the first week of school, students are required to bring woven mats and brooms that will be used throughout the year. The number of mats and brooms they have to bring is determined on how many children are in their family.

Now we’re heading into our third week, and I can feel the pace picking up, and I’m glad it is. I have changed some of my classroom procedures from last year, trying to make things run more smoothly, while at the same time be more challenging and fulfilling for the students. I’m trying a new alternative to homework. Although I still plan on assigning the traditional homework assignments from time to time, I’m going to give the majority of their “homework” at the beginning of the week and have them turn it in to me on Fridays. Each packet of work will be tailored to each student’s level. I have kids that are reading rather good English and others that don’t know the alphabet. Why assign a homework assignment on sentence structure to the student who doesn’t know the alphabet. This will allow me to work with each student individually. They will be required to come to me during the week and ask for help on particular areas they’re having trouble with. Having them turn in the work on Friday will also allow me time to review their work over the weekends and help prepare lessons for the following week. I think it will also help them to become more responsible in terms of making sure they keep up on their work so it’s ready to turn in on Friday. I’m doing this with my year 7 and 8 students, which is a total of 15 students. So my weekends just got a bit more full, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I expect my kids to raise the bar this year, so I most certainly expect it from myself.

Despite all my enthusiasm for the new school year, I haven’t been spending all of my time there. As I noted earlier, last weekend I stuck close to the village. Some of the boys from the village had been wanting to go for a walk to a nearby village and get ice cream at the roadside store, since we don’t have ice cream in our village. The walk took us about an hour and a half, but it was a nice sunny day and the treat at the final destination was worth it. I bought Chilly Chocks Ice Cream for all the boys and we sat next to the ocean and enjoyed the cool treat. I had been wanting to call my Dad to say hi, and thought the kids might enjoy speaking to my Dad. I let them dial the number and say hello in Samoan. They got a kick out of it and enjoyed asking questions in English and Samoan. It was a fun afternoon.

My meals the past two weeks have been as interesting as my adventures for ice cream and time in the classroom. Due to circumstances I couldn’t control, my power had been cut the night I arrived back from the capital with all my groceries. Without a refrigerator, I was left with limited choices for my diet over these past two weeks. So to make a long story short, I’ve been having Wheet-Bix cereal for not just breakfast, but sometimes lunch or dinner. The same with oatmeal. This past week has been mostly a pasta and rice marathon though, when it comes time for dinner. But remember, I have no butter and no money to buy butter, so the menu would read like this: Monday: rice and crackers; Tuesday: pasta with basil leaves (no butter, no sauce), and crackers; Wednesday: same as Tuesday; Thursday: same as Wednesday; Friday: Wheet-Bix and the last cracker in the box—which I dropped on the floor where the cockroaches scurry, but I ate it anyways! However, despite the lack of main entrées, my desert selection has been amazing, considering I still have all my candy that I brought back from America.

And finally, I didn’t want to spend too much time commenting on the weather, since my past two blogs were about weather events, but I can’t let this get posted without mentioning how wonderfully pleasant the days and nights have been here in Samoa. This is based off my distinct memory of last year’s rainy and humid season being a scorcher. I remember streaks of heat rash up and down my arms last year in February. Even the people in my village are wondering where the heat is. So what gives? Evidently, this is a La Nina year and thus causing “cooler” temperatures. Now when I say cool, I mean mid to high 80s for daytime highs, but the lack of 90 degree days are certainly recognized and appreciated. Now just wait, March will be an oven.

Well now I better head off to Farmer Joe’s to do some grocery shopping. Thanks for letting me share the past couple of weeks with you. I hope it was informative.

Saulo, Neueli and Milo talking to my Dad over the telephone.

Neueli getting ready to climb the coconut tree for a coconut!

Neueli going up.

Neueli made it!

Enjoying our coconuts.

All the new charts in my classroom have been made!

My new bulletin board idea for the year!

The brooms that have been brought for the new school year.

My desk is all organized.

New classroom rules, and February's calendar.

My new role book for this year smells like Byler's Market, which is a small bakery near my house back in Michigan. It's a good smell!

Kid's fighting the rain on their way to the first day of school.


  1. Wow Kyle! You should be a teacher when you come back. You are organized, have great ideas, and understand differentiated instruction. (Educational term that I'm not sure I spelled right) You could teach at the catholic school I teach at. Just a thought :). Your life is goign by so fast, I am glad you are enjoying it.

  2. Hi Kyle! This is Mrs. Bainbridge's class at Central Elementary! We loved seeing pictures of you and your friends in Samoa... especially your classroom. We were amazed at how different your school is than ours. Samoa looks like a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing your blog with us! :)