Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thank You Robin Yeager

Presenting Robin with a going away gift.
For the past two years, Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa have had a great friend. Robin Yeager, who is the Charge d’ Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Samoa, has been a huge advocate for the work we do. However, in the near future, her two year term in Samoa will come to a close and she’ll be heading back to the United States.

Due to the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to Samoa, Mr. David Huebner, also serves as ambassador to New Zealand, with his offices in Wellington, Robin Yeager is in a unique position. As Charge d’ Affairs, she is the acting ambassador when Mr. Huebner is not in Samoa. She keeps a very busy schedule, but despite her many commitments, she has always chosen to make Peace Corps one of them!

My first memory of Robin came during my second month in Samoa. It was November of 2009 and I was still a trainee in the training village. Those were the days of homesickness, stressful afternoons in language class, and awkward cultural clashes with my host family. So when all of us trainees heard that we were invited to Robin’s house for a Thanksgiving gathering, we all soon perked up a little bit more.

We were driven by bus from our training village to her house, about an hour’s ride away! When we arrived and walked into her spacious house with air conditioning, satellite T.V., and crown molding, our eyes lit up. We had been living in Samoan fales (houses) for nearly 7 weeks at that point, and being at her house made us feel like we had a part of our old lives with us. The food was amazing, and covered three large tables. The desert was even more impressive and we were invited back for seconds and thirds!

Since that first meeting at Robin’s house, we have been invited back again and again for all types of events. I think she always knew we had a soft spot for her T.V., which gets several American channels. She was always telling us that if there was some sports game on that we wanted to watch, just to let her know. And we did.

She had us over to watch the U.S. play in the World Cup in June of 2010, and then again in December to watch the Army vs. Navy game. Since there is a seven hour time difference between Samoa and the U.S., this often meant the games would begin at awfully early hours in the morning. But that wasn’t a problem for Robin. Instead, she always told us to come over the night before, cook dinner, and spend the night on her couches until the game began in the morning! She also had a great tradition of fixing us a huge breakfast casserole each time we stayed over for the night.

On two other occasions we held our monthly book club meeting at her house, and were also invited to spend the night and watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, this past April. Her two dogs, Lexi and Katie always roamed about the house, making many of us think of our pets from back in the U.S.

When Robin wasn’t hosting us at her house, she was sponsoring us in relay races! Last July I was a member of the men’s Peace Corps Volunteer relay team for Samoa’s Perimeter Relay. Robin helped sponsor our team of volunteers by offsetting part of our entrance fees, as well as sponsoring the women’s Peace Corps team. None of us would have completed the race if it hadn’t been for the countless sandwiches, muffins, cookies, and PowerAde that she supplied throughout the race day. Both of our teams came in first place, so I’m happy we were able to get a win for Robin!

Robin was also crucial in establishing an “American Corner” at Samoa’s Public Library in Apia. The room is full of books about America, and has other great resources, such as computers for the public to use. She has also begun a traveling library which is going around to all the schools where Peace Corps Volunteers are located. This is giving countless children the chance to read great books!

Most recently, Robin hosted us at the new official residence, over the 4th of July! Although we were celebrating the 235th birthday of America, Robin had made most of the evening a tribute to Peace Corps, as her way of celebrating its 50th anniversary! Robin and her staff at the Embassy had gathered pictures and stories from volunteers, present and past, to help highlight the work we have done in Samoa. She thanked us personally for our service and the work we are doing.

At the informal gathering on July 2, the volunteers had a chance to show our appreciation for what Robin has done for us. Most of us volunteers had gone in together to have a Samoan plate made for her, with a carving on the front that read, “Faafetai mo lau auaunaga,” (Thank you for your service). It was a very small way for us to say thank you to someone who has made us feel so welcomed in a country she knows is not our own.

Robin knew most of us by our first names. Once when walking through Apia, she was driving by in her car and recognized me, giving a big wave as she drove by. Before my trip to Australia, I had a question for her regarding my passport. She quickly responded to my emails and followed up with a phone call. It was this personal attention and carrying that she did, which all of us are going to miss.

My final memory of Robin is also my dearest. Because or Robin’s position within the U.S. State Department, she was the one who swore us in as volunteers as we read our official oaths before her, on December 8, 2009. That was the day that began this amazing journey I’ve been living since. Its been full of challenges, growth and rewards. But most of all, I’m so thankful that it included Robin’s friendship. She will be missed. Best of luck Robin, we'll miss you.

Peace Corps Volunteers and staff in Samoa, past and present, gathered with Robin on July 4, 2011.

Emily and I at Robin's over the 4th of July weekend, 2011

Celebrating Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary with a birthday cake!

Robin always has sparklers for us on the 4th of July!

The beginning of the food line at Robin's, for Thanksgiving, 2009.

Samoan custom is to take off your shoes before entering a house, as we all did here at Robin's for Thanksgiving, 2009.

My plate of food at Robin's 2010 Thanksgiving gathering.

Crashing on Robin's couches and floor to watch the U.S. play in the World Cup in June of 2010.

Gathering at Robin's this year.

Robin with the guys team after we took 1st place in the relay last August.

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