Saturday, July 23, 2011

Weeks 92 and 93

I’m not one to count the days or weeks, especially since I’m wishing them to go by slower than they are. Nonetheless, I was curious how many it had been, so I found my calendar and discovered that I just finished week 93! The past two weeks have felt like normal weeks for me as a volunteer, but I still thought it would be fun to give a few recaps about what’s been happening here in Samoa. So here you go...

Popcorn Diplomacy: I’ve found that food can serve as a great tool in community integration, particularly popcorn! It’s easy to make and the people in my village love it. I recently made bags for three different families and took it over to their houses in the evening for a “midnight snack.” So many people in this community have reached out to make me feel at home the past two years, so I’ve tried to continue offering my appreciation to them. Popcorn does the trick.

The Big Island: Samoa’s population lives mostly on two islands, Upolu and Savai’i. I live on Upolu, and had only made it to Savai’i twice in the past 21 months—until last week! It’s called the Big Island, simply because it’s the biggest of all of Samoa’s islands (although Upolu is more populated). I went over to visit Peace Corps Volunteers, Emily and Matt.

I started the journey after school on Friday. It was a voyage that included many modes of transportation. I started it off by running down my road to the main road, 6 miles away! I then took a taxi with Sam, another volunteer who was going over to Savai’i. Once in the capital we jumped out of the cab to get on the bus to the wharf. Then it was a 1.5 hour ride by ferry before reaching Savai’i and getting on another bus to Emily’s village!

Emily and I had a great visit at her house, which sits practically on the edge of the ocean. She showed me her school and I was able to see so many great things she’s doing with her classes! We went shopping for our dinner, which we cooked at her place and ate out on the rocks in front of her house as we watched a full moon rise over the South Pacific. At one point, I stepped on a board in the dark that sent three nails through my sandal, but luckily not into my foot, since I was able to avoid what could have been disaster.

Because Emily’s host family is the pastor of the church in her village, and because I’m a guy, I wasn’t able to stay the night at her house, so we went to a nearby village to some beach fales (houses) that are built in the sand on the beach.

The following day Emily and I made our way up to our friend Matt’s village, which is nearly on the other side of the island from where Emily lives. It was a lot of time on buses, but the bus trips here in Samoa are the best. Two hours feels like 30 minutes when I’m looking out over the ocean and watching families go about their daily routines as we pass by.

We had a great visit with Matt and went to a nearby beach resort which is run by a family he is close to. We ate a great meal and had good conversation. We met up with Elisa, another volunteer from our group. That night we stayed at Matt’s before heading out the following day on a very rare Sunday bus from his village to the wharf. By the time I got home Sunday evening, I had more or less traveled from one side of the country to the other!

Picture Day: Growing up, who among us didn’t get a special feeling heading to school on picture day? It was always the day we looked our best, wore our best, and smiled our best! A few months ago I was looking at a Peace Corps magazine and came across a picture of a volunteer from another country. She was in the picture with her whole school. It looked like the perfect picture to capture what the two year experience is about. So I suggested the idea of a school picture to my principal.

I decided that I would use a sheet for a backdrop and take each student’s picture, which their parent’s could buy for 2 tala (the price to develop it). I also wanted several group shots of the kids and teachers.

On Monday morning, the kids came to school with a bounce in their step, looking their best with their fresh haircuts they had gotten in the village from family members over the weekend. The weather cooperated as well—thankfully it’s not the rainy season yet—as the sun was shinning with its usual force. At interval I arranged the benches out in front of the school so that the ocean would be in the background. Amazingly, the kids were very patient and the whole process of doing group shots, along with pictures by grade levels went very well.

Wristband Rage: This year’s health program among volunteers for our individual villages has a new twist. Every participant gets a pink wristband to help remind them to eat healthy foods and exercise. The program is being done with adults over the age of 21, but has also been adapted and modified for a separate program among grades 6-8 at the schools. Wristbands among kids and young adults was popular long before the health challenge began, but once they saw the pink ones they were getting for free, they got excited! Even traveling to the farthest parts of Savai’i last weekend, I saw kids walking the roads over there with the new fad.

I handed out a paper that was written in Samoan, explaining the program and how to eat healthy and exercise. In an effort to also educate parents more, I told my students they wouldn’t receive their wristband until I had the paper signed by them and their parents. Wouldn’t you know, the next day every single student brought back their paper signed! If only I could get that response for homework assignments!

Leatherman Letdown: My friend Katy, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, told me before I left for Samoa to get a Leatherman! I did and it was probably one of the most useful things that I packed in my suitcases for this 27 month journey. Leathermans have a knife, a screwdriver, a razor blade, pliers, wire cutters, and a tape measure, all packed in something that fits in your hand once folded up! Amazing! I’ve used it every day since being here, since in order to turn on my shower, I need to use the pliers! Well the many months have taken their toll on my old friend, and unfortunately it broke in half this week. Now I’m shopping around for something that will get me through the next five months.

Water and a Fuse: Luckily they weren’t mixed together, but then again, they couldn’t have been since I was without both at the same time! I was informed on Tuesday that the water would be off for two days as the men in the village did some repair work on the water tank up the hill behind my house. So this meant walking over to the neighboring village with two five gallon buckets and filling them up and asking for a ride in a friend’s van back to my house. It also gave me the chance to have a bucket bath, which brought back memories from the first two months here at my site when I took them every day since I was without water in the house then. It’s always good to remember where we’ve come from.

And on the same day the water went out, my fuse for my electricity did as well. Luckily, one of my neighbors is an electrician, so he was able to fix it by the end of the day and avoid too much hassle.

Why Did the Village Cross the Road?
To go by chicken at the store that had some! There are two family run stores (a counter at a window the size of a car’s windshield) that sell chicken in my village. Normally both stores have chicken, although one of them charges 30 sene (cents) more per pound than the other one. So it was the talk of the village this week when the less expensive store ran out of chicken, causing people to backtrack in their steps to the other side of the road to buy their meat at the other store. I even got caught up in the mess on Friday, after thinking that the less expensive store was re-stocked, yet finding out that it hadn’t been. So I got to cross the road like everybody else this week!

“Privacy Fence” Demolished:
There had been, until Friday morning, a nice hedge row of bushes at the top of the hill next to my house. It served as a natural privacy fence for the cars and foot traffic in and out of my village. But the teachers wanted to cut it down so I’d have a better view of the road. Oh well, this wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight, so I went along with it. It looks a bit stark compared to what was there, but I guess I’m already getting use to it.

Low Tide Leads to Cricket:
On Thursday I was determined to make it into this beautiful ocean in an effort to relax after what was a busy week at school. But I forgot how uninviting the ocean can be during low tide, which it was at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon. So rather than getting torn up on the coral, I “played” my first game of cricket on the beach with some of the kids from my class. They used a tennis ball I had and we swung at it using the base of the palm branches they had collected. It made for some good laughs when I was trying to hit the ball, but those kids sure know how to put a game together, because they were doing just fine!

Group shot with years 7 and 8, who I've come to know the best.

Emily in front of her house!

Emily and I in front of her house.

Watching the sunrise at the beach fales on Savai'i.

This boy sat on my lap for a two hour bus ride. The bus filled up and so kids sit on laps so that adults can have a seat.

Emily and I at Matt's house during my island tour.

The buses get full in a hurry after the ferry arrives at the wharf, as people prepare to head into the capital. My bus was just as full!

The kids sweeping the grass with the brooms during our clean-up day. The men from the village had cut it with machetes a few days before.

It's more than just the pink wristbands! Her are years 6-8 after school on Friday during our exercise workout.


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