Saturday, October 29, 2011

National Exam Week

With year 8 during an exam study session.
There’s a certain level of excitement that leads up to exam week in Samoa. It’s a week that is taken seriously by both teachers and students alike. This year’s exam schedule ran for one week, where all students in year eight (8th grade) throughout Samoa took the same exam in five different subjects: Monday—Samoan Language; Tuesday—Basic Science; Wednesday—English; Thursday—Social Science; Friday—Maths (Australian and New Zealand spelling).

I have spent more time with year eight over the past two years than any other group of kids at the school. They were my students last year when they were in year seven, and so we started this journey together then. At the beginning of this year, I started mentioning the national exam to them, trying to give them a goal to work towards. It is a very challenging exam for the level of most Samoan students, and I wanted to do everything I could to give my students the best chance of succeeding.

In February I started giving them each a packet of work for the week that had English topics they could expect to see on the exam. They did a packet like this each week throughout the school year. In July I knew I needed to get them more prepared for the essay portion of the exam, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit I was able to develop an effective outline format to help teach them essay writing. I drilled this into them week after week doing all kinds of examples as I tried to break them of their old habits.

Samoan students have a tendency to write a short paragraph for what is supposed to be a full length essay. They normally will include in this paragraph a sentence such as, “I like fish and taro,” or “My mother weaves the mats.” No matter the topic of the essay, they always revert back to these sentences they have learned and been drilled on from an early age. So when having them write an essay about going to New Zealand for a vacation, I tried to explain to them that they don’t need the sentence, “My mother weaves the mats.”

During the week leading up to the exams I really raised the bar for year eight, giving them a big review packet of work and holding evening review sessions, and even one on Saturday evening! I think it helped get their attention and focus them more before the exams began. For the three different evening sessions I had, I only had two kids who missed on one day, so I was so proud of them taking the time to come and be responsible for themselves. It was just me and them, no other teachers at the school so it really gave them the chance to feel relaxed and more comfortable.

On Wednesday evening, after the end of the second review session, I looked down at my desk while they were still in the room and just looked at the pile of papers, folders markers and books and realized I just needed to chill out and take it easy for a minute. I had been pushing them really hard and I suddenly had a desire to just talk to them and calm them down, as well as myself. It was only a test.

I had them bring their chairs in to form a circle and I sat there for a few seconds trying to think about what I wanted to say to them. I looked around the room we had shared for two years, and at them, and the memories of all the things we had accomplished together started hitting me. I realized that the curtain on our two years was starting to close. As I was saying how proud of them I was, I couldn’t hide my emotions. Before long, nearly all of them were crying as well. Samoans normally don’t show many emotions, other than laughter, so a few of them were covering their faces. I looked over at a boy who has been one of my weakest students, yet has come so far, and he was crying the hardest. I collected my thoughts again and gave the kids examples of how much they had accomplished since we had started together. It was one of the best teaching moments in the past two years, and it wasn’t planned out in a long lesson plan, it just unfolded as we were living it. I’m so glad we had that time together to reflect.

The teachers and year eight students came to the school on Sunday evening to help get things ready for test week. Students were sweeping out the classrooms, moving desks and woven floor mats. They were the final preparations before the big exams started on Monday!

Monday morning the teachers arrived at the break of dawn to start preparing food for the test supervisors who were visiting from a neighboring school. Samoan culture places a lot of importance on receiving guests with a lot of hospitality, and this is most reflected by the amount of food that is prepared. Each student in the school was assigned a day when their family was to prepare or buy a certain food to give for their assigned day. Brothers and sisters in the same family shared a dish, and food was served for both breakfast and lunch. Food ranged in variety throughout the week, consisting of both traditional Samoan dishes as well as more palagi foods (white person’s food). Kids brought hard boiled eggs, chicken soup, cooked bananas, breadfruit, corned beef, clams, octopus, and the list goes on. The big ticket items were size two pigs which were given to test supervisors to take home for their families to eat. Pigs are classified by their size using a number. Size two is a nice size pig that is typically slaughtered for several occasions throughout the village. A size 4, 5 or 6 would be a huge pig offered to a family at a funeral or wedding.

On Tuesday I had offered to make omelets for breakfast. The Samoan teachers had never heard of them before, so I was excited for their reaction. I woke up early that morning and started cracking the 24 eggs to make the eight huge omelets stuffed with sausage, onion, tomato, cheese and sprinkled with basil. They were a huge hit and one teacher ate three of them! That was nine eggs in all for her, but it was a nice complement I suppose.

Wednesday was the day I was waiting for: the English exam! Since Samoan kids normally don’t eat breakfast, I told all of them to stop by my house early in the morning and I would have rice ready for them to eat. All of them showed up and some even ate a couple bowls worth of rice. After they had finished I sent them on their way to take the long awaited exam.

A few hours later after they had finished, I saw them out in front of the school and got a picture of them with relieved looks on their faces! It all felt kind of anti-climatic for me since I wasn’t the one taking the exam, but I knew that I had done my best to get them ready for that day. In the end, it was only a test, but I think it became more than that along the way. It became a goal for them to work towards, and something they could feel proud for having achieved. I hope they can look back on the process we underwent in getting ready for it, and use it as motivation to accomplish their dreams of the future!

Working with students during our Tuesday evening review session.

The kids working at a our Saturday review session.


A size 2 pig that was brought by a parent of a year 8 student.

Octopus which I found to be pretty good!

The omelets I made.

The size 2 pig after it was cut up!

This little piggy got eaten.

Plates of food that were sent home with the test supervisors from the neighboring villages.

Crab anyone?

The school's copy of the 2011 English Exam.

The gang after their English exam on Wednesday. Malo lava...good job!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Packed in the Back

A couple weeks ago, Samoa celebrated one of its biggest holidays, White Sunday. This was my third White Sunday experience since being in Samoa. The day is set aside as a celebration for kids. It is the one day where children, who normally fall at the bottom of the pecking order, are given the spotlight, praises and gifts. Every other day of the year, kids are doing far more chores than any American child would ever dream of doing, and also more strenuous tasks than most kids from American culture would experience. These kids are use to going out and collecting firewood, gathering coconuts, hauling rocks, weaving mats, and preparing the evening meal to name a few things. But on White Sunday, the kids set those chores aside and enjoy a day of rest.

The two days leading up to White Sunday are without a doubt, the busiest shopping days of the year in Samoa. People from the rural villages make an exodus by way of their local buses to the capital of Apia where they stock up on food, clothes and candy, which are all a part of the holiday. It’s the one day where families who normally go without luxuries, like ice cream, might splurge and buy a huge box carton for the entire family. It is the one day where I have seen new clothes be given to kids, as well as new shoes, and jewelry for the girls.

I’ll never forget last year’s White Sunday weekend when I was riding back on my village’s bus on Saturday afternoon. I have never seen so many people in such a small space, and with so much stuff. With there only being one bus to my village, everyone who had any shopping to do that weekend was on that bus.

As I’ve written in past blogs, because of my position within the community as a Peace Corps Volunteer, plus the fact that I’m a foreigner, I am always guaranteed a seat in the front of the bus out of respect—someone would always move to give there seat to me. And although I normally sit near the front of the bus, I decided that on the busiest shopping weekend of the year, I would give up my seat in the front and head to the very back, where I had never gone before. Since the front of the bus is reserved for the high chiefs of the village—matais—as well as older women and women with children, the back is where everyone else goes, and that leaves a lot of people!

After fighting my way through the busy streets and stores to do my shopping, I made it over to my bus where I arrived a half hour early, to guarantee my seat in the back! Upon arriving I told people from my village what I was doing as they laughed and still invited me to sit in the front. But I made my way down the aisle and found my seat in the back right hand side of the bus.

Before long people started stepping aboard the bus and cramming in. Babies were being passed through windows, toddlers getting comfy on their mother’s, or a stranger’s lap. I had my ears wide open to take in the language as I heard people trying to discuss who would sit where and who sat on whom. An older and rather large lady made her way to the back seat where I was and then had a small child sitting on her. There ended up being 6 people in the back seat, not counting the four people sitting on them. I offered to let someone sit on me, but I was in a corner seat so it would have been a bit uncomfortable, although not impossible.
As the bus continued to fill, people were juggling their cartons of eggs, ice cream and loaves of bread. Near the front of the bus were a couple big stalks of bananas, and 6 large coconuts rattled around on the floor near my feet. At one point, I also spotted a yellow 20 lb. bag of rice and some flour. It all came aboard the bus and somehow fit amongst the mass of humanity. Before long, the bus driver fired up the engine and we were off.

Now you might have thought our next stop was the village, but not so—there’s a surprise! Our bus always stops at a petrol (gas) station outside of town to fuel up before the long journey out to the bush. There is also a nice size grocery store at this petrol station where people like to stock up on food. So after cramming the bus full and situating everything just right, the whole thing is undone and 90 percent of the bus disembarks to do some more shopping. And yes, you’re right, what goes off must come back on, and then some!

People were buying bread, chicken, bags of chips and ice cream cones. I chose to stay put, rather than possibly loosing my seat. While we waited for everyone to re-board the bus, a guy sitting in the back with me started smoking a cigarette, which didn’t do too much for the air quality on an already very hot and sticky bus. Yet I signed up for everything I was getting that day.

About 45 minutes after stopping at the petrol station our bus rolled out and headed to the village. With the speakers of the bus pounding out one great song after another, I sat back, and enjoyed the ride. Our bus followed the road along the ocean’s edge as some people even managed to fall asleep.

As we approached the village people started reaching for the bags and boxes they had stuffed under their seats. Slowly the bus started to empty as one family after another got off in front of their house. Mothers and fathers would be greeted at the edge of the road by the younger children who waited to haul the groceries and other goodies back up to their house. All the kids were waving to me and seemed a bit surprised that I was sitting in the back of the bus.

With my two months left in Samoa, I’m glad I took the time to do something I normally wouldn’t do. It may seem like a simple experience, but I can assure you, it will make me appreciate my seat in the front a lot more!

Standing room only!

Some of the guys loading things onto the back tailgate of the bus.

Bananas on the floor of the bus.

Friday, October 7, 2011

1,051,200 Minutes!

Editor’s Note: Today is the two year anniversary of my arriving in Samoa to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural village for 26 months. As a way to reflect on these past two years, I recently conducted an interview with myself. Please feel free to read through the transcripts of the interview to see how the past two years have unfolded, and what is in store for the next few months!
Kyle: Happy Anniversary, myself!

Myself: Thanks, Kyle. It’s been another busy year here in Samoa!

Kyle: I’m sure it has been. Can you tell us how your life as a volunteer is different today, Oct. 7, 2011, compared to last year on this same date, as well as the date you arrived in Samoa, Oct. 7, 2009?

Myself: Compared to last year, I feel more confident having been through it another 12 months. I’ve had that time to learn about how to best accomplish things and be more culturally sensitive. I guess I feel much more integrated into the community overall, and perhaps more “Samoan.” I’m less rushed and more relaxed about daily life.

Compared to two years ago, it’s almost hard to remember all that has changed since then. Obviously my language skills have improved by leaps and bounds since that first day, as well as my tolerance for the heat. I remember those first few months having heat rash all over my arms and legs, but I haven’t had that since early 2010.

I would also say that my confidence in dealing with other people has improved so much since I first arrived. Having entered into this other culture with another language really humbled me and then challenged me to work with other people in order to accomplish my goals.

Kyle: What is an example of a challenging day?

Myself: I guess a challenging day most often occurs when one of my lesson’s at school doesn’t go as well as planed, or the kids are acting up. I’ve gotten a lot better about correcting “derailments” before they get out of control. I’m usually able to end the day at school on a good note and can always look back and find things that were positives about each day. Other things that also use to seem like the right ingredients to make a bad day, such as no water, no electricity, or my neighbor's radio blasting, just don’t seem that challenging anymore.

Kyle: Is there anything that use to annoy you in the beginning of your service that you now have come to love?

Myself: During my first month of teaching in 2010, I was still really homesick. My house sits right near the school, so every morning, while I was still inside my house, I would hear the kids come walking past and they would always say “Good morning Kyle!” You would think the sound of kids greeting me in the morning would be a motivating factor, but it use to drive me crazy and remind me of how much I didn’t want to be there at the time. But since then I’ve come to love the kids who bounce down the hill next to my house and wish me a good morning. There was one rare day when all the kids passed by my house without saying a word to me—they must have had something else on their minds—but it really made me feel forgotten! It’s also funny when some of the 1st graders who don’t know much English at all, but know I respond to “good morning,” wish me a “good morning at four in the afternoon!

Kyle: What student of yours has improved the most in the past two years? How have they improved?

Myself: Without hesitation I would have to say Milo. Milo is my neighbor and so I’ve spent a lot of time with him these past two years. He knew very little English when I first arrived. I wish I had a video of our first conversations together because it was quite entertaining between my lack of Samoan and his lack of English. He was also one of the lowest students in his class and would often be laughed at for not knowing the correct answers. But now he is one of the top students in my English class and is often able to help other weaker students when he’s finished with his work. He is so much more confident when he speaks or deals with other students. It has been a lot of fun to see him grow.

Kyle: You mentioned Milo is your neighbor. Describe your relationship with his family, whom you consider your “host family.”

Myself: Milo and his family have been such a blessing for me. I believe that whenever we face challenges, God puts someone or something there as a guide, and as a support system. Milo’s family was that extra support for me during my hardest days. Milo was at the road to help unload my bags the day I arrived in the village in 2009. His family were the first people to invite me for dinner, and since then they have continued to be there for everything. When my electricity was cut off, his family strung a wire from their house over to mine with electricity. They have helped improve my language skills and taught me so much about their culture. They have welcomed me into their home and made me feel as if I’ve always been a member of their family. It will be sad to say goodbye to them when I leave.

Kyle: What do you like to do for fun?

Myself: I’ve continued to find exercising a great outlet and way to stay in shape, so I normally try to run about four times a week. I also enjoy riding my bicycle down to the main road. This past year I’ve really enjoyed going over to family’s houses and just sitting with them visiting and practicing my language skills. I’m almost certain to always receive a cup of Samoan hot coco, and maybe even a bit of food. I have also really enjoyed spending time with my students, whether that be after school during tutoring sessions, or outside of school at their homes, along the beach, or swimming in the ocean. I also enjoy writing in my journal and reading three-month-old New York Times.

Kyle: What is something you’ve surprised yourself in this past year?

Myself: My desire to learn the language! A year ago I was kind of in the mindset that I had learned as much as I was going to. I really had no desire to open a language book and start teaching myself more. But once I got back to Samoa from Christmas in the States, I really had a desire to learn more. I started working a little bit on my own, but then got the idea to hire Saulo, one of my year 8 students who is also a good friend of mine. It has really been fun learning more of the language and being able to use it in the village. I think it shows a certain amount of respect to the host country nationals, and certainly allows me to be more effective as a volunteer.

Kyle: I hear you’re still writing letters back home! How is that going?

Myself: I’ve kept track of every letter I’ve sent since arriving in Samoa. I’ve currently sent 167 hand-written letters to friends and family. My goal is to send the 200th by the time I leave in December, so friends and family should be checking their mailboxes!

Kyle: How much do you know about events happening in the United States or other parts of the world?

Myself: Not very much. When I was in the States, I would be in front of the T.V. every evening at 6:30 to watch the nightly news, or even record it if I had other obligations. My first months in Samoa I really missed not knowing the latest news, but then I came to accept and even get use to not knowing what was going on in other parts of the world. Since I don’t have a television, and only limited internet, I guess it is one of the few time in my life where I have a good excuse for not being well informed.

Other volunteers from my group were also commenting on how little they know about world and national events back home, and how we might be a bit of a social miss-fit for our first few weeks back home. Tiffany, a very proactive volunteer from my group then prepared a timeline of U.S. and world events for the past two years which she gave to each member of our group to help us readjust to life back at home!

Kyle: What are a few things you’ll miss about:
Mornings in Samoa?
Afternoons in Samoa?
Evenings/Nights in Samoa?

Myself: Mornings: Sunrises and kids saying good morning to me.
Afternoons: Being able to take a nap and not feel guilty about it, since everyone else in the country is taking one.
Evenings: My run overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, and dinners with families from the village.

Kyle: What is one thing you won’t miss about Samoa?

Myself: The mosquitoes! They are relentless here. I’ll never be able to complain about mosquitoes again once I return to the States because they just don’t compare. Volunteers expend a lot of energy trying to avoid them. We put screen on all our windows, sleep under mosquito nets, use repellent and some burn mosquito coils to keep them away. Normally when I go into my classroom in the morning I’ll have a swarm of them near my desk and around all my books, so I’ll have to fan them away.

Kyle: What do you do when you’re frustrated?

Myself: This week I received a new camera that I had sent from the States. My other camera which I had bought just in January while home for Christmas stopped working due to a “lens error.” Well this week, after only using my new camera for two days, it displayed the words on the monitor, “lens error!” I was certainly frustrated, yet I realized how calm and adaptable I’ve become to different challenges.

Soon after this all happened, I could see my neighbor Milo, out my back window preparing his family’s evening meal. I walked over there and watched him go about his chores for about 45 minutes. I reminded myself about how simple his life is, and how he doesn’t have to worry about digital cameras and i-pods breaking. I guess I felt a little jealous of his simple life. It was nice to refocus my thoughts and remember that it’s just a camera. Other things matter much more.

Kyle: What part of the culture have you come to love the most?

Myself: I really love the way Samoan culture is so welcoming towards others, and caring for neighbors. Samoans take a lot of pride in giving a good welcome for guests, and not just for foreigners like myself. Whenever villages travel to another village for any event, the receiving village always has a certain protocol to follow in terms of making someone feel welcomed. That may be shown through an official ava ceremony where all the high chiefs from the village meet, the giving of food, or other material things such as fine woven mats. Every time our school has a guest from the Ministry of Education, you can count on there being food and tea to welcome them.

Samoans live in such small communities that they really get to know one another, often many of them being distant cousins, aunts or uncles. But even for the unrelated members of the community, there is still a deep caring and respect that exists, and that if one family needs help, they can always turn to their neighbor who will lend a helping hand.

This is something I hope to take back home with me. I really want to do a better job of getting to know my neighbors. Not only those who I live near, but those people I meet at church, and in the workplace.

Kyle: What’s something you want to do before you leave Samoa?

Myself: I have been wanting to return to my training village for a long time now, and plan to go visit my old host family there before I leave in December! The training village is where my whole group of volunteers lived for 10 weeks upon our arrival in Samoa to learn the language, as well as cultural, and work related skills. We each lived with a host family during those 10 weeks. I haven’t returned back for a visit since I left there in early December of 2009, so I am anxious to go back and say a proper thank you to my host family there who supported me during my first months in Samoa. At the time I was going through all the emotions and still getting a grasp on the language and culture, but now I’m looking forward to going back and just being with them.

Kyle: What is one thing you will make sure is packed in your suitcase the day you leave?

Myself: Kids have been making me cards and drawing me pictures for the past two years. I’ve been throwing them in a box to save. Some of them say “I love you Kyle,” or have a phrase in Samoan with their name and mine. One of the cards I kept was from my friend Saulo which he gave me on the last day of school last year. It was a thank you note and his saying I was his best friend. It really helped remind me at the time about what all the struggles of that first year were for, and gave me hope for this second year which I’m now about to complete. So those will be the things I make sure get into my suitcase for the trip home. They will be cherished for years to come!

Kyle: Thanks for sharing all of this with us on your two year anniversary, Kyle!

Myself: No problem. Thanks for letting me share! I’ve really enjoyed these past two years and have learned a lot about others, as well as myself in the process!

Marking the two year anniversary with Milo, Christopher and Saulo!

The morning I arrived on October 7, 2009.

With Corina at the airport two years ago today!

At our ava ceremony to welcome us, just hours after arriving in Samoa two years ago.

Here we are during our tsunami evacuation only hours after arriving in country on Wednesday, October 7, 2009.

Wear & Tear

These shoes weren't made for walking!
Over the past two years I’ve been able to see firsthand how things wear out, break down, fade or rust! I remember in my welcome packet from Peace Corps they reminded us of the dangers of bringing anything irreplaceable to a climate that is so humid. We were told to bring plastic sealable bags to place all of our electronics in, along with Silica Gel packs (those pouches you find in shoe boxes to help suck up all the moisture)! However, despite all the preparations, there was no real solution to battle this climate and the two years of beating our things would go through.

Here are a few things I’ve dealt with:

1. Termites eating through stationary, books, and most of all, all the wooden window frames in my house. Several times throughout the week I have to sweep up the piles of dust the termites leave behind. Most of my window frames look fine from first glance, but if you went and pushed your hands against them, you’d discover they are hollowed out!

2. Electronics crashing or malfunctioning. The i-pod I brought in 2009 lasted about a year here until it fizzled out in November of 2010. And on an even more depressing note, I’m now the owner of two cameras which say they have a lens error, with my newest camera having only worked for two days before the misfortune. But on a brighter note, the camera which I’ve had since the beginning, and which is five years old, still works, it’s just a hassle because it requires AA batteries.

3. My Chaco sandals are now on their last leg, (no pun intended). I bought them right before coming to Samoa, but within the past few months they are getting pretty bad. The bottom of the left shoe has nearly fallen off all the way, and requires me to place duct tape on it to keep it attached (see picture below). I’m bound and determined to make them last for the remaining 10 weeks.

4. I won’t be taking many clothes back home in December. It’s not because I’m being wasteful, but rather because I’m being practical—they are in really bad shape! Faded, stained, molded and with holes in several of them, they have served their purpose, but will be retired by the end of the year. I’ll probably be giving them to neighbors or kids so they can use them as work shirts.

5. The candle on my water filter looks like it was pulled out from the bottom of a swamp. I’ve actually gone through three separate candles for my filter in the past three years. They are supposed to last a year, but no such luck in my case. The one I’m on requires cleaning every other day to keep water filtering through it, but it should last me until I leave.

6. Anything metal rusts so easily. I brought a stapler with me from home which I’ve had since I was about seven years old. It still looked brand new the day I brought it to Samoa, but within a few months it was starting to rust over, and now is nearly all rusted, except for the plastic parts. Paper clips on all my papers are rusted and the spiral binding on my notebooks as well. Living with this much humidity makes anything possible.

So those are a few examples of how two years has had an effect on my things. Overall, I think I’ve been lucky compared to other volunteers in terms of loosing things to the weather and climate. But here’s your warning: if you ever visit the Pacific, or any other equatorial region, be advised that nothing is safe in terms of the climate!

The candle of my water filter looks more like a health hazard as opposed to a means to stay healthy!

The darker color of my shorts you see is the inside of the cargo pocket, the color the shorts were before they faded after two years of wear and tear!

Termite damage to one of my books.

A box of some type of nuts that our principal had the kids gather to sell to China. This is the day they were cracked open at school. See picture below for more!

This is what the box of nuts looked like after sitting in a cardboard box during our two week break from school. The point: mold grows so easily in this climate!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

When the Well Runs Dry

The boys helped carry water from a
neighbor's house for me.
Growing up, I always enjoyed playing outside with the water hoses in the summer and often would set up sprinklers in the yard and watch them make their rotations back and forth. Yet I always asked myself what would happen if the well ran dry? Well now I know. However, it isn’t in the backyard I grew up in, it’s in my backyard here in Samoa!

There are two seasons which people know in Samoa: the rainy season and dry season. Right now we are at the tail end of the dry season, and the pressure is being felt by many. I can’t remember a drier stretch of weather in Samoa than what I’ve been living in for the past few weeks. Even during last year’s “dry season,” I thought it still felt like a bit of a washout at times, yet this year it’s living up to its name.

Samoans, and myself for that matter, depend on rain for daily living. Since most villages in Samoa receive their water through a network of PVC pipes that run from rivers and streams, down to a family’s back door, the level of those waters either makes or breaks it when it comes to a family’s water supply. Many households in Samoa do take advantage of the often abundant rains here by building eves on their houses to catch rain water and then having it flow to a water tank. But many of those have long ago dried up and now many are left waiting for the rainy season to kick into gear.

Yet we know that Mother Nature works in her own time, and that even though the rainy season is due to start in October, that doesn’t mean 12 midnight on the first of the month. Therefore, in the meantime, we are left having to be resourceful, patient and helpful. Samoans are so relaxed and laid back that no one is really stressing out about it. Rather, they seem to be use to it, many of them probably having experienced this many times before throughout their lives. Yet for someone who use to have an unlimited amount of water with the turn of a knob, it leaves me more conscious of the way I use to live, and how I am challenged to live now.

There are five main things I use water for at my house: to shower, to do laundry, to flush the toilet, to do dishes, and to drink. Since all of those things are essential, I’ve had to be proactive in order to keep things running smoothly. On Tuesday after school I had four students haul buckets to a neighbor’s house about five minutes away that still has water. They came back with the containers full to the brim. Again on Tuesday I had to have the kids make another water run, and this time with two trips because I needed to do laundry. They have enjoyed helping out and have been asking every day this week if I needed their help.

I feel like I’ve gone back in time to my first two months in my house, when I was without water then, prior to the school committee getting the pipes hooked up. Whatever my use for water, I’ve found ways to ration every last drop. I guess it feels a bit like camping, and for the most part its gone fine. Nonetheless, after finishing my bucket bath the other night, I failed to see the dirt and slimy crud that had settled on the bottom of the bucket during the day, so when I poured the last of the water out, I got covered in a fine layer of dirt.
Perhaps the most challenging circumstances have been faced by our school, which has been without water for much longer than I have. The school is fed off the same pipes as me, but intersects the line at a different point, thus not allowing for as much pressure to build in the pipe. I don’t need to describe to you the vivid details of 85 students using three bathrooms that don’t have running water, nor the health hazards associated with it, especially in a hot, tropical climate such as this. Kids are often thirsty throughout the day, asking to go get a drink, and then remembering that there isn’t a drink to be taken. It’s not like in America where kids can buy bottled water from a vending machine, or take it with them to school. Bottled water isn’t even sold in my village, and if it was, the families wouldn’t be able to afford it.

One of the teachers used to freeze bags of ice that had a punch flavor to them, and then sell them to the students for their interval (recess). But her water has run dry as well, so this once basic drink now seems like a luxury.

I think this type of a situation has really made me more aware of using water wisely, especially once I return home to the States. It has certainly caused me to do so here. But for now, myself and the rest of Samoa will wait until the pounding rains begin, hopefully sometime in the next few weeks!

The dried up river behind my house. Notice the network of pipes, which also are as dry as the river.

The same river behind my house during the heart of the rainy season. Notice any differances?

Relay Race 2011

L to R: Karen, Kyle, Danny, Chris,
Rivka & Katie

A couple of weeks ago I ran in the Samoa Perimeter Relay along with the other five members of my team. This was my second year for the race, having been on the winning team last year. It has become a bit of a tradition for us Peace Corps Volunteers who are runners, and seems to be a great motivating factor in giving us something to train for and come together to work on as a team.

The relay is 104 km, or 64 miles and winds from the south side of Samoa’s Upolu Island, along sandy palm fringed beaches, before heading inland and over the Le Mafa Pass, which always proves to be a challenge for its steep terrain. The route then slopes down on the north side of the island and weaves its way through several coastal villages before ending in the country’s capital of Apia.

This year Peace Corps had two teams represented: a group of all women, and then my team, which was co-ed with three men and three women. The women were competing against all women’s teams, and our team was competing against other co-ed teams, thus allowing us volunteers to avoid competing against each other.

Each team gathered separately on Friday, September 16th to organize and go over last minute details. Our team stayed at Karen and Dave’s house, a married couple who are Peace Corps Volunteers. Dave agreed to be the driver for our team, driving the van that would shuttle us down the race route when we weren’t running. His wife, Karen, was our team captain and had run marathons before so we were in good shape. We fixed a big pasta dinner that evening, and then headed off to bed fairly early.

Each team’s start time for the relay was set according to the approximate time it would take them to complete the race, with the race officials hoping for most teams to finish around the same time. So since our team was predicted to be one of the faster teams in our category, we were the last team to start, jumping off at 6:15 a.m., just around sunrise!

The running order was this: Karen, Katie, Danny, Rivka, Kyle and Chris. Each of us would run between 3 to 5 km each leg, depending on the terrain we were running through. Each of us had a total of 4 separate legs. With me being runner # 5, the sun was already blazing hot when I took off for the first time.

I normally go running four to five times each week for my own enjoyment, but there is always something special about running on race day, something that pushes me harder and motivates me more. It really does feel like a team effort I’m rallying for. That was certainly the case on September 17th as I ran through each of my legs. This isn’t to say there weren’t times throughout the race that day when I questioned why I had signed up for such a feat for the second year in a row, but I always felt reassured of my decision as I completed each run and would be greeted by my teammates at each hand-off point.

I’ve learned that running a race in Samoa presents two battles. The first is mental, which I suppose is true for races in any part of the world, but the other battle is the heat, which is relentless. Last year, as well as this year, I was reminded of the power of Mother Nature as the heat beat down on me throughout the day. This year I decided to wear a hat, which proved to be a great decision. Stretching and hydrating just before each of my runs, I set out with the knowledge that there was a van of five other team members following behind me who I was working with to complete our mission.

As I ran along I heard, saw and smelled many different things. I heard the sound of the ocean, cars honking their horns, kids greeting me in their native language as well as in English, and the sound of my team rooting me on. I saw families going about their normal Saturday routines with men carrying 20 coconuts down the road and women buckets of laundry. I smelled BBQ’s being prepared at roadside stands, rubbish being burned in back yards, bus exhaust fumes and stagnant water at bridge overpasses. It was a day for all the senses.

By my third leg there was some light cloud cover, which made a world of difference, plus there was the added surprise that I was running a huge downward slope in the race route during this time. I tried to push myself while I had the advantage of slightly cooler temperatures for about ten minutes. However, by my last leg it was all sun as we approached the outskirts of Apia and the traffic picked up with more busses, taxis, trucks and cars. Luckily we had a police escort behind us who helped keep the worst of the traffic at bay so we could focus more just on running.

I pushed myself during that last leg and handed the baton off to Chris knowing I had done my best. We then traveled behind him until we reached town and were nearing the end of the race route. That’s when our whole team got out helping run with him across the finish line where we were greeted by several Peace Corps Volunteers and members form the office staff as well. It was a great welcome after a long day of running. Soon after our feet came to a rest, a kid walked up to each of us with a cold coconut to drink!

After snapping pictures and cooling down, it was time for the awards ceremony. We found out we ran the 104 km in 9hrs and 1 minute. It was enough to take first place against the other two co-ed teams. The women’s team had also ran impressively that day and also took first place for their category! Two big wins for Peace Corps!

At the end of the day, I was proud of myself, and my team. Each of us depended on everyone else to get the job done. Despite the sun, sweat and aching legs, I was glad that I pushed myself to run the relay again this year. It reminded me that our bodies are strong and can accomplish challenges when put to the test, we only have to remember to keep mentally alert as well, and then we can win the race!

Getting excited before my first leg of the race!

Rivka handing the baton off to me for my first run.

Karen running with a nice view to her right!

The view from the van as I run my last leg of the relay.

With the police that followed behind us the whole day while we were running.

Raising our ava bowl, the trophy for first place.

Both Peace Corps teams after the relay race on September 17th.