Friday, December 9, 2011

Two Years Ago

Two years ago the riddle was how
to suspend my mosquito net!
Two years ago today I entered my village to begin my two years of Peace Corps service. We were all strangers at that point. The man who picked me up in his white van at the Peace Corps office ended up being the father of one of my best friends in the village. The boy who greeted me at my house and helped lug my suitcases down the hill became like a brother to me. The women who knocked on my back door with a pillow and blanket in hand, asking me to go for a walk with her, became like a mother figure when I was so far away from my own.

On that first day, I felt like I was in a valley, looking up at this mountain I had to climb. There were lots of people there watching me, I just didn’t realize at the time in which ways they would help me scale to the summit. But slowly, over time we met and the relationships formed. We learned about each other’s lives—our personalities, our cultures, our languages. We made mistakes, yet we made huge strides. It was all done together.

I was lonely that first night. I felt like I was on my own planet, and wondering how I ever got there in the first place. But then my neighbor Milo, the one who had helped me with my bags, came calling from outside my bedroom window. I welcomed him into my house and I tried making sense of what he was asking me. After a few minutes and some improvised sign language on both our parts, I realized he was inviting me over for dinner with his family that night.

When I joined them for dinner, I never realized how much gratitude I would feel towards them that night for having welcomed me to their meal, their home and their family. I remember where I was sitting, the sound of the evening news on the radio, and the food we were eating. I remember the feeling of being unsure about so much, yet at that moment, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

Tonight, we’re having dinner together again. However, as we do, we both realize that we are approaching our final weekend together, and the days are running short. I’ll be thinking about that first meal we had together, and how much we’ve grown since then. I was welcomed that first night by one family, but next week when I leave, I’ll be saying goodbye to a whole village!

The bed I slept on for the first week until I was able to buy a mattress.

I've been lucky to live in one of the most scenic places in Samoa for the past two years!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

That Feeling

Kids helping with village wide clean-up day!
Remember taking those timed tests where your teacher says you only have ten more minutes to finish, yet you know you don’t have enough time. What about watching a football game where your team is down by just a few points with 10 seconds left on the clock, and you know there just isn’t enough time. And then there are those days you’re late for work and driving fast, but you know that you just don’t have enough time!

I’ve been having those same feelings. With less than two weeks left before I finish my Peace Corps service and leave Samoa, I’m finding that the days pass like the blink of an eye. I keep looking at the calendar in my room and reminding myself it really is December, and this is it.

Despite that feeling of not having enough time, I don’t think I could have prepared any better for the end than what I’ve already done. I’ve taken the pictures I’ve been wanting to take, seeing the people I want to spend more time with, and eating the foods I know I will miss. I don’t think we can avoid getting that feeling of the end and crunch time, no matter how well we plan the end of an experience.

These past weeks have been productive ones. School finished on Thursday with our annual prize giving. The kids decorated the school early in the week to get ready to greet their parents and other family when they arrived for the ceremony. All the kids were in their normal blue and white school uniforms, except for year 8, which wore all white since it was their graduation day from the primary school.

Parents came walking down the hill next to the school Thursday morning with candy necklaces ready to award their children with for their hard work. The teacher’s had prepared for the event as well, grading our final exams and as is part of the culture here, ranking the kids based on their final grades for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places etc.

Prizes were giving out to students who were in those top three spots of their class. The top prizes were dishes which were awarded to the students, but which obviously would be used by their whole family. Samoan culture is very communal, so what’s good for one person, should be good for all. I broke in that tradition a bit, just because I didn’t have the money to go out and buy dishes for all my awards, so instead I gave out candy, pencils, makers, paper notebooks and hand made certificates.

The week before prize giving the whole school participated in a village wide clean up day! It had been on my project list for a long time, and thankfully my principal was on board and we had the kids years 1-8 go throughout the village and pick up rubbish. They filled several big black bags with rubbish from the beach, rivers and near the road. I considered the day a big success, especially when the teachers were explaining to the students what gets thrown in the rubbish, and what can be thrown outside. Samoan kids call leaves and twigs rubbish, so if there is a leaf and a piece of paper lying on the floor and you tell the kid to pick up the rubbish, there is a 50-50 chance they might actually pick up the paper, and not the leaf!

And finally, there are the emotions. They go along with the end of any experience which has had a profound affect on a person’s life. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on where I started and where I am now. I think about the people I knew then, and the people I know now. I think about what was difficult, ridiculous, fun, and exciting. All of that is on my mind during these final days.

The packing has begun. I’ve just started to bring my first things back into the office, to set them aside in the free box for other volunteers from Group 83 to rummage through. Other things at my house will be given to people in my village. I’ve tried to put off the packing as long as possible to keep a sense of normalcy to life, but now it’s crunch time.

I also did cleaning at school. Going through two years worth of papers projects and hand made resources, I didn’t realize how much stuff I had accumulated. My heaping mound of newsprint papers got burned this week, that was a little hard to do, but really couldn’t be saved. Other things however are getting saved, in fact, I am leaving a number of books and other resources and materials at my school for the teachers to use in the years ahead. Peace Corps has always loved the word s-u-s-t-a-i-n-a-b-i-l-i-t-y!!!

So the packing will continue, and the goodbyes will begin. The process of bringing closure to my time in Samoa has begun. I’m excited about these next couple of weeks, and the great memories that will be made!

One of our teachers leading the students in the rubbish clean up.

Ropati from year 6 asked me what he should do with the tea pot he found!

After being sick for one week, I got caught up on some of my laundry.