Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Money Transfer: No Fees Accrued

I think it’s fair to say that Americans are raised to be independent. We go to school to earn grades for ourselves. We attend universities to get jobs for ourselves. When we get jobs, we save money to buy houses for ourselves. Being independent certainly has its positives, but it also can cause a person to think too narrowly, and rely too much on themselves.

If you ran out of eggs or milk, would you go to your neighbor’shouse and ask to have some of theirs or would you drive to the store? If your car broke down, would you ask someone for a lift, or would you wait for OnStar to arrange one for you? If your power went out for several days yet your neighbor’s didn’t, would you ask to run an extension cord from their house to yours, or would you wait in the dark for yours to be turned back on?

These are all contrasting ways of approaching inconvenient situations. Americans would normally lean towards solving the problem through a more passive approach: driving to the store, waiting for OnStar to arrive, or for the electric company to show up. None of these are negative ways of approaching the situation, it’s a cultural reason that they are approached in such a way, yet what would happen if you did place trust in your neighbor, if you took a chance to reach out to someone for help, rather than being passive?

I did just that—placed trust in my “neighbor,” in fact, a complete stranger! Last Friday I made a game. I decided I was going to send 10 tala (a little less than $5U.S. Dollars) to Nancy, a Peace Corps Volunteer on the other main island of Savaii. Nancy happens to be a bus ride, a boat ride and then another bus ride away from the market in Apia. I wanted to know what others were willing to do for me. Were they willing to hand off an envelope to a women they didn’t even know? Would they be trustworthy, or would they snoop inside the envelope and take the money, which happens to be a fair amount here in Samoa.

My first task was addressing the envelope. I knew I wanted to write a message on the front of the envelope in Samoan. Although I wouldn’t say my Samoan is bad, it’s hardly blockbuster material, and in a situation like this, I was going for accuracy, so I asked one of my students to address the envelope. I had her write, “Fa’amolemole pea mafia ona e ona e kilivainaatulouteutusi lea iaPisikoa Nancy i (village name) i Savai’i. Fa’afetai lava moloufesoasoanimaiiafa’amanuia le Atua. Soifua,” which reads, “Please deliver this envelope to Peace Corps Nancy in (village name) in Savai’i. Thank you very much. Thank you to God for your help. Good health to you. And with 98 percent of Samoans professing to be Christians, it never hurts to add a cross to such a document, so I drew one under my greeting.

With the envelope marked and a short note tucked inside for Nancy, I sealed the envelope with a piece of clear tape and headed for the market. As I walked towards the bus that would head to the wharf, I decided that as part of this challenge, I wasn’t able to speak any English, even if the person I handed it to did speak English. I also was looking for someone who looked reliable. Although I would have trusted a man as much as a women, I did decide to give it to a women. The way you dress in Samoa can also carry a lot of weight. A person in professional dress receives a certain amount of respect just for being dressed as such, so I started looking for women who were wearing a pulatasi (the formal dress women wear). I spotted one, sitting near the front of the bus.

I took the envelope to her and explained that I needed her to deliver it to Nancy, the Peace Corps Volunteer in Savai’i and she said she wasn’t going that direction, but immediately, the women sitting behind her (not wearing a pulatasi dress, but rather a t-shirt), said that she would pass it off to the correct bus after the boat arrived in Savai’i. She also said, “Trust me,” which seemed like a red flag to me, since I didn’t even suspect her of anything. But I let it be, and within less than 20 seconds, I had handed off the envelope: it was 1:00p.m.

One minute later the bus pulled away and I had texted Nancy that the envelope was en route. I didn’t think much about it after that, until evening came around and felt a certain sense of disappointment that I hadn’t heard from Nancy and I figured it was a lost or stolen envelope. I swore I wouldn’t be doing such a thing again just to prove a point.

But at 5:55p.m.the text came; it was from Nancy! “The eagle has landed!” were the first words on the screen! You should have heard me laugh! Within less than six hours, my envelope had traveled from one island to the other, by multiple modes of transportation, and get this, through five different people’s hands! Nancy had somehow tracked its history, telling me that the women I had handed it to had given it to a women from Nancy’s village on the bus in Savai’i. That women then gave it to Nancy’s host brother who she spotted on the boat. Nancy’s host brother was distracted by a rugby game that was showing on T.V., so he handed it off to his little sister and her friend who then went straight to Nancy’s house and started pounding on the door—so loud that she quit taking her shower to answer the door dripping wet!

Samoans have taught me a lot of valuable life lessons the past three years, but perhaps one of the most important is to trust in my neighbor. Trust that they will help me in times of need. Trust that they will go out of their way and make sacrifices in order to accommodate me. It’s an amazing human quality which many in this world today lack, but one which more of us should try to exemplify. What would you do for your neighbor? Would you be willing to do things that might be inconvenient, if it would mean making their life a little easier?

Besides this being a great story to tell, I hope it reminds us all of the things we can accomplish if we work together and the things we can do for others who perhaps need a helping hand!

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Nancy from Group 83 for helping make this blog possible by serving as home base for the envelope, and for taking pictures on her end! Nancy keeps an awesome blog about her time here in Samoa as a PCV, so I encourage you all to visit it when you have some time (http://nancymagsig.blogspot.com/)

At the bus stop, getting ready to hand the envelope off to a complete stranger.

The envelope and its message to deliver it to Nancy.

Nancy with the envelope and money at 5:55p.m., less than 5 hours aftre I handed it off to a complete stranger on another island.

Nancy thought my choice of a Chinese envelope was the best part! It was by accident that I ended up with this, buying it on the way to the market.

Nancy's host brother was the third person in the line to receive the envelope, but he couldn't take it to the finish line because he was busy watching a rugby game.

Nancy's host sister and her cousin who delivered the envelope to Nancy at 5:55p.m. Good job to everyone along the way!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Blue Folder Anniversary

Riding on a bus in Savai'i last year.
Although it’s already August 21st in Samoa, in Michigan, where I was three years ago today, it’s still August 20th, and August 20, 2009 will be a day I remember for years to come. Perhaps the thing that stands out most from that day is the blue folder which held so may details of my future. It was a blue folder from Peace Corps, sent by Fed-Ex and opened by me shortly after 4p.m. that day. On the cover it read, “Peace Corps Invites You to Serve.”

I was sitting on the couch with my mom nearby. I remember holding it for a couple minutes before I worked up the courage to open the Velcro flap, but once I did, the first thing that caught my eye was the word “Samoa,” highlighted in yellow. I remember being surprised, because for several weeks before that day I knew I was going to the South Pacific region, and I had read over all the programs and based on what I knew from my recruiter, I thought I was headed to Vanuatu! But heck, Vanuatu, Samoa, where were either of them anyways?

Shortly after opening the folder, I headed for a map to pinpoint exactly where the next years of my life would unfold. Sure enough, it was in the South Pacific, a long ways from Michigan, and a long ways from anywhere!! I remember calling my sister, friends and other family. I even remember what I ate that night—sweet corn and tacos. It’s all vivid in my mind like yesterday.

Little did I know that day, that there were already people here in this country who would become like family to me, like brothers, best friends. I had yet to meet anyone of them, but on that day, our paths were charted towards each other, and the word Samoa became a part of my life.

It’s amazing what has happened in the three years since that day! I could never have guessed back then that I would go and have an amazing Peace Corps service, return home and then come back to Samoa for an additional eight months! That’s where this all finds me today, reflecting on the past and all that I’ve had the opportunity to do, all those I’ve had the opportunity to be with and learn from.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Get Locked Out, But I Get In Again

No keys are needed to have access to a view like this.

In the past year I’ve had two unfortunate experiences here in Samoa with getting locked out, and getting locked in. Let’s start with the locked out story, which happened just last week.

It was Wednesday, and I had just gotten home around 6p.m. after a long day and just wanted to eat and go to bed. I decided to go across the road to the store to get some bread. When I got over there a pack of dogs came after me and I fended them off by using my key chain lanyard. When I did that, I was unaware that part of the lanyard had come off and it happened to be the part that held the keys. By the time I discovered that, the dogs had already picked up the keys and ran away with them somewhere on the surrounding property. I spent 20 minutes looking around for them, as well as my neighbors who came out to help. Finally dark set in and I had to give up.

Luckily, I have two doors to the house, so I was able to get the spare set of keys from a neighbor. However, the door that I had lost the keys to is my main access door and I didn’t have any spare keys for that door, so the next day I was forced to go and buy a whole new doorknob!

The really disappointing part of the whole story is that the store didn’t have any bread that night, so my trip ended up costing me 35.00 tala, the price of the new doorknob.

The next story is a locked in story! I was able to find out what it feels like to be on house arrest. Last year when I was still living in my old house, I was getting ready for school on a cool, windy and rainy morning. I went into the bathroom to shave and while I was in there, the wind blew my bathroom door shut. Although I loved my house dearly, it had a few drawbacks, like there not being a handle on the bathroom door, although it did have a lock and latch. After the door blew shut with a huge slam, my heart sank for a minute. I thought that I had heard the lock catch!

Sure enough, I was locked in. Not only was I in a locked bathroom, I was in a locked house and since students always come to school late on rainy mornings, which it was. As I’ve said in the past, when it rains in Samoa it rains hard! So despite the fact that I had my neighbors living not 25 yards away from me, no matter how hard I yelled, they couldn’t hear me with the rain pounding down on the metal roofs. I ended up having to wait around in there for 45 minutes before anyone came along for me to yell at.

One of my year 8 students, Luisa was the first one I saw, and I yelled at her to come over to the bathroom window. By that time I had devised a plan! As I said, my house had a few drawbacks, although some turned out to work in my favor. There was a small crack near the water pipe for the toilet that went through the cement wall from the outside. I told Luisa to go to Milo’s house next door and get a knife to pass through the crack so that I could unjam the lock on the door. By the time she came back there were a handful of students outside my house laughing at the situation, and I had a pretty good laugh too. The idea worked and I was set free with little psychological damage.

I guess all this locking in and locking out got me thinking about the song by Chumbawamba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, no you’re never gonna keep me down.” My new lyrics to that song are, 1st verse: “I get locked out, but I get in again, no you’re never gonna keep me out.” 2nd verse: “I get locked in, but I get out again, no you’re never gonna keep me in.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Friday In Apia

Last Friday's Sunrise
Last Friday I had my camera with me in town and decided to capture some of the sights around the capital city of Apia. Enjoy the pictures!

A boy walks the sea wall shielding himself from the sun with an ie lava lava.

The clocktower.

The old market has been torn down and now they are getting ready to build a new one.

A Happy Father's Day sign in front of Chan Mow, since Father's Day is celebrated in August here--this weekend in fact! Happy Father's Day!

Mother and son wait patiently at the light.

Some matai (chiefs)sitting and talking near the town center.

A van tailgating (he was laughing about it too)!

Some koko Samoa, whcih I bought!! YUM!

The newspaper stand.

I think it's universal; kids get tired waiting for mommy at the grocery store.

Ice cream on a hot day!

Guys playing their guitars.

A shipping freighter in the harbor.

The delicious cake at Keli's House of Goodies.

Not legal in Michigan!

Free in-flight magazines available at Air New Zealand's office! A good read.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Uafato: The Last Frontier

I’ve described my former Peace Corps village for the past two years as one of the most remote areas in Samoa. Although that still holds mostly true, I have discovered a village which tops the list and most certainly holds the title of the “Last Frontier.”

It’s a village I had always know about, and had heard was a long ways away. Looking at it on Google Earth made it look impressive and almost served as a dare to conquer the journey. After nearly three years of living in Samoa, this past weekend, I finally made the journey there by foot from my former village. But I wasn’t alone; I’ve learned to take along helpers to make these excursions more bearable.

As the crow flies, Uafato is only about 4 miles from my former village; however, with all the twists and turns of the ocean’s shoreline which we followed, it was more like a 16 mile trek! Saulo, Milo, Neueli, Satupa’i and I left Saturday morning around 8a.m. under some nuisance rain clouds. However, they soon parted and gave way to the full force of the sun which becomes taxing after a while.

For the trip the boys had brought along a small knife for opening coconuts, and I had bought some loaves of bread, peanuts and cookies to snack on along the way, since I knew we weren’t going to be bumping into any McDonald’s. Neueli decided on wearing long pants to protect his legs from all the thorny weeds, although the other boys and I decided to deal with the cuts to avoid the uncomfortable sweating and warmth caused by the long pants.

We had been traveling for about an hour when Saulo pointed out a tree along the edge of the bay. I looked over and there was my name, carved in capital letters into the trunk. Saulo said that this past February he had been over there in the bay and carved my name into the tree. Seeing that tree, I realized that he was thinking about me, as much as I had been thinking about him and the others I was missing earlier this year after I had left Samoa. Although I had left and was living on the other side of the world, Saulo had taken the time to carve my name into a tree in one of the most far-away places one can travel to. You can believe that I won’t forget that tree is there when I leave later this year. I told him I would be carving his name into a tree when I get back to Michigan!

We continued along, walking through a handful of small villages as we circled along the bay. We stopped at several small road-side stores called fale’oloas, trying to get our hands on some Coke, Sprite, or anything to quench the thirst we had. The boys were able to drink water from the small streams, but I wasn’t going to risk drinking water that hadn’t been boiled, so I held out and we finally drank some coconuts later in the trip.

As we left the bay and headed out towards another rocky point, the sealed road soon ended and we were walking on uneven rocks and dirt that increased in steepness, and then would drop low for a while, before climbing. The scenery and bends in the road looked so similar to the boys’ village, and often times they or I would comment on how it was almost an exact replica of a portion of our road.

Only Saulo had traveled to Uafato before, since his grandma and uncle live there. For Milo, Neueli, Satupa’i and I, it was our first trip. As we walked along and the boys complained about the heat and steepness of the road, they kept asking Saulo how much further. We finally reached a high spot in the road that had a sharp bend in it and when the boys made the turn, there was Uafato. I wish I had had the video camera rolling then to record the expressions they had when they made the turn, but it was a synchronized “aaaaawwwwww.” I was impressed that even Samoan teenagers would be captivated by scenery you think they would have grown accustomed to seeing, but luckily they still hold some fascination for the beauty of this country.

The village was situated by itself in a small bay with high mountains flanking every side covered in lush green tropical foliage and amongst it all, one of the highest waterfalls I’ve ever seen, stretching from the top of one of the mountain peaks down to the land below. Our rocky and uneven road didn’t improve any as it twisted down towards the village, but our eyes were off the road at that point and focused on the village we were headed to.

As we reached the first houses, I felt this feeling as though I had left Samoa and gone to someplace even more remote, even further away in this world. In some ways I felt like I was on a different planet. I looked around and recognized it as Samoa, but something felt very different about it. We followed Saulo to his Grandma’s house (she didn’t even know we were coming, since Saulo had forgotten to call her) and in true Samoan spirit she opened her heart and her house to her guests. Her and Saulo looked happy to see each other with big smiles on their faces. She quickly shuffled some woven mats around for us to sit on and had Saulo go out front to climb one of the coconut trees so we could have a drink. She complimented us on walking all that way in the sun, and apologized for the bad condition of the road, but she said, “The road may be bad, but the village is nice.”

That evening the boys helped prepare the evening meal, making the coconut cream, scrapping the taro and building the fire. Walking back to the Samoan kitchen and seeing all the boys there we started to laugh as they and I both realized they were supposed to be on “vacation” but here they were doing the same chores they are stuck with every other day of their lives. But I think they enjoyed working together after the long trip. I had bought some chicken at the local roadside store and gave it to Saulo’s grandma to cook. I had also taken some cocoa Samoa which she prepared for dinner that night. It was a great meal and we all enjoyed each other’s company that night. The boys even had the chance to play rugby and volleyball with the kids in Uafato, so they felt right at home. And it’s just a suspicion, but I think they enjoyed visiting with some of the girls!

Sunday morning I woke up with pink eye, which made for an interesting twist to the weekend. Saulo and I were the only ones who remembered our church clothes so he and I went to church while Milo, Neueli and Satupa’i stayed behind to fix the toana’i meal. Saulo and I were greeted warmly at the church and then went back to his grandma’s to eat chicken soup, fish, taro and rice! We drank a few coconuts and then I said our thank you to Saulo’s family for having us unexpectedly and said I’d like to come back again for another visit later this year. We gave hugs and then we were off in the blazing heat around 1p.m.

As we climbed back up that winding road, the boys shouted goodbye to Uafato and their voices echoed around the mountains. With only two cars in Uafato, we weren’t expecting any lifts along the road, so we forged ahead and at least knew what was ahead of us the second time around. Covering our heads with t-shirts and ie lava lavas, we bore the brunt of the sun and once again made our regular stops in the shade. By the time we got back over to the bay, it was nearly 4:30p.m. and we had decided to take a different road to get back to our village. Lucky for us that we took that road because a truck came along and gave a lift for part of the distance which saved us about 1.5 hours of walking time over a mountain pass.

By 6p.m. we were walking back into our own village and I think all feeling proud of ourselves for having made the journey. We had done it together and as friends. In one of the last stretches of the road, Saulo commented to me on how far we had traveled, and how just earlier that day we had been in Uafato. I realized that to him, having grown up in such a small country, a trip like was similar to me taking a car trip to Florida from Michigan, and I realized what he was saying about traveling “great” distances in a certain period of time.

Although all the boys enjoyed the trip to Uafato, they all agreed that next time we should plan on going in a vehicle. Although the vehicle will be nice, nothing will beat walking along that amazing road and having that chance to slow down and be present with nature’s surroundings and with great friends. But now we can say we traveled to the “last frontier.”

About an hour into our walk, heading into the bay.

Saulo and I next to the tree he carved my name into earlier this year.

One of the waterfalls on our way to Uafato. It's the dry season now so they aren't as impressive; I'd like to make the trip again in November.

Walking around the bay to get to Uafato.

Satupa'i, Saulo and I on the beach heading to Uafato.

A lone coconut palm on a small rock island.

The whole gang about half way to our destination.

Satupa'i working on the taro for dinner.

Saulo and I had the highest seats of honor for dinner at his Grandma's. The other boys had to help serve the food, which Saulo got a kick out of!

I woke up with pink eye on Sunday morning, as you can tell from this wonderful picture of me!

Saulo and his grandma before church.

Walking back from church.

Neueli trying to act cool for his own picture.

Milo and Satupa'i before we left Uafato.

Trying to keep the sun off our heads on the way back home.

In the bay as we made our way home on Sunday afternoon.