Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

I’ve now had four Thanksgivings in Samoa and every one of them have been special. This year, as has been the tradition, Peace Corps gathered at the official residence of the U.S. Charge de Affairs. Although I’m not officially Peace Corps this year, I was still fortunate to be able to attend. Chad Berbert, the Charge de Affairs and his predecessor, Robin Yeager have always been great about welcoming Peace Corps Volunteers and staff into their house during a time of year when many of us turn our thoughts to our families.

This year when I arrived I was pulled aside by Chad and asked if I would say grace before the meal. I guess word is getting around that I’m planning to apply to the seminary because I’ve been called on more lately for these types of things. It was a great honor and I was happy to start our gathering by offering thanks to God.

Every year I am amazed at the variety and quality of food that comes together for this feast, given the fact that we are on an island a long ways from where any Turkeys are! The table was packed from one end to the other and adjacent was a round table packed with pies and other good deserts. I had taken a vegetables tray for my contribution. Vegetables seemed to be the most popular item, right behind the mashed potatoes. Volunteers become a bit deprived of fresh vegetables living in the rural villages.

Chad took time to acknowledge the members of Group 83 who were leaving after their two years of service, as well as Lilli, who is from my group, Group 82, after her 3rd year extension. They were each awarded with a certificate of appreciation signed by the Ambassador to Samoa and New Zealand. Although he wasn’t able to attend because of other commitments, he has always shown a great deal of support for Peace Corps here in Samoa. Each of the volunteers also got a medal. I had gotten the same certificate and medal last year so it brought back good memories and reminded me that a whole year had passed.

Overall, it was a great afternoon with friends who love our country and also have come to love this country of Samoa. Many of us have enjoyed our time here, although I’m sure many will be looking forward to next year when we are able to celebrate the day with family once again in the States.

Lilli from Group 82 after nearly completing her 3 years in Samoa. Here she is with Peace Corps Country Director, Dale Withington and Charge de Arriars, Chad Berbert.

Danny from Group 83 who is finishing his service this month.

Katie from Group 83, also closing her service this month.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moving Back in Time

When I first came to Samoa in 2009, I had bought a watch for about $30.00. I had never worn a watch before then, but thought I should have one for the two year experience overseas. It served me well and I wore it nearly every day. During those moments of homesickness it was a reminder of what time it was back home, and also a constant recognition of how slow time could pass by when you are really in the dumps.

But life got better and the time on that watch seemed to pass by faster. It marked the beginning of each day and brought an end to them as well. In some odd and peculiar way, I formed some type of attachment to it as though it were a friend.

My last night in the village before I left Samoa last year, someone stole the watch. There were a handful of people it could have been, although I had a pretty good idea of who it was early on. When I lost that watch it was as if I had lost a part of the previous two years. It wasn’t the best way to end my last night in the village, but I tried not to let one person’s greed get me down.

When I was preparing to return to Samoa this past April, I knew the importance of having a watch. However, I didn’t want just any watch, I wanted the exact same kind I had come to know so well so I searched several stores until I found it! I bought it and brought it over, determined not to have it stolen or lost.

Well returning to Samoa this year brought with it many unique opportunities to reconnect with a life I had thought I had left for good. A couple months after being back, I was in my old village visiting and found my old watch which had been stolen. It was like a reunion of sorts, and I have to admit I was glad to see that the battery had gone dead and not remained loyal to its new “owner.” I took the watch home and tucked it inside my suitcase with the plans to add it to my memory box back in Michigan.

Unfortunately, this week I put my new watch in my pocket and I lost it through the sizeable hole in the pocket. I’ve trained myself not to put coins in there anymore, but forgot that the watch could slip through the opening. The watch was gone and I was feeling as though I had done it again, this time it was my own fault. That’s when I got an idea!

I dug through my suitcase and came across the original watch that had been stolen and had gone dead. I remembered that I had brought along the back-up batteries which I had bought for the watch back in 2009. With a small screwdriver used for maintenance on my glasses, I opened the back of the watch and started it up again. It felt like I had brought a part of my past back to life. That watch which had stood through so many tough days my first two years here was again keeping time, and counting down my final two weeks in this country.

I think it’s ironic that I’m ending my journey in Samoa with the same watch which I had begun it with. I’ve bridged the years together and will close them with the watch that started the race in the beginning. It will bring an end to my years in Samoa but remind me of the way it began.

Friday, November 9, 2012

America’s Influence

For the past three years that I’ve lived in Samoa, I’ve always carried a U.S. $1 dollar bill in my wallet. I keep it there as a way to remind me of where I’m from, why I decided to come to Samoa and where I will return to once my time here is completed. Nearly every day I have people ask me where I’m from and I’m always proud to tell them, “Amerika.”

This past week was another good example of why I’ve been proud to represent my country overseas. America has its faults and shortcomings, as I’ve learned all countries do, however, I have also learned that America still holds a very important role on the world stage—even to the far reaches of the South Pacific. I can’t tell you the number of people who have stopped me in the past few days to ask me about the election in America, who I voted for and how I felt about President Obama being re-elected.

America matters overseas and people are watching what Americans do. They are watching when a lone gunman goes into a movie theatre and kills indiscriminately and they are watching when the most powerful country on Earth goes to the ballots to cast votes peacefully. People overseas see America’s good and bad but this past week has been about the good.

I was fortunate to watch election night coverage on CNN. Just for clarification, CNN is not a part of Samoans basic TV package! Samoans receive three or four local stations, with their world news coming through feeds from New Zealand. Those who pay extra and have a satellite are able to receive CNN, so this ends up being relatively few. I was with my Peace Corps friend Lilli at her friend’s house in Apia.

However, I found it slightly confusing watching the election coverage from Samoa. First of all, with the time difference, we were watching on a Wednesday evening. Also, I was sweating like crazy with mosquitoes nipping at my ankles. Normally my election nights are spent inside the house while a cold blustery Michigan wind sweeps across the harvested cornfields near my house.

Lilli and I ordered a pizza from Italiano’s and picked up some chips. We started watching coverage around 4p.m. Samoa time (9p.m. Eastern) and by 6p.m. we had received word that President Obama had been re-elected. The Samoans whose house we were at had all traveled to the States before so they were familiar with modern U.S. presidential history (probably even more so than some Americans). They told us that their friends at work had been talking about the election that day as well, so it was a big topic of conversation.

I don’t care to divulge my political views in this blog, however I will say that I was proud to hear Governor Romney’s humble concession speech and President Obamas inspiring victory speech. That is what I love about America, that when all the dust settles, there is still law and order and a peaceful transfer or continuation of power. Our leaders deliver those speeches knowing that not only is the United States listening, but the entire world.

The next day the Samoa Observer had a front page picture of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as several inside pages dedicated to the election results, even detailing the races in congress. There was also an article and picture of Samoa’s Head of State attending an election party held at the official residence of the U.S. Embassy. Perhaps there are a few more ties to America here in Samoa due to the fact that many Samoans have family living in American Samoa which is a U.S. territory, but I am still confident that people in other far reaches of the world had front page newspaper articles with our country’s election results.

So let us be proud to be Americans, no matter what our political parties may be. This is a great chance for Americans to come together and celebrate what makes our country great and examine what we each can do to continue making it a place that others around the world look at and are fascinated by.

John King and Wolf Blitzer of CNN making it all the way over to Samoa.

Lilli watching election coverage.

After the final word came that President Obama had been re-elected.

The news made the front page of the Samoa Observer on Thursday morning.