Sunday, September 24, 2017

Facebook Revolution

Visiting kids in the village to donate books.
Welcome Back! Since my last extended stay in Samoa in 2012, I've been able to return three times to visit. The first was November of 2016 for my former student, Saulo's high school graduation. The second visit was this past April for about 10 days, spending most of the time in the village. And now this visit, when I arrived on September 18th to visit Saulo once again before he leaves on his two year mission in Papua New Guinea as part of the Mormon Church's outreach and evangelization. In addition, for this visit I was able to bring a suitcase full of children's books to hand out to kids in my former Peace Corps village.

Amongst all the excitement of these past few visits, there is one thing that strikes me: the Facebook revolution well underway.

When I arrived in Samoa eight years ago next month, cell phone access was only about 5 years old, and in the village where I was assigned, a remote costal village, nestled beside the mountainous regions of the Northeastern coast, there wasn't ANY cell phone service at all. The cliffs and mountains surrounding my village blocked any cell signals and without a cell phone tower in the vicinity, I was left to run the road along the high cliffs to the outer edge of the mountain to grab a signal from the neighboring village 5 miles away.

This in itself was a subject of several posts from over the years in this blog, but what I want to express in this post is the way things have changed for ordinary Samoan people, especially in my village.

In front of my old house in the village, now empty and a bit in disrepair.

Take this for example. After having one of the local telephone companies instal a tower in my former village, many more people in the village began to get cell phones which could easily be "topped up" with credit by purchasing scratch-off cards. But there's more! Last night while relaxing with Saulo's family, and sipping koko Samoa, his father, Kapeli, took a messenger call through Facebook from family in Utah. Holding the phone up to his ear, his kids very abruptly said, "No! Look at the screen and their face!" A younger generation of Facebook consuming teens and twentysomethings informing their parents how the ways of the future really work. His dad preceded to talk (and show his face) for about 20 minutes. When he was done, we said prayer.

Just six years ago, during my second year of Peace Corps service, if it was raining, making a phone call or even sending a text meant either waiting for the rain to stop, or getting drenched to make it out to my spot along the road where I could get a signal. This week I sent a text and took a phone call from the States on a rainy morning in the village and just smiled thinking of how easy it was!

It's impossible now to visit a Samoan fale (house) without watching someone scroll through a Facebook feed or take selfies to post and then make comments on. The busses to town have always been famous for their remixes of pop and reggae music, but now that's just background noise to the technology in the hands of so many--both young and old alike. Even I have to contiously put the phone down and remind myself this amazing view took me 7,000 miles to reach, and that Facebook will be around when I get home to Chicago.

Sunday afternoons have always been about sleeping and resting in the village, followed by slow afternoon walks to by Samoa's version of a pancake. But yesterday during my evening walk through the village, more than one of the kids (and also an adult) asked if I saw their post on Facebook and also took time to comment on mine. I guess it's good to know we're all in this together!

Overall, I think it's great for people of this remote island nation to have easier access to keep in touch with family and friends both here and abroad, but with it comes the challenges that every culture has faced in recent years: how to balance the new with the old.

For me, I'll probably always tend to be Facebook shy when visiting this beautiful country, but of course, you may find me posting a selfie every now and then!

I wasn't able to attend Peace Corp's 50th Anniversary here in Samoa, but was able to sign the sign.

After Saulo's Church send-off before leaving on his 2 year mission this week.

How Samoans eat a fish!

Many of you will remember Neueli, who visited Michigan in 2012. He's now 20!

Neueli working on one of his carvings to sell at the flea market.

Little Kyle is still a couple years away from having to scrape the coconuts, but here I am 8 years after my introductory course and still have a lot to learn!

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