The Vaiala Heroes at Culture Day

Culture Day at Vaipua Primary

Books Donated from Darien Aid

Tree Planting with funds donated from WaterCharity

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Ava ceremony and a Plan in Motion!

This morning, Talava presented me with a beautiful white puletasi. Nice and tight, the best fitted puletasi I own for sure. Telefoni gave me a brand new Samoan Bible and I walked to church in my new garb and with my new book. Church was short and entirely tolerable. Songs were sung, I read my English bible along with the message of the sermon, I day dreamed while we were kneeling for the 20 minute prayer and during the rest of the message I learned a few new words in my Samoan English dictionary.

After church, I took a long nap and read some of Wicked before going to meet up with Tuaia. We had promised to meet and go see the Women’s Committee president to talk about getting the Committee together Monday or Tuesday to discuss the grant proposal for the new steps down the cliff to the beach.

When I arrived at Tuaia’s house, she was busy changing into a puletasi and saying that she was obliged to attend a ceremony at the faifeau’s house and that I should come also. I didn’t really feel a strong desire to participate in the festivities, which would undoubtedly include politely refusing heaping plates of meat, fanning away flies from the plates of the matais and sitting for long periods of time straining to understand snippets of conversation between the villagers. But, thinking that this would be a valuable opportunity to meet and greet with some members of the community that I haven’t met and also show my prowess at the Ava ceremony, I hurried home to change into a puletasi.

I walked with Talava to Sulu’s house and when we arrived, the heaping plates of meat (sausages, corned beef, chicken, fish, ramen and taro) were already prepared and waiting on the floor surrounded by fanning women. I sat near half a roast pig and fanned the flies away, listening to the conversations around me and not understanding much at all. Finally, the men had finished their Ava ceremony in the fale across from us and we started to bring out the food. I presented a tray to the guest in the ceremony, a new Methodist preacher who was staying with our faifeau (pastor) then sat to fan the flies off our faifeau’s meal. I was told to sit next to Sulu and did so.

The runner gave me a cup of Ava and all looked on interested as I spilled a drop in front of me and said in a clear steady voice “Lea Ava lea le Atua, soifua!” before downing the murky contents and tossing the cup to the runner. They exploded into chatter at this and I concentrated on my cup of Cocoa Samoa. Sulu translated. The matais were saying what a good Samoan girl I was and that I needed a good Samoan boyfriend. She told them I had a boyfriend in America already and in reply to this they said I should have more than one boyfriend. They also encouraged me to come to the village and committee meetings to help with my Samoan.

After I had finished my second cup of Cocoa Samoa and had refused for the third or fourth time the food, I returned to where the women were gathered and thanked Loli Tui’s wife for inviting me and for the good food and drink. I then talked to Mele, the women’s committee president about wanting to meet with the committee before leaving for Apia on Wednesday in order to discuss the grant proposal for the new cement steps going down the cliff to the beach. She nodded at my simple explanation of writing the letter, discussing all the reasons why we need steps on the mako (cliff), how I will bring it first to the peace corps office and have it read and edited by the staff there and how I will submit it to the New Zealand High Commission office on Wednesday before going to Manunu. Mele presented this information to the Methodist ladies gathered in the fale and they nodded and agreed to meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss the idea further, but that they all thought the idea was very good and that the whole village would benefit from it. They patted my shoulder and back and said “Manaia tele oe” or “Lelei tele oe” (both mean "You're so good!" or "You're doing well!" as they left the house. I can’t describe how encouraging it was to be supported by the women of the village and for my plan to be in motion.

One of three 20-something birthdays of mine to take place in Samoa

My 24th birthday and the first of three precious twenty-something birthdays that will be spend in Samoa, in probably much the same way as I spent this one. Early in the morning, I took the bus into town and checked my email at the peace corps office. On my facebook page, many people had written a happy birthday message which was nice :D Alanna and Dad had sent me a message to watch out for a birthday/Christmas package that was in route. I’m so touched that they, especially Dad, have started to take the time to email and to send things like letters and packages.

Anyway, I made a quick run to the post office with the mail box key from the office to check for said parcel and to send out some post cards to family and friends in the states and in Japan. There was no package there and the people at the photo store couldn’t read photos from my Sony Memory Stick Pro or from a USB so I’ll end up printing pictures for Pulusila and Faafetai in Apia when I go on Wednesday. That’s going to be so nice, to do some shopping and run some errands.

I stopped by the Samoan Water Authority office on the way back and asked a couple questions about getting the main pipe in Vaipu’a extended up the hill for the families without piped water. I was told an application paper had to be filled out and the families would have to pay twenty tala to have the surveyors come out and check the water pressure and the feasibility of extending the pipe uphill. Good enough for me.

Finally, I was ready to catch the bus to Saleaula to meet up with Alli and a few other Peace Corps that might be coming to kafao (hang out) with us at the Bay View Resort at the Lava Fields. I saw the bus that I needed to be on pass me by and I ran back to the office, deposited the key on the wall and grabbed a taxi, telling the driver to catch up to the green bus going to Sasina! The taxi sped up the main road, stopping irksomely at a long red light before driving 20 minutes until the bus was in sight. I paid the driver 25 tala for the ride and hopped on the bus. The 25 tala was money well spent because the next bus would not have left the wharf for another 3 hours or so.

The bus passed by Saleaula and took me all the way to Sasina and back, a nice ride along the coast and I got to see Alli’s village. I walked up to the resort with a small plastic bag of oreos, chips and a diet sprite, all luxuries unavailable in my village and met Alli, who was sunbathing on the water, with excitement and hugs. We went back to the main lobby restaurant area, met up with Lasela who gave me a hand made birthday card and some stickers, and had fish and chips and a nice cold one for lunch. Dana and Unicorn showed up shortly after and we all took the canoes across the water to the small island dividing ocean and lake. The sand there was black, no doubt caused in some way by all the black lava rock surrounding the area and the large waves crashed into us as we waded into the ocean up to our bellies.

When we paddled back to the resort, we showered and started pre-gaming before heading to dinner. Lasela and I shared a seafood pasta that was just spicy enough and quite delicious. There was a small fiafia and three hotel staff girls danced a few choreographed siva Samoa numbers to the delight of us and the other few guests that were there. After a hurried discussion, the four of us decided to perform our little siva Samoa we had learned for the last night in Manunu and did it together to a different piece of music, but with success. Jim even jumped in and “choo choo” ed for us and beat his chest.

After this, we played a couple interesting games of pool before Emi and two visitors of hers drove up. Kelly and Jeff joined us for Kings in Lasela’s rooms.

In the morning, we ate pancakes and watched Twister on the TV overhead. Alli confessed her love for Bill Paxton. We spend a few confused moments figuring out the bill for the last night’s dinner, the lodging and this morning’s meal before Dana and I hurried to catch the last bus to Salelologa.

Just another day in Vaipu'a

December 15, 2009

Today I slept until eleven on accident and didn’t get around to do anything until very late in the day. I didn’t really do anything anyway. I went to the beach and met Tili, the Methodist pastor’s daughter who’s visiting from New Zealand, there. We had a nice long talk sitting in the shade about her boyfriend, my boyfriend (Adam B.) and heaps of other stuff. We stayed there for a few hours (which her mom tisked at me for later, psh whatever) and I got sunburned, the worst I’ve gotten since I’ve been here. Not the worse I’ve ever been or anything though.

Then I went home and sat under the water pipe outside to cool down, took a shower, Talava asked me for my dirty laundry. I gave her a few things but kept my really dirty stuff for me to do later. Before the Sa, we went for a walk down to a house that’s far from the road on the north side and played a game of volleyball with some kids. We had some small fresh fish and rice for dinner. After dinner we joked around and looked at my language book a little bit. Foni did some balancing trick with a beer bottle, a fork, a spoon and a very small stick. I took one of the small sticks and made pegs for my wooden earrings and poked them through my lobes, to everyone’s astonishment. Earrings really make a difference. They make you feel like a girl, even when you are sweaty and dirty and your skin looks like an old catchers’ mitt.

We took a walk down to Asi’s house again because the Methodist Youth group was busy practicing for a play they were going to perform this Friday. All the girls wore puletasis and Loli Tui was there leading the songs. It was very much like the plays I’ve seen in Samoa so far. All with a Bible story or moral lesson attached. There are choir songs and group dances, a couple key actors for the story. The main character is the sinner and he or she comes to weep and pray to Jesus to forgive them for what they did. Jesus forgives and the choir sings a triumphant song. The end.

We sat around, the pastor’s daughters, my host sisters and I for a bit. Not talking about anything really interesting at all, but leaving at midnight.

Tomorrow, I’m going to get up at a decent hour and have a long busy day. I WILL visit every house tomorrow!! Well, at least every house on the main road.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More on Vaipu'a

This morning, I had hoped to take the new Peace Corps bike, gleaming black and still smelling of new rubber, for a spin on the main road before school while the sun had not yet realized it’s full heat. Alas, I was disappointed to wake up and hear the pattering of rain on the torso sized fan leaves outside my room. The sound was soothing though, that I quickly forgot about the bike and slipped back into a comfortable slumber. Around nine, I finally drug myself to the bathroom to freshen up and eat a hot bowl of oatmeal (which I had brought with me from Apia of course) and a cup of tea. My family marvels at me when I proceed to drink the stuff without any sugar added and I love it.

I decided to go with just a ie lavalava and a polo shirt to school, since the day before everyone had worn casual clothes and I alone hot boxed myself in a polyester puletasi. It was a short meeting with only myself, Senerita, her baby, Fili and Loli. I proceeded to try and fill out some information on the school for the Peace Corps contact form. I was amused but not surprised to discover there was no phone and no address save “Vaipua Primary School, Vaipua, Savaii” and the same went for my house.

Next, I sketched another improved version of the Vaipu’a map and included what families had water tanks. The map was cleaner and more legible this time, with a legend and everything. Fili and Senerita enjoyed looking over the map and showing me houses or important landmarks, like the piece of long cement walkway that sits on the grass where the matai sit during Sa to make sure everyone is inside and praying. We started talking about some things in Vaipu’a that they thought should be addressed. I, of course, brought up the rubbish issue along the cliff wall again.

The cliff wall spans along Vaipu’a and the neighboring villages to each side behind the houses on the north side of the road. Most families in Samoa tend to throw their garbage behind their house, dig a hole and bury it, burn it or feed it to dogs and pigs. The families that live on the north side of the road, by habit, throw their lapisi (rubbish) behind them and so it litters the walkway of the cliff and all down on the beach amongst the trees. Other than the walkway and right under the cliff stuck in the trees, the beach is pristine and hidden. The only garbage pick up is once a month and there are no bins or community dumpsters where people can put their garbage, what exists now are two tall thin table-like fixtures along the road that people put bags of trash on top of. Not many people use them though because dogs and cats tend to get at them and rip them open, leaving the trash sprawled all over the nice clean front lawns.

So, in light of all this, the project proposal I am currently devising will include a call to the garbage company in Savaii, the building of two or three rubbish bins that animals cannot get into. To jumpstart the Vaipu’a cleanup project, a group of youth and children will go one day to the cliff side and pick up all the trash. Finally, to keep things sustainable, the matai council will pass a village rule that any rubbish should be kept within the home or disposed of in the rubbish bins or by burning or composting. If any trash is found spilling out of people’s homes and into public walkways, roads or any shared environment a fine will be imposed. Of course, this is all in my head still. I have only discussed it with some teachers in the school, Tuaia actually brought it up to the committee. When I brought it up with Foni tonight at the dinner table, he seemed excited “Yes, I thought a cement stair on the cliff is a good idea. Just, I don’t know how to build something like that thing.”

We also talked gardens both at the school and at the dinner table later. Foni was all ready to jump on the idea and asked me if I would take a look at a plot in the yard that he thought might have tillable soil. He pointed to a piece of broken fence with chicken wire on it and said “We can use the wire there on the fence and make new fence for the garden”. It’s so exciting to have a positive and ready response to these small projects!

After school, the most AMAZING thing happened! Tuaia didn’t come to school for the informal meeting with her fala to weave like she said she was going to, so Senerita invited me over to her house to weave with her mother-in-law. Having nothing better to do and realizing that I had better start meeting all the families in town, I went along gladly.

We walked up the hill inland past a few houses until we reached her western inspired fale where there was a smiling, moustached man reading an enormous tattered book, a young lady breast feeding a baby, a few toddler boys running around without pants and a plump big-haired woman weaving a fine mat.

I was readily welcomed by all and took a seat in a wooden chair, grabbed my fala coil out of my bag, unwrapped the ties holding it together and started pulling long dry leaves out. When I did this, a chatter in the house erupted and Senerita translated. “Whose fala leaves are those?” and I replied “They’re mine, of course” and smiled slyly. When translated back, there was much more happy discussion about where it came from, whether or not I knew how to make a fala, when I had done it before, what I wanted to make and so on as I started weaving the corner of my mat, to everyone’s surprise and delight.

Thirty minutes of bending over crossed legs on the floor is my limit, so I stood up to stretch and remembered that Senerita had mentioned a couple days before that she had a laptop that she didn't know how to use. I brought it up and the laptop was brought to me in a bulky black carrying case. I took it out and dusted it off, it was a thick old Dell. It turned on with the normal Windows welcome sound, showed the account page, opened to a nice flowery screen saver and I found that it was running Windows XP and had Microsoft Office 2007 on it. She kept asking questions like “Is it a good computer?” over my shoulder as I explored the applications and programs installed and when I commented on a particular feature she would ask again “Is that good?”. I opened up Microsoft Word and started typing a couple sentences. Everyone was gathered around at this point and they whispered to each other on the speed. I showed Senerita how to use the built in cursor and where to place her fingers on the keyboard. From there, I directed her to change the font, the size, the color and the placement of the sentence “My name is Senerita.” and she was so happy to find out how these small features worked. She really wanted to know if the laptop would connect to the printer in the school office, to which I responded that it very well might, but we would need a cord to connect them and the installation cd that came with the printer. I gave her 10 sentences to practice typing with fingers resting on ASDF and JKL;.

Not having seen anybody in Samoa reading a book besides the Bible or religious pamphlets, I assumed the antique book the tattooed moustache man was reading was one or the other, but I asked anyway “O le a le tusi lale?”(What’s that book there?). Senerita replied for him saying it was a book of Samoan old stories. There was a shocked pause as I took this in. Then I shot up from where I was weaving and strode over to his side asking if I could see the book for a moment. Upon inspecting the outside binding, I saw it was Kramer’s Volume 1 of Samoan folktales! The same book that I had started reading in HP’s office a few days prior, the book that wasn’t allowed out of the office because of it’s cost, rarity and value. I couldn’t believe my eyes and exclaimed “Hey! I know this book! Wow! I can’t believe you have it!” and proceeded to launch into my interests in Samoan folklore.

As it turns out, the moustached man is an alii (a high chief) and a very well known orator in Samoa. Out of twenty or so famous oral historians in Samoa, there are four on Savaii island and he is one of them (the other three are in Neiafu, Iva and some other village I can’t remember. His ancestry links him to the famous story of Mount Vaia. The story goes that before fighting in an epic battle, this man called Vaia entered a cave and grew to gigantic proportions, after the fight, he laid down to rest and became Mount Vaia, which they say looks like the profile of a man lying down. His familiarity and delivery of countless folktales is constantly sought after and he even goes to Apia to meet with a council of orators Monday through Thursday every week.

Senerita went on to translate how he wanted to make a book of his stories and sell it to New Zealand or abroad. I immediately volunteered to help with the making of this book or DVD, since that was exactly what I had in mind for my personal folklore project. We arranged that we would record the stories, 5 at a time, in a natural setting and in natural Samoan dress every so often. I would then put these videos on my computer, edit them as best I could and finally burn a DVD of the finished copy. Anticipating future expenses, I mentioned that all they would have to supply me with would be blank DVDs and the containers to put them in. But my labor and technical skill would be gladly for free. They tried to offer some percentage of profits from the DVD that I immediately declined, saying that it was for educational purposes.

We ended the day with more weaving, songs performed with guitar accompaniment by Loli, the moustached man, and a nice cold niu. They offered the use of their refrigerator to me to store vegetables and fruits for the week knowing, by the coconut wireless no doubt, that I was concerned with not being able to keep the vegetables fresh for a whole week without a refrigerator at my house. So nice! Oh, and I named their hitherto nameless kitten Smeigle and they actually knew who I was referring to from the movie Lord of the Rings and started using the name right away. Right when I got home, I told Foni about it and asked why the family didn’t have a cat and he said “Well, because there are no kittens!” and when I asked if I could keep my own kitten if there were kittens around, he told me “Absolutely!”

How to do the laundry in Samoa. Throw into an old paint bucket, add water and laundry detergent from the pipe outside, pump with fists and swish around violently, ring out and hang on a wire attached to two trees. Underwear and bras dry on the wire in my room.

The Big Move to Vaipu'a

After a gruesome sleepless night due to a mysterious malady of the right ear (think swollen on the inside, tender to the touch, throbbing with pain if you tried to lie on it and imagine yourself unable to lie down at all because of the pressure that goes to your head) I was up and at ‘em at 5:30, bags already packed and grateful for an excuse to just give up on sleep altogether and move on to the next day. An exciting day! At 6am, our taxi vans were promptly leaving to take the new Group 82 Savaii volunteers to their sites, for GOOD! That means ALL of our belongings and the new things acquired during the Manunu days, not to mention our medical kits, cumbersome water filters and our mountain bikes and subsequent gear. I ended up with one enormous suitcase, one gigantic duffel bag, one small pot-bellied Jansport backpack, a mountain bike, a black plastic bag full of bike accessories, a medical kit, an awkward water filter cardboard box,  a woven rug, a roll of dried coconut leaves the size of a bicycle tire,  a red adidas duffel straining against it’s seams,  a fluffy king sized pillow and two bulging carry-ons.

The van ride there was quiet, save for some random-ness Alli and I thought worthy to comment on. For example, there was a sticker on the side of the van seat that said “In case of an emergency, pull the lever to fold down the seat”. We couldn’t quite think of anything that would constitute an emergency inside a taxi van and more than that, what good would folding your seat down possibly do? Alli got a text from Casey that she had left her green sports bra back at the Pacifika. Anyway, it was uneventful.

Unloaded the van at the wafu (wharf), grabbed some Arrowhead Crackers as per usual, Benj took my bulging carry-ons to the Peace Corps vehicle when I was sinking under their weight and so I gave him the finest meat bun a tala fifty could buy. Boarded the ferry, there was a group of New Zealand raised Samoan junior high school girls who were playing clapping games non-stop, laughing, screaming and being obnoxious. The lady next to me breast fed her baby and the guy in front of me kept sneaking looks at her.

We walked off the ferry and into Salelolonga, a half a block or so up the street, past where the buses leave from and to the left into the drive way of a small unmarked business were Fata (our assistant Peace Corps director, Savaii support staff, a graying, thin, approachable and purposeful guy) Rosie, and a pile of trucks manned by unfamiliar faces. Except one, I notice excitedly! I hop over to Telefoni, grab his outstretched hand for a shake and pull him in for a side hug. “Happy Birthday!” I say and he starts a little in surprise “Oh, you remember huh? Thank you very much.” he says in a hushed voice. I introduce him to the other Peace Corps standing around and say where they are going. He was really only interested in Maka since he’s going to Asau, Foni’s home village.

We unloaded the flatbed, threw everything in our respective vehicles, exchanged a few hurried hugs and “see you soon”s before setting off. Foni and the guy who owned the nice truck we borrowed, Eli, asked if I needed to do some shopping. I really didn’t at the moment, so I asked if we could only stop at the Westpac ATM, thinking of how I would be needing to pay my month’s family contribution of 250 tala at some point. I took out 300, leaving me with only 300 left. Well, I probably have more like 500 to last me the rest of December, which is only 3 weeks and my food is all included. I just need money to go to Salelologa and use the internet and have a beer every other weekend, and of course that New Years party that we’re planning to have is coming up as well. Everything should be within budget.

Eli threw us hurdling up and around the tar-paved main road that goes around Savaii island and at one point I had to say, with faked laughter, “Eli, what’s the big hurry?” and he slows down a bit, but not before my red adidas duffel back straining against it’s seams flies out the back of the car and bounces along the road and into the bushes. Honestly I didn't’ even know what had happened until we were suddenly backing up, the music had been turned off and both Foni and Eli seemed to turn serious. My initial reaction was “What was in that bag?” and then I thought, only my sketch book, a bunch of tampons, a water bottle, some markers and other things of little consequence. Beyond a doubt, it’s the best thing that could have fallen from the truck, but I was liking how this turn of events had changed the demeanor of the two so suddenly. There were lots of apologies, a good ten minutes of rearranging and checking and re-checking the security of my belongings. The first 20 minutes of the ride, I was with sunglasses trying to get a little bit of shuteye while being bombarded every few minutes with rapid-fire k-language Samoan that I couldn't’ understand a bit, even more frustrating is that both of them spoke fine English, they were just testing me. After the bag incident,  the joking stopped. * smug look *

We arrived, unpacked and threw everything in the long room. I did not anticipate such a large table to be added to the furniture, but I was certainly glad of it. The bed was moved around from it’s nice tucked-away place in the far right corner, instead it was against the long wall opposite the door, a terrible use of the room space. Realizing that now, before all my things exploded everywhere, I should and had to paint,, I reluctantly started taking out brushes, tape and masking the edges of the door and moving away the nice fala mats from near the wall where they might be dripped on.

There was an impressive inscription on one of the walls that was done in permanent marker reading: “God will give me strength” and “Praise be to our Lord, who through Him we can do all things” and other little ditties like that. The color for the wall I had chosen though was not dark enough to cover something like that, so it was time for a scrub brush and to just scour that puppy right off. It was a little strange to be scratching away at the word “LORD”, making it slowly disappear. Somewhat sacrilegious don’t you think, or at least blasphemous. We got it off after an hour or so, painted a former dirty abused wall and turned it into a clean warm tan color, that perfectly matched both the flowery curtains and the interesting purplish colored fala mats all over the ground.

I brought up the money issue with Foni at the lunch table over palusami and taro. I just wanted it over with so I started out “Telefoni, let’s talk about money. Peace Corps has given me 250 tala per month to contribute to the family in order to pay for the electricity, water, food and supplies I use. I could either give you the full 250 tala and tell you all the things I need to be eating every day, or I can give you half of the money and I can use the other half for my own food shopping to supplement what food you normally serve, or I’m open to other suggestions.” He nodded throughout this and replied satisfied “How about you give us half and tell us what you like, take the other half and buy the food you like too. If that doesn’t work out well, we can change the arrangement any time you like.” Perfect, I handed over 150 tala and told them I love vegetables, fruit, taro and niu. I don’t need rice or bread or palagi food. I’m not super into meat, except fish. I don’t eat a lot of sweets or processed foods. Keep in mind that these are all lies, but in Samoa meat equals fatty on the bone mutton and turkey tails unless it’s fresh fish or chicken (with all the fat and bones), processed foods equal cheese curls and ramen, sweets equals ice cream, donuts, sweet breads, etc. So although these categories are all things I love in the States, I want to stay away from them in Samoa, so I made it known from the start.

We went for a swim after that down the cliff, I met a nice 19 year old girl who had been chilllin at my house with Talava (my “mom” or older sister, depending on how old you think she is), named Yupi. She’s quite and has no expression in her face whatsoever, but is interested, kind and offered to show me around to the youth group, to her family and to help me if I needed anything or if I had any questions.

I leant out my goggles and snorkel to Mei and Solomona, the phrase “pick your battles” rung in my head before agreeing, knowing that later I would be saying a lot of “no”s to them. About the computer, the bike, hanging in my room, etc. I met my older younger sister, who’s 16 or so and much quieter than Mei. So quiet I can’t even remember her name at the moment.

After swimming there was a brief volleyball game where I had the opportunity to meet a few young men from the village (don’t worry, nothing struck my interest especially, or at all) but it was so bright, you couldn’t really see, so we headed back home. Mei climbed a tree and plucked a ripe mango out of someone’s yard and Solomona had collected a popo (coconut) from the beach and so I ate both things as a snack when I got home and couldn't have felt more naturally hungry and healthily fed.

The room made great strides after that. Foni put in a bar for me to hang my tasi’s and other clothes on. I set up the silly water filter (I’ll be drinking way more water here than in Manunu, I’m sure because it’s the only thing here is to drink here, much better for you anyway besides niu, which would be my first choice) put away books, clothes, electronics. Gave my pots, pans and knives to Talava to her great excitement. She even lifted the pan to her head and tilted forward in the formal grateful gesture.

Well it’s dark in my room and the moonlight is spilling in, my ear is starting to hurt, so it’s time for 600 mgs of Ibuprofen before a well deserved rest. Fa!

Training Comes to a Close

The last week of training was filled with language refreshers to prepare us for the LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) that was to happen on Friday. Most of us were fairly confident we could surpass the required “Intermediate Low” mark and so, slacked off most of the week. Throwing around the football outside the hall, but mostly inside barely missing breaking the windows several times. We would pick a category, something like “Words for Male Genitalia”,  and play catch with the football, everyone saying in turn one word. I believe  “Purple headed yogurt slinger” was said at one point, which was amazing. We did everything but study. The only thing I think I learned during the last week of training was how to form sentences beginning with “can”, “should” and “must”.

Alli couldn’t wait a day longer to get out of her suffocating Mormon pastor father (“He’s like the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk!” – Alli after coming home one night from watching LOST at my house a little after her “curfew” of 10. He sat in the dark in the kitchen area tearing into some taro, crunching bones, gnashing teeth and grunting inaudibly with his mouth full…did I mention he was sitting alone in the dark?) I, on the other hand, was a bit sad to leave my family. They have been so good to me, not only have they extended every courtesy and responded to any need I might have had, they also embraced me as a member of the family. Joking, watching movies together, laughing at each other, playing volleyball, making fala’s with Pulusila, helping each other with homework, giving me rides to school when it was raining, and above all, understanding when I didn’t want to go to church because “I just don’t understand anything they’re saying…it’s boring” and letting me stay home and cook with my older brothers. Fantastic.

The much anticipated Friday went really fast, I was with Manu last and he asked me some crazy discussion type questions that weren’t in the study guide, which I struggled through with my limited Samoan. He asked me things like “What do you hope to accomplish in the Samoan schools?” and “You are at a store, you’ve eaten some chocolate and some ice cream but have just realized that you forgot your wallet. Explain the situation to the store clerk and arrange for later payment”. The school question, I explained that I would teach new methods (Manu kept having to supply the word “method” to me) of teaching, like not hitting kids or sending them out to pull weeds when they’re bad because MESC is against the first one and because the second one is not contusive to learning (no I didn’t use the word contusive in Samoan). It seemed to do the trick, at least for him, because Fale divulged to me later during a cigarette break that he had decided to give me an Intermediate High!

There was only an hour to run home, get changed into our matching blue tases (82’s slang for puletasi created by Kaeleni of course) after the final last minute dance practice. Oh yeah, that was a bit of drama I didn't mention in the entry before. Half of us wanted to finish the girl’s siva instead of stopping after two versus, two choruses, but the smaller half wanted to just leave it as is. We ended up leaving it as is and after all like Niko said in his brief salute to Group 82  “All of the things that stress you out now, will be completely meaningless soon (when you are in your sites)”

The night was exhausting. All of us showed up in the matching puletasis and looked really good! It was fun to see everyone’s own design (Corina’s mom’s interpretation of it anyway) and to have a feeling of solidarity as well. Well done. The girls siva was awesome, no major flaws. The boys siva was jumpy, slapping, yelling and oiled up bodies. The sasa dance (slapping of the knees to a wild drum) was AWFUL, a complete disaster. Terry, who practiced with us before with the drum, decided to try a whole new beat and we couldn’t tell when to come in or do the next set of moves, so the clapping wasn’t together, the slapping was helter skelter and finally Su’a sat in front of us to try and lead us through the rest of the song and he forgot a move and was off beat also. J The Manunuans got a kick out of it though.

We did the choir song again, Corina and Su’a did their little song also, but the highlight was Su’a, Terry and Joe dressing in drag with lipstick and all and doing a choreographed dance to “Mama Mia” during which a couple of mothers from Manunu got up and danced/fought with them, throwing in kicks, hiking up their ie lava lavas and doing the funky chicken…it was something else.

Next day, we loaded the bus at 7am but not before we were presented with a bunch of roasted piglets and their charbroiled mother by all the matais and given a great epic speech by the village tulafale. I got a great picture from where I was sitting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another Thanksgiving

Saturday, we had our second language assessment in the morning, where we went around individually to all the trainers and did a role play demonstrating our ability to Find a Bus, Shop at a Store and Greet and Take Leave in Samoan. It was only irritating because it was in the morning on a Saturday, the only day we can sleep in usually and my host parents had invited me to come with them to Apia and I had to say “no”.

Well after that charade was over, Alli and I went to the mini store in Manunu and bought a “lolly chain”, I’m not sure what it’s really called, but it’s a necklace that's made of either plastic wrap or thin mesh with goodies wrapped inside and sectioned off by colorful ribbons. One of these necklaces, to my amazement, had two bags of Grandma’s cookies in them. Chocolate chip and Double chocolate, you have got to be kidding me. So we bought and consumed them with much pleasure at Kaeleni’s house, where Alli borrowed a skirt and I borrowed some mascara. Kaeleni is pretty much the only one in our group of 16 girls who has preserved some semblance of girly-ness. She still wears makeup and paints her nails and wears cute clothes, even when the rest of us have given up on shaving, let alone make up, bless her. Since we were going to Apia later that day to a Thanksgiving party at the house of an Embassy official, we were getting a little excited about the dress up potential of the occasion and busted out the mascara and knee length skirts (oh, scandal!).

When I was cajoling Kaelini’s mom into making me a skirt with an elastic waist band, instead of the standard wrap around, tie and pray it doesn’t fall off when you stride too wide, I got a phone call from a really long number, it was Aya from Japan!! What an amazing surprise!! I had mailed her a couple things and called her once and left a message from Apia and hadn’t heard from her so the correspondence was expected, but not in call-form! No Japanese would come to me,  just a bunch of “Manaias” and “O a o mea nai fais” I really need to make it a point to hang around some JAIKA volunteers and practice while I’m here, or I’m going to irretrievably lose the ability to speak the language.

When the bus reached Apia, we were told we would have an hour to shop at the market before having to get to the party. But a few of us turned up to the bus late, we had to make a stop at the hotel for some of us to pick up things from storage and with all of us having to withdraw money from the one working ATM, by the time we got to the market, we only had 20 minutes. Alli was able to buy the candy, cookies and brownies for Sana’s birthday, which we had all pitched in for. I found a volleyball, which I wanted to buy for my host brothers, miraculously in the store next door for only nine tala.

The Embassy worker’s house was incredible. Beautifully western and Martha Stewart in every way, there were high ceilings, framed pictures and paintings, matching bed sets, and furniture, comfortable couches, a full kitchen with spotless surfaces and all the appliances and best of all, 3 tables and a kitchen counter stacked with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, casseroles, mac and cheese, pies, rolls, beans, chips, dip. There was beer and wine and a football game coming in loud and clear and in color on the TV in the living room. Dan probably really cried at some point during the evening from overwhelming happiness. We stuffed ourselves, drank and swam or just kicked our legs in the huge swimming pool out back while enjoying the view of the ocean and all the green coconut trees and mountains surrounding it.

We filled the bus and rubbed our satisfied bellies all the way back to Manunu. Only 364 more days until the next Thanksgiving feast at the Embassy.

Culture Day and Thanksgiving

We gathered at 7 in the morning at the trainer’s fale with supplies for the feast in tow. We had all received a note from HP to deliver to our families with the items we were to bring for “Culture Day” written out in Samoan. On my list read: one coconut tree branch, two s (shorn coconuts), two taro, two taro leaves and either one fish or one cleaned uncooked chicken. My tina had everything tucked into a woven coconut leaf basket, everything except the tree branch, which had to be carried.

All the volunteers walked through the open field in the middle of the village with their coconut branches balancing on their shoulders, the long green leaves sticking out everywhere and the length of the thing dragging on both sides of the volunteer. Most had a relative with them, a brother, sister or mother carrying their woven basket of food alongside them.

Once we were gathered completed at Manu’s house, we were separated into two groups. The majority of the women would stay and prepare the cocoa-esi (cocoa and papaya soup) to be served to the matai of the village in the “ghost fale”. It’s not really called the “ghost fale”, but since a few of us were told that the fale was rarely used because it was built on top of old graves and that there had been frequent ghost sightings, the volunteers just started calling it that. The men would travel out to the taro plantation and collect firewood, large leaves for the umu (the Samoan oven) and unshorn coconuts. Since there were only four men in our group able to go, one of which was recovering from a basketball injury, a few of us girls were chosen to join them.

Corina, Lili, Alli and I went to the plantation. It was a thirty-minute walk from the trainer’s house to the cleared patch in the jungle with identical stout fan-like leaves popping out of the ground attached to green and white thick stalks. Fighting swarms of mosquitoes all the while, we split up into three groups. One group went to chop down tree branches for firewood, another group were to gather fallen coconuts, and we were to find smaller branches to attach and carry coconuts with. We must have been quite a site to see swatting away mosquitoes and hacking awkwardly at tree branches with machetes. Where to stand, how to hold the machete, not knowing these in addition to how best to cut the branch so it didn’t take an hour to finish. The trainers who went with us were patient and cautioned us not to swing the machete to wildly, as there was a chance of it flying out of your hand and chopping a piece of your nearby comrades.

Soon we were all laden down with large pieces of wood on our shoulders or thinner pieces with coconuts tied to each end and we made the trek back through the jungle, across the small bridge over the dried up stream and back to the training house.

The group that stayed had bowls of cocoa esi (cocoa and papaya sweet soup dish) ready for the matai and by the time we had been cheered and had unloaded our baggage we were carrying trays of the chocolate papaya soup to the “ghost fale” to serve the awaiting matai. As soon as they had  been served, the servers were able to grab a bowl for themselves and enjoy the hot liquid before returning to Manu’s.

Next were the preparations for the umu. There were several stations around the outside kitchen fale that volunteers could rotate around to and try out. One station was gutting and stuffing a dead piglet with coals and leaves, another was husking coconuts with sharpened sticks, another was ripping apart dead chickens to throw into a gigantic soup tureen,  another was scraping and peeling taro and breadfruit using old tin cans. Needless to say, the piglet stuffing and the chicken ripping I avoided but I got the hand of husking the coconuts and peeling the taro. Those of us who sat around scraping the taro and breadfruit started playing a game where one player would imagine a person that everyone knew and the rest of the group would try to guess who it was by asking questions like “if they were a shoe, what would they be”, “if they were a genre of music, what would they be?” or “if they were an animal, what would they be?”

When all the ingredients had been finished, they were piled on top of hot rocks inside the kitchen, along with the smoking stuffed pig. Large leaves were layered on top of the taro, whole fish wrapped individually in leaves, the breadfruit and the pig to keep the heat in and create an oven effect. We wove plates and baskets out of the huge palm leaves that we had all brought to serve the food in.  Dan commented in mock distress that his career as a basket weaver would continue to be just a dream as he struggled to braid the long green leaves.

While the food cooked, we gathered for an Ava ceremony in the “ghost fale”.

Matt was voted the tulafale (orator) for our group, and Kyle got to be the Ava runner. The matais talked over each other for about 10 minutes and each made a short speech before Matt began to call out the recipients of the Ava, in order of status. The real village tulafale was whispering what to say to Matt, and he was doing his best bless him, but the Samoans had a few good laughs when he changed something like “honored person” to “my wife” or when he botched a Samoan name. I guess a year or two before, the volunteer that was chosen to do the orating for the Ava ceremony ended up calling someone an asshole on accident. Samoans have a great sense of humor though, and just laughed their heads off.

By the time the Ava ceremony was finished, the food inside the umu was ready. We drew titles out of a bag, and our roles during the meal were decided. I had a food preparer title along with the majority of the other volunteers, Leah got the high chief title, some other people got matai titles and these volunteers got to go to the ghost fale and be waited on, Leah first.

We went back to uncover the piglet and the taro, breadfruit and pulusami (coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves) from under the leaves. The chicken soup was also ready and myself and most of the other volunteers who had drawn food runner positions out of the bag took bowls of chicken soup, with the chicken feet sticking straight out of the bowl talons red and curled in protest, and a plate with pieces of the roast piglet, taro, breadfruit and pulusami. I was in the front of the line and had the best plate, one with two chicken talons, and the foot of the piglet and Leah having pulled “high chief” out of the bag was the first to be served. I quickly looked back at the plates Dana was carrying behind me and whispered urgently, here you go ahead and serve Leah first. The second person to be served was the faifeau, Alli’s dad. So he got the plate with all the feet on it, an extra good plate I was told.

The food runners sat in front of those who were eating and fanned their plates to keep away the flies and just watched while they ate. I’ve been in the opposite position several times, as a Peace Corps and a guest, I’m always sitting with matais when in a group or near the head of the table with my folks at home and the kids or other younger members of the community fan my plate, so it was a nice change of pace to be the server and the fanner. I especially got a kick out of fanning my host dad. He’s so funny and humble and he’s always laughing and cracking jokes, I think he was a little bemused to have me sitting there subordinate to him.

After we servers cleared and went back to the kitchen to grab a plate and eat our fill, we sat around in a circle with our Thanksgiving Day meals, each saying in turn what they were thankful for. Most of us said something similar, about how we were thankful for each other for how great our host families are, etc. What everyone said was so touching and the meal was so welcome after all the work we put into it, and the fact that we were eating together outside of our own country with the Samoans who welcomed and taught us their way of life, it really felt like the first Thanksgiving (or how we romanticize it was anyway).

But the amazing day doesn’t end there, after the feast we handed out strawberry and banana ice cream cones to all the ladies that helped with the preparing and the cooking. It started pouring rain and we had all planned on playing ultimate Frisbee or some other sports. But instead of resigning to our houses, I went and grabbed the baseball equipment from the trainer’s fale and a handful of us walked out into the rain carrying the bases, mits, balls and bats. Once we got the field set up, others joined us out in the rain and the game began. I haven’t gotten the impression that baseball is incredibly popular here nor have I seen any Samoans play baseball, most likely because it takes a lot of gear to put together a game and I feel like Samoans prefer games that allow the most opportunities for everyone to play, games like rugby and volleyball especially. But, as could have been predicted, the Samoans who came to play with us were naturally talented. They hit every ball and sped around the bases, knocking into the other team mercilessly. The grass was so wet and everyone was soaked, so there was a lot of sliding and slipping accidentally when trying to round the bases. It was SO fun. I slid into third where Alli was manning on the opposite team a few times, once knocking her over with me. Sua, one of our trainers, slid on his belly into third once. Another time Dan slid into second and knocked Sua over, who fell on top of him.

We played a couple games of volleyball before having to practice our song for the Saoluafata church choir contest that was Sunday, we were chosen by Manunu to represent and somehow, when I got frustrated and took over Sua’s conducting, which wasn’t quite making sense to us, I ended up conducting the choir the entire time. With the help of Lasela and Corina, who both have quite a bit of choir and musical performance experience, we added dynamics and worked on harmony parts and warm ups with our group and really turned ourselves into a decent choir! But that will be Sunday’s journal entry.

Happy Thanksgiving from Samoa!!

Family Photo!

Vaipu'a Women's Committee

Reaching the Last Waterfall on the River Fale Trip

River Fale Trip


Mother's Day Skit