It's a Samoan pub.

October 9, 2006: The beginning of my adventure in the Peace Corps. I've been invited to serve as an Information and Communication Techonology volunteer to teach computer skills in Samoa. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not in any way reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government, or the country of Samoa.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Living in Siumu

I’ve finally moved into my house and school has begun. Well, it’s officially begun but I haven’t been really teaching yet. I think that is going to happen next week. This first week the students signed up for classes, had singing practice, and started their basic classes like English, History, and Maths (and yes, I meant to add the s at the end).
The house is great and it's nice to finally be able to unpack my things after three months of moving between hotels and the training village. My house is on a family's compound and for now I've been using their bathroom facilities but they've said that the school will build me my own as well as a shower off my house. Not exactly sure when this is supposed to happen but I'm looking forward to it. Until then I've been sharing and taking bucket showers and I'm actually really getting used to it. Luckily I have my own refridgerator and stove and have been trying to cook meals for myself. My host family, having very low confidence in my cooking abilities, still sends meals over to my house every day.

How to Take a Bucket Shower:
Bucket showers definitely have their benefits. For one as you always get the water to use beforehand it’s much harder for you to waste water (something I think my dad would greatly appreciate). First you need to get a bucket of water from the nearest working tap. This could be available on your family’s compound, there could also be a tap on your neighbor's property and you could always get water from the village pool if there is one. (A pool in the village is a closed area of clean fresh water that can be used for bathing in). Once you've got your bucket you find a nice preferibly enclosed place. If one is not available you could always shower with a lavalava wrapped around you. Using a small bowl or cup you can then dump water over yourself, taking time to lather up and shampoo your hair and then using the remaining water to rinse.

How to Get from Here to There:
There are basically five basic means of transportation (not including the ferry it takes to travel between Upolu and Savai'i).
1. Walk
Highly under rated but not always the best solution for long distances

2. Bicycle
Each volunteer was issued a bicycle upon swearing-in which make us all stand out gloriously as we are the only ones in the entire country who wear helmets (Peace Corps requirement). Very good for traveling between villages to see other volunteers or for getting around Apia

3. Hitchhike
Keep in mind that hitchhiking in Samoa is not the same as hitchhiking in the states. We’re still careful but it is definitely a more common means of travel. Nice for long distances when paying for a taxi or riding a bus is not desirable

4. Bus
Cheap but can get very packed, in which case people generally sit on each others’ laps for the duration of the ride

5. Taxi
Can get pricy when going long distances but sometimes can be worth it (A ride across Apia is only a few Tala and a ride across the island is at least fifty but consider the fact that fifty Tala is about 20USD and if you go in a group it’s not that bad.)

How to Get Internet Access:
A few of the schools across the country have internet access and even some volunteers have internet at their sites but sadly I do not. So, how does a volunteer in my situation get access to the internet? There are two ways, both of which are in Apia. There’s always the internet cafes which really aren’t that expensive and can be found all around the city. There’s even one that’s open on Sundays. Secondly, there’s the Peace Corps office, which along with providing numerous resources for teaching and study, also has two volunteer computers. These computers have internet twice a day everyday (from 9am-11am and then again from 4pm-6pm) and like the good children that we are, all of the volunteers who are in the office at the time share.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Samoan Holiday

On December 23, after a rather interesting cab ride that involved a superfluous thirty-minute scenic tour, I arrived in Ma’asina to spend Christmas with my host family. There is a lot of evidence of American holiday traditions in the capital, Santas and the like, but in the village the holiday is centered on its religious origin. On Christmas Eve we attended church twice. One regular Sunday mass in the morning and then a Christmas mass in the evening. The best part of Christmas mass was our transportation. The villages around Fagaloa Bay are all rather small and there is only one Catholic pastor that is shared amongst multiple villages. When Sunday mass is held in Ma’asina, the church is right next door to my host family’s house but on some Sundays we need to travel to a different village to go to church. We either catch a ride in the back of somebody’s pickup truck or we just walk. On Christmas Eve morning we used a truck to get to mass but in the evening a rather large Samoan bus pulled in front of our house. We, along with the rest of the Catholic population of our village, piled into this huge wooden bus. Children we seated on everyone’s laps and we clung to each other as we made our way to the church. The church was completely decked out, from mounds of golden coconuts to a crucifix adorned with flashing Christmas lights.

The children of Ma’asina have never heard of Santa Claus, there isn’t even a gift exchange on Christmas day. As Christmas fell on a Monday, people had work to do and still went out into the plantation and went about their daily routines. The absence of my usual Christmas traditions combined with the heat of the Samoan sun, it was easier to forget all that I was missing at home. Though some of the other volunteers and I had tried to inspire the Christmas spirit (watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, singing Christmas carols through the village on Christmas eve, having secret Santas) it just wasn’t the same and Christmas seemed to pass just like every other day.

After a few days back in Apia, I embarked on my New Year’s trip. The volunteers usually all plan to do something together for New Year’s and this year the party was to be on the beach in Falealupo. The greatest thing about this selection was the fact that Falealupo is on the far western tip of the island Savaii and is basically the last place on earth to see the coming of the new year. On the 29th, my friend Molly and I trekked to the village of our friend Maka (he always goes by his Samoan name), Papa Sataua. This involved an early morning bus ride, a couple hours on a ferry from Uplolu to Savaii, and finally an hour ride from the wharf to his village. At Maka’s house we waited for two other volunteers, Jordan and Lafi (also always goes by his Samoan name). The five of us hiked down to a private beach owned by Maka’s Matai (chief). It’s at least a mile away from any other civilization and we had it completely to ourselves. We spent the evening drinking rum from coconuts, sharing ava, and cooking hotdogs on the fire. That night we slept on lava lavas right on the beach. It was all so beautiful. I woke three times in the night, once to a big beautiful moon, once after the moon had set and there was nothing to see but stars, and the third time was when the sun was just starting to rise. In the morning we woke up freezing (when you spend every day sweating in the heat, you begin to relish in the rare occasions when you are actually cold) and had last night’s leftovers for breakfast (the remnants of Cajun trail mix and a few mustard and hot sauce sandwiches). We hiked back up to Maka’s house and from there managed to get all of our bags, a water purifier, an ava bucket, and the five of us to Falealupo on three bicycles.

In Falealupo, we stayed at the Beach Fales (fa-lays), which are small, raised, open wooden huts that are about the size of a large tent. For our set fee we got to stay in the fales for two nights (the 30th and the 31st) and were provided breakfast and dinner. About twenty-five volunteers showed up and we split up amongst the fales. The next three days were spent snorkeling, drinking, talking, and just chilling on the beautiful beach.

We celebrated each American New Year and at seven we partied on the beach as we watched the sun set on 2006. At midnight we ran to the water and swam around until we were too cold and tired to move.

On the morning of the first, people started to head back home but Molly, Maka, Lafi, Jordan, Aaron, and I decided to stay for an extra day. We chose to stay at a reduced fee, which meant that we would have to find our own food. After spending most of the day recuperating from the night before and snacking on the Ramen and leftovers we still had, Lafi and Jordan borrowed a spear from one of the villagers and went out into the water in search for dinner. When they returned with seven fish (six really, seven if you count Jordan’s butterfly fish) the rest of us went to the local store to buy rice and flour. We borrowed the kitchen from the beach staff and armed with coconuts, salt, and onions, set about making dinner. That night we feasted on a fish soup (fish boiled in fresh coconut cream and onions), hand-made tortillas, and rice. We used sugar to sweeten the butter we had for the tortillas and managed to procure soy sauce and a few limes to flavor the rice. We finished the evening with a bottle of wine under the full moon. On days like this we try to reflect on the fact that we are indeed in Peace Corps. Even though we have our share of hardships and inconveniences, life can be pretty sweet. The next morning, after breakfasting on cookies and tinned fish from the village store, we left Falealupo.