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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I’ve begun working and am currently the computer teacher (rather, entire computer department) at Palalaua College in Siumu.

Schools of Samoa

There are four basic types of schools in Samoa:

1. Primary School: Years 1 - 8

2. Secondary School: Years 9 - 12

3. College: Same as secondary schools but with Year 13 as well. To get into Year 13, students must achieve a SSC (Samoan School Certificate) in various subjects.

4. University: higher education; as far as I know, there are two universities in Samoa. To get into university, a student must get high scores on the PSSC (Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate) which is administered throughout the Pacific Region.

I teach both years 12 and 13 for now. Hopefully if we can get more computers for next year I can expand to the younger years and get them started earlier. Nearly every single student used a computer for the first time in my class. We started with the basics: this is a monitor, this is a keyboard, this is how you double click and right now we’re learning about Microsoft Word. The kids are determined learners and I have students come to my room every day during my free periods using the computer.

School Uniforms

All students are required to wear uniforms to school in Samoa. Our colors are white and turquoise. Everyone wears white short sleeved button-up shirts, the girls wear them with turquoise jumpers and the boys wear them with turquoise ie faitaga (tailored lavalavas with pockets). For boys hair is cut to a specific length and the girls are required to wear their hair in a braid; not just any braid, they must all look the same. When students get to school they put their shoes in their bags and only take them out again when they leave.

Though teachers don’t have to wear school colors, we still dress professionally. For male teachers at my school this means a nice button shirt and an ie faitaga. For female teachers, we wear puletasi (tailored two piece outfits) or a nice shirt and long skirt. We get to wear our shoes all day, inside and out.

Daily Schedule

There are six 50-minute periods on Mondays and Fridays; seven on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between the third and fourth period is Interval, when the school breaks for lunch. Teachers eat in the teacher house and the students are free to eat their lunch anywhere on the school compound.

Each day, the faculty is provided lunch by the students (the families of the students in the village take turns). Lunch begins with a prayer. We are given tea and plates heaped with food but you only need to eat until you are full. Samoan meals are always overabundant because people would never, ever want to be in a situation where they have not provided enough food (think Italian or Jewish mentality). The students serve the teachers and when we are done eating we are given bowls of water and towels to wash our hands (we only really use utensils when we’re eating soup). This is very typical of a Samoan meal, with the younger members of the family making sure that the elders are fed and taken care of first.

On Mondays, fifth and sixth period are devoted to singing practice and on Fridays, fifth and sixth are used for sports. On most Fridays, the boys play rugby and the girls play volleyball (though they sometimes play soccer). The students are allowed to change into t-shirts and shorts for those two periods.

School Supplies

The Ministry of Education provides school supplies to the students as well as to the teachers. Like the uniforms this allows each student to have an equal status. At the beginning of the year they get notebooks, pens, and rulers. We get all that along with tape and markers.

Student Structure

Students are responsible for the care of the school. Each morning before first period the students go around the school collecting rubbish and taking care of the yard. Our school lawn is mowed by a lawn mower leaving only the clippings that are raked up by hand but at the primary school next door, the grass is cut by the students with machetes. As the rooms are swept out by the students, it is their responsibility to bring brooms to school. On the first day, each student must bring a broom or a mat (there are not enough desks for every room so the mats are used to sit on). If one is not brought by the end of the first week, students are sent home to make one to bring in the next day. The different years take turns staying after school at the end of the day to tidy the rooms, clean the bathrooms, and straighten up the kitchen.

The students are governed by the teachers, the prefects, and the head boy and head girl. The prefects have inspections all the time to check the students’ appearances and detentions are given to those that don’t comply, those who show up to school late and those who act up in class. Detentions are often very practical, students will have to clean up the yard, weed or clean the bathrooms. If you’re thinking that this is beginning to sound like Harry Potter, you can thank the still-present influences of the British Empire that were gifted to Samoa via New Zealand.

So, What Do I Do Everyday…

I teach Year 12, trying to get them ready for the SSCs. They need to know Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access of course but they also need to know the basics of how a computer works.
Although my Year 13 students won’t be sitting for the PSSCs (their principal feels that they just won’t have the experience by then) I’m still teaching them the stuff covered by the exam in case individual students want to take it. For the rest, I want them to have a firm understanding of the basics and I want them to be more confidant when it comes to figuring things out on their own

I’m also holding lessons for the teachers, some of whom have never touched a computer before. Their lessons are very similar to the stuff that I’m teaching my students.

My lab currently has five computers: two that function on a regular basis, one that has issues I haven’t quite figured out yet, and two more that are awaiting new power supplies (that should arrive any day now). Running this lab has been my crash course in computer repair because if I don’t figure out what’s wrong with them, no one will. So, regardless as to how this whole effectiveness as a volunteer thing pans out, at least I’m learning more about hardware.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Samoan Food

I want you to keep in mind that if you are willing to pay for it you can get nearly anything you want to eat in Samoa. The stores sell tons of things, like cans of tuna fish, raisin bran, yogurt, granola, microwave popcorn, and M&Ms. There’s even a McDonald’s in Apia if you get the craving (believe me, when we first stepped into the Samoan airport and saw the huge poster advertising McDonald’s we all began to wonder if we were in the right place.) This entry, however, will only discuss the foods commonly consumed in the villages of Samoa.

Let us first talk about our available resources. There are numerous fish that can be found (both in the water and in cans from the store) as well as eels and shell fish. Samoa doesn’t have many land animals. In fact, there are only three species of mammal native to Samoa and all of them are types of bat. However, there are now cows, pigs, and chickens enough to go around (all imported a couple hundred years ago along with Christianity and pants). We have coconuts, of course, which find their way into numerous Samoan culinary creations through coconut cream. After a coconut is husked, using a sharp metal stake, and opened by being struck several times with a rock. The insides are then scraped out. When these scrapings are wrung out, they produce a cream. There are two types of coconut, the ripe coconut (niu) and the mature coconut (popo). The popo is used for making coconut cream and is the type of coconut that can be purchased in the States. The niu has a thinner, softer meat and is completely full of liquid. When this is opened, either a small hole is drilled in or only the very top is broken off so that it can be drunk.

Some other local vegetation used for cooking include mangos, papayas, bananas, breadfruit, and taro. There are also onions, pumpkins, tomatoes and pineapple.

A Few Local Foods (Baked foods are prepared in an umu, a traditional method of cooking. Ovens are rare but there are many camp stoves used for boiling.):

palusami - banana leaves filled with coconut cream and baked
fasipovi – beef
oka – raw fish with coconut cream
sea – sea cucumber
supo fa’i – banana soup
supo moa - chicken soup (sometimes with cabbage and pumpkin)

Taro and bananas are usually baked in coconut cream and breadfruit is just baked. We also have innumerable foreign delicacies like Ramen, turkey tail, mutton, canned corn beef, and special heat-treated milk from Australia that has a very long shelf life (which actually is really weird at first but is easy to get used to).