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.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Samoan Wildlife

Almost all mammals were brought to Samoa, with the exception of three different species of bat. There are no parrots or monkeys, a fact which still remains a major disappointment. There are, of course, cows, pigs, and chickens. There are also horses but they are only used as work horses to help carry crops and wood from the plantation (The families that live out in the village nearly all have a plantation. The word plantation probably brings up visions of cotton fields when in actuality it’s pretty much a piece of jungle. There are coconut trees, banana trees, taro plants, sugar cane, etc grow in large wild masses in back of the property. Girls typically never go to work in the plantation.) or bring materials to the next village. There are numerous species of birds, cats, fish, octopus, eels, lobster, giant clams, and so on. We’re lucky in that we don’t have many sharks or jelly fish and there are no poisonous spiders and no snakes.

So let’s discuss the interaction I have with animals (barring food) on a daily basis.

Wild Dogs

Though we have wild cats, it’s the wild dogs that are by far more impressive. The run around in motley packs claiming territory and fighting off other packs. In some places the dogs are pretty bad and we have to carry rocks with us. We also have to be careful biking past them when we’re riding bikes. I haven’t really been attacked by strange dogs yet but other people have.

My Dogs

Though it’s rare to ‘have pets’, many people keep dogs on the property and feed them. They are excellent for protection and I’ve even seen some that have been trained (trained/allowed) to herd the cattle. My host family has two dogs: Tiger, a dark sandy colored female, and Blackie, a long black haired male. They love it when I come out of my house at night (that’s usually when they’re awake) and they follow me around the compound.

Household Creepy Crawlies

Centipede bites hurt. Luckily I have not yet received one but I hear that they hurt. A lot. For days. The centipedes grow to about a foot in length and like to get into things like sheets and clothes lying on the floor. I once picked up my bag and one fell out. I very calmly and deftly smashed it into bits with my hammer. After leaving it on the floor for a good twenty minutes to make sure that it was indeed dead, I threw the pieces outside.

African Snails
An invasive species brought over on boats forever ago. The snails look awesome. Like everything else, they’re much larger than they should be. However, I’ve heard that they can carry meningitis and so decided that they must be killed. Never having tried the salt on the snail trick as a child, I thought, why not? and found it to be ideal (if you can get over the shrill sizzling noises that sounds awfully close to a miniscule scream). The snails curl up into their shells and die and you avoid the mess that would result from smashing them.

Yes, real bedbugs; tiny little bugs that bite you in your sleep. Can be taken care of by periodically leaving the mattress outside in the sun (harder to do in the rainy season) and spraying it down with bug spray.

Mosquitoes are everywhere. We wear bug repellent all the time and sleep either under a mosquito net or with a mosquito coil burning. Though there is no malaria in Samoa, there is dengue fever. You won’t die but it still sucks.

Spiders and Geckos
These two are always welcome in my house. Geckos poop everywhere and the spiders can be as large as my hand but they eat the mosquitoes.

Ants are pretty much ever present and if you leave any food out they will get into it. However, they don’t carry disease so they’re easy to live with. I usually spray around the house every so often to keep them in check.

The only things I really have issue with are the mice. And by mice I probably mean rats because these things are huge. I saw a picture of a Polynesian rat and it looks very similar to what I have but I shall call them mice because saying I have mice in my house is one thing, saying I have rats only seems to compound the problem. Sooner or later the mice will learn that you keep food in your house and will make attempts to move in. I have found it a constant battle. Luckily my host mother and I have joined forces in the fight to eradicate mice from the compound. We have been using poison and have recently expanded our tactics to include glue traps. For some time I’ve been frustrated because all of the poison was getting eaten and I was not seeing any of the fruits of my labor (though the fact that my house is not full of dead mice is probably a good thing). I’m sure the intruders had met their doom somewhere out in the plantation but there had been no confirmed kills. However, just this week, I came across a twitching mouse in the hallway of the main house. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I ran outside to tell my host mother: “Fiasiumu, we got one!” She quickly came around to the back of the house. I swept or rather used a broom to roll the mouse out behind the car port where she promptly threw a rock at its head. Sweet, sweet victory.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Service was supposed to start at nine so it was a good thing that Molly and I showed up at 7:30 because the service actually started at 8. Unsurprisingly Easter is a pretty big deal in Samoa (if you weren’t aware, it is a very Christian nation). I go to the Pentecostal church with my host brother every Sunday. For Easter, parishioners from each of the Pentecostal churches in Samoa all come together for five days of worship. I decided to go for Easter Sunday and Molly decided to come with me.

We showed up in Vaitele and were directed behind the church where about three hundred people (not everyone from every church could make it) were having breakfast. We got fed and then we all headed in and sat down for what proved to be a four hour service (completely in Samoan). It was great though, singing, dancing, and a communion of blessed sugar cookies and shots of kool-aid. The people from my village were ecstatic that I had showed up.

After the morning services was lunch. It is traditional on Sundays to have a large lunch and oh my, the amount of food: fried chicken, egg salad, seafood salad, beef salad, taro, yams, cake, cookies, and countless liters of ice cream. It must be awesome to be a kid on Easter, they got to run around with all their friends eating more ice cream and cookies than one would think physically possible. Afterwards there was a three hour break before evening mass.

It seemed that each congregation was being hosted by a family in the area. My congregation was all staying with a family in Vailoa so we made our way back via a few round trips of the Pastor’s van. When Molly and I arrived, there was my church, changed out of their morning church things into more comfortable clothes all sitting in and around a traditional fale [fa-lay] (open Samoan house) singing songs, taking naps, eating lunch leftovers. Their bags and things they had brought for the weekend were neatly piled against the inner sides and clothes were drying from lines in and out of the house. They all greeted us and drew us into the fale giving us pillows to sleep on. I have belonged to one church or another for eighteen years of my life but I have never felt the sense of community that I did in that moment.

At three thirty we headed back to Vaitele. Evening mass was another three hours with more singing, more dancing, presentations from different churches (they sang songs or danced traditional Samoan dances to represent their church), and emotional confessions/blessings. Afterwards was more food: fried chicken, pork, boiled bananas, sausage, beef salad, and niu. By this time Molly and I were exhausted, so my church brought us back to Vailoa and put us in a cab so we could go back to Molly’s place. They all waved and said goodnight, making sure that we had enjoyed ourselves and giving us a heap of left-over food to take with us in case we got hungry.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Of Late

I know that I post so rarely and for that I’m sorry guys. Things happen so quickly and it’s easy to get swept up in it. Thanks for those of you who check often! So here are a few things that have been taking over my life recently:

School Cs:

The Samoan School Certificates (SSC) are country wide exams for the Year 12 students. They try to get one for each of their subjects and need a certain amount to continue on to Year 13. They can only get into university if they get through the PSSC (region wide certificates) in Year 13 so if they don’t make it to Year 13 at all there is really no chance for them to get any higher education.

Let me take a minute to discuss this. Like many other countries, the number of universities in Samoa is extremely limited. There are two. Our school program is not as demanding as, say China or India, so these kids don’t really have opportunity elsewhere unless their families can afford to educate them early on overseas. There’s a lot of training programs (for secretarial work, the tourism industry, etc) so it’s not always either university or working on the family plantation for the rest of your life but still, I want these kids to succeed.

Alright, back to School Cs. Each SSC isn’t just an exam but consists of Internal Assessments that are taken throughout the year as well. For most subjects teachers get an IA outline that gives them a little leeway when it comes to selecting specifics. For Computer Studies (my subject) this is how it works: Throughout the year the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture (yeah, I know) sends me four different CATs (Common Assessment Tasks). Each one is an activity the kids must complete on the computer (on file management, word processing, spreadsheets, and databases). I receive the CAT in the mail, I administer it, I save the results of all my kids onto a single CD and then I send the CD and my marking sheets back to the MESC to get approved. The activity is basically a sheet of tasks (make a new folder, open notepad and type the following). In the third term, there is a final project. The teachers are allowed to select the project as long as it follows certain guidelines and is approved by the MESC. My proposal is going through the ministry right now. Some of the project examples are brochures, posters, invitations, anything really that allows them to combine text and graphics. The projects are collected and evaluated in the same way as the CATs. All four CATs and the major project are all International Assessment and make up most of the final SSC grade. The last part of the grade comes from the exam at the end of the year (external assessment). This is a written exam that covers everything from common errors to hardware functions.

As a first year teacher, this whole process is actually a bit daunting, especially considering:
1. I had no real idea how the School Cs worked beforehand and it has taken me until very recently to really understand the process. There is so much that people assume you know.
2. My kids have never touched a computer before they had my class and only know about them from TV and movies. Now they're expected to understand the interplay between the RAM, the CPU, and the hard drive that occurs when a document is being saved in word. Just imagine that you didn't have your lifetime of experience and were suddenly expected to learn EVERYTHING within the span of a school year when you only have a few hours a week if you're lucky.

They just sat the CAT1 on file management and what an adventure it was. Twenty-eight Year 12 students, five computers. The ministry suggests that each student be given around forty minutes to complete the task and that they all take it the same day so that they're all on equal ground. On the days I have my Year 12, I have them for an hour and forty minutes. I decide this can be done, we'll just spill into after school if we need to (I have them the last two periods of the day) and take turns. Oh wait, let's throw in a faulty computer that keeps freezing on the kids (that brings us down to four) and half-way through the exam, for kicks, let the power go out. Well, it all worked out in the end, sort of, and I dropped the stuff off at the ministry. File management (creating new folders, saving files into specific folders, moving or copying files from one folder to another) is a very difficult concept for my kids. They actually did better with hardware, mainly because that stuff can all be memorized. Some of these kids have never used actual folders before and the idea of copy/paste is so foreign that it needs to be revisited in class all the time. The kids are great though, simply awesome. They knew the first CAT had been hard for them and the next morning they came to my lab to ask me what would be next and how they should practice for it. I made up some Word activities and set them to work. They've been practicing every free period they have and have been asking to stay after school. The CAT isn't' for another three weeks. I'm amazed by them.

As for my Year 13 students, my principal decided that they shouldn't sit the PSSC for computer studies this year. They are at the same level as Year 12 and the PSSC is much harder so I agreed. I'm teaching them more practical stuff and I'm able to take my time with them.

My Host Family

My house is on a family's property. There are three people in my host family: my host parents Fiasiumu [Fee-ah-see-ooo-moo] (host mom) and Tagiao [Ta-ngee-ow] and my seventeen-year-old host brother Ulavale [Oo-la-va-lay]. When I first came into the Peace Corps I had never wanted to live with a host family but I could not be happier with mine. I have my own house and since there are no little kids, I have a lot of privacy. Plus, I get to make my own food (though I usually eat with them on Sundays after church) which helps (though sadly not too much) in making sure I'm getting enough nutrition. Not only is it safer to live with a family, but they can always tell when I've had a bad day and will usually have me come sit with them or make me food. I never considered before how amazingly good it is to have people to come home to when days are rough. They provide me with so much, like electricity, water, rides when I need them, and it is Samoan culture to give back so I try to help them in any way I can. I help my host mom get materials for the preschool she runs in the house, I help my host brother figure things out on his computer or simply give him homework help. I'm also always on hand if they can't figure out something with their TV, VCR, or DVD player (access to a DVD player, another host family bonus).

Peace Corps in General

Emotions run extremely high in the Peace Corps. There are days spent in the depths of despair as you try to resolve what purpose you serve here. There often isn't a lot of appreciation. Leaving family and friends to fly to the other side of the world just to help only to encounter certain people that treat you like they don't want you here is emotionally tumultuous. There are days though when things just seem to work, you successfully proposed a new project, your students finally understand the concept you've been explaining and reexplaining or you even have a moment where you feel you've been accepted, you feel like you belong. You have to find the good things amid the bad and savor them because they are the reason you came in the first place.