Monday, October 29, 2007

New Names

I think I mentioned in passing that we were all given new Sāmoan names. I figured I would give you the run down. Most of them are pretty straight forward, but some of them are a little strange.

Sara: Sela, say-lah
(The Sāmoan alphabet contains all the letters to spell my name, but the “R” is an adopted letter that wasn’t in the original alphabet. Also, this is the name they use for Sarah in the Bible.)

Cale: Tēvita, tāy-vee-tah
(Since Cale is David on all the official paperwork that is the name they were working with when they picked his Sāmoan name.)

Gal: Kale, kal-lay

Rosie: Rosalina, rose-ah-leenah

Lissa: Lisa, lee-sah

Hanna: ‘Ane, ah-nay

John: Ione, ee-oh-nay

Michael: Mikaele, mee-kah-el-lay

Matt: Mataio, mah-tie-oh

Ryan: Lene, lay-nay
(That is one of the weird ones that doesn’t really make sense when compared to his palangi nam)

Aaron: ‘Alo, ah-low

Erik: ‘Eli, el-lee

Max: Masi, mah-see
(Which happens to be Sāmoan for biscuit, so we all find it hilarious)

— Sara

Water Safety

Our class on water safety had us loading up in the Peace Corps van (oh, a van we have come to know and love so well) and heading out to Aggie Gray’s resort where we met up with this guy who runs trips and cruises on his catamaran sailboat off the dock. He was either German or Swiss, I cannot remember, and in my mind looks like an all-grown-up version the kid from that Brooke Shield’s movie set in a lagoon or something.

Anyway, he gave us an hour-long presentation on things to be on the look out for when in the waters of Sāmoa and some strategies to use if we ever found ourselves in trouble. He talked about rip currents, reef safety and all sorts of animals in the waters.

When we he was done, we all loaded on to his boat and headed out to the reef where we were going to snorkel for about half an hour. I got in the water and realized immediately that I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to make it from where the boat was anchored to the area of the reef that they were snorkeling in much less swim around there and then make it back. So I hung out around the boat and swam around a little and looked around with the snorkel and mask. I wasn’t alone. Rosie cannot swim at all, so she stuck around the boat. So did Lissa, our medical officer Teuila, our safety and security officer Fono and one of the current Peace Corps volunteers. I am horrible and forgot her name, but she volunteers in the marine science field and works for a marine NGO called Meti.

I will see if I can get Cale to put up a description of what he saw out at the reef.

Then it was back on the boat, back to shore, back in the van and back to Apia Central. We were late getting back to the hotel, so the originally scheduled language tutorials were cancelled for that night.

Obviously, I am behind on posting, I have a couple more written and some more to write, I will post them as soon as I can, but this is all I have time for today.

— Sara

Friday, October 19, 2007

We knew this would be hard work, but this is ridiculous

I know I promised White Sunday, beaches and snorkeling to you the last time I posted, but I might not get to the snorkeling today. Things are busy (that's pisi fa'asāmoa) here right now. Tomorrow is the beginning of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps in
Sāmoa. We are taking part in the activities and Groups 1 and 2 are in town for the celebration. (Frame of reference, we are Group 79). Also, this will be the last post or communication for at least a week. Saturday we leave for our host village and will be there for a week.

Without further ado, here is White Sunday and the beach.

We were very lucky to experience White Sunday so early in our Peace Corps service. Usually the group of volunteers that comes to country in October comes a week later than we did and misses White Sunday. They have to wait an entire year of service before it comes around.

White Sunday is a holiday for the children. Kids are not treated or viewed the same in
Sāmoa as they are in the States. Age had great value in Sāmoan culture. We have been told that the older volunteers will have an easier time simply because they have grey hair. Usually children serve their parents, when families eat in shifts, it is the children that eat second. However, on White Sunday, the kids are pampered. They are treated to new clothes and are served first at the meals. They also prepare pageants weeks ahead of time to put on at church.

We attended the church service at our Safety and Security director Fono's church. He arranged ahead of time so that they knew we were coming and that families would be prepared to take us to their homes for dinner. The service was a little over 2 hours long and it was mostly taken up with song. The children sang quite a few tunes we recognized (though in
Sāmoan) like the Deep and Wide song (there's a fountain flowing deep and wide) and Amazing Grace. We actually sang as well. It was a little awkward, but we muddled through.

After the service we sort of lined up like puppies in a window and families picked out the volunteer they wanted to take home for dinner. Cale and I went together to one family. The granddaughter spoke good English, but the matriarch had very little English and we spent most of our time with her. It was an interesting mix of our bad (non-existent)
Sāmoan and her English. For dinner there was chicken and pork and taro and steak (sort of Salisbury like steak) and a beef stew AND raw fish in coconut milk. Which I ate, I would just like you to know.

It was an interesting experience. We had a good time, but it was a little awkward with the language barrier. Also, they were very proper around us since we were guests. I think that they would have been more relaxed had they known us better...and the other way around, I am sure as well.

Monday was also part of the White Sunday holiday, so we took the day off of classes to have a "cultural experience," aka going to the beach. The girls had to be reminded before hand that they must keep covered. I had my suit on under a lavalava and a t-shirt. We could see other women, even
Sāmoan women, wearing more scantily clad clothes and even a bikini or two on young girls. However, as Pisikoa, we want to set a good example and live by the modesty levels that are acceptable in the village and not in Apia or the more touristy areas.

I promise to write about the "water safety," aka snorkeling as soon as I can, but the Internet cafe is closing soon and I still have homework to complete. Next time you hear from me I will be back from a week in the village.

— Sara

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Welcome Ava Ceremony

Last we checked in with our intrepid duo they had made it safely to Sāmoa, but the adventure was just beginning.

After a nap and a shower, we got our first taste of our
Sāmoan training with an introduction to the ava ceremony that was held to welcome us to Sāmoa. I cannot even begin to explain the intricacies of this event. Needless to say, it is a very important, traditional event, full of meaning. Unfortunately, I was only able to experience the most simple of surface aspects.

The ava (a drink made from the roots of a local plant with some alcohol-like properties) was mixed by Sharon, the Peace Corps Medical and Safety secretary and was served in a ceremonial fashion by Kevin to all the volunteers and the senior Peace Corps officials. In a traditional ceremony hosts sit on one side and the visitors on the other with their matai (chiefs) facing each other. The PC officials were the hosts and we were the visitors, with Jackie, the associate PC director for village-based development, sitting in our matai position. Current volunteers acted as the guards around Sharon.

Many welcoming speeches were made, some in English, but most in
Sāmoan. I could tell that many specific, ceremonial things were occurring. Hopefully, when I know more Sāmoan, I can understand the next time I have the opportunity.

After the ceremony, we were given a lunch of chicken and fish and taro and a stew of sorts.

After lunch I had my first humbling and overwhelming experience with the
Sāmoan language. We broke up into groups and were given a list of stock expressions that are good to know, including:

Hello: Tālofa
Thank you: Fa'afetai
Where is the bathroom: 'O fea le faletā'ele
I'm sick: 'Ua 'ou ma'i

and many, many more.

It had the feeling of being thrown into the deep end.

I would like to take a moment to give a shout out to our language trainers, who are simply amazing.

Sa'u is the language coordinator and a matai with a title, which is Sa'u. When people are matai, they often are called by their title.

Leata, who I have been learning from, is like a mother figure. I think I speak for the other younger girls in the group when I say I have a special affinity for her. She has been working for the PC since 1987.

Onofia is also a matai. He is a Tulafale or orator and has worked for the PC for a decade. Cale would like to note that he is awesome as well.

Setu is the youngest language trainer and Cale has had the chance to work with him one-on-one. He has been with the PC since 2003.

After having my mind blown with the language session it was time to talk money. We are given a set amount of living allowance for food while we are in Apia Central. The PC is also opening accounts for us at a local bank, where our monthly living allowances will be deposited after we go to our posts.

Then HP escorted us all to dinner at Georgie's, a pizza place down the street. It was where we first discovered that there isn't a practice of tipping in

Finally, I went back to the room at around 7 pm and crashed.

The next three days were full days of training. A typical day includes four classes and two tea times. Classes include:

Medical and health
Safety and security
Life and work

Friday we also started our vaccinations. I had a sore arm the next day.

Next post I will tell you about White Sunday (an important holiday we participated in), our cultural experience (aka trip to the beach) and our water safety lesson (aka snorkeling at the reef).


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More Pictures

If you want to see pictures of us leaving for L.A. check out Cale's mom's Flickr starting here.

Did You Think We Fell of the Planet?

Today is day six in Sāmoa and it already feels like a lifetime. We have learned so much during that time and the lessons have been going non-stop. It is a lot like being in college again — if college was outside, during the summer and you were in class all day.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Jen and Michael, our staging trainers, saw us off to the airport on Tuesday night around 7 p.m. Erik and Gal were our group leaders. They made sure we all made it where we needed to be, that we all had our tickets and passports and we all got on the plane.

Wait, did I fail to mention who is in our group? There are thirteen of us. Four are vocational trainers: Cale, Aaron, Michael (not the staging trainer, another Michael) and John the Welder. Seven IT teachers: Me, Lissa, Gal, Max, Erik, Ryan, and Matt. One inclusive education teacher (that is Sāmoan for special needs): Rosie. And one veterinarian: Hanna. Of course, once we got to Sāmoa we all got new Sāmoan names, but I can talk about those later.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah, on a plane to Sāmoa. International flight economy seats are slightly better than regular economy seats. They are a little larger, lay back a smidget farther and the headrest doesn’t kick my head forward the way the ones on regular planes do. I wanted so desperately to sleep on the plane, and I did for a couple of short bouts, but nothing like I wanted. Cale mentions that Gal, on the other hand, slept like a pro. He was out five minutes after takeoff and slept straight through to landing.

The food on the flight was a trip. Dinner was the choice of a beef stew with spinach and mushrooms or chicken with ratatouille and pasta. I had the chicken. Not the best choice. We also had a nice bean salad and a raspberry chocolate cake. I should mention it was probably around 12 a.m. when we were having “dinner.” They also came around with water and soft drinks, of course, but also complimentary wine, beers, coffee, tea, etc.

I slept fitfully and watched the first in-flight movie without sound. It appeared to be about a girl whose soccer star brother dies and she decided to join the boys’ soccer team in his place.

Then it was breakfast. This was probably at 7 or 8 a.m. L.A. time (I didn’t really check), so it could be called breakfast. That was a ham and cheese croissant with orange juice and yogurt. Side note, I like yogurt. Who knew? It could just be the particular brand of yogurt on the plane, or it could just be that I liked it all this time and didn’t know. I always thought I hated yogurt.

Getting off the plane was pretty exciting. It is one of those down a flight of stairs, on to the tarmac kind of deals. Just before we landed it felt like they had cranked the A/C on the plane and when we got off, it was quite humid outside. My glasses and my camera lens actually fogged up.

We went through customs with no major troubles. And met HP and Kevin for the first time at the baggage claim.

HP is in charge of Volunteer training in Sāmoa. He was born and raised in Sāmoa and has been working for the Peace Corps for ten years. Kevin was a Volunteer in Sāmoa in 2000, which is where he met his wife. She is a pālagi (if I am spelling that right), which basically means foreigner. She is actually the product of two Peace Corps volunteers. He has worked for the Peace Corps in Sāmoa for three years.

Once we got our bags we were met outside the terminal by several current volunteers and other staff members. Then it was off on the bus to Apia where we would be staying in the Apia Central Hotel.

Now you may be thinking to yourself at this point, jeeze this post is getting long, she must be done for the day. Not even close. We had a full day of classes once we got to the hotel. However, to keep from boring you to death and because Cale is out playing cards right now and I want to join in, I am going to stop here for now.

Tune in next time when I tell you about our welcome 'ava ceremony and the delicious chicken schnitzel sandwich I had at an espresso bar down the street.

— Sara

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Staging in L.A.: Day 2

Today we talked about coping with unwanted attention.

"Being in the Peace Corps is the closest I've been to being a rock star."

"What goes along with it is a responsibility to be a good role model...because you are the instant pop star."

We talked a lot about how integrating into the community is key to so many elements being a successful volunteer. Something we talked a lot about was managing risks and being safe and secure while in Samoa. Apparently the most common times for a volunteer to experience a situation is during the first three months, when they know nothing and during the last three months, when they think they know everything.

We were given skills and ideas on how to work on crossing cultures. The first step to integrating is being aware of one's own culture. We also talked about listening and observing, learning from interacting, being able to communicate in the language and respecting the other culture.

I am sorry this post is so disjointed. I am just trying to get it all in before we leave for the airport.

One thing that our trainer Jenn said really stuck with me. She quoted something someone said to her when she was in Paraguay working on a project to build a library that was not completed while she was there.

"You may never see the fruits of your labor, but we learned more from the process...this is what we got out of it, Jenn, not just the library."

And now, some facts:

There are 51 volunteers currently in Samoa (I was wrong yesterday)
51% are men.
88% are single.
The average age is 33 and the oldest volunteer is 66.
We are part of the capacity building initiative. The other initiative is village-based development. Seven of us are information technology volunteers (that is me), four of us are technical or vocational instructors (that is cale), one is a veterinarian and one is a teacher trainer.

Finally, a fun fact:

The Peace Corps has rules about tipping. We were given specific amounts to tip the house keepers at the hotel, bellmen, skycaps. Etc.

— Sara

Nobody Told Me There Was Going to Be a Test

First day of staging in LA we learned about the history of the Peace Corps, but only after having failed to know almost anything already. I would have studied if I had known, I promise.

The Peace Corps was born Sept. 22, 1961 with the signing of the Peace Corps Act. It has gone through some changes over the years. Currently there are about 7,000 volunteers in 73 countries. There are 56 volunteers in Samoa right now. Over the course of PC's 46 years about 180,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries.

We talked a lot about any anxieties or aspirations we have and discussed why the PC approach to development is distinctive.

Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best of leaders, when the work is done, the task completed, the people will say, "We have done it ourselves."

There is a lot more to write about, but I only have so much time. I would post a picture, but the wireless connection at the hotel is very slow.

More when I can.

— Sara

Monday, October 8, 2007

FYI: Cellphones

Our cell phones will no longer work after tomorrow, Oct. 9th. Just to give everyone a heads up.



We are in L.A.

We got up at 4:30 am (Indy time) to make it to the airport with plenty of time and we just got out of training 15 minutes ago at 6:30 (L.A. times). For those of you doing math that means we have been awake for 17 hours.

Staging has been going very well. We are a small group of 13 heading to Samoa tomorrow.

I will try to have details when (if) I have time.

I know I am also behind on filling you in on the trip to Bristol, seeing Cale's brother in Bloomington and our going away cookout. I will do what I can for you as soon as possible.

— Sara

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two Weeks Without Driving Cont.

Saturday we went futon shopping with my parents. Mom was looking for something to put in the office so that it could be used for guests. Up until this point they hadn't needed it, but they knew that soon Cale's mom would be in town and Marian would be down from school. Cale and I had already taken over Marian's old room, so more sleeping space was needed. We also went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick out some pillows for the new futon. I was able to pick out some pillows in a style that Mom would like! We have totally different taste, but I found something that I knew she would like, that I also thought was nice.

Sunday we had dinner with the Richards to celebrate Colin and Taryn's wedding. I actually already posted the pictures for that in my last Two Weeks Without Driving post.

Monday we spent the day hanging out with Dad. He gets more vacation days in a year than he can take with Mom, since Mom isn't able to take all her vacation days. So he usually takes Monday's off as the year comes to a close. We went to Staples and had lunch and whatnot.

Tuesday was Spa Day, which you have already heard all about.

Wednesday we went with my mom to the Holiday Park nature center and ran some errands and had lunch together at Union Jacks.

That night we had dinner at Cale's Aunt Donn and Uncle Brad's place. Now before you become confused. Donn and Brad are brother and sister. They lived with Cale's stepdad, and their brother, Jeff before he died. They still live in the house and we went over to see them. Donn cooked up some delicious pizza and cookies from Papa Murphy's. Brad got a fire going out front on the driveway and we sat around forever talking. I think we were at their house for more than six hours for dinner. Cale's cousin Billy came by and was telling us all about this great surprise trip to Florida he had planned for his girlfriends birthday.

Thursday it was dinner with the neighbors, which you also already know about.

Friday we hung out with friends at Lockerbie's near downtown on Mass Ave. I won my third game of darts ever. Apparently, I am better if I have a beer in me.

And Saturday Colin and Taryn had a cookout for us at their house. Taryn made truly delicious Italian beef, or beer meat as we were calling it. And she had cupcakes with Dora the Explorer on them, since we are going on an adventure. In true form, we all showed up at random times. Cale and I were there around 2 or 3 pm. Conor came maybe an hour later. A couple hours after that Jason came by and then finally, Rob. We called and harassed Rob enough that he was probably sick of hearing from us.

And that was the end of our two weeks without driving, which I should clarify means we didn't travel anywhere, we did drive to the store and stuff.

Next up was our trip to Bristol to see my grandparents and aunts and uncles. More on that later.

— Sara


So, you tell people you are leaving for Samoa for two years and they sure have a lot of questions.

Most of them are pretty straight forward.
What will you be doing there?
Teaching woodworking and basic computer skills.
Where exactly is Samoa?
In between Hawaii and New Zealand.
Can I come with you?
Not right now, but you can visit later.

Some people get into details.
How big are the islands? The two islands have a total land area is about 1,200 sq miles.
What is the population? The 2001 census puts the population at 177,000
What sort of industry do they have over there? According to Lonely Planet, 75% of the population is supported by sustenance farming and 30% of the workforce is employed by the government. Cale and I had read elsewhere that there is a lot of tuna canning in the South Pacific islands, but I am not sure how much there is in Samoa.

And some people ask tougher questions.
What made you decide to join the Peace Corps? This is a long-winded answer that basically comes down to we wanted to be more interesting people and we want to do more good.
What are you gonna do when you get back? Really? You want to know what we are gonna do when we get back? We haven't even got there yet, settle down.
It's getting close, are you nervous? Excited?

That is the question that I have been thinking a lot about lately. Usually my answer is it's not real yet. Which isn't 100% true. It is real. It is hard to quit your job, sell all of your belongings, travel homeless all over the country without it being a little real. But it is impossible for me to wrap my head around how I feel or how I should feel because I am doing something that I have no past reference for.

I keep checking for the feeling I would get in my chest the night before Christmas when I was a kid, then I would know I was excited. And I keep checking for the feeling that I got in my stomach my first couple of days on the job in Orlando when I wasn't sure if I could even do the job, then I would know I was nervous. I keep thinking that things will be more real when I actually get on a plane.

I have decided that whether or not I am nervous or excited yet, I am a little stressed. I have the tendency to become a little shorter with people and a little more anal about my attention to detail. Most likely because I feel a little like the situation is out of my control and I want to try to control what little details I can. I started thinking about this last night after our going away cookout (more details on that to come). I was worried that I was very short with my mom and maybe a little mean. I hate that just days before I leave for two years, the stress of that is causing me to be short with my mom. My goal today (our last day before we leave) is to let the stress go and be patient and agreeable. I want to head out on a good note.

— Sara

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Corrections and Clarifications

The cell phone number for Cale's mom is incorrect on the contact sheet. If you received a contact sheet before Oct. 6, please drop us a line and we will give you the correct number.

— Sara

Friday, October 5, 2007

Two Weeks Without Driving

On our first night back in Indy we hung out around a bonfire at Rob and Jason’s with Colin and Taryn. We got to see Smack again after he had been living there for two weeks. Smack was doing really well and he had wormed his way into the good graces of Rob and Jason. I think that Rob is already hatching plans to kidnap Smack and go into hiding when we get back from Samoa so we cannot take him back.

Saturday we were back on the road again, heading to Lafayette to visit Marian at school. Unfortunately, Mom had done a little work on me Friday night to help with my alignment troubles and something that she had done was actually making me feel worse. I was a little irritable and headachey from my back pain. Plus we walked all over campus to get to lunch. Well, it felt like all over campus, it probably wasn't really that far.

Marian seemed like she was doing well, if a very busy. She is taking at least 18 credit hours and working two part-time jobs. She has decided she wants to be a personal trainer and she is spending A LOT of time at the gym. One of her jobs is walking professors. I know, it sounds a little like walking a dog, but apparently it is for motivation or something. She leads group walks around the track. I wonder if it is possible for someone to be too healthy? She and her roommate even have a motivational message on their dorm room door: “Don’t worry, ugly, lonely people skip working out too.”

Tuesday we took Smack for his yearly vet visit. We went to the Broad Ripple Animal Clinic because that is where Teresa’s boyfriend, Mike, works. They were great and Smack did really well. The vet did take note of Smack’s snaggle tooth. It has been that way for a while now, one of the front canines is broken off at the tip. The vet didn't seem to think there was any problem with it at this time, but wanted to make sure that we keep an eye on it. He brought up the possibility of a kitty root canal, since those canines are very important teeth and he would hate to pull it if something did go wrong. In my mind, a kitty root canal sounds pretty expensive and as much as I love Smack…if something goes wrong with that tooth, they can just pull that puppy.

Wednesday we went out for sushi with Colin and Taryn and they had some very exciting news. They are getting married. Colin asked while they were on vacation in Maine for the Labor Day weekend. It was kind of a funny scene. You could tell that Taryn really wanted to tell us, but she didn't want to be the one to do it since Colin and Cale are basically brothers. So there was a little prodding.

“Colin has a secret to tell you.”

Followed by much blushing and head ducking and generally being bashful on Colin’s part. Which for me, is something I have never seem Colin do before. I figured it had to be something embarrassing and he was holding out long enough that we offered up a few guesses — including that he had taken up ballet. But finally, the announcement came.

“Well, I could, possibly, be getting married.”

“Congratulations! Wait, possibly? You’re not sure?”

No, he was sure. Taryn had said yes and there was a ring to admire and sake glasses (well…and my water glass) were clinked.

It is possible that Colin is just not good at telling people about his engagement. About a week later, we were there when he got a chance to tell Rob and Jason. We were all sitting outside and someone was saying something about a ring, which Colin took as his opening.

“Speaking of rings, can tungsten be hammered out to a bigger size?” was his way of announcing the engagement.

To be continued...


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Coming Home

I think I speak for both Cale and I when I say we consider Indy home. It is strange because I have lived away from Indy almost as long as I lived there. Eight years away versus 11 years there.
My parents have moved since the last time I was in Indy, so it isn't even like I was heading back to the house I grew up in. But seeing the skyline of downtown Indy still makes me feel like I have come home.

I like Mom and Dad's new house a lot. I think that really makes it is the trees. There is just something about a neighborhood with tree coverage. It doesn't feel as barren as the old neighborhood.

Dad's had the landscapers out putting in grass and mulch in the front yard and we helped haul a huge load of mulch back to the backyard. My parents still have a lot of things planned for the house. Mom actually wants to totally redo the kitchen at some point.

It seems like a great place to have a party and tomorrow we will test it out with our going away party.

— Sara

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On the Road Again

Sunday we went to Bristol to visit my grandparents. Today we are in Bloomington visiting Cale's brother (Eric and Amber and their kids Ivan and Jack). Thursday we will head back to Ramsey to return Cale's mom's Jeep.


Monday, October 1, 2007


I finally got the pictures of Milton shoeing Lloyd's horse sorted and edited and toned. They are up on Flickr now.

— Sara