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
Sāmoa.

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
Language
Cross-cultural
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).

—Sara

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