Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Boil Watch 2008

Monday, 22 December: Small, tender lump in right armpit. Sara manages to scare Cale by having her back to him with arm up in air and asking him to come feel this lump. He recommends women never assume the breast cancer check pose and ask their husbands to feel a lump unless they actually have a lump in their breast. He requests verbal preparation while male party is still in the other room for any group lump detection activities. A simple, "Hey, look at my armpit" or "What's this in my armpit?" would suffice.

Tuesday, 23 December: Lump is now red and visible. Two other infected hair follicles visible on the same arm. Call Medical Officer to make appointment for next day. Apply warm compress with microwave wash cloth in zip-lock bag. Is not cutting it.

Wednesday, 24 December: Lump is obviously a boil. See medical officer and get to experience traffic in Apia on Christmas Eve (outrageous, all rental cars in the country are out, this is not exaggeration, it is verified fact) while driving to chemist to pick up Bactroban and hot water bottle. Go home, apply warm compress and Bactroban. Discover it is very tricky to apply warm compress to armpit. Much easier when boils are on butt, can simply sit on hot water bottle. Sara takes her last shower for several days. Armpit is now so swollen arm must be held up in air at all times.

Thursday, 25 December: Armpit is now extremely swollen and extremely painful. Sara will not be able to put her arm down at her side again for the foreseeable future. Elaborate arm propping and warm compress applying towel, pillow and stuffed "footy" (football) towers are constructed to keep arm elevated and boil warm. Benefits of keeping horrible, painful, ugly boils warm are questioned. Medical science is questioned. Only locatable course of action for boils is warm compress. What the heck is warm compress? Doctors can do heart transplants and make monkeys move mechanical arms with their minds, cannot offer any solution to boils other than keep it nice and warm, maybe knit it a sweater. 

Friday, 26 December: Sara sits in a chair and cries. Shoulder hurts from keeping arm up. Bicep hurts from keeping arm up. Hips and back hurt from fitful sleeping on piss-poor mattress in uncomfortable position because she cannot put arm down at side or in other useful positions. Oh, and hideous, red angry boil hurts a great deal as well. Unable to stand it anymore, boil is poked with sterilized safety pin. Green and brown gooey pus pumps out of hole like someone turned a faucet on. It is incredibly disgusting and incredibly awesome. Sara experiences limited relief as pressure decreases. Sara and Cale switch bedrooms in housesitting house to one with firmer mattress. Sara sort of sleeps. Begin boil drainage every four hours.

Saturday, 27 December: Boil continues to pump out goo. Sara feels "better" (not really better, but better in comparison). Cale goes out with friends. Sara feels nauseated and briefly has low-grad fever (maybe, these one time plastic thermometers in medical kit are confusing. Diagram explaining how to read results requires degree in rocket science). Sara eats, nausea goes away as does fever. Feels better enough to spend night toning pictures from Cale's mom's visit. Cale returns from night out with friends. Brings friends with him. Friend insists all will be healed if Sara tapes piece of salted bread to armpit. Skeptical Sara does not tape salted bread to armpit. Instead goes to bed. Wakes up to discover piece of salted bread left on kitchen counter over night.

Sunday, 28 December: Goo levels decrease, but boil is still swollen and obviously full. Sara convinced that access to scalpel would significantly help the boil goo removal process. Sara also mentioned chopping off entire arm as reasonable solution. Sara continually states her lack of credentials to be good prisoner of war. Would tell captors anything they want to know as long as they don't make her deal with pain for indeterminate amounts of time. Sara texts medical officer to share her scalpel idea (and apologizes for bothering her on Sunday). Medical officer has Sara come to office. Looks at boil. Recommends Sara see doctor on Monday to have it excised with use of local anesthetic. Sara is given antibiotics. Sara loves antibiotics. Sara showers for first time since Wednesday.

Monday, 29 December: Most awesome day ever. Sara filled with giddy sense of accomplishment and joy. Early morning goo drain reveals solid lump in boil. Sara yanks it out with tweezers. It is large. Three times larger than anything Cale pulled out of previous butt boils. Removal is painful. However, relief after removal is instantaneous and joyous. Sara calls medical officer to cancel doctor appointment. Spends rest of day fondly remembering giant solid goo removal and feels like person again. Does things people do. Lowers arm to something closer to side. Eats lunch with friend. Not cry all day. People things.

Tuesday, 30 December: With effort, can lower arm to side. However, left to its own devices, arm does not want to go all the way to side. Sara sleeps through night (with exception of early morning rooster that needs to die) for first time since Tuesday. Boil no longer gives off any goo and has been down graded from gauze taped to armpit, to simple covering of two Band-Aids. Sara does one armed-exercises in morning, considers doing other things than lay around house all day. This causes Cale great joy.

— Sara

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cale's Mom is Here: Week Three

Jane's in Manase, Samoa Tiny Planet

On the 15th we finally headed out for Savai'i. Rosie and Dylan spent the night and we all left the house around 6:30 am. As we waited by the side of the road to hail a taxi van to take us all the the office, Dylan glanced at his watch, "You'll never make the 8 o'clock boat." Cale and I were in agreement with him, we expected to make the 10 am boat. Little did we know.

By the time we hailed a taxi from the office, it was after 7 am. Then we had the taxi driver stop at Daphne's, a restaurant that was for some strange reason filled to the brim with pool floaties and inflatable swimming pools. We bought a pool lounge for the beach. Next stop was the ATM for some cash. Then we finally left town and headed to the wharf.

We are making good time heading to the wharf and at a little after 7:30 Cale looks at me and says in surprise, "I think we might make the 8 o'clock boat." I make sure to say loudly that it doesn't matter if we take the 10 am boat, so the cabbie doesn't think we are putting any pressure on him. Ten minutes out the cabbie switches on his four-ways (which means get out the way, I am in a hurry. If you have a string of two or three cars all with their flashers on and horns blowing you know that one of them contains a person that needs to get to the hospital) and floors it. We make it to the wharf by 7:58 and Cale tips the driver an extra $10.

Of course we were unprepared to actually make the 8 am boat and hadn't taken our seasickness medicine an hour before travel. Instead we take it immediately before getting on the boat. However, Cale and I manage to sleep through the journey and Annette appeared none the worse for wear.

Driving around Savai'i

Once in Savai'i we rented a car so we could drive around the island and see some of the things mentioned in the travel guides. I drove the car. For the first time in over a year, I drove a car. (In Peace Corps Samoa, you can drive a rental car if you are on a pre-approved vacation day, which I was). It was very empowering.

At the Tia Seu Ancient Mound

First stop was the Tia Seu Ancient Mound (aka the Pulemelei Mound). According to the brochure produced by the Samoan Tourism Authority:

"This stone 'pyramid' is the largest ancient structure in Polynesia, and stands more than 12m tall."

And that is all the information the brochure has on it. I think that is more information than the guy who took our money to see it has on it. I plan on making a future post on my thoughts on the state of the tourism industry in Samoan, but it is sufficient to say that I was greatly disappointed in all the tourist attractions we saw on our drive around the island. Basically, the way tourism works here is a the family that owns the land that the thing is on sets up a faleo'o (according to the dictionary this means ordinary dwelling house, but in my experience it means smaller, round fale with thatched roofs and wooden floors) by the road or entrance to the thing. Then several men lay in the fale all day playing suipi (I know I mentioned this card game earlier). When a palagi shows up, they collect the fee from you ($5-$10 tala or so) and point. End of service, end of information.

So anyway, we go to this mound. We pay our fee. We drive down a long, rutted, unpaved track in the jungle. We park in the "car park" (slightly larger track in the jungle off to the side and in the mud). Then we walk up the indicated path. The path is uphill and rocky. As it turns out the mound is also uphill and rocky, so that as I am walking up the path, I look up and realize, "Oh, this is the mound."

The mound is completely surrounded by jungle and also completely covered by jungle, but you can kind of make out that it is a roughly square two-level pile of rocks. The bottom level is larger than the top level. When you get to the top you have a decent view of the ocean.
According to the Lonely Planet:

"This large pyramid, measuring 61m by 50m at its base and rising in two tiers to a height of more than 12m, is almost squarely oriented with the compass directions ... standing on top of it, you can see south all the way to the ocean in one direction, while in the opposite direction trees are wrapped in enormous vines and other jungle foliage ... Samoan oral traditions imply that all ancient Polynesian monuments were used for pigeon snaring. However, given its similarity to religious structures in Central America ... archaeologists have difficulty believing this. The complexity of its design and the effort expended in its construction leads them to believe that it may have had a religious purpose, perhaps even a strategic one considering the sight-line of the coast."

On our drive back to Apia on Friday, we were lucky enough to catch a ride with a Peace Corps driver who told Cale's mom that it might have been used for human sacrifice. We are all pretty sure that he was just messing with her.

At the Afu Aau Falls

After the mound, we went to see the Afu Aau Falls, which according to the brochure:

"...this dramatic jungle waterfall crashes from the rainforest into a deep natural swimming pool."

According to the Lonely Planet, your admission to the falls is also for the mound as well. However, we had to pay separately for each. Rumor has it there is a dispute between the family whose land one is on and the family the other is on. The guides make it seem like you need a 4WD to get to the falls, but they must have made a new, easy path when the divided the two attractions because it was very easy to get the the falls. In fact, too easy. Our waterfall hike in Faleaseela was so satisfying party because we did all the work to see the waterfalls. For this one, we just drove the car right up to the edge of the pool, got out and where like, "Yep, that's a waterfall."

Apparently, you can swim in the crystal-clear, cool pool at the base of the falls. However, we did not. On the other hand, I did break out the bar of anti-bacterial soap we bought and wash my tattoo, as I was still trying to wash and massage it every two or three hours if I could (which I couldn't).

After this we continued our journey west on the south side of the island. Annette was reacting to the seasickness medication and being attacked by what Cale is calling violent fits of sleep. She was incapable of keeping her eyes open no matter how hard she tried. She will later claim we drugged her and then dragged her around the island. We did, but not in a malicious way.

We stopped at a resort along the way for lunch where we were charged $15 tala for a can of tuna and three slices of cheese.

At the Canopy Walk in the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve

Next it was on to the Canopy Walk, which thanks to the incredibly unuseful map in the toursim brochure we got lost trying to find, twice. Eventually we looked at the map in the Lonely Planet, which was more helpful and we were successful in locating it. The Canopy Walk is located in the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve. Falealupo is the western-most village in Savai'i and therefore the western-most piece of land before the International Dateline. The people of Falealupo see the last sunset of the day, everyday.

Anyway, according to the brochure, the Preserve is:

"A low-lying tropical forest in the northwest, the preserve is a beautiful spot with a tree-top canopy walkway that weaves among giant banyan trees. There are breathtaking views towards the summits of Savai'i and walking trails for visitors to enjoy."

This is sort of a lie. Here is a more accurate description:

"A low-lying tropical forest in the northwest, the preserve is a spot with a tree covered in a haphazard wooden structure connected to a self-standing, slightly-leaning wooden structure only 5 meters away by a fishnet, aluminum ladder and wooden plank 'bridge' that is only occasionally open to the public due to safety concerns. There are views and rumors of walking trails."

According to the Lonely Planet, the Canopy Walk is a prime attraction and for an additional $50 tala per person you can spend the night on the platform up the banyon tree. They claim you will be given a mattress and mosquito nets and the fee includes breakfast and dinner. It was our original plan to spend the night in the tree (something Annette was initially very excited about but at this point too doped up and sleepy to care). However, when we asked the old men sitting aimlessly in the faleo'o out front (who collected our entrance fee) about it, they all seemed to have no idea what we were talking about and eventually, we gave up.

At Jane's in Manase

After the disappointing tree experience, we decided to make haste to Jane's, the beach fales in Manase where we would spend the rest of the week. Within five minutes of arriving at Jane's we were already in better spirits. We proceeded to spend the next four days (with the exception of the drive back to the wharf on Tuesday to return the rental car) lazing about on the beach, reading books, taking naps, collecting all the shells in the ocean (that was Annette) and generally having a good time doing nothing.

The food wasn't quite as good this time as the last time. They are trying to cook more palagi foods, but unfortunately are under the impression that palagi love Spam. I think we only had two meals that did not include Spam. Other palagi attempts included the burrito that was made of a crepe with beef stir-fry inside and the omelette pregnant with Spam.

Friday was the day of travel. We started our wait for a bus outside Jane's at 9:15 am thinking there might be one at 9:30 for the 12 pm boat. There wasn't. So we waited until about 11:30 am. We arrived in town around 1 pm. Annette asked if that was a pretty full bus. Sure, there were people sitting on laps (I was sitting on Cale's) and there were two guys hanging out in the doorway of the bus rather than find a seat and the front of the bus was full of luggage and the aisle of the bus did contain rolled up mats and other luggage. However, we would have to call that bus only 3/4 full. Jim, who happened to be on the bus as well, concurred. He doesn't consider a bus full until someone is sitting on his lap or he has to stand in the aisle for the entire trip (palagi get special treatment on buses and things have to be pretty full before they cannot get a seat all to themselves).

Saturday Annette finished up her souvenir shopping.

In the Training Village

Sunday we went to the training village. We had previously arranged with the host family to have them pick us up in Apia on Sunday morning and drive us back to the village with them. However, when Cale called Sunday morning, they were already in the village. Instead we rented a car and because my vacation request had ended, Annette drove us out. We visited with the host family for about three hours. We were fed fish and breadfruit and turkey neck soup and herring mixed with coconut cream. Annette loved it all.

Turtle Pool

After we left the village we drove to see the turtle pond on Beach Road and then up the mountain to see the Baha'i Temple, one of only seven in the world (with an eighth already planned for Chile).

Baha'i Temple

Monday we tried to do as little as possible before we took Annette to the airport. We arrived at the airport at 9:50 pm, ten minutes before the ticket counter even opened. Annette was checked in by 10:10 pm, but her flight wasn't until 11:59 pm. We had plenty of waiting to do. We were not alone. Dylan and Sally of group 77 were going home for good, the last of their group. Several other people were also heading home for the holidays and were on the same flight.

After we saw Annette off we headed home with Lissa and Rosie (who also came to see everyone off).

And there you have it. Cale's Mom is Here, Uma.

— Sara

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Now that Davey-Dave is gone, Cale is the only Mac troubleshooter in Samoa (that we know of). Whenever anyone with a Mac has a problem, they give Cale a call.

Last week Marco, the Swiss consulate, called. We met Marco through SMUG (Samoa Mac Users' Group) and have been out to his place for a meeting before. Marco was having email troubles and was hoping Cale could come out and take a look. He and his wife, Maria Ines, offered to shout us (Kiwi slang) dinner in exchange for Cale's services.

Marco picked up us at the place we are house-sitting and drove us out to his home in Fasitoo-uta (very, very uta. uta means inland or away from the water). He took the scenic route along Aleisa road, which was really nice. It gave Annette a chance to see new parts of Upolu and had some excellent scenic views. Marco is a fount of information on Samoa and was pointing out all sorts of details and telling all sorts of stories. We drove through one district where that district's representative of Parliament has pledged to use extra money paid to him for being a committee minister to pay for the school fees of all the students in his village. Pretty awesome huh? Apparently this move has not made some of the other members of Parliament too happy, as their villages want to know why they don't do the same thing.

Anyway, as we are driving along we pass the sign advertising the home of the Magic Circus of Samoa. Marco goes way back with Bruno the owner and ringmaster of the circus. He asks if we don't mind a side trip for a visit. Of course we don't.

We turn off the road at the sign advertising the circus. Immediately to our left an area of jungle is being cleared for construction. We will later learn this is where the one-third sized house for the circus's two little-people performers is being built. On our right a in-ground swimming pool is under construction. We pass a row of three to four identical stone cottages and pull in to a small grassy parking area in front of an airy looking home at the top of a small hill. A guard schnoodle barks furiously at us. Somehow, after becoming accustomed to Samoan dogs, we are not intimidated.

Marco strolls up the hill in his signature easy, self-confidant gait calling out "Bruno." A large man with an immense protruding belly and completely bald head steps out from the house. He is stripped from the waist up and his torso is covered with tattoos. The top of the traditional Samoan man tattoo (the pe'a) shows over the waistband of his pants. An ornate golden crucifix hangs from a large, heavy gold chain around his neck. "Benvenuto!"

Marco and Bruno hug, kiss air and proceed to converse in rapid Italian. After learning we are American, Bruno greets us in Spanish, jokingly asking if they still speak English in the States.

For the next half hours the conversation switched from Italian to Spanish to French to English to Samoan with Marco making some brief comments in German after we were shown the Austrian bells that will be part of the Circus's show this year.

It was a little mind boggling, to sit on a porch in Samoa while the Swiss consulate and the Italian-born, American-raised, Samoan-matai ringmaster of a circus conversed in upwards of four languages.

Bruno showed us around the practice grounds and talked about his plans for the show this year. The circus will be in Apia in April instead of January and then will go on a French-speaking islands world tour afterwards. We also learned that when his parents were performers with the Ringling Circus in the States when he was a kid he used to go with them to Indiana to buy horses from the Amish. Apparently, the Amish have the best horses for circus bareback riders.

Eventually, we left the circus behind and continued on to Marco's plantation, where once again, we were one Swiss soil. Marco's better half Maria Ines provided us with a simply wonderful meal of salad, pasta and fish. After considerable effort, Cale fixed Marco's email trouble and while Annette and I admired Maria Ines's turtle collection (not live turtles, course).

So that was my recent surreal experience in Samoa.

— Sara

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cale's Mom is Here: Week Two


Cale' mom makes goat-milk soap. There is a local couple with a small business making coconut-milk soap in Samoa. On Wednesday we went to see their operations. The soap is named Mailelani, which means from heaven. That was news to me. I thought that heaven was lagi, so I thought it would be mailagi to say from heaven. But that shows how poor my language skills have become. Seeing the soap place wasn't too exciting, as no one was actually making any soap at the time. But Annette talked with the owner for a bit about his soaps and she bought a selection.

In Switzerland

Thursday was a completely surreal day that included visiting the home of the Magic Circus of Samoa and Switzerland. I have every intention of writing about this in greater detail, but I want to leave you in suspense for now.

Friday I got my tattoo and I am going to leave you in suspense here as well, as I intend to write an entire blog entry on that as well. I will say that it was a long day. We arrived to wait for our 8:30 am appointment at 8 am and didn't leave the village where the tattooing was done until 4:45 pm.

Saturday Cale's mom went to the market by herself again and did a great deal of souvenir shopping. She and Cale also went to lunch together. I lounged around the house all day. My arm didn't feel too bad after the tattoo, I figured it would be good to rest. That night we went out to dinner with a group of Peace Corps (Shane, Casey, Dylan, Rosie and Erik).

Sunday was the day of nothing and Monday we leave for Savai'i, so you won't hear from me for a while.

— Sara

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Language Lessons

My language skills are abysmal. When I came out of training a year ago, I had a decent foundation to achieve conversational skills in Samoan. Granted, I failed my first LPI (Language Proficiency Interview), but everyone agreed that was because I was sick. When I retook it I achieved an Intermediate and we only needed an Intermediate Low to pass. Since then, my ability to speak and understand Samoan has all but disappeared.

I really want to work to improve my language, but I just couldn't willingly add another layer of stress to my daily life while school was on. However, now that it is school break I am determined to focus on it.

They say that the best way to learn something it to teach it, so I am teaching Annette Samoan while she is here visiting. I am using the book we used in training and I am slowly regaining simple skills. "How are you?" "Where are you going?" "I am from America" These area all phrases I have in my vocabulary again. Plus I think that it is fun for Annette as well.

Cale keeps threatening to switch to speaking Samoan around the house to help improve my skills and I know it is a good idea. However, I also know that then my conversations with my husband would be limited to talking about the weather and what foods I do or do not like. I think he already know all the answers to the other questions I can answer (How old are you? Are you married? Where do you work?). I guess if I can only communicate with Cale in Samoan I will have to figure out how to get across more complex ideas than I do not like tinned corned beef, it is too salty. With the new tattoo (post on that is forthcoming) the most important thing I need to know in Samoan right now is "Cale, can you help me wrap myself in Saran Wrap?"

— Sara


I hate the word "traditional." What does that mean? Who got to decide what things are traditional. As far as I can tell, traditional just means old from an arbitrarily selected point in time. Who got to decide that wooden shoes are something the Dutch traditionally wore? Just because at some random point in time they started wearing wooden shoes? What sort of footwear did they have before wooden shoes? Why aren't those traditional?

I know, I am just nit-picking semantics. And usually I wouldn't mention it, but it was something that came up since Cale's mom has been visiting. With a guest in town, the word "traditional" kept coming up and it was starting to drive me mad. The main reason I went over the edge was that I am not even certain myself why I have such a hard time with the concept. I haven't been able to develop this idea enough to even explain it to myself.

What is traditionally Samoan? At what point in Samoan history, as fashion and methods changed and evolved, did a new thing stop being potentially traditional and start being simply old or old-fashioned? (This doesn't have to be for just Samoan culture, it just happens to be where I am now). Where is the cut-off point in history where things beforehand are forgotten and the things after are new, but the things at that exact point are traditional? Just because this is what Samoans were wearing, eating and living in at some point in time, how did those things become traditional? There had to be a point in time before when they were wearing, eating and living in different things, but those are not traditional. And as time went on they started to wear, eat and live in different things, also not traditional.

Am I just being ridiculous about this?

Annette says that for her traditional is what was being done before any outside cultures interfered, most specifically missionaries. And I can understand that. In Samoan, the things that are considered traditionally Samoan frequently differ greatly from their European counterpart. The traditional Samoan fale is an round open structure with a thatched roof and the European houses are enclosed square with windows. The traditional Samoan dress for men is a wrap-around piece of cloth and for Europeans it is pants. However, if we go back far enough in European histories, we will find people living in round structures with thatched roofs and men wearing skirts. 

And what about these European societies, which have been interacting with other cultures since as far back as we can remember. How did we decide which things were traditional for them?

Ick. My head hurts just thinking about it. To keep me from having to think to much, we came up with a semantic solution. We stopped calling things traditional and started to call them "culturally unique." 

Now I feel so much better.

— Sara


When you are in Apia it isn't possible to avoid the throngs of children vendors. Typically they are younger children between the ages of six and 12 with cardboard boxes filled with an odd collection of goods (typical offerings are Q-tips, called ear twirls, bandaids, matches and playing cards) or with plastic bags filled with lavalavas.

Usually we just give them a "Leai, fa'afetai" and continue on. However, a week or so ago one of the lavalava boys struck up a conversation with us. He is from a village just past ours on the way to the airport and knows that we often ride his village bus to town or home. We didn't have any need for any lavalava that day, but he was now in our minds as the kid to buy from if we did.

The next time we saw him was the day before Cale's mom arrived, so we decided to buy some lavalava for her. This kid is quite the salesman. First he started to display he wears. Then I mentioned that these lavalava were for Cale's mom. "Palagi or Samao?" he asked. When we answered palagi, he proceeded to show us his lavalavas that he thought were best for a palagi mother. Granted, there is no difference between a lavalava a palagi would wear and one a Samoan would wear, but it was a good sales technique.

We ran into this same kid when we were in Apia with Cale's mom. Annette wanted to buy lavalava with turtles on them. The kid had none with turtles, but being a good salesman, he takes orders. Annette requested five or six lavalava with turtles in a variety of colors. We were to meet him in town the on Monday to pick them up. It ended up only being three and they were all purple (I imagine that was the fabric the suisui he sells for had at the time), but it was still a pretty successful transaction.

He is definitely our favorite child street vendor. He has good English and he is quite the professional salesman. Unfortunately, where ever he goes, he is followed by an entourage of other less than likable child vendors. These kids don't know how to woo the palagi. Their sales technique is "Buy some lavalava? Please, please, please, please, please....." One of the kids was even trying to cut in on our kids territory. After Annette placed her order with him, the other kid tried to tell her that if he bought five from him the sixth would be free. I suppose that is a good sales technique, but also sort of rude to cut in on your friend's action.

Anyway, it was a unique experience. I imagine it is very rare to put in a custom order with one of the street kids.

— Sara

Cale's Mom is Here: Week One

In Apia with Annette

Cale's mom has been here for a week now and we have managed to drag her around aimlessly without having too much fun. Ah, the true Peace Corps experience.

Annette arrived at 5:30 am on Wednesday. Cale and I spent the night with another volunteer that lives closer to the airport. We figured if it came down to it and we couldn't catch a bus or taxi that early, we could always walk. I was happy when we finally caught the cab at 5:20, because we were way more than a 10 minute walk away from the airport.

We waited in the terminal for Annette for a long time. The flow of passengers, though never very heavy, had slowed to a non-existent trickle and Cale started to worry that his mom had in fact managed to miss the flight when she appeared. As it turned out, she had been in baggage dealing with her missing luggage. We all went back behind security (cause that is something that is easy to do here) and filled out the paper work. Then we caught a cab home.

We tried to give Annette a mini-Peace Corps experience by welcoming her with a little 'ava and exchanging gifts. We all stayed up for a while talking, but it wasn't long before we crashed and took a nap. Later that evening Aaron came over for burrito night before he caught a flight to Auckland to see his family and girlfriend.

Thursday was walk-around-Apia-in-the-blazing-sun-and-get-a-sunburn day (though only sunburns for Cale and Annette, strangely nothing for Sara). Annette got to see the Peace Corps office and eat on the $1 Floating Restaurant. We hit up the flea market so she could organize her plan of attack for gifts to bring home with her. Later we took a cab up the hill to the Zodiac. We planned on eating at the Curry House next door. However, when we went over we were told they could not serve any food until the boss arrived in maybe one or two hours. Granted their sign says they were open and there were plenty of employees, but apparently they couldn't do any work unless the boss was there. At this point I had become a whiny, tired monkey so we caught a cab home where Cale made nachos with the left over burrito fixins.

At Lalotalie with Cale's Mom

Friday we caught a cab out to Faleaseela to stay at the Lalotalie River Fales. Which you may remember from this blog post. We spent two days of complete relaxation in Faleaseela, reading books, taking naps, laying around. It was wonderful. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the drought conditions, it rained the entire time we were there. We didn't see any waterfalls, but we did hang out with Jane and Olsen and the newest addition to their family, baby Koko. She is just adorable as can be.

Sunday it was back into town. We met up with a British couple who are were going away for a long holiday and enlisted us to house sit and feed/play with their cat. They took us out to lunch at Sydney Side Cafe, which was delicious and then dropped us off at home. 

Of course, it was still raining, which meant we couldn't do the laundry, as none of the clothes would dry on the line. We left the wet towels and stuff from Lalotalie to fester in a plastic bag.

Monday was another day of running around Apia, we went to the Peace Corps office, we bought Annette some lavalava, we managed to spend all day doing something, something that none of us can remember.

Laumei Faiaga

Tuesday we moved out to the house with the cat we will be house sitting. Then we went to visit our host mother in her Apia house. While we were there, we made plans to see them in the training village next week. That night we went to the dinner and show at Laumei Faiaga (Turtle Take it Easy), which you may remember is where we saw the International Siva Afi Finals. The intermission show I talk about in that blog post, is the show we saw Tuesday night.

So, there you have it. Our first week with Annette. We promise to have more fun in the coming days.

— Sara

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cale's Mom is Here!

And so is her luggage! Her bags took a short trip to Auckland without her.

We spend the weekend at Lalotalie, more details soon.

— Sara

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Prize-Giving Part 1

Prize Giving 2008 Part 1

During training we went to the Prize-Giving of the village elementary school. So I may have explained a little of what Prize-Giving is then. However, here is a refresher. At the end of the year, all the students are ranked in their class according to their overall marks. They are also ranked in their individual subjects and in the overall year level. Prizes are given to the top three students in each class and year level. Sometimes prizes are donated for the individual subjects as well. Prizes are also given out for Most Improved in each year level and Best All Around (or what my teachers all called Best All Rounder). For Year 13, the graduating seniors there are also prizes for Sportsman and woman, Leadership, etc. These prizes are all handed out at a ceremony on the last day of school.

Prize-Giving actually started a month before at my school, when the Prize-Giving Committee (which I was assigned to) drafted letters to send out to local businesses and big-wigs to request donations for the prizes. I helped type the letters and the other members of the committee delivered them. 

After the finish of the junior finals all the form teachers were supposed to create these complex matrixes of student marks called a composite sheet. The composite sheets are used to rank the students and determine who is getting prizes. Hopefully next year this can all be done on computer, as this year most of it was done by hand and that is time consuming. Also, it means you have to double check all the math. This was supposed to be completed on a certain day, which of course didn't happen.

I was in charge of creating the Prize-Giving Programme. To finish the programme I needed to know all the students receiving prizes before it could be printed. I also needed to know all the prizes, as that was supposed to be in programme as well. However, the prizes were slowly trickling in from donors. The day before the event, the committee took the money donated and went shopping for prizes.

Prizes for prize giving are strange. The committee bought mixing bowl sets and knife sets. Some donors gave coffee-makers and one gave a dented, particle-board TV stand (which was considered quite a nice prize). 

Anyway, the prizes continue to roll in during the evening before the event. I was at the school starting at 6pm when the committee got back from shopping adding prizes to the programme. After adding prizes and having it proofread by the committee chair and the pule twice, we started the printing of 100 copies. Cale (who is an angel and came to help) and I finally went home at 12:30 am.

The next morning the Prize-Giving began at 8:30 am. Speeches were made. Prizes were given, starting with Year 9 and moving to Year 13. The DUX of 2008 (which is the same as valedictorian), was also top in many subjects including computer studies. I have the thumbdrives my mom sent in the mail to the top three Year 13 computer studies students and two #2 and #3 in computer studies in Year 12 (the other computer teacher had purchased a trophy for the #1 in Year 12). I also handed out CDs I burned of all the pictures I had taken that year to all my students.

After the prizes were given out there was a fire dance by a Year 13 student and a tausala (dancing for donations). Then there was more speeching and reading out of all the money raised with the tausala. I cut out early with Stephen, the Aussie volunteer, so he could get some movies and programs off our hard drive before he headed home.

— Sara

Three Things

1. Cale's mom is in a plane on her way here as we speak!

2. Mike Berry is awesome and send us music in the mail.

3. While trying to find out if we had seen Season 3 of Battlestar Galatica (we haven't), I came across this movie. Best movie title ever.

— Sara

Friday, November 28, 2008

I promise to write soon

Um, so...November has and continues to be this crazy busy month full of all sorts of activities (that all lead to us spending money and then being completely broke with two weeks still left in the month and more activities that require money yet to come...oh and did I mention that the civil unrest in Thailand means that our paychecks cannot be shipped from the bank in Bangkok?)

How was that for a sentence?

Anywho, there was the election and the lack of electricity and the good-bye to Group 77 in Tafatafa and the good-bye to Group 77 at Cocktails and it was my school's Prize-Giving and it is Cale's school's Prize-Giving and Thanksgiving tomorrow and the All-Volunteer Conference is Saturday and Cale's mom arrives on Wednesday and the International Volunteer Day I have been helping plan is on the 6th and and and. Jeez it is busy and I promise to write all about it someday. Really. I do.

— Sara

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Group 77 goes home

Who told these asshats they could go home to America and leave me here all alone? And by all alone, I mean with the other 50 or so volunteers still in country and of course, you know, all of the Samoans that happen to live in Samoa. Oh...and Cale too. Cale is still here. So let me rephrase this all alone thing. What I really meant is how could they go home and leave me here without hot showers or couches or remote controls or delivery? Jerks

— Sara

(I think maybe a little bit what she means is bye guys....  we miss you) 
— Cale

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Technical Textbooks

A couple of people have commented on my post about Picture Day. In it I mentioned that the library at Cale's school is small and poorly supplied. I received a couple of comments on that and was asked how people can help.

It is something that Cale and I want to look into on a larger scale next school year. We were thinking about contacting technical institutes and TAFEs in other countries about donations of textbooks that were going to be discarded otherwise. I also was looking up publishing houses that publish technical textbooks to ask about donations.

However, if you are interested in helping, you are welcome. At Cale's school they teach woodworking (construction and carpentry), fine arts (painting, carving, drawing), welding, plumbing, sewing, cooking, electrical, automotive and computers. Every student also takes Maths and Communications (English). If you have any textbooks on any of these subjects or any books of any kind that might be helpful (art coffee table books, woodworking coffee table books) they would be welcome in his school library. Posters or other educational materials on the subjects would also be welcome. Diagrams, technical manuals also welcome. However, keep in mind, if something is so outdated it is useless in the States, it will probably be the same here and then instead of being trash in the States, it will be trash in Samoa.

There is no diplomatic pouch. You can simply send things to Cale at:

Cale Reeves, PCV
Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia, Samoa (Western Samoa, Independent Samoa)
South Pacific

If you would prefer to send things directly to the school, contact me on the blog and I will set you up with an address. 

If you are interested in helping in other ways or organizing a large-scale shipment of books (there is another PCV here who had an entire shipping container of books sent to her primary school), contact me on the blog and I will help you with that as well.

— Sara


Well, my students are uma the PSSC exam. Now there is nothing to be done but wait for the middle of January to see how they did. 

Personally, I am worried. It was a hard test. Very hard. The hardest part for my students (I think, I haven't had a chance to ask them about it yet) has to be the English. Many of my students have excellent practical computer skills and passable computer theory knowledge. However, their English is pretty poor and the exam is not only in English, it is in native-English-speaker, complex-sentence structure, big-words English. There are concepts on that test that I know that my students know and understand. However, I am not sure if they will understand what is being asked for because the question is a paragraph-long story problem.

Paoa (pow-ah which apparently is like Samoan for that's life).

— Sara

Monday, November 17, 2008

University of the South Pacific Field Trip

University of the South Pacific Field Trip

This was weeks ago now, but I was a chaperone on a field trip. You know the one thing that will make you feel like the grownup? Being a field trip chaperone.

The year 13 students went to the University of the South Pacific. There are branches of the USP in several South Pacific countries. The one in Samoa is an agricultural focus, so we went up to see the farm area and the livestock. One of the cutest things that has happened so far is one of my students was extra excited to see the livestock. He kept confirming with me that we would go up to see the farm. Why you ask? Well, he had never seen a goat before and he was told there were goats and he really wanted to see one. After he finally got to see his first baby goat he shared this insight, "I didn't know they were so cute miss." I told him it was only the baby ones.

University of the South Pacific Field Trip

— Sara

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Teacher Appreciation / Sports Day

Teacher Appreciation / Sports Day

So there was an official Teacher Recognition Day. I don't remember when. Some other schools celebrated it with special events for teachers. After it happened the teachers at my school were questioning why we didn't do anything for it at our school. So a committee was formed. A sports day was organized. And teachers were gifted with lavalava and cleaning detergent.

Sports day started with an assembly where all the students brought forward the gifts they had brought for the teachers and placed them on mats on the stage. The student body was divided into four houses. My house colors were yellow. I don't own anything yellow so I wore a slightly yellow headband and khaki pants and a beige shirt.

Anyway, the other houses were blue, green and red. The students competed against each other in volleyball, boys rugby, girls touch rugby and tug-o-war. Some of the teachers participated. I competed in the all-teacher tug-o-war.

Other highlights included the music that was blared across the school compound for the event. Music, is music, is music in Samoa. So incredibily indecent rap songs are just as appropriate at a school event as is chruch choir music, we got a little of both. Though the music was mostly weighted towards rap meets dance songs.

Also, we rolled up some of the grass into sod so that it could be delivered to the Apia Sports Complex. Apparently, schools had been promised sports equippment in return for their grass.

The most exciting part of the day was the very end when all the points were tallied and my house had won! Go team!

After all the kids went home, there was a lunch for the teachers. It was typical Samoan food. I was also gifted an entire chicken to take home with me. It was handed to me and I was told, "Here, this is for your soup." Ah, the covetted soup chicken. All of the gifts were also divided up and handed out. I got three lavalava, a Celtics vs. Knicks t-shirt and clothes cleaning detergent.

Then I headed home for the day to take pictures of the chicken, because when was the last time you were gifted with an entire chicken? That's what I thought.

The soup chicken

— Sara

Two whole days of electricity

Well, that pretty much says it all.

- Sara

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Annual Laumua o Punaoa Picture Day

Picture Day

First of all I would like to point out that I am aware that  I cannot say "First" Annual Picture Day, as that is not allowed. However, I don't work for newspapers anymore, so I can say whatever I want and I can put my, commas wherever I want and I can add hyphens-whenever I want and I can write run on sentences for as long as I want. So there.

Monday we went over to Cale's school and rocked their world. Ok, maybe not that cool, but it was pretty cool.

We converted the "library" (I am putting library in quotes because it happens to be a room with some shelves maybe five books in it, so I don't know if I am allowed to call it a library [which as an aside, within my aside, we need to work on ways to get this school more books]) into a photo studio. Students hung fala (mats) on the walls as the back drop. We set up some desks and chairs and tada, Picture Day.

Cale recruited his school's prefects to help with the organizing. Since the Year Two prefects are graduating, they were in charge of people wrangling. Since the Year One prefects will be here next year, Cale had them practicing all the jobs. Some took orders, some kept records of names and pictures, some gave receipts, one worked with me and took some of the pictures. The hope is that we can train students to do most of the work for next year.

Our initial attempts at organization failed completely. What we wanted to do was call one class at a time, take each students' and the teacher's individual pictures and then the entire classes group picture. Then we would send them off and call another class. Well it didn't work that way. We ended up taking most if not all of the teachers' individuals first and then started taken group shots of classes as then randomly appeared, intermixed with more individual teacher shots. Finally, we got through all the class shots. Then the pule sent all the students over to wait in a line outside our room and we went through all the individual shots. I think we started around 10 am or so and weren't done until 1 pm. So we basically interrupted the entire school day. In my mind, school could have gone on as usual around picture day, but apparently it was too exciting and too much of a novelty for that to work.

I spent that entire time kneeling on the ground in order to get the shots and Tuesday my knees and quads were killing me.

I cannot officially call Picture Day a success yet. We had anticipated, in the project proposal, selling pictures to 20 percent of the student body (of about 100 kids). Right now we have sold pictures to six kids. They have until Friday to place an order, so hopefully more people get interested.

We were going to deliver the pictures at Prize-Giving. However, in order to encourage more orders, Cale had me print out the pictures of the six kids that ordered and we are giving them theirs today. Hopefully the other kids will see them and want their own.

— Sara

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Finally, Some News on the Electricity Issue

Granted, I am still on my news hiatus. Which means that I try to avoid the newspaper and TV news (easy to do, no TV) as much as possible. But I have had my eye out for news on the Samoa Observer's web site on the rolling blackout situation (i.e. Why is this happening? Is there a schedule to the blackouts? When is it going to end?). They finally had something to say on the matter here. They also had something to say on the drought here

The good news is that if the article is correct and nothing unusual happens (hmmm...this is Samoa) we might have power again on Wednesday.

On a related note, Cale was telling that some one from the power company was out at his school the other day to work on something and was all asking questioningly,"Is the power out?" and they were all like, "Huh, no shit Sherlock, it has been out for nine hours every day this week. You're the people turning it off, don't you guys know what is going on? Cause we sure as hell don't."

— Sara

Sunday, November 9, 2008

So, what are you doing these days anyway?

I have had some people point out that I have said that school is finished, yet school isn't finished until November 29th. How is that possible? What does that mean? What am I doing anyway?

It is true. School is over, but not over. I teach Year 13. School finals for seniors (Year 12 and 13) were the week of October 6 and all of my marks for the PSSC were due to the SPBEA in Fiji by October 10. So for all intents and purposes, I had to be finished will all teaching the week before October 6. However, the last day of school isn't until November 29th. What is good gracious were we supposed to do with all of October and November?

Well, the senior exams administered by the School C and PSSC did not start until November 3. For the three weeks between the finals and the start of those exams my students and I did revisions (Kiwi for review). Basically it was three weeks of drilling all the theory that is going to be on the test into their heads. Three weeks might seem like a long time for that, but throw in some random days off, a sports day and all-day field trip to the University of the South Pacific and you start to run out of revisions time really fast.

Ok, Sara so you have accounted for three of the seven or so weeks we are talking about. What else are you doing?

Well, on November 3 my students started sitting their PSSC exams. The exams last for two weeks. There are never more than two exams in a day and most exams last for three hours. Computer studies is Wednesday, November 12. But what have I been doing? To be honest? A whole lot of nothing. In addition to having no classes to teach and few-to-no exams to help proctor, the power has been out almost all day all week. I have been attempting to create prescriptions for Years 9, 10 and 11, since they do not currently exist. I have been trying to work on the computer studies textbook I am writing. I have been trying to do a lot of things. But in general I have been doing a lot of nothing. I have been sitting in the hot, windless teachers' room, nibbling on the exam food (anyone care for a piece of toast that was toasted yesterday or a cold sausage covered in some ramen?) and helping the junior teachers mark their final exams. The juniors were having their exams this week.

So what happens next week? The juniors will be done with their exams, but the seniors will still be taking theirs. And what if there is still no power? If my understanding is correct, the juniors will spend next week practicing for Prize-Giving and I will sit in the same hot, windless room bored out of my brains.

At least Monday is a reprieve. Cale and I have organized a picture day at his school. We are taking all the kids and teachers and classes' pictures. We created order forms for the packages so the kids can order their pictures. You know, just like they do ever school year in the States, but it is a novelty here. Monday is the day for all the picture taking. So that will be fun.

Um, Sara. After this up coming week of Prize-Giving practice, you still have two more weeks of school? What will you be doing?

Well, I can only imagine another week of Prize-Giving practice with the seniors who will finally be done with their exams. Then my school has its Prize-Giving (think graduation, but all the students are ranked and given strange, donated gifts based on their rank) on Wednesday, November 26. The next day is supposed to be an event organized by the outgoing Year 13. In the past it has been a dance or social. I have no idea what my school will be doing on Friday, but Cale's school will be having his Prize-Giving, so hopefully I will go to that.

And there you have it, what I have been up to.

— Sara

Word of the Week: Fa'alogo

Fa'alogo {fah-ah lōngō}
v. 1. Hear  2. Listen  3. Pay Attention  4. Obey  5. Feel
Can you use it in a sentence?
Fa'alogo. Was that the bell?

Until I sat down with the dictionary to write this entry, I knew that fa'alogo meant listen, but I also thought it meant bell. According to the dictionary,
logo means a bell used to call people to church (or I suppose to signal the beginning and end of classes). And I sort of knew that. However, when ever the bell would go at school and I would not hear it, I would have students in my class saying, "Fa'alogo." I assumed they were saying, "That's the bell." However, now I am pretty sure they were just saying, "Listen" or "Pay attention." Anyway, the idea came across either way. 

There are bells all day during school, of course, to signal the start/stop of classes (there is no passing period). There are two bells at night one to signify the coming of sa and to end outdoor sports. The other for sa, the time of prayer before dinner. There are also random morning bells. This morning was at 6:15 am. 

However, my least favorite bell is the 4 am Friday morning bell. Every Friday morning at four Cale's pule rings a bell for 15 minutes straight. It is supposed to wake the ministers for a 5 am prayer meeting and some of them complained they didn't hear it, so he rings the bell for 15 minutes straight. At 4 am. On Fridays. Every Friday.

— Sara

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On Religion

"You know, the neighbors haven't really screamed prayers at us recently."

"By that, do you mean everyday?"

"Oh, you know what it is? We haven't been here for prayer screaming time in a while."

— Sara

P.S. Remember when I wrote that romantic post in training about how Samoa is made of music because all the families in the village sang prayer before eating at the same time. Well, we've been here a year now. Can you tell?

Friday, November 7, 2008

I love you this much

"Where did you go?"

"The store."

"What did you get?"

"Some samini."

"Oh? Are we ever going to eat today?"

"I thought you already ate your oatmeal."

"That's all I ever ate today, one bowl of oatmeal."

"I thought you wouldn't be hungry cause you had your oatmeal and you were asleep. Are you hungry now?"


"I can make some food."

"I can make some food ... You can make some edible food ... Eat your samini. I will just mash up all the potatoes."

"I will eat my samini and when I'm done maybe I will eat some of your mashed potatoes."

"Why you always got to be eating my mashed potatoes?"

"You just put aside whatever amount you can bear to part with."

"You know in my soul that is no mashed potatoes, right?"

"That's what being married is about."

"Every time I share my mashed potatoes with you it is the greatest sacrifice a girl could ever make."

"When you share your mashed potatoes with me, I know that you love me."

— Sara

New development on the rolling blackout front

The power has been out for 9 hours a day for the past two days. It just went out at 8:30 am today and will probably stay out until 6 pm. Rumor has it the problem is not only caused by drought, but also a broken generator. Rumor as has it that the replacement generator has been shipped and should arrive next week.

— Sara

Wednesday, November 5, 2008



I am on the International Volunteer Day Committee. It is a day recognized by the UN, so the UN in Samoa is sort of hosting the organization of it. As part of putting together the events for actual IVD in December, we also organized an All Volunteers in Samoa get together. I was the one who suggested a Halloween party after the end of October was recommended as a good time to have it.

All volunteers in Samoa were invited, so not just Peace Corps, but Australian volunteers (there are several different kinds in country including the Youth Ambassadors and the VIDA), the Japanese volunteers (there are also at least two groups of them, the JICA and the JOVC), the UN volunteers and Samoan volunteers through an organization called SUNGO.

Of course, being the party animals that we are and being one of the largest volunteer groups in country, the Peace Corps totally out numbered everyone else.

The event was held at the Zodiac, a club up the hill on the cross island road. It is owned by the leader of the Australian volunteers. It was wonderful of Karin to volunteer her establishment for the event. And she had specials on drink prices.

Cale, Casey, Spencer and I showed up early (but still late) to help decorate. Jamie, an Australian volunteer, and Henrik, a UN volunteer, were already there. We carved pumpkins, hung crepe paper and Cale cut some bats and cats and whatnot out of cardboard that we painted black.

The party itself started around 6 pm and was a huge success.

As you can see from the pictures, Cale went as a zombie robot (he had an old Pentium chip he would stick in his mouth and say "UUUUHHHHH, processors"). I was pregnant Angelina Jolie. We walked all over Apia earlier in the day trying to find a wig. There are several stores with mannequins in the windows that are wearing wigs. We asked all the stores if I could hire one for the night or buy one. Only one store was willing to sell and they wanted $80, so that was a no go.

It was something around this point that Cale realized he had left his costume at home. So he caught a cab back to the village to pick up his costume. On the way there, he happened upon a short dark wig at a store in the NIa Mall and they lent it to him for $20. I wanted a long wig, but you cannot be picky in Samoa.

Cale and Shane had also put themselves in charge of the games for the night. Cale had made a paper mache pinata of Slimer from Ghostbusters that totally rocked and was totally indistructible. The attention to detail was awesome, even the eyes were attached with red strings so they would pop out and flop around. There was also apple bobbing and something that involved a rubber centipede. Good times were had by all.

Typically Sara can drink two beers and then she gets tired and goes to sleep. However, I somehow managed to drink like four or five that night. At some point the party was too loud and I felt too gross, so I went out and sat in the parking lot. After drinking a mess of water, we got in to a taxi to go home. I have never hated a taxi ride more in my life. But by 11:30 or so, I was safely in bed.

When I woke up the next morning I realized that I had left my glasses in my backpack in the Peace Corps office and I had thrown my contacts away when I got home from the party. Cale and I took the bus into the office for the VAC (Volunteer Action Committee) meeting. The entire bus ride and walk to the office, I felt totally fine. However, when I got to the office and put on my glasses, I discovered that I might feel a little gross. I fixed it with water and Cheese Mania cheese balls from the shop next door.

And that was my Halloween.