Thursday, January 31, 2008

What’s in a name?

Not much apparently. Just as the business studies teacher I was sitting next to in the teachers' lounge the other day. His name is Doctor. Ok, it is Foma'i ([foe-mah-ee] male medical person*), but that is Sāmoan for doctor.
 
*According to our training manual, foma'i means doctor and tausimai'i means nurse. However, foma'i is the word you would use for a male nurse and tausima'i is the word you would use for a female doctor. The words just appear to be rooted in some gender stereotypes.
 
As far as I can tell most people in Sāmoa have names that are also words. Sure, sure, everybody's name means something. I think my name means princess or something in some language. But that is the thing; you have to translate it from another language to get a word. Otherwise it is just a name. Occasionally in the states you will run in to a Charity or a Cliff or other people with names that are also English words.
 
However, in Sāmoa everyone has a word name (at least everyone without palagi names like Robert and Steven). Our next-door neighbor is named Try (well Sāmoan for try). One of the former computer teachers at our sister school is named Gift. Numbers are popular. One of our host sisters was named One, one of the teachers at school is named Ten, Cale's deputy pule is named One Hundred. The vice principal of my school is named Family.
 
I imagine that even more people have word names; I just don't know those Sāmoan words so I don't recognize them. However, as far as I can tell from my dictionary, my pule's name isn't a Sāmoan word, but it is a Sāmoan name.
 
— Sara

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I am a teacher. Ok not really, but I did spend two days in the teachers’ lounge.

School started Monday and I was surprisingly nervous and excited. I discovered that my hand was actually shaking as I scooped the last of my breakfast yogurt* out of the cup. You know that build up of endorphins and adrenaline you get when you are nervous or excited, the sort that makes your hold body sort of hum starting in the stomach and vibrating out? That, I had that.

It wasn’t that I necessarily had anything to be too worried about; it was just that I was embarking on something totally new and I guess my body was gearing up for fight or flight.

*I am sure Annette will be excited to learn that I now think that yogurt is pretty much the most awesome thing ever. I started eating it while I was on the antibiotics just in case they were killing all the good bacterias in my belly. And hot damn! Yogurt is delicious! Who knew? Too bad I had to discover it in a country where a kilogram of it costs $13 tala. Pretty pricey.

I arrived at school at 7:30 a.m. and headed to the teachers’ lounge. During the first few days of school the students clean up the classrooms and school grounds. Other teachers sort of flowed in an out of the lounge as they monitored the students cleaning. I, however, was told that I could just stay in the lounge. I started writing letters home to keep myself busy.

At some point the lounge kitchen was opened up and a cat with a litter of two was discovered in the cabinets. All the commotion scared the mother cat away. The reaction to this discovery is a good highlight of cultural differences between our countries. In states I imagine at first the cats would be left alone as mostly women teachers gathered around to ooh and ahh at the adorableness. At some point someone with devise a way to get the cat and kittens into a box of some sort, most likely padded with blankets, and they would be adopted or taken to the Humane Society.

However, the reaction was slightly different here. The faletua ([fah-lay too-ah] pastor’s wife) that found the kittens carried them out of the room on a broken platter at arms length. There was much commotion as the other women scattered trying to get as far away as possible. The platter was unceremoniously dumped in the corner and a desk was moved over it. The kittens cried and mewed while the faletua looked on in disgust. They could tell that I was interested in the situation and appeared to be making sympathetic faces at the beasts, so I was asked repeatedly if I wanted one. My response of lei ([lay-eye] no) was appreciated. I was told that these kittens were the same, if not worse than rats.

The pule gave a welcome, introduction, pep-talk sort of speech to start off the new year. Most of it was unintelligible to me, but, in what I am discovering is typical conversational Sāmoan, he sprinkled in a lot of English words. He also said something in English after apologizing to me for my not being able to understand. He talked about the importance of good exam results, but how we cannot focus only on the good students to the detriment of the poorer students in order to boost results. He also made a point of reminding us that Wesley’s students are the rejected ones (meaning they didn’t score well enough to get into a government school). And at some point the English word “refugees” was thrown in. Not sure the context for that one. He also talked a lot about the School C and PSSC exam results that included a lengthy discussion of how poorly the computer students performed (apparently most 7, 8 and 9 — with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst grades).

Two things that I pondered on during that speech were:

1. What were the students doing while all of the teachers were in this meeting?

2. Who in the heck designed this school and why did they build the teachers lounge in such a way that it is the hottest room in the building and completely airless? There is a regular prevailing breeze coming from the east in this village, yet in the teachers’ lounge the only windows are on the west side AND they open up to the wall of the bulk of the building, so they aren’t doing much good anyway. I went to the bathroom on the second day (downstairs) and it was so dramatically cooler than the lounge that at first I thought it was air-conditioned. It wasn’t.

Side note: On the black board in the teachers lounge was a list of four or five end of year reminders. The first one had something to do with final exams, but the second to last one was quite intriguing:

“Warn all students about toxicated liquor.”

I am not sure what his toxicated liquor is, but is sounds dangerous to me.

On my second day as a teacher, I sat in the lounge for quite a while working on lesson plans. Then I got the key to the second computer lab in the school so I could assess the situation in there. Assessing was difficult as there was on electricity in the room. However, I did take stock of what I could see. Unfortunately, even if the all turn out to be in working order, there aren’t really enough computers in the lab for it to function for a class. There are seven towers in the room. I suppose if we got all 24 computers in the first lab working and all seven in the second lab working we could split the difference and have two labs with 15 computers each. That would work out.

Anyway, seven towers, seven UPS, 20 monitors, at least nine keyboards and at least five mice. Seeing as how I am three mice short in the current working lab, I can at least scavenge from this one.

At some point someone had pimped this lab out. There are Ethernet ports (looks like a wall jack for a telephone) built into the desks for networking. There are stations at desks around the perimeter of the room and at desks in the middle of the room (someone ran all the cable through PCV piping). There is a secure media rack that houses all the network connections and some sort of Ethernet-hub-repeater thingy (over my computing knowledge head and Cale’s too).

However, the real excitement happened later in the day when my head of department joined me in the teachers’ lounge and told me that he wants to step down as HOD. Not only that, but he wants to recommend me to be the HOD. Not only that, but he doesn’t want to share this information with the pule personally, but would rather include it in the Wesley College Computer Studies Status Report I had typed up. Not only that, but after I added this information to the report, he wanted me to be the one to give it to the pule and tell the pule what was up. So my HOD left and there I sat waiting for an opening with the pule to tell him that my boss doesn’t want to be my boss anymore — he wants me to be the boss.

If I thought I was nervous that first morning, now my heart was pounding. So I showed the pule my report. I gave him a copy of the Peace Corps volunteers generate textbook I would like to use in my class. And I told him the HOD wanted to step down. The pule took it surprisingly well. I currently have no idea what it means though. I don’t know if the old HOD still stands, if the pule will appoint a new HOD, if I am the HOD. Seeing as how computer studies is a department of two, there aren’t many other options.

More developments to come.

— Sara

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Open letter to the Microsoft Powerpoint Development Team

Dear Microsoft Powerpoint Development Team;
Congratulations. You have taken over the world of conferences. Not that they were the liveliest bunch before you came along, but now they are conquered. So thoroughly conquered that all presentations now depend wholly on your product, and there is no longer any conceivable other method to disseminate any information. Again - Congratulations.
But you have overlooked one small element of the equation - an oversight that equates to bad design - and it is this bad design that will eventually herald your doom. What you have forgotten is this: the provided box-lunch.
A conference is nothing without its provided box lunch - all conference goers know this. In fact at the end of the day it will seldom be the content of the presentations or the fancy transition effects that is discussed. It is instead the quality of the roast beef or turkey sandwich - something for which you have sadly made absolutely no provision.
You see - when a conference planner lays out the times for each session, he or she chooses an almost standard chunk of time. One hour, or two hours, or the indecisive one-hour-and-a-half are all popular session lengths. Particular savvy planners - or those holding conferences for teachers - choose 55, 85, or 115 minutes to allow for passing periods, but the standard is there.
Consequently those esteemed professionals with a high enough profile in their fields to be saddled with the thankless task of presenting a session plan to use the allotted time as efficiently - and fully - as their subject matter will allow. They prepare an insightful, informative, seldom tastefully designed, often impossible to read powerpoint absolutely riddled with animation effects. And then they stand in front of the room full of eager pre-lunch faces, introduce themselves, and begin.
What they fail to consider, what the conference planners fail to consider, what what anyone who uses technology to make life easier can not possibly, by virtue of their own dedication to products like yours, consider is that it will take an entire 20 minutes to set up the computer, projector, screen, speakers, etc. Because in order to keep buying your very expensive products, you customers must remain blind to their defects, the responsibility for this falls on you.
Because of this defect, all of the conference people, planners, presenters and poor lowly attendees alike, must sit for these 20 minutes watching a comic struggle unfold, and watching their lunch break slip further and further away. Because where does the time for this technological tom-foolery come from? It comes from lunch.
Please help us. It comes from our lunch time. Just 3 morning sessions before lunch, and already your hour-long sandwich-in-a-box respite is shot to hell. Two more sessions in the afternoon, and we are looking at a 40 minute deficit on tomorrow's lunch. That's not even enough time to ignore the sandwich and go straight for the potato chips and the mini-coke.
So I ask you this, O development team of Powerpoint, in the great brain trust at Redmond - please. Pretty-please. Pretty-please with single-serving packets of mayo and mustard on top. Please get us our lunches back. Give us back our sandwiches in two options, our potato chips, our miniature soft drinks, even our baby carrots and celery spears.
Because without them, the conference is lost. It is over before it even begins. Without our provided box-lunches what will we talk about in the seedy-but-sterile hotel bar?

Sincerely,
-Cale

PS. If we only get back one sandwich, make it the roast beef. And try for that good mayo that comes in the foil packets.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A bit about Sāmoan schools

All kids take a test at the end of Year 8 that determines their entry into a secondary school. Much like SAT scores, different schools have different minimum scores they will accept. It is my understanding that the best students are accepted into the four top secondary schools run by the government. The government runs other secondary schools, but the top four receive a bulk of the education budget.

Apparently, many students do not score well enough to gain acceptance to a government school or are accepted into a poor government school far away from their home (long travel to a poor school not being worth it to them). This is where the church schools come in, accepting students the government doesn’t.

Not all secondary schools have the same number of grades. As a baseline, they all have Years 9-12. However, to be called a college, a school must also offer Year 13. If a student plans to attend university, they must complete Year 13 and will choose a secondary school accordingly or transfer for Year 13. The top four government schools are all colleges as is the school where I teach.

At the end of Year 12, all students take a national exam called the Sāmoa Secondary School Certificate or the School C. The students must pass that exam to go on to Year 13 and it also certifies them as having successfully completed secondary school.

At the end of Year 13, all students take an international exam called the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate or the PSSC. There are six Pacific island nations in this international body. Passing this test qualifies students for University Preparatory Year, which appears to be something offered at a University to prepare the students. I am assuming there are more English and computer classes or something.

Classes in secondary schools are supposed to be taught in English. Both the School C and the PSSC are administered in English. Classes are usually taught in a mix of English and Sāmoan when the students don’t seem to understand or need clarification.

Corporal punishment has been illegal in Sāmoan schools for many years. However, anecdotal information from other Peace Corps says that students are still hit frequently. One Peace Corps volunteer said it took many months for students to stop flinching or shying away when he went to pat them on the back.

I will know more about the school system once I actually start to work in it.

— Sara

Finally, work!

Brace yourself, this is a long one.

I bet you were starting to wonder if we had joined the Peace Corps to take some sort of strange extended vacation and when, if ever, we were going work again. Well, finally, it begins.

Cale had the excitement of starting work last Thursday and Friday. His school had a workshop with the Sāmoa Qualifications Authority. They are working on becoming an accredited institution. This accreditation process is a new effort in the country.

I finally got to work this Monday when the Methodist School Board held an in-service for all the teachers. Both Cale and my schools were there, as were the primary and pre-schools and our sister schools in Savai’i.

When we got there that morning, Cale, Alo, Nao (the JICA volunteer) and I all sat together near the back. I quickly noticed that everyone else had sat themselves by gender with the women on one side of the aisle and men on the other. I was on the wrong side of the aisle. No one said anything and the next morning Cale and I mixed it up by sitting on the lady’s side.

Almost immediately the power went out (the power here is fickle and goes out maybe once or twice a week, usually only for a couple of minutes to half an hour). The power stayed off for a while. So after the opening prayer and speech, we broke for tea and waited for the power.

At first I was pretty nervous, mainly because it seemed obvious that things were going to be conducted in Sāmoan (and why shouldn’t they be, we are in Sāmoa). I was worried I would have no idea what was going on. However, I soon discovered that if I stood and looked confused long enough my pule would come and tell me what to do.

We broke up by education level and subject area. Cale went to his school, the primary teachers went to my school and we secondary teachers stayed in the hall. In my group there was the head of my department, a computer/business studies teacher from my school (who won’t be teaching this year, but will be going to the national university to get a degree in computer studies) and a computer/English/maths teacher from our sister school. Last year the sister school had a Peace Corps volunteer teaching computers and this teacher will be taking over for her, so she will only be teaching computers this coming year. She had some interesting insight about being a counterpart* from the counterparts perspective that I may write about later.
*Speaking of counterparts, I will write about that later.

Each subject group was supposed to be meeting with a representative the Curriculum Materials and Assessment Division. I am not sure if they are government affiliated or what. I assume they are a division of the ministry of education.

Unfortunately, the computer studies representative wasn’t there. She lives on a village on the other side of a river that was swollen with rainwater and couldn’t get out. We were supposed to be creating an annual plan based on the school calendar of 30 teaching weeks. The three computer teachers and I looked at the resources I had brought with me that other Peace Corps volunteers had supplied me. We also talked about some ideas the teacher going to university had for the year. At the end of the day, each group gave a report. Some how, I ended up with the responsibility for our group.

Side note: I narrowly avoided a conversation on teaching evolution in American schools by being ignorant of the news item the minister was talking about.

On the second day we had a presentation on professional development by the director of the Oloamanu Centre for Professional Development and Continuing Education. The presentation was in Sāmoan, but I could grasp some things since the PowerPoint presentation was in English. Also, all the Sāmoan-speaking presenters used English for emphasis, so I caught those words.

One thing that came up repeatedly during the presentations was improving the status of teachers. One of the solutions that came up often was requiring teachers be certified and that they have a background in their subject area. As it is right now, you don’t need a degree or teacher’s certificate to teach in Sāmoan schools (I guess that is good for me, since I was never trained as a teacher).

Side note: Everything at the conference was presented in the form of a complex grid created in Word tables. The schedule of the conference, the school calendar, the prescriptions for each test, the lessons plans — everything. Sāmoans seem to love a good grid. I imagine it is a holdover from colonial bureaucracy.

There was also a presentation by a representative of the ministry of education on teacher appraisals. Granted, I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he seemed to be questioning how all the government-school teachers in the country received satisfactory or very satisfactory ratings, but the students were doing so poorly. He didn’t seem to think the appraisals were representative and that there should be more continuing education for teachers.

On the second and third days our computer studies representative was there and we talked about yearly plans and lesson plans.

On the third day there was a presentation by a Sāmoan vice-chancellor from the University of the South Pacific on professional development as a tool for quality teaching. He had a lot of good things to say.

“Teaching is an essential profession; it makes all others possible.”

He talked about what makes a profession — accredited education, licensing, etc. He also frequently referred to a speech or initiative by former President Clinton that I am not familiar with.

And that, in a giant nutshell, was the teacher in-service.

School starts Monday. I better get ready!

— Sara

Beaching

Beaching

We wanted to get some beach time in before school started but boils and the weather were conspiring against us. It’s ironic that we moved to a South Pacific island, but we are father way from a beach than we were in Florida.

Finally, we headed out the Friday before school started for us (not for the students). We started with a bus into Apia to catch a bus to the south side of the island. At first the bus ride was uneventful, but as we neared our destination things began to get a little uncomfortable.

Typically, there is no talking on a Sāmoan bus. If it weren’t for the blaring music being played by the drivers, Sāmoans would ride the bus in complete silence.

Also there is a complex hierarchy on a Sāmoan bus. What I can glean from my outsider viewpoint is that young men tend towards the back and women to the front. The seats farthest forward are for older people. If someone with gray hair gets on, someone else will frequently give them their front seat and move to a back seat. Once a bus starts to fill up beyond seating capacity, there is a silent game of musical chairs every time a new person boards the bus. Kids on parents laps, kids on strangers laps. Smaller, younger women on larger, older women’s laps. People sitting in the aisle. There is a system to it all. No one ever speaks, but everyone seems to know who will move where. As a palagi, I seem to have the same status as someone with gray hair. A seat at the front always miraculously appears for me. So far I have only had to sit on Cale’s lap once.

Anyway, on the ride to the beach I witnessed a new development in the silent bus shuffle. At some point in the ride, the driver turned the music off. That was when my ears discovered that somewhere at the back of the bus someone was having a loud, presumably drunken, conversation. That someone started to harass the driver, demanding he turn the music back on.

“Pese, fa’amolemole. Driver, pese!”

Pese ([pess-ay] song or singing).
Fa’amolemole ([fah-ah moe-lay moe-lay] please)

I started to see the ripple of heads turning in front of me and eyes looking accusingly. The respectable women on this bus were not happy. Whispers of “Niu Sila” ([nee-ooh see-lah] New Zealand) and “Fiti” ([fee-tee] Fiji) filtered back to me.

Then, without a word spoken, the women began to shuffle. One woman moved back to a seat next to the drunken men. Another moved to another seat near by. A third moved to fill a seat left by one of those women. I didn’t see all the shuffling, but I felt it going on behind me. It was not long after that the bus stopped unexpectedly and the quieter of the drunken men got off. We got off at our stop before we could witness the rest of the situations resolution.

The beach itself was about a mile and a half off the main road, down a gravel drive. We would have had to hoof it, but an Aggie Gray’s Resort van was there and gave us a ride.

The beach was beautiful. The water was blue-green and went out forever. Black volcanic rocks jutted out of the water and formed a sort of island just off the shore. We rented an open fale for the night and spent the day in the water and relaxing with books in the fale.

That night it rained and blew like all get out. It was enough for me to wonder if I should be worried that there was some horrible storm out there. When I first say the blue tarp that was rolled up on two sides of the fale, I thought now way will that do any good if it rains. It surprisingly did despite the storm. We were dry in our bed (a foam mattress tucked in the corner of the two tarped sides).

Unfortunately, it was rainy all day Saturday. We were contemplating the mile and a half walk in the rain to the main road when a man who lived nearby offer to call us a cab. So we took a cab with our new friend and his son to his house.

On the ride our host was very upset to learn that we didn’t have any kids. He insisted we have one while we were in Sāmoa and became even more upset when he learned the Peace Corps didn’t allow it.

We experienced more of that unnerving fa’aSāmoa hospitality at his house. You know how uncomfortable I am around people. Imagine how hard it is for me to have a complete stranger welcome me into his house, have food cooked for me and send his kids out as sentries to watch for and stop the bus for us.

Stop being so nice to me! You’re making me nervous!

We stayed at his house for about an hour. The kids flagged down a bus and we rode back into town.

Of course, after all that travel and excitement, I needed all day Saturday and Sunday to recuperate for school on Monday.

— Sara

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lapisi Pt. IV

Samoan BioBag

So I have been posting a lot about trash in Sāmoa and how much it confuses me (see previous trash posts here, here and here). I have been pretty critical of the way waste is managed around here, so I thought I would talk about a couple of trash-related things that are pretty awesome.

The first is the Sāmoan Bio Bags. The information printed on some bags states:

1. To protect Samoa’s environment and give young generation a better future, please use [sic] Biodegradable Bag.

2. Main Material: Starch-Rich Source from Crops.

3. Non toxic, Soft touch, Good air permeability.

4. No toxic fume (Dioxin) will be released when burning.

5. Please avoid sharp objects.

Other bags also say:

• Non-toxic and void of strange smell.

• Starts decompose after 180 days under the soil with need of oxygen and inducement.

• To protect beautiful Samoa, please use Biodegradable Platic Bag.

Pretty awesome, no? I appreciate the efforts of the country to replace the ubiquitous plastic bag we see all over the States with these biodegradable, non-toxic alternatives. Also, I appreciate the efforts to educated the public about the benefits of these bags by printing the information on them. Most of the faleola ([fah-lay oh-low-ah] store) that I have been to use these bags and so do a lot of the shops in Apia. Unfortunately, the three bigger grocery stores in town that we go to do not use them.

It got me thinking though, why aren’t we using something like this in the States. Why do all the grocery stores and the Wal-Marts still use plastic bags? They are horrible for the environment and there appears to be an alternative out there. On that front, I think that Sāmoa is a step ahead of the States.

Something else that Cale pointed out is the fluorescent lights. All of the lights in our house are fluorescent. All of the lights in our host family’s house were fluorescent. In fact, when I try to think about a time that I was in the presence of non-fluorescent lights, I cannot. Sure, they give everything a harsh, clinical feel, but they way more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.

Cale is planning on creating some sort of tissue paper diffuser shade for the lights in our house. At first he wanted to make his own rice paper, since there is plenty of rice here. He has since discovered that rice paper is made out of the rice plant and not the rice itself. However, he is thinking about trying to make coconut paper now.

Finally, there are some good things about waste management here in Sāmoa. The community we live in has waste pickup, as do many other communities. It is less likely to be found in the rural communities, since they are farther out and the community has to pay for the service. Where we live there are cutoff oil-drum halves attached to poles (to keep them off the ground and away from the dogs) out on the side of the road. We just take our trash to the end of the driveway and drop it in the bin.

Also, Sāmoa apparently has a pretty advanced, cutting-edge landfill that was rehabbed with the help of JICA (like Peace Corps, but from Japan). I found a PDF online that outlines all of the work that was done:

“The Tafaigata landfill in Upolu, Samoa, has been transformed from a messy, smelly dump to a clean and fresh semi-aerobic landfill structure using the Fukuoka method, now the standard method of landfill in Japan. The transformation process was funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), at a cost of only US$400,000 (consultant supervisor not included).

Transformation took place in two phases. The first one was setting up waste cell bunds, consolidating the soil “floor”, installing the air ventilation / leachate collection pipes, a leachate collection pond, and all-weather access roads. The second phase included setting up the leachate treatment facilities. When completed in December 2005, the project was handed over from JICA to the Samoan Government’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Meteorology (MNREM).”

I don’t have a reliable source on this information, but someone told me that the landfill should have enough room to handle all of Sāmoa’s trash for the next century. However, don’t quote me on that one.

Anyway, there are some good, trash-related things happening here in Sāmoa. It isn’t all gloom and doom.

— Sara

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cleaning the Computer Lab or How to Turn Three Days of Work into Two Weeks

My school's computer lab

One of my goals for this break between training and the start of school was to get into my school’s computer lab.

When I visited the school for on on-the-job training in early November, I saw the rocking computer at the school. There were 24 relatively new IBM computers in the room. Someone had built a desk that ran around three sides of the room for all the computers and had set up Ethernet wire so they could be networked. It was air-conditioned and the floor was linoleum instead of the usual cement. However, I heard that only six of computers were currently working. That was why I wanted to get into the lab, to see if there was anything I (or more likely Cale) could do to get more of them working.

On Tuesday the 8th I got the key to the lab from my pule ([pull-ay] principal) and got to work simply turning the machines on and checking to see what towers, monitors, keyboards and mice worked. Cale came over on Wednesday and started fixing on the ones that weren’t working. Right off the bat, 12 of the computers appeared to be in working order. So that was better than the six I initially expected. With Cale’s help, we were able to get a total of 20 of the computers in working order. The biggest problem appeared to be the computers were missing their RAM. Another common problem was a setting that had been changed on the computer that would not allow the monitor to work with the computer.

After we had determined what was working and what was not working, I got to work on cleaning. The lab needed a good scrub down. So on Thursday I headed over with my broom and bucket and scrubby and set to work. I got one wall of the desk space cleaned that day. Cale came with me on Friday and we got that side of the room set up with nine working student computers and one working teacher computer. While Cale I was setting them up, I was cleaning and dusting them all. I even took a Q-tip to the keyboards.

Sunday night we were back in the lab. I was sweeping off the other side of the room, while Cale was trying to make the computer’s desktops and start menus look homogenous. Tuesday found me back in the lab cleaning the other side of the room. Wednesday, Cale was once again helping me set up the computers on the newly clean side of the room. I went through and cleaned the machines. Then Cale took off and I took to the final side of the room with my sponge and pail. Friday I turned the keys back over to my pule.

I would say that I never spent more than a couple of hours in the lab at one time. If I wanted to, and with Cale’s help, we probably could have knocked out the entire sorting, cleaning up and setting up process in three days. However, seeing as how the work in the computer lab was the most substantial, concrete thing I have had to do in a month, I didn’t want to waste it all in three days and then go back to reading books. Spreading it out in pieces meant that I could break up the time I spent reading all the books in the Peace Corps library. I suppose this is my way of saying that despite my nervousness, I am looking forward to school starting and getting down to the business of teaching. Granted, I am sure after a couple of months of teaching I will look wistfully back on that first month in the village when the post pressing thing I had to do all day was a load of laundry in a bucket.

— Sara

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Packing Advice for the Peace Corps Pt. I

Are you packing for the peace corps? I was and when I did I looked at as many of these lists as I could find. Now that I have been here for a whopping 3 months, I feel like there are a few things I had brought with, but didn't think about.

So here is my packing list - with notations.

1 pair chaco - Great for riding the bike, though I suppose any really strappy sandal would do.

1 pair sneakers - for playing rugby or whatever; Completely useless. If you go for a run in the morning, bring running shoes, otherwise don't bring sneakers.

1 pack of socks - Useless without shoes (see above)

2 belts - No leather they all tell you - but no rivets or grommets or excessive metal either. Rust sucks. Good old fashioned web belts seem to work. I bought two locally, after my others rusted and stained a bunch of my clothes. Conveniently, mostly the white ones.

5 pairs shorts - Ok. Shorts are good. Board shorts are great. Aim for thin and polyester, cause they dry super fast, and they don't get dirty too easily. For bonus points, do your laundry by hand in a bucket for a while and see what you prefer. Cotton Sucks.

2 long sleeves - I get cold easy. I moved here from Florida. While I'm at it, I may as well mention the hooded sweatshirt, and the two pairs of long pants. Its Summer here and I have worn all but the sweatshirt already. I do not regret bringing my warm clothes in the least.

7 tshirts - If you have (and who doesn't) a collection of lovely tshirts that are psuedo-nice, bring a couple. If you have (and who doesn't) a bunch of tshirts that are ok - comfy, but not exactly nice, bring a couple. If you have (and who doesn't) a few tshirts that are raggedy as all hell, but super comfy and could in fact be called your favorites, bring 'em all.

4 button up shirts - These are available locally, but the fit is larger than I am accustomed to. The ones I brought are my favorite work shirts, but I have found a few (and made one) that I like well enough.

2 ties - I like ties. A lot. There is no explaining this one.

Aw crap. I am bored with clothes. Bring 'em or don't - what do I care.

But here i some stuff you should definitely consider:

You get a bike when you swear in. You'll wish you had a rear bike rack, and probably a set of panniers (saddle bags). Also a rear view mirror. Also possibly one of those little bags that mounts under the seat. Probably also lights for the front and back, and rechargeable batteries and a charger for them. Maybe a bike computer (odometer thingy) if you like to watch numbers change while you do stuff. GET A BIKE TOOL.

If you are a computer person, bring a portable hard drive. They cost a lot here. Also bring thumb drives. Just a couple - you'll find a use for them.

While we are on the subject of electronics - don't worry about adapters for stuff that doesn't need a converter. If you look at the power brick part of a lot of your electronics, they accept 110-240 volts and 50-60 cycle input. That means you don't need a converter. When you get here, just take a pair of pliers and twist the conductors on the plug from this shape (I I) to this one (/ \). Won't work on polarized plugs though... but those don't seem to come along so often.

blah - I'm bored and done. Hope this helps!

Thanks for tuning in!

-cale

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Day for Cale!

I had my first day of in-services for school today!

We had a guy from the qualifications authority ( a new-ish development in Samoa) come and talk with us about accrediting the programs at my school. It was all very interesting, but on the downside, it was definitely a lot like going to work. I have a job again. A Jobbyjob. hmmmmm.

- cale

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I liked it better when I didn’t know they could climb up things

Found this climbing up the bedroom wall in the middle of the night:

Centipede

According to our Peace Corps Medical Manual:

“Centipedes are another unpleasant type of insect found in Samoa. They are not to be confused with millipedes, which they resemble, except that millipedes are harmless. Millipedes have many smaller legs than centipedes, usually can’t move as fast and curl up when touched. Centipedes have sharp ‘fangs’ and can inject a very painful toxin. They also just seem to like to bite us for no apparent reason, often crawling into bed with us at night while we’re sleeping and wrenching us into wakefulness with their painful bites.

It is advisable especially during the rainy season to shake out your bed linen at night before retiring and to shake out shoes and clothing before putting them on. Centipede bits are not fatal but they are painful. Remove rings and bracelets immediately if bitten on arm or hand. Take a Benadryl tablet and ‘hang tough’ until the pain subsides. Ice may also be applied to the area that was bitten. The area may remain tender for several days but the severe swelling usually dissipates in 24-36 hours.”

The Wikipedia entry on centipedes is less than exciting, reads like it was written for a technical biology or since textbook. If you are interested, you can see it here. The article does mention:

“A key trait uniting this group is a pair of poison claws or forcipules formed from a modified first appendage. This also means that centipedes are an exclusively predatory taxa, which is uncommon…

…Scolopendra gigantea, also known as the Amazonian giant centipede, is the largest existing species of centipede in the world, reaching over 30 cm (12 inches) in length. It is known to eat bats, catching them in midflight, as well as rodents and spiders.”


Centipede in peat marshlands of Kawai Nui, O'ahu, Hawai'i photographed by Eric Guinther and released under the GNU Free Documentation License for use at Wikipedia.

— Sara

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bikes!

Paul and Rene visit

Our bikes have finally arrived! Now we can be mobile.

I don’t know if I mentioned earlier, but our bikes were delayed. Something to do with an ordering problem and then something to do with shipping. They were supposed to arrive on Dec. 19th, but that was pushed back to arrival in country of Dec. 25th. I am not sure when they actually made it to port, but then they had to go through customs, which can apparently take up to two weeks.

We found out the bike were in the office Friday afternoon on January 4th. Cale, Mike and John (who were out visiting in our village) and I all rushed in to Apia thinking that we could get our bikes together and take them home that night. However, it doesn’t work that way. One, the bikes didn’t come with any assembly instructions. Two, it was late afternoon on a Friday and no one was in the office and we didn’t want to just wander off with some of the bikes with out permission. So we waited for Bike Day.

Monday, January 7th was Bike Day. One of the volunteers in another group, Paul, is a bike expert. He and his wife did a lot of cycling in the States and here in Sāmoa as well. He was our official bike guy. He and Rene arrived in town early in the morning and Paul was still making adjustments on bikes late in the afternoon, early evening. I would say he put in a full 8 hours of bike assembly. For that we appreciate him greatly. He was able to make sure that each bike was properly assembled and adjusted.

Paul and Rene came back to our house that night and stayed for a couple of days while they got work done in town. It was nice to have visitors. The first night Cale made eggplant parmesan. The second night they made us dinner and introduced us to this delicious Indian soup that can be purchased here and this incredibly dense, wonderful wholegrain bread they make at Lucky Foodtown (one of the grocery stores in town — one day I will have to blog about the grocery stores). The wholegrain bread is twice the cost of the white bread, but definitely worth it.

Anyway, Cale and I attempted to go on a bike ride yesterday (Friday). However, things didn’t work quite as planned. One, we were way over ambitious. Looking at the map, we thought we could bike out to a village where another volunteer, Sally, in about an hour or hour and a half. Then, if we were ambitious we thought we could see about biking one of the cross-island roads to a beach on the other side. We thought that might take two hours. Boy, were we wrong. Cale got a little less than halfway to Sally’s and it took just over half an hour. So the time was right, but by that time he was tired and turned back. There was no way we would have made it to Sally’s much less across the island (which would have taken longer than the two hours I bet since part of it is up hill).

Now you may be wondering, Cale? Just Cale? What about Sara? Well, Sara started out on the bike ride, but reason number two as to why things didn’t work out as planned came into play here. I was wearing shorts and a lavalava for the biking, as I need to look presentable even on a bike. However, I don’t have any shorts that are knee-length and the lavalava kept flapping away exposing my knees and some thigh! Shocking, shocking stuff. Ok, actually not all that shocking. Lots of people wear more scandalous things in Apia all the time. However, I want to make sure I am making a good impression with my neighbors in our village and that means dressing appropriately and modestly.

After I figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to control my leg flashing, I headed back home and Cale continued on the ride. Next time I will have to wear long shorts under my lavalava.

— Sara

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lapisi Pt. III

Recently, Cale and I were having a conversation with another PC couple about trash in Sāmoa. I have already shared with you in my previous rubbish posts (oh, so cleverly named My Kingdom for a Lapisi and Lapisi Pt. II) some of the confusion I have over what Sāmoans think of trash and how the dispose of it.

Paul was talking about how until relatively recently most of the things that people in Sāmoa used on a regular basis they made themselves from plants. Plates were weaved from coconut tree leaves, as were bags. When the plate or bag started to wear out, you just threw it over your shoulder and made a new one. There was no reason to fix the old one (since the materials were readily available) and not worries about just throwing it in the yard (it would eventually biodegrade or get eaten by a pig).

However, there is now trouble with trash. Plates come from the store, as do bags. Food no longer simply comes from a plant or an animal; it comes in packaging. However, the Sāmoan attitude towards material goods and the trash generated by them has not changed. So if your plate breaks, just throw it over your shoulder and buy a new one. If your bag has a hole, don’t bother to fix it. Throw it in the yard and get a new one.

It doesn’t help that most of the products over here are cheap knockoffs made from lower quality materials and with lower quality standards. Things are going to break and fall apart quickly and the waste is going to build up just as quickly.

We also talked about how there is a lot less maintenance and repair in this country. An excellent example was the sewing machine. Lots of people have sewing machines, either to make their own clothes or to make a little money as a seamstress or tailor. However, no maintenance is performed on the sewing machines. Simple things like oiling, replacing aging parts or keeping it rust free. Once it breaks, it won’t be repaired either. It will be discarded and a new one will be purchased (if there is the money for it).

It is just a different attitude towards material goods than what we are used to in the States. In fact, it is almost like an attitude I associate with the lavishly rich in the States. “My shoe broke? Throw it away, I’ll buy a new one!” It seems extravagant and wasteful. But that is not where it is coming from. Sāmoans aren’t throwing trash willy-nilly and failing to repair broken items because they have money to burn. Quite the contrary. It is just what happens when Sāmoan culture/history meets a flood of Western (well, in this case Eastern, as most products come from China*) products.

*Though China is west of Sāmoa, so maybe it is Western. This is all very confusing no?

— Sara

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Rain, Rain Go Away

So it has been raining here for what feels like weeks. I am sure I am exaggerating, but it has definitely been days. This is supposed to be the hot, rainy summer season, but until January I hadn’t found it that hot or wet. Things have changed.

I haven’t noticed it being particularly hotter, but here in our house we have a couple of fans that keep us nice and cool. I was hotter in the training village, but that was because we didn’t have any fans or a breeze. However, I have noticed it raining, and raining, and raining some more. It rained a lot when we were in the training village, but almost always at night and rarely for more than an hour or so.

It has rained everyday this week so far. Our country director sent out an email updating us of the current weather situation and reminding us to be vigilant and safe.

“According to the Samoan Meteorological Division's weather report this morning, the trough of low pressure off of Tonga causing the heavy rainfall over the past few days has developed into a tropical cyclone named Elisa. Fortunately, it is, so far, continuing to move away from Tonga and Samoa. However, another active trough of low pressure located north of Fiji is predicted to bring more heavy rainfall to Samoa as it gets closer to Fiji. Flash flooding and high wind advisories remain in effect for Samoa."

According to the Lonely Planet, there is a distinct wet season between November and April. January seems to be the rainiest month with some places getting up to twenty inches of rain, though the capital, which we live near, gets about seventeen on average.

In comparison, Orlando’s wettest month is June and it averages 7 inches of rain and in Indy the wettest months are May through July, with each month averaging about 4 inches of rain. So, it’s a little wetter here.

On a completely unrelated note, in my weather research I came across this fun fact: Indy has both the higher and lower record temperatures than Orlando. I would expect Indy to have a lower record (-27° versus 19°), but Indy also has the higher (106° versus 101°). So it is both hotter and colder in Indy. How’s that for fun?

— Sara

Note: Well, I got my wish. I wrote this entry on Saturday I think. It didn’t rain at all on Sunday and it looks like today will be a beautiful Monday.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A note on sending packages

1. Pack it as if it was going to the other side of the world — it is.

2. These packages will be abused on their journey. They will be dropped, kicked, thrown and squished. Take this into consideration

3. Include plenty of cushioning packing materials (newspaper work just fine).

4. Put anything containing a liquid (or anything else you don’t want to leak all over the contents of the package) in a Ziploc bag, as it is very likely it will get squeezed enough the liquid will leak out. Also, if the package is put on a plane, air pressure changes will cause these liquids to leak out (or explode).

5. Don’t pack a box until it is overfull. The package will burst in transit, I promise.

Also, thank you, thank you, thank you so much to anyone who as sent us a package. We appreciate them greatly!

— Sara

The Magical Circus of Sāmoa

The Magical Circus of Samoa

We went to the circus on opening night in Apia. I bet you didn’t expect such a tiny island to have its own circus, but Sāmoa does.

Right away I was enthralled with the size. Everything felt so tiny. It was a one-ring affair. As we crowded into the “big top” and squeezed past people to get to our seats, I couldn’t help being acutely aware of the smallness. The ring in the center felt like the size of someone living room. I know that it was bigger than that, but it felt that small and intimate. The other side of the tent was only a stone’s throw away. Everything felt very cramped.

We also caught on quite quickly that all of the performers played multiple roles. The guy that does acrobatic moves while dangling from a strap high in the air? He also drives a motorcycle in the metal cage. The girl that was in the juggling act? She also does acrobatic moves while dangling on a rope. The guy in the back working the lights and the soundboard? Oh, he was also in one of the magic acts. And all of them were out in the fairway at the entrance selling popcorn or manning the photo keychain booth. I definitely got the feel that this is a small, close group of people who live and travel together.

Cale kept pointing out that this was probably what circuses were like back in the dizzle. Back when they traveled by train and actually put of tents, instead of putting up shop in Market Square Arena or the Hoosier Dome (sorry, RCA Dome). The only thing this circus was missing were animals. No animals.

This circus does travel. Up next they will be in New Zealand. I started to wonder about being a tiny traveling circus in the South Pacific. If you were a tiny traveling circus in the states you could just move around by train or trucks and RVs. Not too expensive. But for the Magical Circus of Sāmoa to travel they have to leave the island and then the only option is boat or plane. I doubt they can get their equipment on a plane, so they must travel by boat. I wonder how costly that is. I mean they have a metal cage that three motorcycles ride around in. That thing has to be heavy and awkward to ship.

The circus acts mostly consisted of stupid human tricks. Not that they were stupid, it is just what those sorts of tricks have been called since Letterman started that segment. There were acrobats and people that could balance on their head on a drum. There were knives thrown and clowning around. That sort of stuff.

Something that was interesting was that the ringmaster said that in honor of Sāmoa and Cuba’s new relations, they had some Cuban circus performers with their troupe and that the theme for the evening was “Viva Havana.” They also appeared to have some performers from Brazil. I dunno about these international performers — the girl from Brazil was apparently named Nadia, a very Brazilian name if I ever heard one. Nobody looked particularly Cuban or Brazilian. There was the guy named Pedro...so….

I was enjoying the show, but it had been a long, long day and my back was killing me. I left at the intermission and sat outside reading a book. I came back in time for the finale, the motorcycle cage. That was actually very exciting and nerve wrecking. It got my pulse racing to watch these three guys on dirt bikes racing around inside that tiny cage.

— Sara

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hi: from cale

Hello all - just figured I'd pop in to the ol' blogo-whatsits and say hey-

To those of you wondering If I ever write blog entries: I do. Here is a fine example of one. The trick, as much as there is one, is that I don't really have anything to write about. School is still a couple weeks off, we are comfortably settling in to our new home, and to our new community as well. We got the internets in our house, albeit slow internets. We got bikes, finally. I have had no major insights into Sāmoan culture, nor has anything really marvelous happened. It is business as usual, with the exception of locale. I even have my usual steady stream of projects with which to occupy myself.

On that note I would like to direct your attention to the NEW SIDEBAR featuring my projects. I will try to keep it up to date, and to provide you, gentle readers (I've just been reading Asimov, can you tell?), with nifty blurbs of information about the various projects as they move on to, off of, and around the list.

Anyhow, there you have it. A bloggery bit by cale.

-Me

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A few minor incisions

Okay, I lied. There weren’t any actual incisions. We didn’t use a knife, just a sterilized needle.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. This is the story of my new butt boil and the minor surgery Cale and I performed on it all by ourselves.

Where to start? So the boil and had been doing it’s thing for three or four days and had finally reached the oozing stage. I may have mentioned the oozing stage in my last blog post about butt boils?

So anyway, this one was particularly fun because it had formed right next to the scar of one of my first boils and apparently there was still a void under that scar because with this new boil that void had filled with puss.

I am sorry; you weren’t eating or anything when you sat down to read this blog entry were you? Maybe you want to put the sandwich down. This is not for queasy stomachs.

Where was I? Oh yes, so I have a boil and a void that are painful and swollen with puss. I applied pressure in the morning and evening to empty those puppies out, but they would fill back up again over time. Thursday I was having a particularly successful emptying, but I could see this whitish-green spot inside the boil and I just knew that spot was something and that I needed to take care of it. I had Cale sterilize a needle on the stove for me and then I poked at it a little.

In case you need a mental image, in order to do this surgery I am sort of all twisted up like a contortionist (speaking of contortionists, I will have an entry and pictures from the Sāmoan circus soon) and Cale has a headlamp on that he is directing at the boil while he holds a mirror so I can get a good look at my own butt cheek.

All right, so here I am, upside down, poking a boil in my butt with a needle. At first it doesn’t look like this is going to be a successful poking, when I get a bit of the spot caught on the needle and as I pull away a solid mass of puss comes with it. Cale likes to describe it as frozen-pea-esque. And it was a relatively large, solid piece of green puss that just sort of popped out of what is now a new void in my backside. Cale then packed this new hole with gauze in what we hoped was the same way the medical officer had when she had done the knife poking on my earlier boils.

I immediately sent the medical officer a text message to let her know what is up.

“sorry 2 bother on your holiday. pulled large solid mass of puss out of new butt boil. left a hole. cale packed with guaze. wanted 2 let you know. sara 79”

Literally five seconds after I hit the send button on the text message, the phone rings. It is the medical officer.

“Hi Sara. What have you been doing?”

I give her the run down. She tells me she will be in the Peace Corps office until noon; can I come in so she can take a look? I jump in a cab. She looks at our handy work and says that Cale did a very good job of packing it. She takes a swab to find out just want I am growing in my boils, gives me a new 14-day prescription for antibiotics and tells me not to go visit the training village (as I had planned to do soon) until I was entirely healed.

And that is the exciting and fun-filled story of my latest butt boil. Thanks for reading. You can now go back to your sandwich, I promise not to describe anything with puss in it for a while.

— Sara

Fa’afafine

Update 02/07/17 (Almost 10 years later)
National Geographic and Katie Couric have teamed up to produce what looks like a really interesting documentary on gender.

This video is making the rounds on Facebook right now. And as is the case with just about any pop culture or news piece that references Samoa, it made it to my feed.



The videos and coverage are driving a little more traffic to this blog post, I assume because it pops up in search results for people searching fa'afafine.

Re-reading the post, I was initially a little apprehensive to leave it up. Innumerable typos aside, I may have been an LGBTQ ally a decade ago when I wrote this post, but current Sara cringes to read what that Sara wrote.

Rather than simply take the post down to protect myself from the embarrassment and to stop the spread of misinformation, I've gone for an update instead.

The Sara that wrote this post had lived in Samoa for all of three months. She had spent two months in training that included extended stays in a training village where she had made passing friends with someone who identified as fa'afafine and had a presentation from a organizational representative during training. Clearly 10-years-ago Sara was already an expert on this subject. [Quick, someone remind me what the sarcasm emoji is].

I'd like to more clearly articulate that Samoan culture is not a binary gender culture. This manifests itself in a number of ways - from the three genders to the lack of gendered pronouns or words for roles. I have always been fascinated by what a language can tell us about a culture and the environment in which it evolved. Just the fact that Samoan uses toalua (spouse) [it also means two people] and not words for "husband' and "wife" says something to me about the culture in which the language developed.

I seem to have gone off topic here, let me get back.

In writing my post below, I was still coming from a binary gender perspective. Fa'afafine are not feminine men or men that think they are women (not necessarily that is - I don't want to preclude Samoans from being transgendered just because there is also a third gender recognized in their culture). And they most certainly are not crossdressers (unless of course, an individual also is or identifies as such).

I believe gender is a societal construct about what are appropriate roles, behavior, emotions, dress, etc. In Western culture, we've mapped gender to body parts. In Samoa and in many other cultures with traditions of more than two genders, I think that this mapping was not as rigid, more fluid. I also think that the missionaries confused the heck out of things in Samoa (but that is a whole other story).

But this is what the cisgender foreigner has to say. So before you read the post below (or really anything I have written here), get out a grain of salt first.

-------------

I would be remiss if I served two years in Sāmoa and never wrote a blog entry about fa’afafine. However, it is such a complex and sensitive issue that I wanted to put it off until I thought I had a better understanding. I am still not particularly well informed on the intricacies of the issue, but I think I can do it justice.

The simple and surface way to define fa’afafine is to break down the word. Fa’a means “in the way of” in Sāmoan. So for example, tau means price or cost and fa’atau (literally the way of price or cost) means shop or shopping. Fafine means woman and fa’afafine means in the way of a woman. It is a word used to refer to men with effeminate characteristics.

From a Western standpoint, fa’afafine would be a word used to refer to a wide range of gender and transgender roles embraced by the LGBT community. This is where things become complicated for me because the LGBT community in the states goes to great pains to distinguish between cross-dressers, people who are transgendered, people who are transsexual and people who are gay or lesbian. A leader from the organization that represents fa’afafine in Sāmoa did a presentation for us during our training and I asked later how the community in Sāmoa defines these different groups and whether or not they differentiate, but it appears that things are even more complex here.

The easy way to look at it is that fa’afafine are men who dress and live as women. There were two such people who lived in our training village. However, the representative from the fa’afafine association did not fit into this category. He did not dress as a woman. He said that there are many men who identify themselves as fa’afafine but are not cross-dressers. This is where the whole confusion over the difference between crossdresser and transgender and transsexual come into play I believe.

The role of the fa’afafine in Sāmoan society is tricky. There are some people who say that it has historical precedent dating back to before the missionaries came to the island. I have read about a legend that describes the founding of Sāmoa by four brothers. Since the family had no daughters, one of the brothers was designated a woman so he could help in mother in womanly tasks. I have read that historically that was how fa’afafine came about, that families with too many sons would designate one to live and work as a woman so that the mother of the family would have some help doing the work assigned to women. However, I have also read and had people tell me that fa’afafine are born that way and that many parents can tell early on that their child will become one, but that it is the decision of that person whether or not they will dress and live like a woman.

Another complexity to the fa’afafine situation is how they are treated and accepted into the community. Since the role appears to have a cultural and historical precedent, on the surface cross-dressing men are much more accepted in Sāmoan society. One of the fa’afafine in our training village was a teacher at the primary school. I am trying to imagine a cross-dressing man teaching children at a primary school in the States without it causing an uproar and I cannot do it. So it ways like that, Sāmoan society is significantly more open and accepting than the States.

However, everything isn’t sweetness and light for fa’afafine here. From my experience in the host village, they may be accepted in the sense they are allowed to live their lives in this way and can get jobs and work as women, but they are treated as a joke or a form of entertainment. Fa’afafine are expected to be flamboyant and gregarious and funny and entertaining. Everything thing they say or do is interpreted as comedy. In our host village, I almost saw their roles as village jesters sometimes.
From my conversations with one of the fa’afafine in our village, I knew that she considered herself to be female and I always referred to her with female pronouns when talking about here. However, the members of my host family and other people in the village went out of their way to use male pronouns when referring to her and to correct me when I used the female ones.

“He’s a boy, Sara. He’s a boy wearing girl’s clothes.”

I don’t know if they did this because they honestly thought I was confused, that I didn’t know what was going on or if it was for another reason.

Another problem for fa’afafine in Sāmoa is that the term has been linked to homosexuality, which is not acceptable or legal in this strictly Christian nation. In fact, there is another term used, fa’atama (in the way of a man) that doesn’t appear to translate to masculine woman (the way fa’afafine means feminine man), but instead appears to mean lesbian. So I can see how it would be easy for people to also label fa’afafine as gay. Now, I haven’t talked with any fa’afafine about their sexual orientation, but I assume that some of them are straight and some of them are gay. It works the same way in the States. I remember reading somewhere that a majority of cross-dressers in America are married, heterosexual men. I know that many fa’afafine in Sāmoa get married to women as well.

The Prime Minister has taken up the cause of the fa’afafine as his own (though he is not fa’afafine himself). He has become their patron in the government and supports the fa’afafine association. In an article I read on Sāmoan government’s website (apparently reprinted from the Savali Newspaper), he went to great lengths to draw a dividing line between fa’afafine and homosexuality. He then went on to praised their role in society.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a lot of resources online about fa’afafine, this history of the role or current discussions. I don’t feel like I have a clear picture of this complex issue yet, but I thought I would try to explain what I did know the best I could.

— Sara

Lōia II

“Encumbrance.”
“What?”
“The word I am looking for is like encumbrance…but that isn’t quite it.”
“Is that even a word?”
“You know to be encumbered, when you are laden down with heavy, awkward things.”
“So your soul is encumbered?”
“No. You know like when you just ate a lot of bacon and sausage and eggs in the morning?”
”Lōia!”
“Covered with ants?”
“No. It also means the feeling you get in your stomach after you have eaten a lot of greasy, fatty foods.”
“O lo’u mafaufau o lōia.”
“You’re brain is lōia?”
“O lo’u fata o lōia. My heart is lōia.”

...

“You know it says a lot that Samoan’s have a word for the feeling you get when you eat a lot of greasy, fatty foods.”
“I know. I said that in my lōia blog entry. It says a lot that they have one word to describe covered with ants. And a word to describe the feeling of eating a lot of greasy, fatty foods.”
“And it means lawyer too.”
“Well, now that we have just re-enacted my entire blog entry.”
“Oh? I don’t read your blog.”

So I hit him with my ili (fan).

— Sara

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Sara

So apparently girls usually gain weight in the Peace Corps. I have not been doing that.

Oct. 8, 2007: just under 130 pounds
Dec. 12, 2007: 115
Jan. 3, 2008: 113

Of course, I am getting a lot more exercise now. Our medical officer says that some girls will loose weight in the first six months and then start to gain, so we shall see.

- Sara

Old and Crotchety

New Years DInner

So there were plans a foot for a Peace Corps New Years. Other volunteers were going to a beach on the southside of the island for two nights to ring in the New Year.

Cale and I were too old and crotchety for all that fun. "It sounds like such a hassle to get there," we thought. "It is too expensive for two people," we said. So we texteded a decline to the invite.

Later we started to regret this decision. "Are we boring and not fun?" we wondered. Of course at this point it wouldn't work out anyway. I was sitting on a hot water bottle all the time with a new boil (Moms: Don't freak out, it is fine. I am on antibiotics).

Instead we decided to have a chill Mexican night. We made tortillas and Cale made refried beans and guacamole from scratch. We also made some chips to eat with salsa.

I stuffed my face and we watched a year in review slideshow of all our pictures on iPhoto. Could we be more cute? Or old and boring? I think not.

- Sara