Sunday, March 30, 2008

Random Observations

#1 There is no AAA in Sāmoa

Biking into town at around 5pm for dinner with other Peace Corps the Friday before Easter. Pass car broke down on the side of the road. Appears to have flat tire or something similar since it is up on a jack and missing a tire.

Biking back from town at about 10:30pm having finished dinner with other Peace Corps. Pass car broke down on the side of the road. Notice former occupant of car has bedded down for the night in grass on the side of the road next to the car.

Apparently, if your car breaks down and you cannot fix it, you just pull some ie ([ē-ā] cloth, materials, lavalava, etc.) out the trunk of your car and call it a night.

#2 Notes from a teachers' meeting

1. Teachers should come to school and show up one time. When you don't come to school, there is no one to teach your classes.

2. The rugby fund-raising that was supposedly due months ago? Not really. Teachers, please, please ask your students to turn in the fund-raising. Oh, also teachers should turn in their fund-raising too.

3. Teachers should not hang out in the resource room (incredibly well air-conditioned room where the school textbooks live [students are not give textbooks of their own, but borrow them from the resource room for class]).

4. If a rugby coach cannot stay after school, he should tell someone and not just leave the school. This is probably why one of the rugby balls is missing.

5. One of the senior students is being sent to a school in New Zealand where he will play rugby. It appears that another student was already sent to this school earlier this year...however, a recent fax from the school indicates that the earlier student has not arrived yet. So...somewhere out there one of our students is just wandering around in New Zealand?

6. Teachers want more money.

#3 They cannot all be waiting for a bus. Can they?

So I have noticed, while riding the bus to and from town, there are always people hanging out by the side of the road. Some of them are waiting for buses. They must be waiting for specific buses though. Even when the bus I am on (headed into town...where all the buses meet) stops for someone that gets on there are often two or three people that don't get on. Are they waiting for another bus? Why does it matter? All the buses are going into Apia, shouldn't one bus be as good as another? Plus I have seen people hanging out by the side of the road long after the buses have stopped running. Maybe hanging out by the side of the road is just a cool thing to do.

#4 Ten granola bars in two days

Cale's Dad and Shirl sent us a package. It was full of granola bars. We had long ago run out of our last wonderful supply of granola bars. I did not realize just how much I had missed them until the reinforcements arrived. We got the box yesterday and today an entire box is gone. I ate ten granola bars in two days. Granola overload. Mmmmmmmmm. Delicious.

— Sara

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In with the new

'Ava ceremony for the new Country Director

Cale and I attended the welcome 'ava ceremony for Peace Corps Sāmoa's new country director on Tuesday. It was held in a large fale at the University of the South Pacific. The site has a wonderful view of the mountain and a valley.

Many of the PC staff were there and several volunteers were able to make it for the event. Most of the volunteers there were ones that live in Apia (or nearby, like us).

After the ceremony there was tea back at the PC office. I made pumpkin bread (I think that is becoming my signature dish) and was complimented quite a bit. However, my bread was no match for Tafu's poke (a Hawaiian raw fish dish) that most of the PC volunteers made a beeline for.

The new director seems to be a good guy. He has a lot of experience working with the Peace Corps and as a country director. I look forward to working with him.

— Sara

Friday, March 21, 2008

Who knew cleanliness was a luxury?

I am sitting in the living room reading a book. I look down at my leg and wonder to myself why it has this unearthly greenish cast about it. If I didn't know better I would say that my skin is dirty. But not in any normal way. Usually when your skin is dirty it is because you got something on it. You were in the mud, it was hot and the dirt in the air is sticking to your skin, you stepped in something, you spilled something. Stuff like that. This was more of a lived in dirty. This was dirty the way soap scum sort of builds up on the bathroom wall. This was horrifying.

I just showered 30 minutes ago. With soap! And a loofah! I shower with soap every day! I am a clean person dammit. So why do my legs have this greenish tint?

I lick my finger and rub vigorously at a spot on my leg actually hoping that it doesn't come up, that I have some sort of horrible disease turning my skin green instead. Oh, no, it's dirt. If I scrub hard enough the greenish tint turns into black dirt that I can brush off. Oh, goodness look, that spot on my ankle that I thought was a sun spot it's dirt too.

I am filthy. How did this happen?

"Cale, some day very soon I need to take a shower. With hot water. And soap. And a wash cloth."

"Baby, we're in the third world. Why do you think I don't shower every day?"

"I just thought it was because you were a dirty person."

"No, it's because it doesn't matter."

— Sara

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First Aid

At yesterday's rugby tournament in Apia Park a player on the opposing team got hit. Hard. And he was down for the count. It was on the other side of the field, so I could not tell if he wasn't moving because he was unconscious or because he couldn't move. I used the zoom lens on the camera to get a better look.

Several players and a coach and a ref finally rushed to his side (play had continued with out him and no one seemed to be too concerned for a good two-three minutes). At first I thought they were rolling him to his side to slip something under him to move him (the way you see on TV when people are injured). However, I quickly learned that it was a scavenging mission. While the player lay unconscious on the field, his teammates were stripping him of his shoes, socks and pads. A shoeless player put his shoes and socks on and ran to join the play still going on at the other goal.

I realized I was waiting for someone to show up. You know someone wearing a vest or uniform carrying a large case full of medical equipment and some sort of neck brace or backboard. Instead, the remaining players and coach appeared to sort of slap and pinch the unconscious player for about five minutes. The decision was made to remove him from the field and about eight people lifted him up and carried him off the field. He was a limp noodle. There was no concern for keeping his neck or back straight or protecting his head (other than to shield his closed eyes from the sun).

He was placed on the cement in the shade and surrounded by players, coaches and students. I was still waiting for the paramedics or an ambulance to arrive. Hadn't anyone called someone? Shouldn't medical professionals be here by now?

The crowd's medical treatment appeared to be to gently slap his legs and neck while fanning him and dumping water on him. At some point the secretary from Cale's school broke in to disperse some of the crowd and teenage girl located a cell phone and called someone.

By then he may have been awake in some way. He appeared to open his eyes, but his breathing was very rapid and he was shivering. I kept finding myself stepping closer to the scene overcome with a need to do something. Anything. I was thinking to myself, I know absolutely nothing about medical situations, but I know what you are doing isn't right. I had no credits on my phone and was pondering how I could contact the PC medical officer for advice when the truck arrived.

They loaded the player into the back of the pickup and took off, presumably for the hospital. I hope that he is ok and that it was just a concussion or he was just knocked out for a bit.

Cale says that just by having watched ER and the Discovery Health Channel most of the PC volunteers have more medical knowledge than the average Sāmoan. Which is possible. It still didn't put me in any position to do any good in this situation. Hell, I was 11 years old when I was last certified in CPR. I am not much help for anything.

— Sara

Word of the Week: Sole

Sole {sō - lay}
ij. 1. Term used when addressing or calling a boy (or a man). ~!: Son! Boy! Laddie! (there is no exact equivalent for this usage in English). 2. Exclamation to show astonishment.

Can you use it in a sentence?
Sole, where's my car?

We were first introduced to sole in training. The given definition was boy or guy or young man. But that definition didn't work in an English translation. It is rare to hear someone yell out in English, "Guy, come over here." Or "Young man, where are you going?" Unless of course the speaker was some sort of elderly British man I suppose.

Anyway, the closest American English equivalent I can come up with is dude. "Dude, come over here." "Dude, where are you going?" They all work. However, then I run into trouble with who does and doesn't use dude in the States. It would be very unlikely to hear an old man use dude in the States, but people of all ages use sole here. You would never hear a parent call a child with dude in the States, but sole works here. So dude really isn't the best equivalent.

The best I can do is say that it appears to be appropriate to call any young man or boy sole as if it were their name. However, I wouldn't recommend calling anyone more mature sole, unless you want some trouble or are much older than they are.

— Sara

Sporty Sara

First Netball Game

"Yada yada yada sports. Yada yada yada coaches. Yada yada yada"

It's tea time. The pule is talking to the teachers. I have zoned out because the speech is in Sāmoan and I don't understand. Besides, he is talking about sports and coaches, so he must be talking about the rugby team again.

"Sara, don't you agree?"

Wait, what? We've switched to English. That means that it is something the pule wants me to hear. But I don't know what I do or don't agree with. Crap. Time to go with Plan B. I look up from the lesson plan book and say "Huh?"

This is when I learned that the talk earlier was actually about girls' netball. Our school had a netball team last year, but they had to quit in the middle of the season for lack of coaches. The pule thinks that we should have netball for the girls this year. He said he doesn't want to discriminate against the girls and only have sports for the boys. And we are taking a vote. All teachers in favor of netball for girls should raise their hands.

Well, hells yeah! I think that it is great to not discriminate against the girls and have sports for them too. I raise my hand.


Apparently, what I didn't know what that the reason netball had been canceled the year before was because of a lack of female teachers for coaches. By being a female teacher and raising my hand for netball, I had effectively volunteered to coach. what is this netball you speak of?

According to Wikipedia:

"Netball is a non-contact sport similar to, and derived from, basketball. It is usually known as a women's sport. It was originally known in its country of origin, the United States, as "women's basketball". Invented in 1895 by Clara Gregory Baer,[1], a pioneer in women's sport, it is now the pre-eminent women's team sport (both as a spectator and participant sport) in Australia and New Zealand and is popular in the West Indies, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom."

You can check out the rules here.

I explain to the girls' sports master that I don't know how to play netball. Ah! Well that is ok. I am a palagi, so that means I like to run and exercise (the pule did offer when I first arrived in the village that I could jog around the school field whenever I wanted to, he does not know me or that I don't jog unless I am being chased by wild dogs). Since I like to run and exercise, I can lead the girls in the trainings (as they are called). The trainings appear to be laps and stretches and calisthenics.

I did that for three practices last week. I searched deep in my brain and dug up all sorts of crazy things they used to make us do in gym class. We ran laps and did what St. Monica's gym coach called burpees, but what the rest of the world has never heard of. We ran sprints and backwards and sideways. We stretched all sorts of muscles. The girls hated me for it.

Thursday there were games. I got on a bus full of girls and coaches and we went to another school. I took pictures and asked people what was going on and got a bit sunburned. The seniors and intermediate girls won.

Being a coach ain't all that hard.

— Sara

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I see now that my work is cut out for me

So I gave my students a test. The test was over all the computer topics we had covered thus far, strand 1 of the PSSC prescription. In order to gauge how I am preparing my students for the PSSC test they must take at the end of the year and to give them an idea of what the test is going to be like, I took all my questions from last year's PSSC test.

They failed miserably.

Well, 63 of 66 students failed miserably. In the States the grading scale puts anything below a 70% as failing. However, here in Sāmoa anything below a 50% is failing. Three students got above a 50% on the test. So they passed.

I learned from Ed, the Irish-Australia volunteer (originally from Ireland, recently became a resident of Australia, volunteering in
Sāmoa), that the 50% scale is used in Australia and New Zealand too. But in Ireland he said it was anything less than 40% was failing. I don't want to criticize other countries educational systems or grading scale, but how can a student demonstrate knowledge on less than half of the tested material and still pass? That blows my mind.

I was talking with another teacher about my horrible test. I was explaining that in my mind, if all the students fail a test that shows a failing either on the part of the teacher or the test. If the teacher did a good job teaching than at least one student should have been able to do well on the test or if the test was written properly it would test the knowledge that should have been taught to the students and then at least one should have been able to do well. However, almost all my students did horribly — it must be me or the test. Personally, I thought it was both. I had recently learned that my students don't understand most of what I am saying (I teach in English since the test they have to pass is in English) so they weren't learning the concepts. Also, I knew the PSSC test was hard and that the language of the test questions did  not take into consideration that the people taking the test are ESL. So, in two ways I failed my students. However, the teacher I was talking to disagreed. He seemed to think that the problem was the students. Which I hear a lot here, from teachers who are
Sāmoans themselves. Most of the teachers seem to think that the students are lazy and not that smart.

I started requiring students to come to extra lessons during their free periods. I only require one a week, but they are welcome to come to as many as they want. Unfortunately, this means that I no longer have any free periods either.

Today was my first day of that and man was it exhausting, but also inspiring. I taught all day except first period. I desperately needed to pee by fourth period and was able to sneak away to the bathroom between fifth and sixth periods.

At one point the room was full of students. I have been worried about the time line of my keyboarding section I am teaching the students and whether or not they will be able to learn keyboarding in such a sort period of time. However, I started to feel a lot better about it when I had a room full of students practicing typing two periods today. The computer students love the opportunity to be in the computer lab (it is air-conditioned [newly air conditioned, the school just replaced the air in both labs!]) and to practice typing (cause it is like playing video games. Plus they were just going to be sitting in study hall anyway. So I feel much better about the time they have to learn typing.

I had three extra lesson today and many of the students there really wanted to put forth the effort and learn more. I am trying hard to make things understandable too. I spent all night last night translating my lessons into Samoan. Well, sort off. I do not have the ability to create complex enough sentences or a dictionary with many useful words. However, I tried to create Samoan versions of all my main points and any tough English words. I don't know if it is helping. But I do think that the students appreciate the effort. Plus they get to laugh at my horrible pronunciation and my misspellings (for example, instead of spelling the word for program [polokelama], I managed to spell an nonsense word that started with the derogatory Samoan word for penis).

Anywho, tune in next time when I tell you all about how I became a sports coach.

— Sara

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So about that RAM (and other things)

Two-slotted RAM for the dinosaur

One-slotted RAM for the IBMs

There has been some question as to what sort of RAM we can use. The older-model computers are using two-slotted RAM that Cale says is PC100 and possibly EDO, but he is not sure about that. We would prefer it over 32 MB, as these computers only have so many RAM slots.

The "newer-model" computers at my school are using one-slotted DDR. We mostly have 256MB, but some of them have 128MB. I would like to get all the computers up to at least 256MB, so even more 128MBs would be used, as I can pair them up with other 128MBs.

Also, any old video cards you might have lying around that I can plug into expansion slots would be welcome. The video cards on the motherboards of these computers seem to be the first things to go.

We also had an offer on a broken PowerBook for parts, which Cale things he can do something with and maybe some Adobe software. I am actually teaching graphics to my students (as a PSSC requirement). Some of the computers have old versions of PhotoShop Elements. If you have old Adobe products with transferable licenses, I will totally take them off your hands.

Ana, if you are reading thing. I am not sure how to contact you. You said you would be in Samoa in two weeks (so that is probably one week now). Let me know an email or something and I will drop you a line.

— Sara

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Please, Please, Send Me Your RAM


What is that?

What's what?

That thing, the thing Cale is acting a foo next to.

A computer.

No really, what is it.

A computer.

Listen, I have seen computers before and that sir is no computer. That is some sort of decrepit TV sitting atop a giant metal box.

I know. That is what computers used to be like.

So what do you do with it?

Teach kids how to compete in the modern world.

You said that sarcastically didn't you?

Yes. Yes I did.

So, really, what do you do with it.

Right now? Load Linux on it because we don't have any licenses for a Windows OS and attempt to get OpenOffice running on 48 MB of RAM.

[Chokes] I am sorry did you just say 48 MB of RAM? I think digital watches have more RAM than that.

They probably do.

So what are you going to do?

Make a plea. A plea for people to send me their tired, old, antiquated computer equipment. Like old RAM, old video cards and old hard drives. As long as they are still working, they will be put to good use here. I mean, look at that HP Vectra. We have 10 more just like it and they all could use some more RAM. And as long as I am at it I will make a plea for any installation CDs
and license numbers for old programs that are transferable. Think that MS Office 2000 has seen its last use? Think again. It can find a second life here in Samoa. Do you happen to have the now defunct Adobe PageMaker floating around? Do you have heaps? Send them our way! That is the desktop publishing program of choice around here.

So that is what this was all about?

So what was what this all about?

This entire blog post? Just an excuse to ask people for stuff?

Yeah? You got a problem with that?

No. Just checking.

— Sara

PS. So what was Cale doing anyway?

Oh, he was pretending to be a dinosaur. Like the computer.

PPS. Charlotte, what did one dinosaur say to the other?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Early Termination

ETing is one of the less glamorous facts of life in the Peace Corps. Volunteers decided to end their service early for a variety of reasons. There is surprisingly little information online about early termination rates in the Peace Corps, but I have heard figures as high as 30 percent. I know that in the Peace Corps office there are mug shots on the wall of all the volunteers in the the groups currently in country and most of the groups have many faces crossed off. So far no one has been crossed off our group (Group 79).

Cale and I recently experienced the first ET of volunteers that we know. They are a married couple from an earlier group. After more than eight months in country and more than six months as Village-Based Developers in a remote village, they decided to go home.

They came out to our place for a visit on Monday and we had a chance to hear a lot about their decision and the frustrations that led up to it.
I won't go into why they left. I will leave it to them to speak for their reasons. However, I did learn a lot about the different experiences volunteers can have and what things affect people in different ways. We commented frequently on how different our experiences have been. Afterwards I had time to think about my frustrations and ponder whether or not they could ever build up to a point where I would want to call it quits.

Right now, I say no. I cannot think of any frustrations that would lead me to
voluntarily leave early.

However, that is not a criticism of volunteers that choose to go home early. ETing is a very personal, very difficult decision to make and I respect volunteers who recognize their limitations. I also give major props to other VBD volunteers who have shared similar stories of frustrations, but make the decision to continue with their service even in the face of apathy or adversity.

This blog post must read like someone dancing around an issue with out taking sides or expressing a true opinion. Must sound like a presidential debate. HA! Timely humor! Are you impressed?

To be honest, it is a lot like that. Do I agree with ETing? No. Would I ever ET? I would like to believe the answer is no. Do I understand how some volunteers get to the point where ETing is their only option? Yes. Do I get a slight twinge when Samoans mention volunteers that left early, indicating they abandoned their responsibilities? Yes. Do I know that in many cases the volunteers that left already felt abandoned by their villages? Yes. Can I ask and answer anymore of my own rhetorical questions? Not if I want you to ever read my blog again.

It is a difficult topic with lots of gray areas. Lets leave it at that.

— Sara

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Product Endorsement of the Week: The Warwick A4 Writing Book

Product of the Week

Available at any local business supply store, the Warwick A4 Writing Book is a triumph of design. It was created in such a way that the act of opening and closing the notebook causes the back and front cover to fall off of the spiral binding. This gives you quicker, easier access to the pages you want to write on. As an added bonus, the pages themselves also fall out of the binding, eliminating those pesky rough edges from ripping pages out of the notebook.

Truly an excellent buy.

— Sara

Burger Wednesdays

Burger Wednesdays

Two Wednesdays ago Cale made burgers and fries and we invited Alo and Nao over for dinner after school. Due to a miscommunication Nao didn't make it. Last Wednesday Cale made burgers and fries and Alo and Nao came over. Two times in row and it is a trend. Alo started calling it Burger Wednesdays, I think mainly to encourage the continued making and eating of burgers. Cale has been calling it our Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.

Alo claimed that those are the best two meals he has had in country. Unfortunately for Also, it looks like this Wednesday is going to be Curry Wednesday compliments of Nao and Alo. Either way, it is something Wednesday around there.

Back in Evansville we used to do this on Friday nights. It was either at our place or Phil's or Joe and Erin's. All the paper people would get together after work and make food and drink spirits and play some Trivial Pursuit. A good time was always had by all.

To quote Cale:

"Joe usually made something grilled. Phil would make those delicious lettuce chicken wraps and a pork dish of the gods. What did I usually make at our house? I think I usually made stir fry."

I hope that this Wednesday thing can be come a regular occurrence. Both Cale and I missed the Friday nights in Evansville when we moved to Orlando. Maybe we can move it to Wednesdays in Sāmoa.

— Sara

When 2 Worlds Collide

Was the theme of the bachelorette party Cale and I attended on Friday night. One of the Peace Corps Volunteers who has been in country over a year is getting married this month. Her fiancé is a Samoan she met here. Many of the party goers had matching T-shirts that said "When 2 Worlds Collide" on the front and "One Drunken Bride" on the back. There were also phallic symbols, but we won't talk about that.

On a boy-isn't-the-world-a-small-place note, Amanda (who is getting married) was going to school at the University of Evansville at the same time Cale and I lived there. She says it is even possible that she recognizes us.

Cale and I didn't not stay out too long and I didn't bring the camera, so I have not photographs of Peace Corps debauchery to share with you. But let it just be said there was drinking and dancing. By other people of course! when is the last time you saw Sara dance? That's what I thought.

— Sara

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Why I am not worried the panel I want to host less than a week from today isn't ready at all

Last Friday, I arrived at school and headed to the computer lab to prepare for my classes later in the day. The pule came in and spoke to the other computer teacher in Sāmoan and leaves. The other teacher informed me that the pule wanted to see the room because they were having a ceremony to install the new computer program at 10 a.m.

This would be the new computer program the director of the school board asked me to look into and prepare the computer lab for weeks ago. This would also be the program installation that I was under the impression had been postponed because the rep for the company was going to be in China this week.

So about 8 a.m. the day of is when I found out that there was going to be a ceremony and that the new program was going to be installed. And from the hustle and bustle around the school, I don't think that anyone else found out much earlier me.

Flowers were located to decorate the computer lab. A table cloth and lace doily appeared for the teacher table. A ribbon was found and taped up outside the computer door. It was going to be a ribbon-cutting ceremony! Members of the PTA were called and asked to attend. Someone must have called the news, because they arrived too.

At a little after 10 a.m. the company rep and the technical support guy arrived. At this point we were supposed to be having a ceremony, but we had not started installing the program on the computers yet. So, while the program was installing on three of the computers, they started the ceremony with the ribbon cutting and many speeches. Unfortunately, even with four speeches and a stall-for-time-question and answer period, the program was still not finished installing on the computers. Awkward waiting ensued.

When the program was finally done installing, we discovered that something was wrong. The laptop server that hosted the content for the new program was not talking with the computer lab's local area network. Realllllllly, realllllly awkward trouble shooting ensued.

We shot trouble for over four hours. No solution. At this point, the company rep and technical guys had a flight out of the country in less than three hours. They were thinking of boxing everything up and coming back again later to see if they can get the program working at another date.

That is when Cale worked his miracle and fixed the problem. He determined the program was trying to connect through a port that was closed on the laptop. One quick port change and he got the program working properly on one computer. Proof of concept was enough for the rep and the tech guy to say 'uma and call it a day.

So, that is why I am not worried about the panel of computing professionals that I am trying to pull together for my students this coming Friday. I think in the States I would have had the panel members booked at least a month in advance, but in S
āmoa, I think I have until early morning the day of to still try to pull the whole thing together.

It is a little unnerving not being overly, anally prepared for something. On the other hand, it is a little nice to to just sit back and let things sort themselves out and not freak out to much.

— Sara