Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2 a.m.

"I just had a thought."

Groggy reply "Oh?"

"You can't carry on saws and chisels."

"Oh. They were checked baggage .... dammit."

— Sara

Cale's hungry

After searching the internet for BBQ joints in American Samoa and New Zealand because he was honestly thinking about flying for BBQ:

"There is no barbecue."

"These are the sacrifices you have to make when you move to the other side of the world."

"We need to get some barbecue sauce....
I bet you I can get ribs from AQM*...
That sounds reasonable....
Doesn't it?"

*AQM is the incredibly price grocery only frequented by rich, white palagi. They have milk, in a jug. Milk that requires refrigeration. Milk that does not have a shelf life. Real, live milk. I think it costs my entire paycheck. I don't know how much ribs cost.

— Sara

What's He Building in There?

I am in the office, grading my students. From the bedroom comes a loud pounding. It continues for several minutes. Then Cale appears.

"Gonna break out the big guns."

He grabs his Japanese saws and leaves again. My curiosity aroused, I follow. It would appear that he has taken apart the beds in both the bedroom and the extra bedroom. He is now on the floor sawing part of the bed off.

Later, he returns for his chisels.

"It is pretty nice when you can carry all of your sanity in a 35 lb carry-on. There are some people who would say that is pretty heavy for a carry on, but it is pretty light for sanity."

When I question a nuance of what he said, he knows that I am now typing with a blogging purpose.

"I couldn't bear to be anywhere where I couldn't change anything. I figured I would bring all my tools and if there is something there that I didn't like, I would change the F&$KI(%G  B!TC$ ... I thought I would pepper my speech with foul language so it wouldn't end up  on the blog."

He disappears again and it is followed my more pounding. Then he voice comes from a calm in the din.

"Put the foul language in there, what do I care?"

— Sara

Friday, April 25, 2008


"So I can tell that I have changed a great deal since coming to Samoa."

"Oh? How so?"

"Remember how I used to react to cockroaches?"


— Sara

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day in the Life

It is just before 6:30 in the morning. I have been up for half an hour doing my exercises. I get up before the sun, but by now it has started to brighten outside, giving shape to the shadows next door and at the nearby schools.

The village buses from all over the island have been running for at least an hour and at this time of day they are packed to bursting with tamaiti ([kah-my-key in the k language] students). Students have already started to arrive at our schools, walking the long, covered path from the bus stops to the buildings. At Cale's school members of the rugby team are practicing in a large field out front. Their voices carry to where I am doing my meager ten push ups.

Next door the neighbor is taking one final look at her yard, checking to make sure everything is pristine and tidy. There is an inspection today and she wants to make sure it looks its best.

Cale will be up soon, so I pour hot water on coffee in his French press and start toasting the bagels he made over the weekend.

I put off taking an ice-cold shower by grading a students word-processing IA and checking my email, but I cannot put it off any longer. It is 7 a.m. now. Classes start at eight, but teachers are supposed to arrive at the school by 7:30. I only have a first period class on Thursday. The rest of the week my classes do not start until 8:50 or later.

Today I am giving my students a test on word-processing programs and concepts. The test is almost identical to a worksheet I gave them the week before and the worksheet was identical to an assessment I gave them on the first day of our word-processing section. I am hoping that if I keep testing them on the same concepts they will eventually sink in.

I give tests second, third and sixth periods. The other three periods of the day I have free period. I was giving extra lessons during those periods, but I have stopped. The students were overloaded with computer theory and sick of learning the same concepts over and over. If they have not grasped it by this point, it is probably time that I stop harping on it. Instead I usually have about 20 students in the room. Thirteen of them are using the working computers, practicing typing with typing games or making hideously decorative documents using Microsoft Word Art. Even when there are not enough computers, my students come to this room during the free periods to work on other assignments. It is nicer to work in an air-conditioned room and I don't mind as long as they are well-behaved.

After the last bell rings, I stay after to work with a student who was suspended from school last week. He was suspended for missing a week of school the week before that, so he has missed a great deal of the word-processing section and he missed sitting the IA. Yesterday we went over all the assignment sheets he missed, covering in an hour what the other students covered in a week. Today after school we practice the IA. He requires a lot of assistance and I am concerned about how he will do on Friday when he will have to sit the IA with out assistance.

When I am done I head home to face a massive pile of dishes. Yesterday was the recently renamed Any-Food-Including-Burgers Tuesday (you may remember its earlier incarnation, Burger Wednesdays). Cale made eggplant parmigiana with bruchetta and pear with yogurt for dessert. There were five of us. Cale and I, Alo and Nao and another JICA volunteer whose name I cannot spell. She has only been in country for two months and will be teaching martial arts skills to the police department.

All of that delicious food meant lots of dirty dishes that I didn't feel like cleaning last night. The dishes take several goes. While I wait for more water to boil in between each batch, I read a Time magazine from January that my Mom and Dad sent in a package a while back. The news is old, but the stories are still good.

Also in between dishes, Cale makes rice and refried beans for a small lunch. Nao stops by to use our printer and to borrow the printer cord to see if his printer is broken or if it is just the cord.

Once the dishes are done I start a load of laundry. First I boil two kettles of water and mix it with cold water from the tap in the wash bucket in the bathroom. Then I throw in clothes and let them sit for 20 minutes. When the time is up, I scrub the clothes and wring them out, piling them in another bucket. I dump out the dirty wash water and rinse the clothes in the wash bucket. I only rinse a couple of items at a time, continually dumping out the soapy water and refilling with clean water. The clothes get wrung out again and taken outside to the line. If I am lucky, I will remember to take them down after school tomorrow. Sometimes I can forget and leave things on  the line for days. Sometimes they get rained on if I do that.

Once the laundry is done, I steal the computer off the bed where Cale has fallen asleep watching an episode of Planet Earth. His mother sent us the series in a package recently and we cannot stop watching. It is an amazing series. I recommend it to everyone. There is already a list of other volunteers who want to borrow it when we are done.

I take the computer to our office and get to work on the text book I am creating for my students on the spreadsheets section we will be studying next term. I must finish the book before the end of this term so I can have copies made before the break. I use the PSSC prescription to create the book, making sure that everything listed in the prescription is covered in the book. I created a similar book for the students for the word-processing section and learned a lot from that one. I have improvements in mind for the spreadsheet book already.

While I work on my book, Cale wakes up from his nap and makes us a salad with hard-boiled egg for dinner. With his new schedule of eight classes a day, he can be very tired when school gets out.

Around 8:30 pm we set up the computer in the bedroom so we can lay back and watch an episode of Planet Earth. The show is only one hour long and is utterly fascinating, but I can still barely keep my eyes open by the end.

By 10pm we are asleep. The alarm will wake me up tomorrow at 6am to do it all over again.

— Sara

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My job is harder than your job...well, it was

I totally had Cale beat.

He could complain about trouble with his students. Hah! I would laugh at his trouble. He only had six students. If he wanted to see trouble, try having 65. He could complain about his lesson plans. Bleh! Surely he jests. If he wanted to have trouble with lessons plans, try working within the constraints of the PSSC requirements.

At every turn I had more work, tougher conditions and more obstacles. I was the winner of who was having a harder time. I can out complain anyone.

And then his head of department had to go and quit, leaving Cale as the only wood-working and maths teacher for about 15 students. Eh, that still sounds reasonable. Sounds like I can still be the complaining winner. Oh, wait, there's more. At Cale's school there are only five periods a day, but with his new double duties he is actually teaching eight classes a day. He teaches Year 1 and Year 2 simultaneously four of the five periods a day.

Well, crap. I cannot beat that. The most classes I have in one day is four and that is only one day a week. On Fridays I only have one class.

How am I supposed to suffer more if he has a harder job now?

I wonder if I can get the boils to come back.

— Sara

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rote memorization

My students have been learning by the rote memorization method since they entered school 13 years ago. It is a tough obstacle to overcome in my classroom. Computer Studies is not a topic that goes hand in hand with rote memorization.

My students want to learn the memorized way to do something and then do that same thing over and over again. And in some instances, that can work. However, in most it is a failure. A big one for me right now is that my students have memorized that the way to save a file in Microsoft Word is to do the following:

1. Go to File>Save As
2. Click on My Documents
3. Give the file their name
4. Click save

This can only really work one time. After that they are trying to save new files over the old file, since they want all their files to be in the same place with the same name.

Another problem with rote memorization is there is no analysis. My students cannot read a paragraph on a topic and from the information in the paragraph create their own definition. For example, in the Microsoft Word textbook I created for my students, the section on WYSIWYG looks like this:

The programs in this handout are easy to use for many reasons. One reason is the programs are WYSIWYG. WYSIWYG is pronounced whiz-ee-wig and stands for What You See Is What You Get. This means that as a person works on a document on a computer what the person sees on the screen is the same as what the person will have when they print the file.
Many of my students simply put that first sentence as the definition of WYSIWYG. So their worksheet looks like this:
Define these word-processing terms:
    a. WYSIWYG
       The programs in this handout are easy to use for many reasons.
That is obviously not an answer. If there was any analysis at all, I don't believe they would put that sentence as the definition. But it is what they memorized, so it is what they write.

>From my classroom I can frequently hear the class next door in session. Often I will listen as a teacher says a word or phrase over and over again and the entire class repeats the word or phrase over and over again.

Sometimes I wonder if I am doing my students a disservice by not teaching to the method that they have "learned" with all their lives. Here I am expecting them to read handouts and pull their own answers from the handout, something they have simply not been prepared to do. On the other hand, I wasn't sent here to do the same things that have always been done before.

It is tough because change doesn't occur overnight (or over 40 years I guess, since that is how long Peace Corps has been in Sāmoa). It also doesn't happen in just one place. I cannot step into my school, teach my Year 13 students in a dramatically different way than they have ever been taught before and expect something to magically happen from that. Change has to be systematic and system-wide. I worry that when I leave my school two years from now all I will have done is confuse two year's worth of computer studies students and then things can go back to the way they were before. I guess that is my job though, to figure out how to keep that from happening.

— Sara

Friday, April 18, 2008

I wonder if my students hate me now

So all this week my students have been practicing and taking an IA (Internal Assessment). Basically it is just a practical test of their word-processing skills. I wanted to get all the students done this week, but with only half as many computers as students, it takes me four  days to do each class. (One day for each groups practice and actual IA). So that means I have to use every class period this week to get them all done.

Yesterday the second group of 13.1 students was scheduled to do their IA during their 4th period class right after interval. At the same time a visiting group of students and teachers from my school's sister school in New Zealand arrived. There was a big 'ava ceremony and other presentations in the hall. The two schools performed songs and whatnot for each other.

And here were my 13.1 students up in the computer lab taking an IA. I was surprised that only one of them skipped it when I figured out what was going on later. I feel pretty terrible that I made them sit an exam while the rest of the school had a convo for these visitors from New Zealand.

On the other hand, NO ONE TOLD ME! They said that people were coming from NZ, but they said that the teachers would want to sit in on our classes and maybe teach some. There was no mention of a special ceremony or convo or songs or anything.

Later I apologized to the pule for keeping the students from the event. He told me that school was more important and that the IA took priority, which was nice. But I am sure that if I told my students that they wouldn't feel any better about missing the fun.

So now I am probably the evil teacher. They hate me. They will draw mean cartoons of me in their notebooks.


— Sara


"What is that stuff?"

"It's not sour cream."

"You can get sour cream here. It comes in containers that say 'Sour Cream' on the side."

"Apparently sour cream comes in more varieties than we thought."

"That is what we came here to learn."

— Sara

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A little bit of heaven

Hanna's Mountain Top Resort

Take one weekend, move it up a mountain where it is five degrees cooler, throw in a modern palagi house with hot water showers, a big screen TV and high-speed wireless internet. Then throw the whole thing into a pool. Ah heaven!

Hanna is house sitting for some rich palagi for a month and she invited us up the mountain for the weekend. We slept in. We lounged on the deck and read books. We swam in the pool. We gorged on the internets and watched movies on a TV so very much bigger than our laptop. Just two days in a cool place where I was incapable of finding work to do was so very refreshing. I couldn't do the laundry even if I wanted to, the laundry was down the mountain. I couldn't sweep and mop the floors, the floors were somewhere five degrees hotter. I couldn't do any schoolwork, the schoolwork was somewhere without a pool. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

The only concession made to the complete lack of accomplishing anything were the taxes. Cale and TurboTax fought it out for an hour or two on Saturday, but Cale prevailed and the taxes were filed. Now we just wait to see if the federal government is inclined to give us the refund.

Pictures of the weekend on the Flickr. They were taken with Hanna's D80, as I managed to forget to bring the camera with me. You might want to put on some sunglasses before heading to the Flickr. There are pictures of me in a bathing suit and my skin is blindingly white. It is possible that my merely being outside in a bathing suit helped decrease global warming. Just like the glaciers and other ice caps reflect the sunlight, helping to cool the planet, so do I. The most shocking of my white-skin pictures is marked for friends and family only, as I think that it could blind small children.

— Sara

Saturday, April 12, 2008

At long last....the Easter Spectacular

Easter Spectacular

So Easter was only, what, a month ago? Well, here comes my post on the Easter Spectacular at school.

I am not actually sure what they called the event, but I had taken to calling it the Easter Spectacular the week before hand and will continue to call it that because I can. So there.

The week before the Spectacular it was an announcement that the senior students were going to be presenting a play and that we may have to excuse them from classes so they could practice, which didn't exactly make me very happy. I don't have enough time to teach the PSSC students everything they need to know as it is, losing class time is not my favorite.

At the time, I swear that they said the students would be performing Romeo & Juliet (which, to be honest, seemed like a strange Easter play). However, with the knowledge I have now, I assume that was a joke of some sort.

Monday of Easter week was a regular school day. Tuesday of Easter week was also a regular school day, but I missed it because of the 'ava ceremony for the new country director. I did leave behind a lesson plan for my students that was easy for any teacher to carry out. They were to read a handout that told them about the different keys the keyboard and complete a worksheet. Wednesday of Easter week was not a regular school day. Apparently most, if not all, of the day was taken up with practice for the Spectacular. I missed the day because I was sick (must have been something I ate), but I had Cale take a lesson plan over for my classes (unnecessary, due to the Spectacular practice). Thursday was the day of the Spectacular.

The day started out with students cleaning the school grounds. They pulled weeds, cut grass, gathered rubbish, etc. Then they all gathered in the hall. It took a while to get them all assembled properly. It seemed that there was a very particular way and place they should all be sitting and it took a while to organize. Then we all waited for quite a while. After much waiting, it appears it was determined the students should eat before the Spectacular, so the canteen was opened and all the well assembled students were released to buy food. When they reassembled later, it wasn't nearly as well-organized as before, but oh well.

The Spectacular itself consisted of performances by each of the senior classes. 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3 all performed. So about six performances. The performances fell into three main groups.

1. The dance and lip sync to a medley of songs.
2. The singing (with possible choreographed moves) of religious songs.
3. The skits from the Easter story.

The kids did a great job considering I think they only had that one Wednesday to practice. And it ended quite enthusiastically with Jesus rising from the dead and a song with candles and skits and singing and dancing! If the students had been released after that it would have been quite an exciting and uplifting event to start their Easter Weekend out on. However, in true Sāmoan fashion, the event was ended by a long speech by the pule instead. Which, at least to me, really seemed to put a damper on the spirits. But what do I know?

Anyway, Easter pictures are on the flickr.

— Sara

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Word of the Week: Pisi tele

Pisi tele {pee-see tell-ay}
v. 1. Be busy.

v. 1. (Be) large, big great. 2. (Be) much, a great deal of 3. (Be) many, numerous 4. (Be) loud 5. (Be) severe, serious.
gp. 1. Very 2. Too, exceedingly 3. (Far) too much, excessively
n. 1. Quantity, large number 2. Bulk, greater part

Can you use it in a sentence?
Sara has been so pisi tele; she hasn't had time to blog.

It is very convenient that pisi tele sounds a lot like pissy. Because I am frequently a little pissy, when I am pisi tele. Lately, I have been very busy. Very, very busy. School has just been kicking my butt from one side of the room to the other. However, I have caught up...briefly. Now, if I am a smart girl, I will do my best to get ahead. So that I can continue to be pisi, but not pisi tele, or pisi tele lava.

Tele lava could be a construction I just made up, as I have never heard someone use both tele and lava together. Lava can also mean very or actually, really or quite, thoroughly or extremely and a number of other things. I have heard people say pisi tele before (very busy) and I have heard people say faafetai lava (thanks a lot), but I am not 100% clear on when each is appropriate. I just play it by ear. Fono tele is a big meeting. Talofa lava is a response greeting. Vevela tele is very hot. If you are tired you are lē lava (which literally means not enough).

Anywho, enough tele, lava. Pisi tele, that's the word (well, phrase) of the week.

— Sara

Monday, April 7, 2008

Product Endorsement of the Week: Mortein


This is a product that you cannot afford to live without. Luckily it can be had from any local faleoloa and at a reasonable price.

According to Wikipedia:
Mortein is an Australian brand of household insecticide. Together with its sister product Aerogard, a popular insect repellent, Mortein has become something of a household name in Australia, owing much in this regard to its cartoon antagonist, Louie the Fly.
I know nothing about Louie the fly, but I can tell you that Mortein is a household name in the Fale o Reeves and I am sure in fales across the country. Are you taking a shower without your contacts in and realize the wall is moving on its own? Oh, it is hundreds of ants? You are gonna want to Mortein the mess out of that. In fact, to be on the safe side, you are gonna want to Mortein the mess out of your house about once a month. Cuts down on the cockroach and centipede sightings.

Speaking of centipedes, the Mortein does not kill them, it only makes the angry. And an angry centipede is the last thing you want. Even though Mortein is an indispensable product that you will use on countless bugs, countless times. You are still going to need to keep some sort of menacing, heavy or sharp object handy that you can use to bludgeon or cut the centipedes to death. 'Cause that is the only thing that will kill the bastards.

— Sara

Tank top

Me: "I am going to have to remember to put on sunscreen if I am going to expose parts of my body that haven't seen the sun in a long time."

Cale: "You don't want to burn your delicate lady bits, like your shoulders. While you are at it you better put some on your ankles as well."

— Sara

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Not quite back to the village

Cale and I are bad host children. Of the thirteen members of our group, there are only three that have not gone back to our host village for a visit. Cale and I are two of them.

We have an excuse. We have many excuses at this point. At first I was not allowed to go back to the host village. With the whole boil situation, our medical officer said that I shouldn't go back to the village until that was over and done. Then school started and we were just soooo busy all the time. Ok, ok, I was so busy all the time. Cale never seems to be too busy. Just the right amount of busy. We tried to arrange a visit in February, but our host mom was doing all the sewing for a wedding and was very busy. See, it isn't all our fault. Right?

But we are still horrible host children. We discovered that our host sister, who was pregnant during training, had her baby. Last month! We didn't even call to congratulate her, we didn't know.

We talked with our host mom and arranged to visit this weekend. We planned to catch a bus (or a ride from the family) to the village Friday after school and then catch the bus back home sometime on Saturday.

But, as you can tell by the title of this post, things did not work out as planned. Our host mom was in Apia sewing many orders and did not plan on going back to the village. We said that we would just meet up with them in town and see where the family stayed in town.

It was good to see them. There were hugs and food and laughing. It was a good time. Plus now we know where they stay in Apia, so it will be easy for us to stop by when we are in town.

Of course, this little visit doesn't get us off the hook. We still have to make it back to the village sometime soon. If only to let the neighbors know that we love our family and come back to visit them too.

— Sara

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sorry We Fell Off the Planet

I have been bad blogger. I have failed in my blogging duties. I am over it.

So being a teacher takes up a lot of time. I mean A LOT of time. I can be in school all day and then prepare for the next day all night. I never seem to get ahead. And when I do have free time, I cannot make myself do things like blog or answer emails or tone pictures. Instead I veg in front of TV. Well, we don't have a TV. But we have a computer and we have been watching The Flight of the Concords. Melissa you were right. It is funny. Sorta, in a weird way. We also recently rented a movie called Eagle vs. Shark. It stars one of the Concords. It is like a New Zealand Napoleon Dynamite. I recommend it.

Sorry this is such a pathetic blog entry. I plan on blogging about my school's Easter spectacular (only two weeks late at this point) very soon.

— Sara