Friday, May 30, 2008

Cale is a Suisui

New puletasi

Cale made me a new puletasi from the materials sent to us by his mom and grandmother. It is pretty darn sassy. The people at school complimented me on it a lot. However, they don't seem to react to complimentary towards Cale when they hear he sewed it. It seems to be quite hilarious. I hear he is taking a little ribbing over at his school about it as well. Oh well, I think it is super cute and it fits me. I have so few things that fit me these days.


Early Service Training


Twelve of the thirteen members of Group 79 met at the Peace Corps office on Monday morning for our 8 am departure time. We were finally in the van and on the road at 9:45 or so.

We all fit into the Peace Corps new van comfortably, but the ride was still nauseating for me. Samoa's roads curve and wind up and down through mountains and valleys and around the outer edge of the island. It took over an hour to reach our destination at speeds ranging from 10 mph to 60 mph. I was a little green when we got there.

When we left a week later I asked our medical officer if I could bribe her into letting us catch a ride back with her instead of waiting for the van. I was hoping I would get less carsick in the SUV. I was wrong.

On the return trip we stopped at a resort along the way where a Peace Corps from another group was getting married.

We stayed at the FaoFao Beach Fales for our training. It is too bad we had training after our Savai'i vacation. We might have thought the FaoFao beach fales were nice, but we had already been spoiled by the fales in Savai'i. The fales themselves weren't as new or as well-kept as the ones at Vacations. The mattress was slightly better than the one at Jane's. The restroom facilities were about on par with the ones at Jane's as well. FaoFao did offer a Samoan-style fiafia. They usually perform the fiafia and serve the Samoan BBQ on Saturdays, but because we were not going to be there on Saturday, they moved it to earlier in the week. Most of the dances performed were from other islands though. I caught myself frequently turning to Cale saying, "That's not Samoan," and "That's definitely not Samoan."

Overall I did not like FaoFao as much as the ones in Savai'i. I could be biased by the fact that I was sick the entire time and it was frequently overcast while we were there.

We were fed breakfast, lunch, dinner and two teas a day during our EST. The food in FaoFao was very much mea'ai (Samoan food). Breakfast may include toast, bananas, eggs, panekake (fried dough balls), papaya and coconut. Teas included biscuits and cake and twice apples. Lunch was rice, taro, vegetable stir fry, curries, fish, etc. Dinner was also rice, taro, vegetable stir fry, fish, a salad of some sort (slaw, cucumber or lettuce) and sometimes potato salad.

Overall, I was not too pleased with the food and ate mostly rice for the week. The food doesn't sound too bad on paper. It is in reality where the trouble starts for me. There is a much different quality in meat and the preparation of meat here. So I have a hard time with Samoan foods because the meats are frequently fatty, gristly and contain bones. The fish was usually a fried reef know, the entire fish from head to scales to tail.

I definitely lost weight while we were at EST. We saw our medical officer on the last day and she expressed concern over my weight. She made me weigh in when we got back to the office (110.5 pounds) and insisted that I eat more fatty foods and gain weight. I can happily say that one week later I weigh five pounds more, which is about how much I usually weight these days. EST was just a little hard on me.

The first three day's of training where HILT (high-intensity language training). Each trainer was set up at a different location and offered different topics during the day. You could choose what sessions to attend. I went to one class on complex sentences and started to attend another when the wind kicked up and I ran off to rescue lavalavas and batten down the hatches on the fale. I actually spent most of those three days in bed.

The fourth day brought a visit from our APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director), Fata, and our CD (Country Director), Dale. We talked about programmatic issues, our role in our communities and other exciting topics.

The final day was Safety and Security, Medical and Financial. I went to all of the sessions on the last two days, but constantly ran off to blow my nose.

I mentioned in the entry about our Savai'i vacation that if I had known how bad Cale felt when he was sick, I would have been more concerned and attentive to him. However, I didn't realize how unfun it was until I came down with the same thing. I started with the snot the Saturday before EST. I moved into the fever Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. I continued with the snot until the following Sunday.

The fever portion of the illness was particularly miserable. I was freezing and my whole body hurt. Later, when the fever was wearing off I was hot and droopy all the time.

On a fun note, we just received notice from our medical officer that the 2008 flu vaccines are in and we need to come in to get one. I am wondering if Cale and I have already had ourselves the 2008 flu.

—  Sara

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Damn Hippies

"It's very bohemian-hippy of me to be sleeping in a hut next door to a guitar jam session."

"Bohemian-hippy or very Peace Corps."

— Sara

Cale On Getting Dressed

"When we get back to the States, I can say that Samoa has allowed me to change clothes down to nothing in...Hell, I'd do it in the middle of a mall. Under the lavalava. Off with the lavalava. Tada!"

— Sara

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Savai'i Vacation

Savai'i Vacation

We began our all-expenses paid (by us of course) Savai'i vacation with the quintessential travel option available in Samoa; we caught a bus. This bus happened to be going by our house at 6 am on Tuesday. We needed to take this bus into Apia where we would catch another bus that would take us to the wharf. True, the bus going to the wharf would also be going by our house (heading the other direction), but we were afraid it would already be full when it went by and wanted to insure seats. So we headed the opposite direction, into Apia.

Usually two ferries run back and forth between Upolu and Savai'i several times a day, but on Tuesday there is only one ferry making the trip. We were unsure exactly what times the ferry left the Upolu wharf, but thought there might be one at 8 am and were hoping to catch the bus in Apia that would take us to that one.

We didn't.

So after waiting in Apia for about an hour we caught a bus that would take us to the 10 am ferry.

The 2-hour ferry ride was thankfully uneventful. I kept my head down and read my book as much as possible and managed to stave off most seasickness. I did feel a bit gross, but I didn't puke (which is more than Cale can say about his first ferry trip back during our volunteer visits).

Once we got to Savai'i we flagged down one of the Manase buses. The bus was already full. Cale and I sat in the aisle at first, but then an older woman offered me her lap (which is typical on a Samoan bus, but I was one of the few people sitting on a lap on this bus). More people kept getting on the bus and sitting in the aisle quickly turned to standing in the aisle. To be honest, by the time we made it to Manase over an hour later, I wished that I had kept a spot in the aisle (even if it meant standing most of the trip). I could tell that the woman's legs were getting tired and I was doing everything I could to keep weight off of her, which meant cramps in my arms and thighs.

Aside from it being uncomfortable, the bus ride wasn't too bad. I noticed right away that Savai'i is significantly more rural than Upolu. There were dramatically fewer cars, the houses were spread further apart and things seemed quieter and cleaner.

Over all the trip there took about seven hours.

The trip back was pretty much the same, but in reverse. The differences included a larger ferry (
which meant the rocking motion was greatly exaggerated, but I still failed to vomit), missing the last buses at the wharf, taking a taxi into Apia instead of straight home because we didn't have enough money on us to pay for a taxi ride and dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Chinatown. Total travel time for the return trip was about 10 hours.

When we got off the bus we were standing in front of the Vacations Beach Fales, so we decided to stay there for the night. The cost was $65 tala per person per night. The cost included breakfast and dinner.

The accommodations at Vacations were excellent. The mattresses were sufficiently thick, the pillows weren't too bad (though I am very picky about pillows, what with my neck and all). They provided mosquito nets and towels and a trashcan in the fale. The shared bathroom was incredibly clean and nice and very close to our fale. In general, I loved the place. There were only two downfalls. No chairs in the fales (Cale really, really wanted a chair) and the area of beach they were situated on was covered in stinky seaweed that they had workers cleaning up all day.

We only stayed at Vacations that one night. We had arrived a little after 1pm on Tuesday. At that point I had been sitting on hard wooden benches on buses and boats for seven hours and I need to recuperate, so I napped until dinner. After dinner I headed back to bed to do some reading and then sleeping. Cale stayed up for a while talking with some of the other guests.

The next morning,we packed up our stuff and headed down the beach to Jane's Beach Fale's. The cost at Jane's was $50 tala per person per night. That also included breakfast and dinner. In many ways, Vacations has better amenities than Jane's. The food was pretty fancy at Vacations and the bathrooms at Jane's were much more rustic, camping. However, the fales at Jane's had little front porches with chairs and the beach was seaweed-free. In Cale's world, chairs beat all.

Cale and I spent that first day at Jane's alternating between laying on the beach, swimming in the water and reading on the porch. We tried out our snorkel gear and discovered two things. One, my face mask leaks (it is possible I lost too much weight in my face!) and that we don't really like to snorkel that much.

At night we hung out at the bar talking with some guests from Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. Cale got a chance to refresh his truco skills (Brazilian card game).

I discovered quite quickly that our mattress was a little sub par. In fact, it was two mattress that were both so thin and worn that I felt like I was sleeping directly on the wooden slats of the bed. I ended up sleeping in weird diagonal angle with my head at the foot of the bed so that more parts of my body would be on less skinny parts of the mattress.

Thursday was the same as Wednesday: laying on the beach, swimming and reading. The fales started to fill up more on Thursday; I think that all the fales were full by that night.

Friday we packed up after breakfast and took the hour walk down the road to
Le Lagoto Resort. We had no intentions of staying there, but we knew they were so ridiculously upscale, that we had to see them. They set their prices by USD. For a couple in one of the villas it is $295USD a night for a couple. So almost 15 times the cost of staying at Jane's. Granted, the villas are air conditioned and fancy and have their own bathrooms and HOT WATER! Sweet goodness, hot water.

Then we walked next door to Savaii Lagoon Resort. The prices there were much more reasonable, since the were in tala. For the family villa (with two double beds in two rooms) it was $295 tala a night for a couple (extra people were $88 tala). It was the same price for the smaller villa. The villas came with microwaves, electric teapots, electric skillets and fridges, so you could cook some of your own food if you wanted to. Which is probably good since the only restaurant was the one at the USD charging place next door.

Dinner our first night at Vacations was lamb, potatoes and steamed veggies. I thought it was pretty impressive and delicious. The next morning we were up early. Everyone was given their own pot of tea or coffee and breakfast was omelettes and toast. The omelette was delicious.

Dinner the first night at Jane's was sweet and sour chicken, rice, fried fish, a small piece of breadfruit and a small slaw salad. The next day breakfast was toast, spam, tomato, papaya and a strange mandarin orange (it wasn't orange on the outside, it was green). I avoided the Spam and stuck with the toast. Dinner the second night was curried potatoes, carrots and a little bit of chicken, sausage, rice and taro.

Overall, I enjoyed the food at both places (way more than the food at Early Service Training, which I will write about later)

There were four other people staying at Vacations. A German couple who were on a long vacation, an Australian who was on a working vacation and a Frenchman also on a long vacation. A couple from New Zealand who were staying at another resort were there for dinner as well.

Jane's was hopping compared to Vacations. The Australian from Vacations had decided to switch to Jane's as well. There was a Samoan couple in the fale next to ours, two couples from a Nordic country, we think Sweden, a couple from New Zealand and Brazil, and two guys from Australia. On Thursday an entire bus load of teachers came to celebrate the end of school and a family of five that is biking around Savai'i arrived. There was also another couple from the States (California) and a other couples with either New Zealand or Australian accents (I haven't quite figured how to tell those apart yet).

Cale was filled with snot on Tuesday and running a fever on Wednesday, so he did some napping and more reading on the porch than I did. Knowing what I know now (more to come on this from the post on Early Service Training), I would have been a lot more attentive and sympathetic to his illness. However, he isn't very good at being complainy when he is sick, so I didn't know how bad he felt.

There you have it. Our trip to Savai'i.

—  Sara

PS. I might post more stories from the trip later. This just covers all the bare details. Pretty long for bare details, huh?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More Pictures

More pictures from Mother's Day in the host village are up on the Flickr. Remember you have to be logged in as friend or family to see the pictures of the host family.

Posts and pictures on our vacation trip to Savai'i to come, but here is a taste for now:

Savai'i Vacation

— Sara

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother's Day

Mother's Day in the Village

We spent Mother's Day back in the training village with our host family. It was our first time back since swear-in in December.

Our host mom is constantly working and Mother's Day was no exception. We met up with her on Saturday morning at her shop. There were two customers there waiting for their Mother's Day outfits and heaps more to be sewn. She sent us ahead to the training village with two of the younger host sisters. We had a very restful Saturday playing with our host siblings and reading books.

Our oldest host sister had a baby girl in April. She now has two boys and one girl. I kept trying to convince her to take a break, to let me do some work or to watch the kids while she rested, but she would have none of it. I can see how she could go a little stir crazy. At home all alone all day with as many as six kids. It is hard for me to believe that she is younger than me.

Our host mom sewed Mother's Day clothes all night and finally arrived in the village at dawn on Sunday. Still not stopping to sleep she ironed the two puletasi she had sewed for women in the village and then set about making something to wear for her self. She discovered the fabric she was going to use had been smudged with dirt, so Cale and I gave her our present early. We had brought her some white fabric and she used that to make her skirt for Mother's Day. While she was working on that, another woman in the village came to her in a rush. I didn't understand the conversation, but I know the end result is that our host mom sewed her up a skirt in a hurry and our second oldest host sister painted a pattern on it. During all this hectic sewing the church bells have started ringing calling people to service.

Even though we arrived at church a while after the last bell, it didn't appear that we had missed much. Maybe we could have arrived a little later, it was an awfully long service!

Usually, in the States, if there were skits and songs and dances performed for Mother's Day they would be performed by the children. But things worked differently at this church in Samoa. I cannot speak for all churches. Instead, the mothers were the ones performing the skits, songs and dances. A river runs through the village and a group of mothers from each side of the river took turns performing. Once again, I didn't understand what was going on in the skits, but some of then were quite hilarious. The audience frequently roared with laughter.

At the end of the service candy 'ula were presented to the minister's wife and another woman in the community who was very, very old. Then all the mothers came up on the stage and were presented 'ula and gifts from their kids. Since our host mom was already wearing the fabric we had given her, she gave us some other fabric scraps to put into the gift bag we had given her so we would have something to present her with during this part of the service.

After that it was home for to'ona'i. After dinner we headed back to town. On the way there we made a stop to visit our host mother's mom, which was very nice. She introduced us as her Peace Corps kids. They made us feel at home, feeding us cake and talking with us. Minus all the glaring Samoan cultural differences, it was exactly like what it would have been to visit Cale's grandma for Mother's Day and made us feel like part of the family.

Picture of Mother's Day are on Flickr, but only for people who are logged in as friends or family

— Sara

Monday, May 12, 2008



The mulhawk is a very popular haircut with the sole in Samoa. It combines all the best features of a mohawk with all the best features of a mullet. Oh wait, a mullet does not have any good features. Hmm....

It is also very popular with the Kiwis over in New Zealand, which is probably where local sole picked it up from.

According the Urban Dictionary:

"The mulhawk is an elusive branch of the Mullet family. Part mullet and part mohawk, you can find the mulhawk at places like race tracks, dollar stores, and Monster Truck Rallies. Often confused with a skullet, the mulhawk differs in that it often sports bangs (thus completing the "business in the front" requirement of the mullet).

At first he appeared to be a punk rocker sporting a mohawk, but the long, flowing locks in the back and NASCAR t-shirt definitely verified that he was in fact a redneck with a mulhawk."

As you can see it is also a style now worn by Cale. In honor of our first term break he had his hair cut into this wonderful look on Friday after school. The stylist refuses to be named because he does not consider it his best work. Instead he requested that Cale tell people he fell down some stairs or walked into a door.

Cale's mulhawk will be retired when school begins again in the second term. In the meantime, we will try to enjoy the mulhawk as best we can.

— Sara

Term Break

"This is it."
"This is what we have been waiting for."
"It's Monday morning and we are not preparing for school."

— Sara

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fish and Chips and Vinegar

Cale and I have this routine of sorts. Every other week or so we have lunch in Apia when we come in to grocery shop. It is almost always at the same place and we always eat the same thing: fish and chips.

The fish and chips themselves aren't that amazing; it is what happens over the meal that keeps us doing it so regularly. We sit and talk and talk and talk some more. It was over fish and chips that we came up with the idea to have a workshop for students to teach them how to fix broken computers. It was over fish and chips that Cale decided to build his solar kiln in Savaii with our sister school's woodworking instructor.

Yesterday our fish and chips discussion was over Cale and Alo's plans for next term. They have decided to implement positive reinforcement in their classes instead of the negative reinforcement of detentions currently used. At the end each week they will reward the entire class if the class made through the week with out individual students getting in trouble. Cale also talked about what a good day he had at school that day. He is finding his groove dealing with two classes at the same time and is very excited to see how well is Year 2 students are progressing. He said he felt like a real teacher, maybe even a good teacher that knows what he is doing.

Our fish and chips excursions always leave me feeling inspired or at least less tired. I cannot imagine how people manage Peace Corps life alone. As a married couple, Cale and I have someone to come home to everyday. Someone to talk things over, hash things out and develop ideas with. Someone to keep us sane. If I taught at school all day and then had to come home to an empty house, my brain filled with all the developments of the day and no one to discuss them with, I think I would be a lot less pleasant person.

— Sara

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I ran into a student at the grocery store today. You may remember that I had to teach 11.4 computer classes briefly at the beginning of the school year? But then they took them away from me because they thought the students were acting up (I didn't) and they didn't think they could understand me because the had poor English (that is possible). They gave those classes to the teacher that quit almost three months ago now. So Year 11.4 hasn't had computer classes in almost three months.

The student wanted to know why I didn't teacher her class anymore and when they were going to have computer classes again. She said she missed computer classes and thought that learning computers was really important.

Boy did I feel bad. These poor kids haven't had computer classes in forever and I just recently picked up one 11.1 computer class a week because the teacher who normally teaches them can only teach two of their three classes a week.

If they don't get a new computer teacher by next term, I will try to pick up one 11.4 class a week so these kids can at least have computer class once a week. At least give them some exposure to computers.

Though I also need to understand there are a lot of things that aren't perfect here and aren't fair, but that I cannot fix all of them. Right now my main focus is Year 13. If I can manage to get even half of them to pass the PSSC that will be a major accomplishment. I definitely cannot go righting all the other wrongs with all the other computer classes right now. One step at a time.

— Sara

Friday, May 2, 2008

Do you know what the cow is for?

Some how I doubt that this is a question teachers in the States have to ask their students.

I am sitting under a tree outside my school. With me is Year 11.1. They are supposed to be having computer studies class right now, but their teacher didn't come to school today. When I walked into the room they all asked in desperation if there was a test. Apparently that had been on the lesson plan, but I had no test to give them. I also had no computer lab to take them to. Visinia was teaching 12.1 upstairs in the lab I usually use and Emere had taken the key to the downstairs lab with him last night. Since he wasn't at school today, I couldn't get into that lab.

I decided to give the students a free study period, but it was just too hot in their classroom. So that is why I am sitting under a tree outside my school with a group of Year 11.1 students when I have to ask a student, "Do you know what the cow is for?"

Sometime just before we gathered under the tree someone had deposited what looks to be an entire cow outside my school. It had already been butchered a little, there was no longer any hide on it. Several of the boys from my Year 13 classes are hacking away at this cow with machetes, chopping it into smaller pieces (pieces that are still pretty darn large, let me tell you). This is hot work and they are dripping in sweat as they hack away at the cow and then haul away large chunks to the back of a pick-up truck.

There was just an announcement during interval about all the things my school is providing for the rugby tour ($22,000 tala, fine mats, coolers of fish and food from the umu [though how they fly all this food to Australia is a question I must ponder another day]), so I am assuming this is somehow rugby tour related.

The students tell me the cow is from Savai'i. We have several students and teachers from our sister school in Savai'i staying at our school this week because they are part of the rugby tour. I wonder if these guys from Savai'i have brought the cow.

After much confusion I discover that I am way off base. The cow is from Sekaio's mom's funeral. The pule's secretary is Sekaio. His mother died and the funeral was today in Savai'i. The teachers at my school all chipped in $30 tala to buy a fine mat to send for the funeral. But in typical fa'alavelave fashion I think we got back more than we sent.

Am I getting ahead of myself here? Let me stop and do some explaining.

Fa'alavelave [fah-ah-lah-vey-lah-vey] is the word used for any major life event, but usually means a funeral in my experience. When there is a funeral people send all sorts of gifts (also called, fa'alavelave). They send fine mats and canned fish and money and cooked pigs and whatnot. When the fa'alavelave ends the head of the family divides up the gifts among the family and guests according to complex rules and hierarchies.

So that is how my school sent a fine mat to Sekaio's mom's funeral and in return there is a cow being butchered by students in the school yard.

Like I said, probably not something likely to happen to a teacher in the States.

— Sara

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Word of the Week: Atua

Beach Road between Apia and the airport

Atua {ah-two-ah}
n. 1. God (as revealed in Christ). 2. God (heathen).
adj. 1. Divine, godlike.

v. 1. Embalm

Can you use it in a sentence?
What in Atua's name is going on in here?

When I picked Atua as my word of the week, I had no idea that verb form of the word means to embalm. This is a very strange development that I am not sure I understand.

I picked Atua as my word of the week because I have started a picture project. There are so many churches in Samoa, you cannot swing a dead cat (not that I am in the habit of swinging dead cats) without hitting one. You also cannot bike along Beach Road with out passing a church ever few feet. My current goal is the shoot all the churches along Beach Road between Apia and the airport. That in itself will be a huge undertaking. However, I also hope to shoot any church I come across in my two-year stay here. I probably won't limit myself to churches either, there were some fabulous dollar store statues of Jesus in Chan Mow that I have to get on film (well, on a digital SD card).

— Sara