Sunday, September 28, 2008
The hard part isn't that my life is going on during these two years on the other side of the planet. The hard part is that my friends' and family's lives are continuing to go one without me. My little sister bought her first house and passed all her CPA exams while I am on the other side of the world. I have to celebrate with her through email. Cale's best friend of more than a decade got married and the best he could do was look at the pictures on Flickr.
This weekend in Pennsylvania, my grandparents are selling the house they lived in for more 50 years. They are sorting through a lifetime of memories and belongings and preparing to leave behind everything they have known for more than 50 years to move to a new house in a new state. And this processes is not going smoothly for them. This may be one of the hardest, most stressful moments in their lives. I know there have been more stressful; they lived through World War II, raised three children and buried a grandson, but these last few days cannot have been easy.
I feel so disconnected and helpless to know this is happening more than 5,000 miles away (way more than) and I cannot be there. I know that if I still lived in the States, I might not be able to be there anyway. Florida isn't very close to Pennsylvania, but it is a heck of a lot closer than Samoa.
What is strange is I talk to my parents much more frequently now then I ever did when we lived in the States. In the States we would email once a week or so and talk on the phone once a month or so and see each other two or three times a year. In Samoa I try to call my parents once a week (on Skype, super cheap), definitely at least two times a month. We email practically everyday. Add in my mom's comments on blog entries and pictures on Flickr and we communicate exponentially more than we did before.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I have never been the sort of person to watch the Olympics. However, I was also a journalist or journalism student for the previous 8 years of my life. So even if I wasn't an Olympics-watcher, they were always on TV around me in a newsroom and I always had a vague understand of what was going on. Before I was a journalist, I suppose I watched some gymnastics or figure skating on TV, but never with too much interest and never with a sense of patriotism or global community.
The Olympics were totally different for me here in Samoa. For that brief period of time all the televisions in Samoa were on and they were all tuned to the Olympics. The teachers at my school sat transfixed during every free period, physically tearing themselves away when the bell rang and they had a class to teach. At school, at the pizza restaurant, at the bar across from the office, I found myself part of a crowd of people laughing and cheering on teams from countries no one could even locate on a map (me included). I watched sports I had never heard of before (team handball anyone?) with interest. I sat nervous on the edge of my seat watching an Australian Goliath attempt and successfully break a world record in a track and field event.
What I most noticed was this sense of global community and the sudden realization that people from literally all over the world were all experience the same event together for this brief period of time. It seems hokey and sentimental, but it is true. I experienced something more profound watching others experience the Olympics in this tiny island in the South Pacific then I ever had in the States.
"Room temperature water?"
"I never used to be able to drink room temperature water before. It always had to be iced or refrigerated or something. Room temperature water was gross to me before."
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I am upset and frustrated because I distinctly remember turning all the computers, lights and the air-con off after last period Friday. Plus, i don't even turn on the old, broken air-con anymore, since it does not blow out cold air. Someone else must have turned the air on after I left on Friday. This has happened before. I have returned on a Monday to discover that someone must have broken into the lab over the weekend. To be honest, it isn't very difficult to do. I have requested new locks, but I will have to wait and see if that happens.
When I open the door I am hit with a blast of frigid air and then with a wave of horror. The air conditioner, the working one, that has been on all weekend, has leaked a massive puddle all over the desk and two computers below it and all over the floor. When I mop it up later I wring out nearly a quarter of a 5-gallon-bucket worth of water. I pick up one keyboard and turn it over. Water pours out. I am convinced the computers below the air-con are ruined. It looks like they have been rained on. Miraculously, they still turn on. However, the keyboard, mouse and monitor of one of them are most likely trashed. I will let them dry out and see what happens, but I am not optimistic.
I spend first period mopping up the mess with Cale's help (I had to go see him to get a key to the house to get a bucket, mop and towels. Since he didn't have a first period class, he came over to help). No computer class for 12.2. I spend second period rescuing files of the two wet computers just in case they decide not to work later. No statistics class for 11.1.Third period I let 13.1 in the room. I don't like running the computers in a lab where all the windows are open and there is no AC, but the Year 13s have a major project to finish for the PSSC. To be honest the temperature in the room never got to hot, but with the windows wide open a lot of bugs and dirt were able to make their way in. I hope the AC can be fixed soon, as I would like to use the computers in these conditions as little as possible.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Our training lasted eight weeks. Five of those were spent in our host village and the other three were in Apia. The host village stays were divided into periods of one week and two two-week stays. While in the host village we stayed with host families. While in Apia we stayed at a hotel. Our group had classes six days a week, though Saturday was a half day. However, the most recent group only had classes five days a week with both Saturday and Sunday off. Personally, I think this change is an excellent idea. Training is a very challenging experience and two days off a week give you more time to relax, process, study and get to know your host family.
Classes started at 8 am every day and usually ended around 4:30 pm (looking at the schedule, I can see them ending earlier rarely and later occasionally). There were also hour-long tutoring sessions offered after daily classes. A typical schedule will include four 1.5-hour long classes, two tea breaks and one 1.5-hour long lunch break. After the first week or so of training, most or all of the four daily classes will be language classes. The rest of the classes will be divided among Life & Work, Safety & Security, Medical and Cross Cultural.
The language classes are excellent, though grueling. The language trainers are outstanding. I have never successfully learned a language, though I have tried twice. I took three years of French in high school (Je ne sais pas, Je ne comprends pas, Je ne parle pas francais) and 13 credit-hours of Spanish in college (No se, No entiendo, No hablo espanol) and have just included in the parentheses what I know in both those languages. At the end of our eight weeks of training, I could muddle through basic conversations in Samoan. Granted, I have since lost all those skills, but I was briefly rudimentary in a language.
Life & Work training was supposed to focus on job-specific skills and living in a Samoan village. I have to admit that I feel our Life & Work training could have been more helpful. We could have received more job-specific training (I was repeatedly comforted by my recruiter in Atlanta before heading to LA that it didn't matter that I didn't know anything about computers, that I would be trained on everything I needed to know once I reached Samoa — this did not happen). Since most of our group were to be teachers (some computers, some special needs and some vocational), we received very general teacher training. Ice-breakers, classroom management skills, discipline, etc. Personally, as a computer teacher I have found very little of our teacher training useful and I have basically been making it up as I go along. My understanding is that this is changing and that the work training is now going to be more tailored to teaching specific topics in the Samoan school system.
The Safety & Security training was also very general. It included information on ways to look and act that will help to keep from attracting trouble, which is helpful. From my experience, I do not consider Samoa to be a dangerous place.
Medical training made us more self-sufficient in dealing with our own medical needs. Our medical officer wanted to make sure that she didn't have volunteers running to the hospital every time they got a new rash or bug bite (seeing as how you will frequently have a new rash or bug bite). Cale says that our medical training is something that he will remember for the rest of his life and appreciated it greatly. I agree that I found the medical training to be incredibly helpful, though the lesson on STIs might have been a little over the top (I learned all sort of new terms for new sexual behaviors, it was enlightening).
Cross Cultural training focused more on the theory behind different cultures. The main goal was to give the cultural answers behind the question "Oh my god, why do they do that?" But also to make sure we were also asking the question, "Oh my god, why do we do that?"
Training also included assessments. The assessments included four LTAs (language & technical assessment), motivation interviews, mock interactions and the LPI (language proficiency interview).
The first LTA was presentation of your host family's family tree. The second was a group presentation of a village map. The third was a co-teaching experience to village students. The final one was a solo-teaching experience to village students. These were all in Samoan.
The interviews were conducted two or three times with the language trainers and the mock interactions took place over the course of one day. During the mock interactions you went to different stations and had conversations on a certain topics (buying groceries, asking directions, etc).
Finally, the LPI is a conversation with an outside interviewer about yourself and your family and on one of six or seven different topics.
Training also included learning Samoan dances, performing a skit, attending church in the village, playing lots and lots of volleyball, making cultural mistakes (like trying to do anything on a Sunday, our only day off), Culture Day (kill a pig, cook it and serve it to village leaders), eating new foods (or not eating new foods and losing 20 pounds), being followed by throngs of children, two days at the beach and one day snorkeling, an Independent Travel Experience (here's the name of your village and here's bus fare, see you on Tuesday), a Volunteer Visit (go hang out with a volunteer while school is not in session, so there isn't much to do) and random other stuff.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
"to not care."
"i can't just just forget about 13.3. that is what everybody has been doing their whole lives."
"it's true you found a couple of good kids in 13.3. but the way you found them was by going bat-shit insane."
"that's not what I said. that's a paraphrase."
"it's a paraphrase."
"you know what that is? that's synthesis."
"you and me. we are dorks."
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I returned from vacation deal with the CAT my students had while I was gone. The CAT is a Common Assessment Task that all schools following the PSSC prescription (which you may remember is a international standard that many islands in the South Pacific subscribe to) must administer to their students. Before vacation I dealt with an extremely stressful situation related to this CAT. I don't want to go into the details of the story on the blog at this time, but I will say that result was that when my students had the CAT I was on vacation in New Zealand, so I could not be there to administer it.
Anyway, when I returned from vacation I had already missed one of the two weeks we are given to mark the CAT and turn in our results for moderation. So for the past week I have been working as many as seven additional hours after school to complete the marking. Many situations arose with the CAT that would not have happened if I could have been here to administer it. Things that are not the fault of the teacher who administered, but things I would have noticed and corrected as the CAT was happening. Instead I have to try to deal with them after the fact when not much can be done.
I finished marking my CATs on Friday and took them the the Examination Unit to make sure I had done everything correctly. They noticed some problems and sent me back to make those corrections. The official deadline for these marks is Monday, so I have to finish all these problems and then rush the marks over to MESC after school on Monday.
Needless to say, this means that I have been sitting at a computer for countless hours continuously getting this work done. Which has lead to back pain, which is why I am grounded.
Monday, September 8, 2008
failed to find corn meal in Samoa. But I am in a developing nation. It
can be expected that some food items might not be available. However, I
had assumed that I would be able to come back from New Zealand with some
suitable corn meal. Well, we all know what happens when we assume.
The cornbread debacle began with the corn flour. It seemed reasonable.
All sorts of things have different names here. Jello is called jelly and
jelly is called jam. White-out is called twink. Q-tips are called ear
twirls. Why couldn't corn meal be called corn flour. You use flour to
make bread and I wanted to make corn bread. Do the math and it seems
like corn flour would make corn bread.
I was doing the wrong math.
Corn flour is starch and nothing more. It is used as a thickening agent
in gravies and stews and such. It is not and never should be something
used to make cornbread. Thankfully, I figured this out before I tried a
cornbread experiment with it, but not before I had purchased some.
Ok, no problem. I am going to New Zealand soon. A first world country
with fancy grocery stores. I will just bring back some corn meal with me
and this cornbread situation will be put to rest.
Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that the baking section in the
New World grocery store we went to had several different brands of corn
flour, but only one brand that sold something labeled corn meal. It
seemed safe. It had a recipe for Mexican cornbread on the back. How
could this not be the corn meal used to make cornbread if it has a
recipe for cornbread on the back? We bought two boxes.
I am not sure what it is I baked tonight, but I can tell you it was not
corn bread. Now before you start with the, "Maybe it was the fact that
the recipe was for Mexican cornbread, maybe Mexican cornbread is
different." Let me point out to you that I used the internets to look up
the recipe that is on the back of the Quaker Oats Corn Meal box, since
it is the only recipe I have ever used and it makes cornbread I love.
However, in this instance, it made, well I am not sure what it made. It
had the undercurrent of a cornbread taste, but overall the consistency
and taste were wrong.
It is possible that the problem is that this corn meal is specifically
labeled "fine ground" and there is nothing fine ground about the corn
meal that Quaker Oats sells. But it still gets me wondering, this was
the only corn meal being sold in a HUGE first world grocery store. A
store full of choices and options (and goat cheese, I mean come on, if
you have goat cheese, you have everything right?) So this is what the
people of New Zealand are using to make cornbread. The people of New
Zealand have no idea what cornbread is! It certainly isn't whatever I
made tonight, I can tell you that.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
We were up around 8 am on Saturday in New Zealand so we could check out of our hostel by 10 am. We had decided it wasn't worth it to pay for our hostel room for Saturday night since our flight was at 6 am on Sunday. That meant we would want to be at the airport by 4 am, so we would leave the hostel around 3 am. Why pay for a room when we could hang out in the lounge until then? It wasn't like we were going to get enough sleep anyway.
NZ Saturday we paid for a 24-hour internet pass and just interneted like crazy. We interneted so much, I didn't want to internet no more. We downloaded podcasts and updates and all manner of other excitement. I also ran out for some last minute shopping (presents to take back to our pules and such).
Our cab driver to the airport was a Methodist Samoan who know Cale's pule (it is a small, small world). The flight was uneventful and thanks to exit-row seating I was able to doze a little and my neck and back do not hurt as much as they usually do after a flight. When we landed in Samoa it was Saturday all over again and we had been up for over 24 hours straight (I do not count flight dozing as sleeping). After fending off all the taxi drivers that really wanted to take us to a hotel and didn't seem to think it possible that we live here in Samoa and that we want to take a bus, we caught a bus to our village. We did a brief inspection of what the ants had been doing to the house. It was still standing, so that was a good sign. I had thought the ants might have carried it away. Then we crashed.
It is about five hours later now and we still have more of the Saturday that never ended. Seeing as there is no food in the house, we will have to head into town so we can eat today and tomorrow.
Coming back to Samoa was really difficult for me. I don't think it was a Samoa versus New Zealand sort of thing. I think it was a stress versus relaxation sort of thing. I knew I was stressed out at my work here, but I didn't understand the extent of the stress until I walked away from it for ten days. I had a few brief moments when I thought of all the work I had to do when I got home or wondered how my students did on the CAT I wasn't there to administer, but in general, I spent the last ten days not thinking about it at all. That was made this vacation truly extraordinary. We didn't see a lot of sights or do a lot of touristy things, but I completely relaxed and it was something I desperately needed. The thought of returning to the stress was a little sickening even, but I am back now and I just have to buckle down and get back to work.
New Zealand is not the birth place of bungy jumping, but it is the home to modern bungy. The inspiration for modern bungy jumping is "land divers" from Vanuatu who jump from wooden towers with vines tied around their ankles. A similar practice is found in Mexico dating back to the Aztecs.
According to Wikipedia:
"Commercial bungee jumping began with the New Zealander, A J Hackett, who made his first jump from Auckland's Greenhithe Bridge in 1986. During the following years Hackett performed a number of jumps from bridges and other structures (including the Eiffel Tower), building public interest in the sport, and opening the world's first permanent commercial bungee site; the Kawarau Bridge Bungy at Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand. Hackett remains one of the largest commercial operators, with concerns in several countries."
Sky Dive / Base Jump
Every where you look some one is offering to throw you out of a plane or a cliff. And if you don't want to go all by yourself, they also offer to strap you to another person who will throw themselves out of a plan or off a cliff.
Both Lake Taupo, New Zealand and Skydive, Arizona (yes, that does appear to be the name of the town) claim to be the skydiving capitals of the world.
The Sky Tower is just a stone's throw from our hostel in Auckland and it offers a strange combination of base jumping and bungy jumping.
According to the web site:
"This OSH approved device means jumpers can "base-jump by wire" falling for approximately 16 seconds at around 75kph. Unlike bungy, Skyjump participants do not hang upside down or bounce around. You simply fall fast and smooth and then slow to a safe landing."
Kiteboard / Snowkite
One is on the water, the other is on the snow. Both of them involve strapping a board to your feet and a giant kite to your back and letting the wind drag you around and give you the lift for huge jumps.
This might be a new word for you. According to Wikipedia, "Zorbing is an activity where riders enter into large inflatable plastic balls and ride along the ground, on water or down hills." I can already see that I have sparked your interest.
The web site of the company that makes these human gerbil balls makes it sound even more exciting:
"The Zorb ride is just a totally bizarre and fun adventure experience where you'd be protected by a massive cushion of air whilst sphering down a hill. Throw in a bucket of water, hop inside the inflated Zorb ball, run, tumble, flip or slide inside it, doesn't sound fun enough yet? Take up to 2 of your mates with you inside the Zorb! Zorb is the sport of rolling down a hill inside a giant inflatable ball and where New Zealand, once again leads the world in stupid things to do while you're on a vacation."
Oh, look, another new word. This one is some sort of inflatable body board for white water rafting. Well, not rafting obviously because there isn't a raft, there is a sledge. Here, let this web site explain it better:
"In the late 70's some keen Frenchmen were lying on bags full of lifejackets and polystyrene and floating downstream through river rapids high up in the Alps. In 1981 the first sledge or "hydrospeed" was built and since it's become a recognized sport with competitions organized every year."
It's like a race car...on water. You go fast, you get wet. Check it out here.
Obviously, they were running out of good weird names to give to these crazy new activities they are inventing here in New Zealand all the time. So now we have shweebing. A shweeb is a pedal-powered recumbent vehicle hanging from a monorail racetrack. I bet you can already picture it in your head. Check out this web site to see the retardation.
Oh these crazy Kiwis and their love of crazy sport. This is just a small selection of all the crazy things you can do if you are so inclined while in New Zealand. We, of course, did none of these things. We saw museums and ate lots of food and sat around in hot water. We thought that was adventure enough.
Friday, September 5, 2008
And I was not kidding. The main focus of this vacation has been eating food. Unfortunately, this can lead to a small problem. The problem being becoming less small. I won't know for sure until I can weigh myself in the Peace Corps office, but I won't be surprised to learn that I gained ten pounds in New Zealand. The best I have right now is the mirror and the mirror isn't being too kind.
It doesn't help to be coming from Samoa, where I felt incredibly tiny and cute compared to most other people, to Auckland, where the streets are full of incredibly tiny and cute Asian girls in incredibly fashionable clothes. I had almost forgotten it was possible for there to be people who where shorter than me, but all of these girls are pocket-sized and they are making me fee like an ogre.
Today we went to a grocery store where we ogled all the produce and the variety of breads. We bought more cheeses and salamis and water crackers to eat for dinner. We also got hummus and pita bread for the next day. However, my main reason for going to the grocery store was corn meal. I have had a hankering for cornbread for months now. Corn meal can not be found in Samoa. There is corn flour, but do not be fooled my this suspiciously similar-named item. It is not corn meal, it is not even remotely like corn meal. It cannot be used to make cornbread.
After we dropped off the food, we went back to Galbraith's (home of the banana beer) for lunch. I had the spinach and bacon linguine in a cream sauce. Cale had the Scottish steak and fries with salad. That night we did the laundry (In a washer AND a dryer!) and watched I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry in the TV room. It was a terrible movie. It was still nice to sit on a coach and watch a movie.
Food Watch: Day Nine
Chai latte and vanilla latte
Spinach, bacon linguine
Scottish steak and fries
Goat cheese, double glouster chedder, salami and water crackers
Today we went to the Rotorua Museum before catching the bus back to Auckland. Our hostel was having free pizza night again, so we had free pizza for dinner. And then....drum roll please....we saw a rock and roll show! I know. Can't you feel the excitement. The bands weren't any good, but it totally didn't matter. The music was load and live and that was all we were asking for.
This is in the Rotorua Museum.
Food Watch: Day Eight
Chai latte and regular latte
Yogurt and banana
Spicy Italian and Turkey with bacon Subway sandwiches (that's right people, Subway sandwiches!)
Macadamia nut and white chocolate cookies
Free pizza (Dominoe's)
P.S. I was listening to one of the old This American Lifes on my iPod and story about this came up. You totally need to check this out.
Cale had asked the girl at reception what was the cheapest and easiest way to get into a hot spring. Without a car we couldn't easily reach the cheap or free public hot water springs (such as Kerosene Creek) and the geothermal parks that offered shuttles (or had pay shuttles) were incredibly expensive. The also seemed to promise a Disney-like experience. "Come to Geothermal Word!" "A Geothermal Adventure!" These weren't quite what we were looking for.
Instead we headed to the Polynesian Spa, just a short walk away from our hostel. They have several options for all your sitting-in-hot-water needs. It was wonderful. The area we were in had four pools ranging from 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 F) to 42 degrees (107.6 F). The water was piped in from hot, mineral springs in the area and unlike the family pool areas or the adult pool area (which oddly enough was filled with high-school-aged kids) these pools were not simply square, cement swimming pools. Instead they had been made of rock and landscaped to look more "natural" with organic shapes and tree branch overhangs and whatnot. It was cold and there was the occasional drizzle. But two of the pools had protective overhangs (one like a roof, the other a stone archway) and the chilly breeze actually felt really good when you were sitting in 40 degree water.
That night we ate at an Indian place that was outstanding. Our server at the restaurant happened to be a kid who had been born in Michigan and lived in the States for at least the first three years of his life. We talked to him and the hostess who was from Brazil for a bit before we left.
After dinner we went to an Irish pub to watch the advertised All Blacks (New Zealand national team) vs. Manu Samoa (Samaon national team) rugby game. Cale and I were excited to cheer for Samoa, but that excitement quickly dissipated as we watched the All Blacks just walk all over Manu Samoa. The final score was 101 to 14 and was only the fifth time in the All Blacks history as the national team that they have scored over 100 points. According to WikiAnswers the highest rugby score ever was set in 2007 by the Diocesan College 1st XV, who scored 155 points to 0 against Belville Tech High school. The highest international score was New Zealand's defeat of Japan in 1995, with a score of 145-17. My understanding is that the Samoan team was made up of available players from several different countries (which had me wondering what had happened to Samoa's national team or if they even had a regular national team) and that Samoa hadn't been given much notice about the game (I am not sure what that means). This article offers some explanation of the situation.
"What people have we become?" Cale asked. "We are sitting in a bar watching sports on TV. You're drinking a beer. We're not the same people that left the States."
Food Watch: Day Seven
Flat white and latte
Pancake with banana, apple and bacon
Eggs over easy with bacon and toast
Chips (sour cream and chive) with milk (it has been almost a year since I have drank a glass of milk)
Curry Vindaloo and Afghani with rice and naan
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
This morning we took a bus to Rotorua, which is about a 4-hour drive south of Auckland.
To quote the Lonely Planet travel guide:
"Breathe in the sulphur-rich [sic] air of Rotorua and you've already got a taste of NZ's most dynamic thermal area with spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mug pools."
Rotorua is in the heart of a massive active geothermal area. Nearby there is a buried village from an 1886 volcanic eruption. We could see steam wafting up from random areas around town as the bus pulled into the information center (they are called iSites and they are all over New Zealand). According to the destination-nz.com travel guide New Zealand is located in the Ring of Fire, which contains more than 75% of the world's volcanoes. "Geothermal fields like the ones in Rotorua occur in areas where water is able to pass down through cracks in the rocks. As it gets closer to the geothermal activity, it heats and rises back up through the surface as geysers, fumaroles and hot springs."
We had switched our reservation at the ACB hostel (owned by Base) to the Hot Rocks hostel (also owned by Base) here for two nights. At first I was a little leery. In Auckland we had a private room and in Rotorua we would be sharing a six-person dorm. Also, this hostel was located in between a highway and a night club. However, my trepidation was alleviated that night. We were on the highway side of the building and the cars simply stopped driving by after 10 pm. We couldn't even hear the club.
When we first arrived in town we ate a Turkish pizza at a kebab joint. Then we walked around Kuirau Park, which was literally across the street from the hostel. The park was full of fenced off areas where steam or boiling water or mud was bubbling up from the ground. The most recent eruption in the park was in 2003, covering much of the park in mud and according to the Lonely Planet "drawing crowds of spectators hoping for more display." It was nearing sunset when we went to the park, but the waning light only enhanced the eeriness of all the mist wafting around.
We ate dinner at the Pig & Whistle, which was formerly the police station in Rotorua and now serves a beer called Swine Lager. The big draw to this pub was the BBQ pork ribs that were listed on the menu. Obviously it wasn't the same as BBQ in the states (the sauce recipe included apricots and plums I believe), but they were still delicious. After dinner we came back to the hostel and took advantage of the heated outdoor pool. Then we turned in for the night.
Food Watch: Day Six
Coffee and Chai tea
Crispy wedges (potatoes)
Apple and pear strudel
Weather Watch: Day Six
Rotorua: 54 F
Samoa: 88 F
P.S. Read this article in the paper on the bus ride to Rotorua. The Globe Bar mentioned in the article as a "problem" is the one next door to and affiliated with our hostel in Auckland. Things are so much quieter in Rotorua.
Monday, September 1, 2008
A short black is like a long black, but it is made with only a single shot of espresso and does not contain hot water."