Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sounds LIke Money

Frequently, my students will stick 50 sene pieces in their ears. Think about something roughly the size of a silver dollar. Now stick it in your ear. Ok...don't actually stick it in your ear. Tuck it into your ear, so that it rests there.

I have no idea what is going on here, but I plan on finding out. I hope to have details and pictures soon.

— Sara

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Designy Sense is Tingling...There Must Be Bad Deign Nearby

Whoever showed my students WordArt and page borders should be executed for crimes against humanity. Creating a title page for your English IA (Internal Assessment)? Have you considered the WordArt option that makes the letters 3D, rainbow colors and distorted into a spiral? Writing a multiple page document in Samoan? You're gonna want to do that in either Apple Chancery or Comic Sans.

I would love to teach my students how to create professional documents, but I don't have the time to fit it into my Year 12 and Year 13 timetables and still meet all the requirements for their prescriptions. Instead, the best I can do is tell them that Sara hates WordArt and under no circumstances should you turn in something to Sara with WordArt. That doesn't stop them from using it for all their other classes. 

Besides, it is possible that I am the one in the wrong here. I have in front of me an assignment from a university for computer studies students. The sheet says the assignment should be done in MS Word XP (which does not exist, I think they mean MS Windows XP). The student is to create a report recommending a cell phone plan to the school staff. The report needs a title page with the following:
  • Use an attractive border around the page
  • Use WordArt to enhance SOME of the text (I like how they emphasize SOME of the text, like just a little WordArt is good, but obviously too much WordArt would be over the top. You only want to make SOME of the words distorted with 3D effects and rainbow colors.)
  • Insert a suitable graphic
So in their university-level classes, Samoan students are being told that borders, WordArt and clipart are acceptable for professional documents. The graphic designer in me is banging her head against a wall.

I was almost inclined to write a letter to the professor of this class, but I realized that this was not a battle I was sent here to fight. I am just supposed to ensure my students have the skills to use computers to create documents. Whether or not these documents are hideously unattractive is outside of my purview.

— Sara

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Cale's stepmom, Shirl, sent us a package of awesomeness. For breakfast this morning? Granola bar and Smarties. I know the Smarties are not an ideal breakfast food and are for my students, but I could not resist.

— Sara

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Name This Plant: Mamey Sapote

Name This Plant: Four

This plant was successfully named the mamey sapote by a blogger unknown to me, who appears to be a RPCV of Samoa.

According to Wikipedia, the fruit is eaten raw out of hand or made into milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream and fruit bars. The fruit's flavor is variously described as a combination of pumpkin, sweet potato, and maraschino cherries with the texture of an avocado. Some consider the fruit to be an aphrodisiac. It also appears to have been used as an antiseptic during the Spanish-American War.

Our experience with mamey has been one that was not ripe (the flavor was very bitter, but it smelled of almonds) and one that was over-ripe and was pretty disgusting inside.

Here's some inside, thanks to Wikipedia again.

Name This Plant: Four

— Sara

Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Ode to My Chacos

Sara's Chaco Tan

I only own two pairs of shoes. In all of the world. One pair are Mizuno tennis shoes, which I wore in New Zealand and when I am jumping rope. So not that often. That means that I wear my Chaco sandals all day everyday.

Most people in Samoa where the ubiquitous and cheap jandals (as the Kiwi's call them) that can be found at any faleoloa ([fah-lay-oh-low-ah] neighborhood store) or just about any street corner. These sandals cost $7 tala. The base part of these flip-flops are all white and they come in different colored straps. The students at my school are required to wear the ones with the white straps. If they come to school with a different colored strap, their shoes are confiscated.

Because I have poor feet, I cannot wear these jandals. I need shoes with arch support. That is where my Chacos come in. I used to own two pairs of Chacos, the sandals and the flips (flips-flops). The flips were the shoes I used to wear most often, but after a year and a half of abuse in Samoa they gave up the good fight and had to be retired to the trash heap.

When I had two different varieties of Chacos, I could never really get the sandal tan down. One pair had straps running one way and the other pair ran a different way, so different parts of my foot were exposed to the sun at different times. However, now that I am down to only one shoe, the straps are always the same and my Chaco tan has gotten quite impressive. (On a side note, due to Samoa modesty, the rest of my body between the shin and neck are the same shade of white as the strap marks on my feet).

There is only one small problem with my Chacos. Since I am wearing them all day, everyday, they have started to make my feet stink. I believe all my foot sweat has built up in the base of the shoe. I have tried bleach and baking soda with no success. Oh well. My feet are not the only part of my body that stinks in Samoa...considering the fact that I don't necessarily shower with soap everyday.

Hmm, this post seems to have gotten off track.

What I wanted to say, is that I really like my Chaco sandals. That I wear them all the time and in doing so I have gotten an interesting tan on my feet. So now you know.

— Sara

Friday, March 20, 2009

When Ya'll Drown, Don't Come Crying to Me

Yesterday, after the tsunami warning, we were in town for groceries and ran into another PCV who told us that he also was called about the tsunami warning. However, he was told not to worry about it, so he didn't do anything.

This morning, I read another PCVs blog to discover he was called about the tsunami warning, but was in the middle of giving his students and test and told the person calling him from the office he would leave after the exam...and they said that was fine.

Based on this, our schools' responses and the complete lack of reaction by all of the people we passed on our bikes yesterday, I am starting to think that Cale and I were the only people in the entire country that actually evacuated inland.

SIgh. Oh well. I am just set back a day in both of my Year 12 classes. However, I have the satisfaction of knowing that all ya'll slackers would be sorry now if there had been a real tsunami.

— Sara

The Seas Did Not Rise Up to Smite Us

Fun with Tsunami Warnings

But they may have been considering it.

To add a little excitement to our day an earthquake in Tonga triggered a tsunami warning in Samoa. Cale received a phone call from the Peace Corps office at 8:50 am informing us of the warning and telling us to move to our tsunami consolidation point, which, quite simple is uta ([ooh-tah] inland).

Cale came into my classroom making the the finger across the throat gesture that initially led me to believe that the power must be out at his school, but instead met that I should stop teaching, drop everything and evacuate.

After Cale explained the situation, I immediately told me class there was a tsunami warning and that they were to leave and go directly to their form room. I then located the vice-principal and told him what was up. He told me that he already knew. I told him that I heard schools were supposed to be evacuating, but he didn't seem to be too concerned. I then went and told the school secretary and the other computer teachers that I had to evacuate due to the tsunami warning. Once again, little to no concern shown.

I rushed home to find Cale already packing things into the bike bag and a backpack. According to our Peace Corps Emergency Action Plan a we should have an Emergency Bag of Essentials that contains:

1. PC passport
2. Personal passport
3. WHO card
4. PC identification card
5. PC/Samoa Handbook, Personal Safety Manual, Medical Manual and EAP Handbook
6. Inventory of personal and Peace Corps property left at site
7. Other important personal documents such as bank/ATM cards, check books, credit cards, marriage or other certificates.
8. Money
9. Personal medical kit and medications
10. Purified water and purification tablets
11. Food and snack items
12. Clothes for several days
13. Towel
14. Keys to house
15. Reading and writing materials
16. Pack of cards or other basic games to occupy time
17. Candles and matches
18. Flashlight and extra batteries
19. Radio
20. Cassette, CD or DVD player and music and videos to occupy time

Now, if we actually had all of these things packed some where and tried to take them with us in case of an emergency we would never escape a tsunami. Not with 20 pounds of stuff on our backs.

Here is a run down of what Cale and I deemed important enough from our belongings to rescue in case of inundation by sea:

1. Two bottles of water
2. Crackers and peanut butter
3. Camera and two extra lenses
4. Computer
5. Two external hard-drives
6. Two iPods
7. One portable iPod player
8. Three books
9. Sunscreen
10. Birth control pills (not sure what I thought was going to be happening, but best to be prepared)
11. Wallets
12. Passports
13. Keys to our house and Cale's computer lab
14. Thumb drives
15. Can of tuna
16. Can opener
17. Fork

As you can see our emergency list is decidedly technology-centric.

We got on the bikes and headed inland towards Faleata. About a third of the way up the hill we stopped for water and discovered we hadn't remembered to bring any money with us. Luckily, I had the money kids had been paying to print at the school in my bag in case of an emergency (like, say, a tsunami).

We were about four and a half miles inland when we got the call that the warning had been cancelled and we could go home. So we turned around and headed back. 

Shower, sandwich and back to school for my last two classes of the day. Absolutely nothing had changed at school while I was gone and there was no reaction whatsoever to my sudden disappearance and bike ride to Faleata.

It certainly made for a more exciting day, I can say that.

— Sara

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Straws that Broke Several Camels' Backs

Today was the day Sara overreacted to everything.

Student comes 20 minute late to class because she is in the upstairs computer lab typing something for another teacher: Sara flips out. Gives student angry talking to.

Teacher interrupts class to ask to print something: Sara flips out. Gives teacher dressing down for interrupting her class.

Sara discovers teachers used printer to print resume cover letter for some person who doesn't go to the school or work at the school: Sara flips out. Speaks angrily to other computer teachers for using school equipment inappropriately.

Sara sees teacher hitting students with a fan in her classroom: Sara flips out. Screams at teacher that there is no hitting in her classroom.

Teacher apologizes for hitting and then proceeds to hit another student: Sara flips out. Screams at teacher again and tells him to get out of her room.

Tune in tomorrow for Sara's string of apologies.

I should probably explain. We got a new laser printer this year. It came with a toner cartridge that can print 700 pages. It has been out for weeks now. For the past two weeks I have been able to get it to print one not-streaky page every couple of hours if I shake the cartridge and let it rest in between. But now it won't print without leaving inkless streaks down the sides. There is no reason we should have gone through 700 pages in one and a half months. The problem is some people have been using it as a copy machine, printing multiple copies of multiple page documents and teachers keep printing from the computer lab instead of using the school secretary's computer and heavy-duty Shark printer/copier.

The other problem is that some teachers have declared that senior students can no longer turn in handwritten IA. Which is cool and if students want to type and print IAs, that is also cool. However, the students want to type and print their IAs at inappropriate times and at the last minute. Monday all the Year 13 students had an IA due. I had one student who brought me the handwritten version of this assignment on Thursday and asked me to read it for her. Then she started to type it. She wasn't finished on Friday, so she asked permission to use the lab on Saturday and I came in for about two hours. She finished and we printed at Cale's school. Since I am out of ink. 

One student.

The rest of the Year 13s came to me on Monday (when the assignment was due), asking every period if they could type their IAs. I had to keep explaining to them that there were other classes using the lab and they could only use the lab during free periods or after school. They also came to be all day asking to print and I had to say we were out of ink. So I was constantly saving files to my flash and bugging the school secretary to print them for the students.

We have an inkjet printer that is almost out of ink as well. I set it up so that my Year 12 students could print their posters for word-processing. Since printing is a required skill. Now that it is set up, teachers are using it to print other things. That was what happened with that resume cover letter today and the NUS student's report. 

So I have one printer that is out of ink due to inappropriate use and another that is almost out of ink and people keep coming and using the printer for non-school things.

For reasons I cannot comprehend, this printing thing has set me over the edge. When people ask me to print now, I turn into a raving lunatic.

Cale has recommended that I gift all the people I yelled at today with pisupo (tinned corned beef) tomorrow. I probably will. Thankfully, in Samoa, grudges are not culturally acceptable. So if I apologize (and it is accepted) it will be like nothing every happened.

— Sara

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This One's for the RPCV

Hold on to Your Hats...It's Famer Joe's
Can you guess where I am?

If you said New Zealand. You'd be wrong.

That's right kiddies, I am in Samoa and this is straight out the produce department of the expanded Farmer Joe's. Whose roughing it now? Oh, if only I could afford these vegetables. They mock me.

Lucky Foodtown has moved while their building undergoes a renovation as well. The grocery shopping options are looking fancier and fancier.

— Sara

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleveland and Detroit

Detroit and Cleveland

You may remember Cleveland as the cat that wants to be our pet. At first it was very hard for me to ignore and not pet this incredibly friendly cat that so desperately wants attention.

He as snuck into the house on several occasions, most nights he sleeps on the chair on our front porch and he comes out when I am hanging up the laundry to rub up against my legs and roll around on the ground begging to be petted.

I know I cannot start to treat him like a pet or else we would adopt him and then we would have to take him home with us and that is not an option. We already have a cat in America (thanks Rob and April).

Cleveland has found himself a girlfriend and we believe filled her with baby Clevelands. We are calling the girlfriend Detroit (with a long e). You can call her Dee for short. Now they both hang around outside the house asking to be let in and given food and love. However, Dee is much more afraid of people and she skitters away when ever I come outside.

Detroit and Cleveland

The pet thing can be trouble for many Peace Corps in Samoa. One volunteer lives in housing where several volunteers have lived before. Immediately before her another volunteer adopted a dog as a puppy and had it spayed, fed it and kept it as a pet. However, that volunteer did not take the dog with her when she left, so my friend has inherited a former pet that cannot fend for herself and is used to coming in the house. To make matters worse, the spay of this dog was incomplete, so she still goes into a mock-heat and is hounded mercilessly by the male dogs in the neighborhood. My friend has to bring her into the house at night simply so the dog can get some sleep and not be harassed by the male dogs. This volunteer knows that she is going home in six months and that she cannot take the dog with her. If she leaves the dog, she is sure it will die a slow death of starvation since it is used to being fed and cannot compete with the neighborhood male dogs that hound her night and day. My friend has been seriously considering having this pet put down to spare it the later torture.

Your best option as a volunteer here is to steal yourself against the constant onslaught of sad animals that want your love by remembering all the vicious ones that want to eat your calves or the disgusting ones with open wounds and horrible diseases that want to infect you. 

I have gone from being the sort of person that pets every cat she sees (even the ones that Cale claimed had mange in Key West) to a person reacts to finding Cleveland in her kitchen as if she found a rat in the kitchen.

Hopefully, I will remember how to love cats when we get home and see Smack again. I don't think I should have any problem with that though.

— Sara

I Was Not Culturally Sensitive

Thursday morning, in the teachers' meeting, the pule mentioned there would be a morning tea at interval and that we should come if we were hungry. But if we were not hungry, we should stay away. In retrospect, I think that was a joke. I think that Samoan's are always hungry, so everyone should come. However, I got the impression it was optional.

Anyway, so there is this tea (that I think is optional). I go up to the teachers' room when the bell rings for interval and see that this tea is one of the more elaborate teas. There are pig pieces being hacked up, there are plates of tinned corned beef being distributed. And strangely enough, there is a birthday cake set at the pule's seat. Is it his birthday? I investigate. No, according to the school secretary, it is not his birthday. Instead it is the 21st birthday of his eldest daughter (21st b-days are a big deal in Samoa. People are usually gifted with mirrors shaped like keys...I don't know why). Apparently, the eldest daughter has been helping out at the school. When teachers are absent, she sits in on their classes. I have never seen her before.

Since it is her birthday, she is wearing a nice new puletasi and serving everyone else. She is being helped by a a good-ish number of students from the school, one of which is one of the pule's other daughters, who is also in my Year 12.1 computer class. She has not been in class for two days. Including that morning. I ask her why she wasn't in class. She says because she has been helping her mom with all the preparations for her sister's birthday.

I take a seat and wait for the tea to start. The pule is missing and we cannot start without him. The food is all set out and fanned to keep the flies away. We wait, and wait, and wait. While we wait a discussion takes place in Samoan. I am told the outcome of this discussion. It is agreed that each teacher will pay $20 tala to the daughter for her birthday. Luckily one of the teachers just happens to have $500 tala that he will give her now and we will pay him back tomorrow. Forty minutes later, the bell rings. Interval is over. We have not had the tea yet. However, I have a class that I want to teach. So I leave.

My class is 13.1 and most of the students are missing. Apparently, all the school prefects have been put in charge of baby-sitting the other classes while the teachers all sit in the teachers' room waiting for the tea. I tell the few kids there that I am having class anyway. They spread the word and eventually, everyone shows up. I am reaching the end of the lesson when a student is sent down to tell me that that my presences is required upstairs for the tea. I tell the student I will be up when I am done with my lesson. My students are shocked. This is when I said something I probably shouldn't have. 

"I think that class is more important than eating."

Probably not the best call.

I finish my lesson and I go upstairs. Nothing is happening. The pule is still missing. All of the teachers are just sitting in the room waiting. I wait with them and wait and wait. Fifteen minutes later, the bell rings. I have a class I am supposed to be teaching. So I leave.

Halfway through the class a teacher is sent down to fetch me. The tea is starting I am told. I tell him I have heard that one before and I will be up when I have finished my lesson. I finish my lesson and go upstairs. I missed the tea. All the teachers are now eating cake.

I am repeatedly offered food and cake that I refuse. Then the birthday girl comes over to give me $20 tala. After I express my confusion, I am told that in Samoa we share on our birthdays. Though this sharing is cool, I am still confused. Per the earlier discussion, I owe one of the teachers $20 tala for the gift he gave on all of our behalves to the birthday girl. I have just been gifted with $20 tala of that gift. $20 that I must now give back to the original teacher. I feel like we could have saved a little time and effort in passing $20 bills around if we had not done it in the first place.

Finally, the tea that started over two hours ago and interrupted two class periods ends. Unfortunately, I learn that the pule's children are returning to New Zealand next week and we will be doing this all over again on Tuesday to wish them good bye. This time, I should probably do a better job of fitting in with everyone else and not leaving to teach my classes. I think my not showing up for the tea made me stand out a lot and in a bad way.

— Sara

See Cale Teach Computers

Cale's New Computer Class

I don't know if I will ever get Cale to blog on his new job as a computer teacher. But I thought I would let you see it.

I can say that now that we have similar jobs we can collaborate more. He can steal some of my lesson plans. I can steal his TuxTyper lessons he wrote. So that is nice.

However, I also know that he really doesn't like teaching computers and that he would much rather be in the woodshop.

— Sara

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yes, That is a Banjo

The Student Loan

I almost cried it was so wonderful. Thanks to the Embassy in Wellington, the Charge d'Affairs of our Embassy in Samoa, a State Department program called Rhythm Road and a band called The Student Loan, I saw real live musicians play real live music last night! Not even that, but the first song they played was the Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel," which I love when the the Old Crow Medicine Show plays it, I love when the Woodshed Collective played it and now I love when The Student Loan plays it.

We were invited to the Charge's home, which is wonderful. It is just like a real house, with walls that go all the way to the ceiling and the floor. There was delicious food and free beverages and new people. In addition to some Peace Corps and the members of the band, a group of Navy doctors were also in country to scout ahead for a development project they will be doing in Samoa in September. We also met Kelly, our Acting Peace Corps Country Director while Dale is in America having a baby, and a representative from the Embassy in Wellington. Craig and Allison were there, as well as Kevin (former Peace Corps volunteer and trainer) and his wife Tailofa. They are having twins!

In typical poor Peace Corps fashion, we ate all the food, drank all the wine and generally had a good time. Cale, Matt and I scared a navy doctor with our ideas for new reality television programming. One show is called Ectomy. Doctors remove an organ from a patient and the patient has a limited time frame to figure out what organ they are missing. The other one doesn't have a name, but someone with a rare disease presents their illness to a panel of celebrity doctors who have to guess just what this person has. Very exciting.

Matt and Cale also spent the night referring to each other as enablers as they proceeded to drink boxed wine out of large cups.

Tonight The Student Loan is performing at a hall in town, so I will see a real live concert! Hold on to your hats cats and kittens, this is going to be awesome.

— Sara

Fascinating Tidbit

A former Peace Corps Volunteer, then trainer and now Samoan citizen that we know is having twins with his wife. They are having the babies here in Samoa. 

Do you know how much it costs to have a baby (or two babies or a cesarian for that matter) at the National Hospital in Samoa? 

Four tala.

That's $4 tala.

You know what that is in USD right now?

$1.28. One dollar and twenty-eight cents.

That is outrageous!

— Sara

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


If you haven't been able to tell yet, my name this plant posts are a clever ploy to make you think I am blogging, when in fact, I am not. HA! Tricked you!

I will write things soon. Life is just very, very, very busy.

— Sara

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Name This Plant: Durian

We have a winner. Anna knows what is up with her tropical fruits and she knows that this spiky monstrosity is a durian.

Name this Plant: Three

According to the Wikipedia, the durian is widely known and revered in Southeast Asia as the "King of Fruits." It is distinctive for its large size, unique odor and formidable thorn-covered husk. Having never eaten one myself, I am very curious and a little afraid of this "unique odor." According to Aaron, it is illegal to eat one on a bus in Thailand, due to this unique odor. Below is a sign forbidding durian on mass transit in Singapore.

Here is a look at the inside, thanks to Wikipedia.

— Sara

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Things are not all Tropical Paradise

In fact, things are rarely tropical paradise. We live on the road in Samoa. All the cars from the capital to the airport or the wharf pass in front of our house all day. There is no beach or beautiful view. And right now it is raining. So there. Let you get the idea that Cale and I are lazing about in the surf and sand, I just wanted to let you know that I have not seen a beach since my mid-service training in mid-January and I spent most of that time in the "conference room" (for lack of a better word to call the large enclosed, mosquito breeding grounds where he had our conference).

— Sara

Am I complainy today?

SOS Children's Wikipedia

Have I mentioned how awesome this is? Well, it is. This organization in England has gone to the trouble of gathering all the articles in the Wikipedia that are topics in the British school system's prescriptions, editing the for appropriateness and putting them together on a DVD.

It is too big for Cale to put it on his computer and too big for all my ancient monster computers, but I do have it on all the newer ones and the kids can look all sorts of stuff up.

And it is all absolutely free and open.

There is a new one out. Anyone who wanted to be awesome could download it, burn it to DVD and send it this way.

— Sara

PS As long as you are burning things and sending them, don't forget some new comedians or funny You Tube videos or podcasts (cale loves car talk, i love wait,wait don't tell me) and other awesome media.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Products of the Week: Color Filling Books

Products of the Week: Color Filling Books

Today's parent is no longer happy to settle for toys that are only entertaining. They must be educational as well. Thankfully, these Color Filling Books from China are exactly what the discerning parent is looking for.

Products of the Week: Color Filling Books

Your child won't know that while they are coloring in their realistic representations of grenades, they are also learning valuable lessons about today's military weapons. Or important spelling lessons with Snow White and her Savan Dwarfs.

Products of the Week: Color Filling Books

Your tot can also learn more about world religions and invading robots, important life skills to develop early on.

Products of the Week: Color Filling BooksProducts of the Week: Color Filling Books

Don' be alarmed by the seemingly violent focus of some of these color filling books. These aggressive themes have been tempered with hearts and flowers.

Products of the Week: Color Filling Books
— Sara