Friday, July 31, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part VI

Previous Installments

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Friday morning at 9am Cale, Naita (the Methodist Board of Education driver) and I went to PFL. They didn’t even ask to see any papers. Four palettes of computer equipment (three palettes of monitors and one palette of boxes full of keyboards and mice) were loaded into the back of the truck. We drove them the Cale’s school where his students unloaded them from the truck. Naita and I return for the second of three trips, while Cale and his students went through all the boxes, inventorying the mice and keyboards (how many USB, how many PS/2, how many optical, how many with scroll wheels, etc).

The Tale of the Computer Donation

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Naita and I returned with three more palettes of monitors. The students unloaded them. And back to PFL. We returned with another palette of monitors and two palettes of cases. When it is all unloaded the classroom next too Cale’s lab was filled to capacity with computers. It looked pretty damn nice.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

The Tale of the Computer Donation

That afternoon Cale, Tetsuya (the JICA volunteer teaching automotive at Cale’s school) and I move all the cases to Cale’s computer lab so they can be locked up for the night and tested all the monitors to make sure they were working. I took a break to install programs on Naita’s computer, while Cale and Tetsuya continued the monitor testing. In all there were 173 monitors. Two needed some fixing. The metal around the video connection on one was bent and would not fit onto the back of the computer. The other had a broken power button. The monitor is on, but cannot be turned off. Not too big a deal. Easily fixed.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Saturday morning Cale had a computer lab full of students who had come to help install operating systems. They started just before 9 am, but the power went out at 10:20 am after they had only completed installs on two or three machines. While the power was off, we started opening all the computers and noting the amount of RAM in each. We tried to put 512 in every computer with a DVD drive so schools can use those as servers and we tried to minimize the number of computers with only 128MB of RAM. The power was back on in an hour. Most of the students continued to check RAM, but some stopped to learn how to duplicate hard drives from computers that already had Ubuntu installed to computers that did not have an operating system.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

The students slowly started to leave around 1 pm to make sure they caught the last buses, though two students stuck around until about 2:30. When we finally left just before 4 pm there were 21 computers with operating systems and all of them had the amount of RAM indicated (Or so we thought. Later we discovered several mis-marked cases). In our sorting we had only come across two computers that were not be fixable at that point.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

We also had one school pick up their donation. Gore and his school van came by around 2 pm to pick up his 15 computers. It took two trips to get all the monitors and cases back to his school.

Sunday Cale, Tetsuya and I were back in the computer lab checking system summaries to mark the cases with RAM and hard drive sizes and cloning Ubuntu from one hard drive to the next. We were starting to come across some problems at this time. Some hard drives we could not install an OS on. Some faulty RAM. We sorted the computers into stacks of ones with 256 MB of RAM and ones with 128 MB. We also separated them by HD size (10 GB, 20GB, the occasional 40GB and the odd sizes of 13GB or 15GB and that one 6.8GB). We further broke them down to ones with and without CD drives.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Jordan came by with his principal and a truck to pick up his 25 computers. He was able to fit exactly the 25 into the truck. One monitor (the gigantor 19” that was his gift for helping so much on Thursday) and two cases had to go in the front of the truck, as did the keyboards and mice. Everything else fit in the bed of the truck.

— Sara

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion to The Tale of the Computer Donation...or...How I Spent My Swine Flu Vacation.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part V

Previous Installments

Family Circus Map

On Thursday, the driver for the Methodist Board of Education agreed to pick up the computers starting at noon (just after I had finished my classes for the day). When I hopped in the truck, he asked me if I had all my paper work. “Of course,” I said. I had in my possession the paid invoice for shipping and a letter (in Samoan) from the Minister of Revenue waiving the customs and taxes. We were good to go.

Boy was I wrong.

1:00 pm: Cale, Jordan and I arrived at PFL. I went in and handed the woman the invoice and the letter. She made a very sad face at me and started to translate the letter for me.

“You see, this is a letter from the Minister of Revenue to the Deputy Prime Minister telling him to ask the Minister of Finance for the waiver.”

“So this is not the letter I need? Cause I was told this was the letter.”

“Maybe the people at Customs will take it,” she said in a voice that told me she didn’t believe that.

It was determined that we should talk to the CEO of the Customs Department to see how much the taxes were going to be. Jordan and I trooped over to the Customs office while Cale went to the Peace Corps office to see if there was any help to be had on that end.

In the Customs office we learned again that our letter was not going to cut it and that they needed the paperwork declaring the value of the cargo to determine taxes. I showed them all the paperwork I had. There was no value assessed to the cargo. “Exactly,” Jordan said. “These computers were free, they have no value.”

Apparently, their freeness doesn’t matter. We were sent back to PFL with a customs agent who would guesstimate the value of our cargo. Jordan guessed $20,000 as we walked back across the road. Once back at PFL, they had to use the forklift to bring all 10 palettes out of the warehouse and onto the floor for the customs agent to look at.

The story of Thursday doesn’t sound so bad yet. But after our experiences on Tuesday, I was slowly coming unhinged and Jordan played nice with the customs agent while I fretted myself angrier and angrier. How much are the taxes going to be? What if they are not waived? How will we ever afford to pay them? Why can’t anything be easy?

Cale came back and said the advice from the office was we emphasize the value of the computers, $0, and that we go back to see the DPM, where the letter writing had originated from.

The agent inspected and then we all trooped back to the Customs office where he gave us an estimate of just under $20,000. Score one for Jordan. Twenty-three percent tax on these now $20,000 computers? $4,600. Now where the heck were we supposed to come up with $4,600 for free computers? Why did this have to be so complicated? Didn’t Samoa want people to easily donate things to their schools? My frustration was building.

Next we were sent to the Custom’s Agent where it was believed that maybe he would accept our letter and process the paperwork. We trooped across the street. The agent also was not a fan of our letter, but for different reasons. He seemed to dislike it because he thought it was not signed by the Minister of Revenue. This apparently confused us all, but we didn’t realize it until we were outside the office and could discuss it with each other? Isn’t this already signed by the Minister of Revenue we asked each other? Yes, we all concurred. Yet the customs agent seemed to feel that we needed this letter to be signed or authorized. We decided that if we need a second signature then we would get a second signature.

2 pm: We hopped in a cab and headed to the Government Building. In the elevator. Up to the 5th floor. In to the Minister’s office. Explain our situation.

The Minister’s secretary was also confused.

“You need what?”

“His signature or authorization.”

“But he already signed this letter.”

“We know.”

The Minster was having lunch in his office, so we waited. While we waited I had half a glass of water, the only water I was going to drink that day until we finished hours later. If only I had known that at the time; I would have drunk more.

The secretary took our letter to the Minister and returned to tell us that the Minister of Revenue says we have to see the Minister of Finance (which was what the woman at PFL had originally translated for me, but everyone else since then had given us conflicting information).

So we all trooped out of the Minister’s office. Down the elevator. Out of the building. Across the car park. Into the Samoa Central Bank building. Up the elevator. Out on the 6th floor. Into the Minister of Finance’s office. Explain our situation…again.

This Minister’s secretary looked at me like I was a crazy person.

“The Minister of Finance doesn’t handle this sort of thing.”

“I am just doing what I was told!”

“Ok, I will check with the Minister.”

Yeah, the Minister of Finance doesn’t deal with this sort of thing. However, what the secretary did next was quite possibly the most helpful thing anyone had done so far this day (since the woman at PFL had translated for me). She picked up the phone and made a phone call. She asked some questions, was transferred and asked some more questions. When she got of the phone, she told me I needed to go see Lita on Level 3. Lita could help us.

Out of the Minister of Finance’s office. Down the elevator. Out on the 3rd floor. Wander a little among the cubicles. Find Lita. Explain our situation…again.

And Lita knew what we were talking about!

She processed these sorts of requests. This was her job! This is where we needed to be all along! This is where I should have gone a month ago if I had know that the letter we had wasn’t the final document required to waive the customs and taxes. Or at least yesterday after paying for the shipping.

Don’t get too excited because we didn’t have the paperwork we needed to process the request. We needed something from the Customs Department, the name of which I still do not know, that comes on a yellow piece of paper. We were to go back to the Customs Department and get the yellow slip. They would know what we were talking about. We all looked at our watches. Lita’s office closes at 5 pm.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

3:30 pm: Out of Lita’s office. Down the elevator. In a taxi. Back the Customs Department. Up to the Customs Department window.

The man behind the window tells us he cannot give us the yellow slip. We don’t have the necessary paperwork.

“But the woman at the Department of Finance said we can get it from you!”

“You must see the Customs Agent.”

“But the Customs Agent said he couldn’t do anything until we had the customs and tax waiver! And we cannot get the waiver until we give the yellow slip to Lita.”

As luck would have it, the customs agent we talked with was standing one window over at the Customs Department and Jordan hijacked him, explaining the situation. I think partially out of hope to make the irritating palagi go away, he wrote a note on a sticky note to take to his office.

“Give them this. They will take care of everything.”

Across thee street and back to the Customs Agent office. Give note to man behind desk.

The man behind the desk miraculously agrees to process our shipment. He also tells us that after we pay him the $92 agent fee and take this form to the Customs Department we will pay them $10 and they will release our cargo. All finished.

What? What about the yellow slip to take to Lita? Nope? Just $10 to the Customs Department and finished. Ok.

4 pm: Back to the Customs Department. Present paperwork. Wait.

Jordan is practically giddy at this point. He has a $10 bill out that he keeps folding and refolding and miming presenting to the cashier so we can pick up at least one load of our computers today before everything closes.

“You know, my pule still doesn’t believe these computers are real,” said Jordan. “Even though they paid for the shipping.”

Paperwork processed. Paperwork to cashier’s window. Jordan excitedly hands paperwork and $10 to cashier. She looks at him like he is a crazy person. All our attention is drawn to the number at the bottom of the paper work. Just over $3,000. What happened to only $10?

The guys behind the glass at the Customs Department pulls out the letter we have from the Minister of Revenue and starts explaining the part of the letter that says the Minister of Revenue recommends the Customs Department give a 5% discount on the customs and taxes. Midway through this he stops and looks at us.

“Don’t you have any of our people who can help you?” he says, gesturing to himself, “Anyone who can speak Samoan.”

We all recognize the comedy of this. These three palagi running from one government office to another not understanding what is happening around them and constantly being referred back to a letter in another language that we have had translated to us in bits and pieces, each person translating the portion that refers to what they are currently trying to make us understand.

We are all still a little confused. The guy in the Customs Agent office said we would pay $10 and be finished, but that does not appear to be the case. However, we have the yellow slip now. We were all preparing to head back to Lita in the Department of Finance, when Cale suggested we run back to the Customs Agent to see what went wrong with the $10.

The Customs Agent looks at the yellow form. He points out that in one field on the form he sent over he had typed COM, which means the CEO of Customs has the power to waive the fees. However, in our new yellow form that field has been changed to 14B. We go back to Customs to ask why it was changed. We are told that the head of Customs based the change on the letter from the Minister of Revenue, which recommended the 5% discount, but said we had to see the Minister of Finance about waiving the fees entirely.

4:15 pm: We are in a taxi heading back to the Department of Finance to give Lita our yellow form. We run into her in the stairwell on the way to her office. She says that we now have what we need and we can leave it with the woman with the desk next to her desk; it takes two days to process.

Cale and Jordan are still determined to pick up at least one, just one computer today. If only to prove it can be done.

We take our form to Ruth who responds to our crazed panic with calm and extreme levels of help. She goes to work right away completing the paperwork that must be done on her end. Then she walks us down to the accounts department and has our paperwork officially stamped for processing. We now hold a piece of paper in our hand that should allow the Customs Department to release our cargo while the payment of the customs and taxes by the government is processed.

4:40 pm: In a taxi. To the Customs Department. Catch employees as they are leaving the building. Hand over paper. Wait for processing. Catch cashier who has already closed up shop and pay additional processing fees. We are told we will have to return tomorrow to pick up the receipt since everything is shut down. As we are completing this transaction we hear the large shuttered garage door at PFL being pulled down. PFL is closing up shop. I console Cale and Jordan who were still determined to pick up that one computer.

4:57 pm: When the paper work is complete, we have one white and one blue piece of paper that should tell PFL that all is well and they can release the cargo. We race across the street to PFL and discover the offices are still open. So finally, after starting the process at noon we hand over our cargo release papers to PFL at 5 pm. The woman at PFL exclaims, “We have been waiting for you all day. But the boys have all gone home now.” We tell her not to worry, our driver had gone home hours ago. We had told him we would call him when we were ready. Unfortunately, we weren’t ready that day. We state our intentions to return the next morning.

5:30 pm: Cale and I went to Italiano’s to eat for the first time that day and drink water for the first time since the sip in the Minister of Revenue’s office hours earlier. Jordan went home to enjoy his poker night.

— Sara

Will Cale and Sara pick up the computers tomorrow? Will PFL be hit by an meteorite? Will a tsunami flood their schools? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in the Tale of the Computer Donation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part IV

Previous Installments

The next morning (Wednesday) I informed my pule about the cost (I had been keeping him informed all along and he knew this was a possibility). I gave $70 from the funds raised charging students $0.50 to print this school year and the pule put together the rest by the end of the day. He also announced the school would have a mufi (out of uniform day) on Friday to reimburse the cost of the computers (and for the Athletics Champ of Champs coming up). Cale gathered the money from his school, where the Year 2 students voted to donate $200 from the class fund to help pay for the shipping.

After school I took the bus to Leulumoega Fou to collect Gore’s money (dragging along a couch surfer who had just arrive minutes before). Then we met up with Cale and headed into town where we hooked up with Jordan, who had his school's money and the money he was covering for the Savaii schools. Then we all trekked over to the PFL offices to pay the shipping. 


I felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders. All we had to do now was pick them up!

We had a celebratory dinner at Wildfire where we bored the couch surfer to death talking about computers and the logistics of picking them up the next day.

— Sara

Is the computer donation adventure over? Will Sara and Cale simply pick up the computers tomorrow or do more obstacles lurk in their future? Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting installment of The Tale of the Computer Donation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part III

Previous Installments

Tuesday morning Cale found me at school. Word had made it to us that the Deputy Prime Minister had not left for Pago that morning. We needed to go to his office when it opened at 9 am to give him the invoice so the shipping could be paid before the Wednesday deadline.

We rushed home for Cale to change into a pocket lavalava. He even shaved. The Tongan Peace Corps Volunteers who were staying with us were impressed with his clean-cut face.

Once in town, we saw the DPM’s secretary who told us the matter had been passed to the Minister of Revenue. We went to the office next door and saw the Minister of Revenue’s secretary who said we could come back at 3 pm to meet with the Minister.

As we were leaving the building we ran into Marco and Marie Ines, who just happened to be introducing guests from overseas to the DPM. We waited around awkwardly as part of that group for a chance to talk to the DPM and I put my foot in my mouth. Thinking this was may be my only opportunity to catch the DPM, when Marco introduced us, I went into way too long a spiel about why we were here to see him, even though he had already said he would see us in his office when he was done (something Cale had heard and I had missed).

We talked to the DPM in his office, only to learn there had been a great misunderstanding. The DPM had agreed to write a letter to PFL on our behalf asking them to provide assistance in shipping the computers and PFL had with a 50% discount. That was the end of the DPM’s involvement. His office was not covering the remaining $2,000 tala in shipping. He mentioned that it was good for the schools to pay something for the computers, to show their commitment to the donation and I agreed. If only we had known months ago, we could have be collecting the money all along, but now the money was due tomorrow and we had nothing.

However, all was not lost. At some point during our wandering from DPM’s office to Minister of Revenue’s office one of the secretaries asked us, “Have you asked the Prime Minister?”

“No,” I said confused. “Can I?”

I was a little baffled, this woman was asking us if we had asked the Prime Minister of Samoa if he would pay for the shipping of these computers as if we frequently ran into him on the street or as if we could just call him up, “Hey! PM! Old buddy, old pal. Can you spot us $2,000?”

However, as it appears, she was not joking. You can just walk over to the PM’s office and make an appointment, no problems. So that is what Cale and I did. Our appointment was set for 3pm, it was only 10:30 am, and so we walked to McDonald’s for breakfast and then headed to the office.

Once in the office, I started calling all the Peace Corps Volunteers that were getting computers and telling them that at this time, it looks like we have to pay for the shipping and we have to pay for the shipping tomorrow. Luckily, the price was right, $13 tala per computer. Unfortunately, the timing sucked. There was no way for the Savaii schools to get their money across the ocean by tomorrow (I would probably be more correct if I said strait and not ocean, oh well). This is where Jordan (another volunteer at Chanel College) stepped in to kick ass and take names. He volunteered to cover the Savaii schools and be reimbursed by them.

Feeling slightly better, we headed off to our 3 pm meeting with the Prime Minister. When we got to the PM’s office we were directed to a waiting room. I was surprised by how casually dressed some of the other people waiting to see the Prime Minister of the country were. Cale was in a nice shirt and pocket lavalava. I was in a puletasi. However, several people where simply in shorts and t-shirts. I was starting to get the impression that seeing the PM is a lot more relaxed than seeing, say, President Obama. Of course, that didn’t stop me from becoming outrageously nervous as we waited.

Eventually we saw the PM and it wasn’t too scary. Unfortunately, he was also unable to help us. We mentioned a fund that the PM has available to him without a parliamentary vote. However, it appears that the fund is currently frozen while they consider investing options.

We headed back to the PC office to inform the schools they would need to pay the $13 tala per and ASAP. On the way, Blakey called and we did a drive by in our taxi, snatching $100 tala off her as she stood on the side of the road. One school down, six more to go. 
It was after 4 pm Tuesday. We had 24 hours to collect the rest of the money.

— Sara

Will Cale and Sara collect all the money in time to make the Wednesday payment deadline? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of The Tale of the Computer Donation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part II

Previous Installments

Cale’s pule was also in contact with the Deputy Prime Ministers office over having the cost of shipping taken care of and at the end of May Brian emailed me to say that the Pacific Forum Line in Auckland had been contacted by the Samoan government. At the end of June Brian contacted me to say the computers were all ready to be shipped, but there was some difficulty on the PFL end over how payment for the shipping was going to be handled. This is when I learned that PFL was giving us a 50% discount on the shipping and was waiting for the remaining 50% from the government. PFL was contacted and they agreed to send the shipment with payment on delivery. I was informed of this agreement after the fact and sent a letter to the Auckland manager of PFL thanking him and requesting an invoice to take to the Deputy Prime Minister’s office to complete the payment.

On July 4, the Auckland Manager sent a reply that included the name of the ship the computers were being sent on. However, it did not occur to me until later that that meant the computers were already on their way. On Friday, July 10, I looked up the schedule of that ship on the internet and discovered it was going to be in port in Apia the following Thursday, the day Cale and I were scheduled to leave for FaoFao on vacation. Also, the arrival was less than a week away and we still did not have an invoice to give the Deputy Prime Minister’s office to get the remainder of the shipping covered.

On Monday, July 13, I contacted the local offices of PFL for an invoice. Apparently there was some issue at their end. The shipment had been charged to their office by the Auckland office and they did not want to be responsible for the bill. They asked me for a signator to guarantee the shipment. I explained that this was a group of 10 different schools and there was no one person who could guarantee the cost of the shipping. I learned during the conversation that when the computers arrived in port, we would have three days to pay for them before they would be bonded and sold to cover the remainder of the shipping. I asked for an invoice to get to the DPM's office ASAP, which we received on Wednesday. Thankfully, I learned that the boat had been delayed and the computers were not arriving the next day, but Saturday and would not be offloaded until Monday. This gave us until Wednesday to sort out the payment.

Cale and I left the invoice for just over $2,000 tala in the hands of his principal and we went to FaoFao. Since the principal had been speaking to the DPM’s office before, he was going to contact them again to hand over the invoice. Unfortunately, he was unable to get an appointment with the DPM Thursday or Friday. He learned from the DPM’s driver that the DPM was scheduled to leave the country Tuesday morning. If we were going to catch him, Monday night was it and we didn’t catch him Monday night.

— Sara

Will Cale and Sara get in contact with the Deputy Prime Minister? Will the computer shipment be paid for? Will the computers be bonded and sold to cover the shipping costs? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of The Tale of the Computer Donation.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ma'i Pua'a...Again

Swine Flu

I have to admit I haven't been taking this swine flu thing very seriously. Sure there have been almost 40 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu in Samoa, but that didn't seem like a big deal to me. However, since most of these cases have all been in schools, the government has been taking it very seriously. Yesterday the Ministry of Health issued a public health request closing all schools in the country starting Monday for one week (or until further notice). We just got back from the conference break and only had four days of classes (I only had three days with my Year 13s due to the Year 12 CAT on Friday), but it looks like we are getting another break.

Hmm...this means all the Peace Corps teachers in country will have an unplanned week off at the same time. I wonder how this will turn out. Seeing as how she has been handing out face masks, I imagine our medical officer would prefer we honor the spirit of this school cancellation and not gather together in large groups, possibly spreading the infection.

Overall I am still having a hard time taking the whole swine flu thing too seriously. Maybe it is because we don't have a TV and I don't get the newspaper regularly, but it isn't something that has been showing up on my radar. Recently the Red Cross started hosting flu clinics behind the tourism building (welcome tourists! we have swine flu!) and giving masks. I started to see a sprinkling of people around town wearing masks (taxi drivers at Aggie Greys, the attendant at a gas station). It all seemed rather surreal.

I checked the Samoa Observer's web site for news on the school closings and all I could find was this vague reactionary story from the Catholic schools. I checked the Ministry of Health's web site and they weren't any help either. I couldn't find anything on the Ministry of Education's web site either. Maybe my problem is I am searching in English.

Radio New Zealand had the most information I could find. There was an article in the New Zealand Herald talking about a doctor who breached confidentiality to tell the world that the Prime Minister of Samoa was tested for swine flu, but no one is saying what the results of the test were. I can say that I saw the Prime Minister on Tuesday and he looked fine to me.

Anywho, here's to a week off school (oh, my students are so far behind. so very far behind).

— Sara

Swine Flu

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part I


Cale and I have been working on a project for several months now that I haven’t mentioned in the blog for fear of jinxing it. It as gone past the jinxable stage now, so I think it is safe to talk about it.

I know this sounds all melodramatic, like we have been working on some sort of top-secret project. That is not true. It was just something that I didn’t want to say anything about until everything had worked out.

Part I

Last November, just before going home, Davey-Dave put me in contact with a man in New Zealand. Brian Lawrence owns The Ark, a company that refurbishes computers from businesses when they up grade. They resell the computers to New Zealand schools. In the past they have sold older-model computers to Samoan schools like Dave’s school Chanel and Gal’s school in Aleipata for very low prices.

At the time Brian said he was looking to donate between 200 and 500 computers to Samoan schools. He wanted to know if I could help. I was overwhelmed, finding placement and shipping for 500 computers seemed like a huge undertaking that I could not even begin fathom. I contacted Amos, a former volunteer, who had extended a year to do a similar project. At this time his extension was over and he was already back in the States.

The first step was finding schools for these computers. I told Brian that just donating to schools with Peace Corps Volunteers, I could find homes for about 200 of the computers, but if he wanted to make a donation as large as 500, I would put him in contact with the MESC (Ministry of Education).

Brian and his wife Jackie came to visit Samoa in March. I put him in contact with the ACEO of MESC and they had a meeting with her. I also contacted the Peace Corps volunteers and made a list of those who would be interested in receiving a computer donation. I listed the type of school, the number of computers they wanted, whether there was already a computer lab or whether to school had a place to create a computer lab and other details. Then I organized a tour of five of the schools and one after-school homework center on Upolu. Cale’s principal escorted Brian, Jackie, Cale and I around Upolu visiting the schools, seeing the facilities, talking to the staff.

Brian pointed out several times during the tour that he realized the donating computers was the easy part. The hard part was finding teachers to give classes and technicians to keep the computers working. We visited one school that had 10 relatively new computers sitting unused in the library. They thought the computers were broken, but had no one at the school that knew what was wrong or how to fix them. Cale, on a lark, tried to turn one on and got it up and running very easily. This school didn’t need more computers, what they needed was a trained person on staff.

In April, Brian contacted me with his decision to donate to eight Peace Corps schools. He said that he wanted to look at this project as two-phased. First, donating to these Peace Corps schools, where he knows there is someone to setup and maintain the computers and train others on how to use them. After that he would start to look at a larger, more long-term project.

A little more than a month later, Brian had about 20 student volunteers from the Manukau Institute of Technology in New Zealand in his warehouse working to refurbish the computers for donation.

During this time, one of the volunteers at a school slated to get computers left his school and was searching for a new posting. We decided we would give those 15 computers to some Peace Corps primary schools. I sent out an application. I didn’t want the responsibility of deciding who did and didn’t get computers. Also Cale’s principal was already involved with the project. If he was in charge of the decision, it was one more thing that would be sustainable if Brain decided to donate computers again after Cale and I had gone. So we asked Cale's pule to choose the schools.

— Sara

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in our exciting story

Friday, July 24, 2009

Solar Eclipse

Picture courtesy of Planetfunn

We missed seeing a partial viewing of the longest solar eclipse of the century due to rain clouds. I am very sad.

— Sara

PS I did not take the picture on this post. I got it from the credited web site.

Couch Surfing

Couch surfing is brilliant. Cale and I signed up on the Couch surfing web site several months ago and right away we received requests from people all over the world that wanted to crash in our extra bedroom while visiting Samoa.

Our first couch surfer was a veterinarian student from North Carolina who was preparing to do an internship in Australia and stopped in Samoa for a holiday beforehand. She rented a car one day and we were able to travel around part of Upolu with her. Unfortunately, it rained all that day, so it wasn’t the best sightseeing.

We have also hosted a couple from New Zealand, half of which was a Kiwi and the other half was French. The first night they were at our place the power was out for several hours, so we sat in the field in front of my school admiring the Milky Way, naming constellations and drinking a little ‘ava.

By far most of the couch surfers we have met are German. Germans seem to be well-traveled folk. We have hosted two German couch surfers ourselves and met two others, one who was staying with Samoan families and another at the beach fale down the street from where we were staying in FaoFao.

Thanks to couch surfing we met up with four Peace Corps volunteers from Tonga. It is fun to sit around comparing and contrasting islands and posts.

Up next we will be hosting a multi-cultured family (one part Spanish, one part Russian and one part Chinese) and meeting for dinner a foodie-journalist/banker family from Estonia on an around the world trip.

The couch surfer who just left our house this morning is a German woman taking the long way home from a semester overseas studying in New Zealand. She will make a stop in the US before heading back to Germany (we advised her to eat Mexican food while in California). Putting her high on the list of all time favorite couch surfers, she read our blog before she came and brought us olives of wonder and joy.

Hopefully Cale and I are building up some good karma on the hosting end that we can cash in when we take our trip home from Samoa come December. As we travel through Southeast Asia, China, Tibet and Nepal we should be able to find some couches to crash on and we will definitely we able to find people willing to meet for coffee or food who can direct us to the best places to see and stay while we are in that country.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Are Still Here

We were just on vacation for four days on the south side of the island and things have been crazy busy since we returned. I promise to post soon.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real Gangsta Shoulderz

I have never understood why we had both a C and K in the English language. I feel like the C could do everything the K does and vise versa. Sure, we have been conditioned to be familiar with Cs and Ks in their proper places. If I spelled "break," "breac" instead, your brain would not be happy with it. But what is the real problem there? It should sound the same right? 

It really gets me when we double up on the CK. I mean would "snack" sound any different if it was "snac" or "snak?" I think not, just ask all the snack food companies that spell it one of those ways so it will seem hip and cool for the kids. 

Personally, I am leaning towards the K. It can do all the things the C does and in most instances, it looks better, has a better feel. "Kreek?' No problem. "Kat?" Works for me. "Sukkeed?"  Maybe a little weird. I start to trip up when I insert the K into the "Ch" situation. "Khurch?" This is not working for me. Also, the practise of beginning all normally C words with Ks feels very Ku Klux Klanny to me, and there is no way I want to have anything in common with that group. 

Maybe I should go the other way around and drop the K and replace it with the C. The only trouble there is all those silent Ks at the beginning of words, "knife," "know." We didn't need those Ks anyway. They were silent for a reason.

What, in the name of god, is your point Sara?

The Samoan alphabet does not have a C. However, it does have a K. So one would think that they could simply substitute the K in all instances where a C is used in English. It would help solve small issues, like pronouncing Cale's name. Kale sounds the same as Cale and happens to be a common misspelling of his name anyway, since that is how the vegetable is spelled.

However, Samoans do not interchange the C and K. Instead, they use the G for C words. I assume because a G and a C look the same. So Cale becomes Gale. Things start to get a little tricky when you realize that the G in the Samoan alphabet does not sound the same as the English G, but instead is a NG sound (like at the end of sing or sung). Except, as far as I can hear, when Cale is called Gale it is with the English pronunciation of the G. My head is spinning.

What implications does this C, G interchangeability have? Well, as with the rest of the world, American gangsta culture is quite popular in Samoa. Last year I had a student that named all this files Gangsta....something. I have a student this year who writes his name as 2p@c (that's Tupac for those of you at home) on all his assignments. Rap music is insanely popular, as are gangsta fashions (when they aren't in school uniform). Things like Blood and Bloodz show up in students artwork all the time. And thanks to the interchangeable C and G, we have seen more than one Samoan with an elaborate, gothic script tattoo across his arm or back declaring "Grips." You know, the American gang? Switch the G with a C? Crips! Now you got it.

— Sara

PS. As long as I am talking about interchangeable. There is no B in the Samoan alphabet either. But there is a P and it is interchangeable with the B. It is so prevalent that I find myself misspelling words with Ps instead of Bs. I had a 10 minute conversation trying to figure out what a netball "pip" was until I realized we were talking about "bibs," the uniform netball players wear.

PPS. I should probably explain the post title. Real Gangsta Shoulderz is a piece of graffiti in town. We are pretty sure they want to be Real Gangsta Soldiers. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Real Bike Accident

Sunday Cale and I biked into Apia, as we normally do. We were on beach road, on our way to the office. Just before we reached Aggie Gray's, a taxi passed us on the road. We were biking on the right-most edge of the road and the taxi passed us on the left. Then he pulled over to the side of the road and up onto the sidewalk in front of the Aggie Grey shop, as if he was going to park or pick someone up. Cale veered left a little to go around the taxi and I followed suit.

At that exact moment, the taxi driver pulled back on to the road with no warning, turn signal or indication. Cale had to come to an abrupt halt to avoid being hit by the taxi. I gripped down hard on both my brakes in a desperate attempt to avoid ramming into Cale.

What followed was sort of slow motion. I came to an abrupt stop and slowly realized that my back end was not stopping with me. It reached the point of no return and I knew the bike was coming up over me and I was going over the handle bars, so I jumped off the bike.

I some how managed to hit my chest on the handle bars just at diaphragm level and slam my left shin into the handlebars or some other part of the bike. I got up and hauled myself and my bike over to the sidewalk (after throwing the taxi driver a sarcastic "Thanks a lot." Though I wonder if sarcasm travels across language barriers or if he honestly thought I was thanking him).

Once on the sidewalk I realized I was having trouble breathing, but that slowly faded. My shin instantly swelled up and was looking pretty nasty. Once I had my breath back we finished the bike ride to the office where I put ice on my shin. It still hurts today, but there is little-to-no noticeable bruising or swelling.

It is strange that it took us this long to experience our first real dog problem and bike accident. We've almost finished our two years and we have only had the one dog bite and now the bike incident. Typically these are high problem areas for volunteers, so we have been very lucky. Plus both incidents were very mild and neither of us was seriously injured. So good on us.

— Sara

Sunday, July 12, 2009

50,000 Cars in Samoa? I Think Not.

It is strange the random places Samoa pops up now that we are more inclined to notice it's mention.

Cale was watching The Land of the Dead, a particularly bad zombie flick, when this scene occurred:

Pillsbury: Yellow to red!
Motown: What the fuck does a Samoan know about hot-wiring a fucking car?
Pillsbury: 50,000 cars stolen in Samoa every year.
Motown: Well, a million in Detroit.
Pillsbury: Detroit has 50 million cars. Samoa, 50,000. Every one stolen.
*Taken from

What an insanely random skill to attribute to a Samoan and then to back it up with a widely inaccurate fact about the country. I knew before I even googled it there was no way there were 50,000 cars in Samoa and I was right.

According to the Samoa Bureau of Statistics there were just over 14,000 vehicles registered in Samoa in 2005 (and that includes tractors). Unless something dramatic happened, more then doubling the number of cars in the country in four years, there is no way there is anything close to 50,000 cars in Samoa right now. And, given that The Land of the Dead came out in 2005, the year of my most recent statistics, 14,000 is a much closer number.

Let's forget about my nitpicking inaccuracies in a zombie flick and talk about car theft in Samoa for a moment. I cannot imagine how you could steal a car in this country. Unless after stealing it you hid it somewhere and never drove it.

Samoa is just too small for someone to steal something as identifiable as a car and not be caught. Everyone knows everyone. If your car went missing and suddenly another person was driving it, everyone would know. Also, I think it might be possible to count the number of gas stations on the two islands on two hands. Since all the gas stations are full-service, I imagine that the gas jockeys of Samoa know each and every car and it's owner.

When Cale and I rented a van on the Tuesday before my parents' arrival the next day, we drove it to the beach. When we returned it to the rental company in Apia on Wednesday, they asked us if we had a good time at the beach on Tuesday. Friends of the family had seen the van drive over the mountain and passed the information on to the car owners.

In this sort of close-knit environment how could anyone steal a car? I would like to propose that car-theft is impossible in Samoa. I invite our readers to provide any knowledge of previous instances to prove my theory wrong.

— Sara

* I would also like to point out that it appears (based the actor's name) that the man playing the Samoan in The Land of the Dead was Hispanic.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cale Reacts to Sara's Scandalous Knees

"Those are cute shorts. Why don't you were those shorts?"

"I don't own them anymore."

"Well, what about those shorts?"

"Don't own them either."

"Why not?"

— Sara

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Please Excuse My Scandalous Knees

Sara taking a picture of Teresa

This pictures comes for Florida before we left to join the Peace Corps in Samoa. I am wearing perfectly reasonably lengthed shorts. In fact, in comparison to my sisters, I am wearing super conservative grannie shorts. 

Dad, Mom and Sara

Yet look at all the leg that is visible! Not only can you see my knees (shock and gasp) but you can see a significant portion of thigh. (that's me in the front of the canoe, in case you haven't figured that out).

There is nothing scandalous about these shorts. Yet looking at them makes me cringe. My legs are all bare and in public! Holy cow, if you look on the flickr back before we came to Samoa you can see pictures of me in a bikini in public. That's right, just putting my thighs and midriff right out there for all the world to see. Hussy!

Sara and Erik's Tattoo Day

When we first arrived in Samoa I was hyper-conscious of the acceptable social norms for female attire. I covered my shoulders and my knees. The picture above is a pretty fair representation of acceptable attire.

No where was I more sensitive than at the beach.


Before we left the States, I had special ordered from Victoria Secrets what I considered to be an extremely modest one-piece bathing suit. It was very retro, it was very black, it made me feel very much like I was getting ready for a pair of mom jeans as well.

I discovered quite quickly that there was nothing modest about this bathing suit and despite the fact I had covered what felt like a large portion of my body in America in black stretchy fabric, I was in fact practically nekkid in Samoa. I took to wearing shorts over the suit when I was out of the water. I quickly switched to board shorts and a t-shirt or tank top.

New puletasi

My adherence to the strict dress code has been waning. Cale made me that super scandalous puletasi last year. Granted, my knees are only revealed when I walk, but look at all those shoulders. Then for Christmas my parents sent me a pair of jean shorts that have quickly become my favourites. However, the first time I put them on, I felt dangerous. I was showing the world my knees. Now, I walk around town in them all the time without a second thought. Look at all that knee I am showing in the picture below. Shocking.

Old Pictures for Aaron's Goodbye Party

Beachwear is my greatest evolution. I went from Victoria Secret's one-piece, to board shorts and t-shirt, to ie as dress to bikini and shorts. When we are in a vacation spot, such as Jane's in Manase, I don't have a problem wearing my bikini and a pair of shorts (says the girl who was so judgmental of the tourists in bikinis when she first got here). However, I tried wearing that at FaoFao not that long ago and I felt wrong. It wasn't the same. FaoFao isn't as touristy and I know the people who work there. I felt inappropriate. Also, when I got somewhere I know is popular with Samoans, I also regress to the board shorts and shirt. I have rules like that for clothes as well. I wear my jean shorts all over town in Apia, but I cover with an ie when I am riding the bus in Savaii. 

Janes in Manase

What does all this clothing evolution say about Samoa or me? I have no idea. What I do know is I still spend most of my time covered from shoulders to ankles in a puletasi, like the one seen on my at prize-giving last year below.

Prize Giving 2008 Part 1

I still think "whore" when I see a girl in a short skirt here in Samoa (skirts that a probably acceptable business attire in America [thanks Ally McBeal]). 

And I cannot imagine how I am going to go back to America and wear normal length shorts that let the world see my thighs again.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mini-Field Trip

In 2005 my school had two Peace Corps Volunteers (one teaching computers) and the same principal that came back at the end of last year. In 2005 the previous volunteer and some of the other computer teachers produced a school magazine (which is what they call a yearbook here). The returned principal wants to do it again this year and has put me in charge. 

Strangely, someone is actually asking me to do something I am trained to do. 

However, rather than simply put the magazine together myself, I decided that we would have a magazine staff and the students would do all the work. I have a collection of editors (Editor-in-Chief, School Work, Student Life, Sports, Photography, Design, Etc.) and so far we have had three meetings. The first meeting was to introduce them to the concept of the magazine and get volunteers for the editor positions. The second meeting was to talk to the editors and give them assignments to work on (Sports Editor, go find out the record for the sports teams. Student Life Editor, decide what it is you are going to put in your section). 

The third meeting was headed by the Editor-in-Chief and I mostly had no idea what was going on, because they held the meeting in Samoan. But good on them, why should they have the meeting in English for my benefit? I just pretended that I knew what was being said and interjected thoughts when I could infer enough to guess the topic of conversation. I made the EIC write me up a report on the meeting later.

Monday after school the Business Editor called the Methodist Printing Press to schedule a meeting to talk about the cost of printing the magazine. She was supposed to ask for a meeting after school, preferably on Thursday, but definitely not on Tuesday. When she hung up the phone, she told me the meeting was for tomorrow morning.

"But we have school tomorrow morning," I pointed out.

"They said it was the only time they were available," she replied.

Ok, granted, but it was a really short conversation and I have a hard time believing that she did any negotiating on this meeting time or mentioned that she was a student and was unavailable weekday mornings. I think it is cultural for a student to simply accept what an adult says and not question it or she could have been nervous or not thought about it at all.

Anyway, we go over to look at the timetable and see that her first period class will be cancelled tomorrow because the teacher is away at the Methodist Women's Conference. We will make our field trip in the morning. Now I have to get the principal's permission. When it was going to be after school, it wasn't a big deal, but now I have to take a student out of school.

Luckily, Tuesday morning, the principal was agreeable to the idea and reiterated to me that he wants to try to print at least 700 copies of the magazine (one for each student) and he wants it to have more pages than the one in 2005 (which had 52 pages) because we have so many good photographs this year.

So Tuesday, my Business Editor and the Assistant Business Editor hopped on a bus and went into town. At the Methodist Printing Press the editor did an excellent job. We talked the day before about what information she needed to gather and I could tell that she was gathering it. The problem was the printing press guy was saying, you give us your magazine on a flash and we will tell you how much to print it. What I wanted to know was an estimate on printing costs now, the magazine isn't going to be completed for several months. We had with us the 2005 magazine. So I stepped in and insisted that he give us an estimate assuming we were going to print the exact same magazine again.

After some discussion in the back room, he came back with about $26 per magazine. If we print 700 copies, that is just over $18,000. I could see my students eyes getting bigger as they did the math on a calculator quickly. The senior students had agreed to raise $50 each for this project. We have 53 seniors, so they were looking at a budget of almost $2,700. Not quite $18,000. 

This is where I think Samoan culture will take over a little. The guy at the printing press kept our copy of last year's magazine to give to the manager. The manager is supposed to come out to our school to talk to the principal about possible "discounts" and what not. Seeing as they are both Methodist ministers and know each other. I think that something will be worked out. However, whatever is worked out, it is not going to bring the cost of printing down to $2,700. Even if we sell ads in the magazine, as planned, we are still going to have to come up with an alternative revenue stream.

This is something I will have to discuss with the students in our meeting today. That and deadlines. Definitely deadlines. What they are. How we might want to think about setting some. How if there is a deadline, you might want to meet it. Like that.

— Sara

Monday, July 6, 2009

Happy Birthday America

4th o' July

Dear America,

Hey. How are you? Long time, no see. How are things? I hear you've been having some financial troubles. I hope you get that all worked out. Stuff's about the same here. Teaching kids computers, trying to have a fun.

I just wanted you to know I was thinking of you on your birthday. In fact, a whole bunch of us in Samoa were thinking about you. We even threw you a party. We knew you couldn't make it, but you were here in spirit.

4th o' July

We started out with a softer version of your national pastime, slow-pitch softball. It was Peace Corps vs. Navy and despite some earlier Peace Corps concerns that led to the great gender-equality debacle*, the PCVs spanked the Navy a resounding 14-4. There was some question on whether or not we had an unfair advantage by living on land most of the time and being able to have a practice before hand.

Next we mingled with dignitaries that included the Head of State, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa (talk about a star-studded event). Miss Samoa even made an appearance and sang the US National Anthem (with a great deal of assistance from her sister).

After that we feasted on true American delicacies: baked beans, hot dogs (with real Heinz ketchup and French's mustard), coleslaw, potato salad (every palagi's favorite food) and beer (well, this wasn't an American delicacy, it was Vaillima). For dessert we finished off with ice cream cones.

We finished up your birthday celebration with sparklers and the Navy band.

Just a thought America, you might want to send Robin (the Charge) a little thank you note. She put on an excellent party in your honor, even if you couldn't make it.

Anyway, talk to you later.

— Sara

* So at some point in the softball preparations word got out that the Peace Corps guys didn't want Peace Corps girls on the team. They assumed the Navy team would have few to no girls and that they would have an advantage with their big, burly all-male team. Rumor has it the PC boys were determined to win and thought that girls would, well, throw like a girl. Great troubles were gone to to have an equal-opportunity game, with the suggestion even made that PC girls put their name in a hat and be assigned to either the PC or Navy team until there was gender-equality. However, as it turned out, it was a a misunderstanding. In the end, the Navy had more girls than the PC (one).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Corporal Punishment

It is almost 5 am. I have been up since the 4 am bell rang for fifteen minutes earlier this morning. I cannot get back to sleep because I am composing a speech I will probably never give.

Yesterday I put myself in between a teacher and a student he was violently beating. Never, at any time, did I feel in danger, but the beating was real, it was serious and seeing it made me both physically ill and very angry.

Immediately afterwards, I was keyed up on adrenaline and I haven't really stopped thinking about it. So when the bell woke me up this morning, I found myself composing a speech to give in the teachers' meeting today. A speech about setting examples and creating a learning environment. A speech that I will never give.

In training we are told that corporal punishment is illegal in Samoa, but that we should expect to see it anyway. We are also told that as Peace Corps volunteers, this is not our battle to fight. If I made my speech, I would accomplish nothing other than alienating the teachers at my school. I don't have any constructive criticism to make, because I don't have any alternatives to offer. Teachers are told not to hit students, but no one tells them what to do instead and I don't know the answer. I know that I don't hit the students. But I also know that I don't consider the same things punishable offenses as the other teachers in my school. Compared to American high school students, the students at my school are angels. I cannot get angry that their uniform isn't up to code when I know that they are not bringing weapons to school (machetes don't count, you have to bring a machete to school. how else are you going to cut the grass?) or doing drugs in the bathroom. 

When I had a student cheat on her mid-year exam, I simply ripped up the exam and she got a zero. I think that was sufficient punishment. I don't know if the other teachers would agree with me.

Cale did some research on corporal punishment in the States and discovered it is not illegal in most states. In fact, we both grew up in a state where corporal punishment is legal. So in that way Samoa is more progressive than Indiana. The problem here is the law has no teeth. People know it is illegal, but they don't think it is wrong and they know they won't be prosecuted for it.

Several weeks ago there was BBQ at my school for the sports teams. A student sat down next to me and we watched the volleyball game. She was from my training village, though I didn't know her during training. During the course of our conversation she said to me, "You don't hit the students."

"No," I said. "It is illegal."

"Other teachers hit the students."

"I know. They shouldn't."

"We hear that you said something to the one teacher when he hit the students."

"Yes. Yes I did."

"That is good."

So if anything. There is that.

— Sara

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I liked this

I would like to direct you to the last picture in this post.

Living Allowance Survey


As a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa, our host agency provides us with a place to live and covers the cost of our electricity (up to about $60 tala a month in electricity). Peace Corps provides us with a monthly living allowance. The allowance is calculated on a number of factors that mainly center around a market basket survey. In the past Peace Corps staff have gone to grocery stores with a list of typical goods and checked the prices. Hypothetically, if the prices go up, so should our living allowance. The market basket is also used for our yearly living allowance survey. Volunteers are supposed to keep a record of their purchases for a month. This information is also used to determine our living allowance.

The idea behind the items on the survey is for volunteers to live as close to local standards as possible. However, complaints usually arose around the old survey that it seemed to assume that we were eating papaya and taro just about all our meals. Also most Samoans have family plantations from which they get a steady stream of taro, breadfruit, coconut, etc. We usually have no such resource.

Recently, our country director and the president of VAC (volunteer advisory committee) got together to develop a new survey that included a more realistic list of foods we eat, a more healthy balance of foods and include new communications costs, such as cell phones and landline internet accounts.

Obviously, no list was going to cover the shopping habits of 40 different people living in 40 different situations on two different islands. But it was a definite improvement.

We are all supposed to be filling out our survey for this past month and turning it in soon. Here is the list of foods on the living allowance survey we received in our email (which does not include all the items on the new market basket developed):
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Milk
  • Ground beef
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and candies
  • Misc
What I am trying to figure out is where does my salami fit on this list? Is salami a chicken or a ground beef? I suppose the camembert can go in milk. Can I call capers a vegetable? What do you suppose you do when all the things you buy in a month are miscellaneous (ie pasta, cheese, fish, etc).

Cale and I love food and we spend a significant portion (read: just about all) of our monthly allowance on delicious foods. Granted, it is slightly easier for us. When there are two people living together, you have two living allowances. Of course, when there are two people living together, you also have two mouths. So maybe that jar of olives is more economically feasible because it only $6 tala per person when there are two of you instead of the $12 for a single person. On the other hand, two people can power through one jar of olives in a hurry.

The picture of our pretentious meal above is in no way typical. We are definitely not eating like that all the time. That day happened to be our wedding anniversary. Today for lunch we had tuna salad and crackers (well...we also had a little cheese, olive, tomato and basil with crackers, but Cale grew the tomatoes and basil and it was a very little olive). For dinner we had chili five-ways. What is the benefit of being two people you ask? For the fifth way we amortize half a $7 container of sour cream over all that cheese onion chili and noodles.(Note: Cale is helping with this blog entry. Sara doesn't typically use words she doesn't know, like amortize or onion.)

— Sara

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cale Post to the Blog Again!

I have been trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I will be pushing thirty when I get back to the states, I thought it would be good to know. But how can I mine the depths of my consciousness in order to determine what particular trade I will enjoy?

I'll tell you how. I will use the “What kind of movies do I like” method.

It's brilliant.

I look for similarities in things that I like to watch in movies, and then I do that.

See? Brilliant.

I like movies like National Treasure, Tomb Raider, or Indiana Jones — if you are old.
I like movies like The Italian Job, The Money Train, or Heat — if you are old.

So here is what I am going to do. I am going to become a professional thief of historical artifacts.

What could be more entertaining!

Know anybody with an original Louis XIV desk? Know any body that wants one? I can help!

I wonder what the market is like for a globetrotting thief of old furniture?



— Cale