Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Cale

Cale's Bday Weekend

Cale's birthday six-months had already shortened to a birthday month by the time we got to Samoa. However, this year Cale shortened it even further to a fully-understandable birthday weekend. When your birthday is on a Monday, how can you not celebrate the entire weekend?

Cale started his birthday weekend with a little computer disassembly.

Cale's Bday Weekend

Then we moved into dinner at Wildfire. The next stop was going to be drinks at Cocktails, but we got there and it was overflowing with palagi. So we hid out at Erik's until I fell asleep on his mattress (oh the joy that is a mattress) and then we caught a cab home with Tetsuya.

Saturday was the day of failure. We wanted to catch a bus into town to see a movie, but I was running late, so we failed to catch the bus and caught a taxi instead. We got to the theater and discovered they were no longer showing Public Enemies and we had to settle for Crank 2 instead. Crank 2 was so terrible we walked out of it in the first 15 minutes. I became incredibly uncomfortable when a Samoan man was sodomized with a shotgun in the first 10 minutes and the rest of the audience thought it was hysterical (I knew he was Samoan from the pe'a).

Next we hung out at the Peace Corps office waiting for the news that the Island Perimeter Relay team was approaching the finish line. I wanted to go photograph them. Except the phone was on silent and we missed the call and when we got there, it was already all over. Then I ate a terrible toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Then we went back to the office to hang out until Matt was done so we could do drinks with him. We went to meet the perimeter racers at Italiano's after their awards ceremony, but the table was too full and I didn't want to eat the pizza anyway. So we called it a day and taxied home. So basically we spent all day in Apia and accomplished nothing. Though we did see a container ship stuck on a sand bar that was listing dangerously to one side out past the harbor. Rumor has it is still out there today.

Sunday was much more successful. We sat around the house reading books and listening to soothing music all day. Cale had is birthday scotch and I had vodka and juice. I also made Cale a Samoan Lime Pie (there are no Key Limes in Samoa). Of course, in typical gas tank fashion (the gas tank only runs out on Sundays or national holidays), the tank ran out while I was toasting the crust, before I had a chance to bake the pie.

Cale and I headed out for a walk to the nearest open store that sells gas (and what a walk it was going to be). However, we hadn't gotten very far at all when a station wagon stopped and an incredibly helpful gentleman jumped out and offered us a lift. His car was already pretty full with a passenger and a ladder. So Cale and the gas tank hopped in and I headed back home. It only seemed like five minutes passed before he was back with a full gas tank. In addition to giving Cale a lift to the store, the guy also gave him a lift back home AND paid for part of the gas tank just out of general super niceness. I am frequently still amazed by the insane amount of hospitality offered to complete strangers in this country. Blows my mind.

Cale's Bday Weekend

Anywho, I finished the pie. Cale made pasta alfredo with broccoli. It was grand.

Monday was the actual birthday, but we both had work. Cale did get to share some of his pie with the two students he currently has (I am trying to get him to blog about this) and Tetsuya.

Anywho. Happy Birthday Cale!

Cale's Bday Weekend

— Sara

Sunday, August 30, 2009

105

I believe I have mentioned before how wonderful Sunday mornings in Samoa can be. If we can make it through all the hub-bub of our neighbors preparing for and leaving for church, we are golden. Two hours of serene silence. With the entire country at church, even the traffic noise dims to nothing.

This morning Cale and I were sitting in the living room. Me with tea and a magazine, he with coffee and a book. Music played softly from the iPod. Outside the sound of tires on gravel could be heard. Car doors slammed. And then the music blared from the neighbors' house at top volume. A choir and keyboards praised God so loudly we could no longer hear Rodrigo y Gabriela playing from the speakers only three feet away. I raise my eyes from my magazine to Cale.

"105," he says.

"Days?" I ask.

"Yep. 105 days left."

- Sara

Now THAT'S an Earthquake

Ok, I know the California kids will beg to differ, but we just had an EARTHQUAKE. In fact, now that I have spelled it out in all capital letters, I am gonna beg to differ. But, it was a very noticable shaking that went on for several seconds. According to the internets it was a 6.8 with an epicenter only 110 miles south of Apia. Usually when quakes are listed on the USGS web site in our area they are for Tonga or something, but this one was listed as Samoa Islands. Impressive.

NOAA doesn't seem to think there is any likelihood of a tsunami, so I can probably go back to bed now. Immediately after it happened I jumped up and got dressed. I didn't want to be caught in my underpants in tsunami. 


— Sara

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Student Photogs

Thanks to donations from our parents, both Cale and my schools have cameras for the students to use. Cale's school is preparing for picture day with their camera. Well, they would be preparing for picture day if they ever have school again.

You may remember picture day from last year when I took the pictures with my camera and did all the layout and printing work. This year Cale's students designed their own order form, organized the day, will take the pictures with their camera and will layout the pictures afterwards for printing. Good on them.

My students are using the camera for the school magazine (read: yearbook) we are producing. Well, we are trying to produce. My method of being the yearbook advisor is more like half-heartedly herding cats. "Hey, guys...maybe we want to write some words or take a picture or something? No? Oh...Ok."

Anyway, I thought I would share some of my students super photography with you.

Student Photogs

So what we have here is some excellent sports action from the athletics competition. It rained alot that day and I am pretty happy I was just able to send the camera with a student and not go and shoot pictures in the rain myself.

Student Photogs

Here we have an obviously posed picture in the science lab. One of the girls in the photograph is the magazine staffer who was out with the camera to take pictures. I don't think she even takes science classes. However, this sort of posing is way better than the stuff with gang signs, so I give it a big thumbs up.

Check out more student pictures here (For now. I forgot to tag the photos and with the dial up it is a pain in the ass to go back and tag them now, so this is just the flickr address and the pictures will only be up until I start uploading more.)

— Sara

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today

If it hadn't been for the swine flu, I would have been on term break this week. So I wouldn't have even been at school for this to happen.

You may remember more than a month ago I wrote about a particularly violent incident of "corporal punishment" at my school (I have a hard time considering that beating punishment, it was assault and battery). I have made it a point to say something to a teacher every time I see them hit a student. Usually the student is being slapped across the face and I state loudly that it is illegal for teachers to hit the students. Usually, the teacher provides me with some excuse as to why it was necessary in this instance and I tell them it doesn't matter, it is always illegal, regardless of the student's infraction. And that is usually the end of it.

The incident more than a month ago was violent and I physically intervened out of fear for the safety of the student. However, it ended rather quickly afterwards.

Yesterday the same teacher was beating a student again. He must have started hitting the student just outside my computer lab, because it spilled into the room where he continued to hit the student. At the time it was not as violent as the previous incident, but it was more than slapping, it was happening in my classroom and I had no way of knowing if it would escalate to be like the last time.

So I stepped in again.

This time the teacher refused to stop. As I put myself between the teacher and the student, the teacher would push me out of the way. In this tense situation, both he and I were yelling, out in the open, in front of a large group of students (at this point we were no longer in my classroom). Because he refused to leave the students alone and persisted in wanting to hit them, I refused to leave the situation alone and persisted in getting in his way and telling him (ok, at this point yelling) that it was illegal. At some point it stopped being a student thing and became just a him and me thing. He was yelling that maybe it was illegal in my country, but it is not illegal in his country. 

I was told in Peace Corps training that it is illegal for teachers in Samoa to hit students. However, I have since done some internet research and it appears that teachers hitting students is against a Ministry of Education policy and against my school's Board of Education policy, but it is not actually against the law. Apparently the law allows for parents and teachers to administer appropriate punishment (whatever that means). However, parents can press charges for assault against a teacher in violent incidents.

I know that a yelling match in front of the students is not the solution to this problem (he got right up in my face and screamed at me at one point). However, I don't know how not to get in the way when I see something like that happen. To stand by is to condone the action in eyes of the students and the teacher. To walk away I believe also appears to condone the action. I have to say something. I cannot leave it alone. However, I have to find a way to say it in a normal speaking voice regardless of the demeanor of the person I am interacting with, yet still get that person's attention. It is hard to get the attention of someone in the middle of a one-sided fight using your indoor voice. Besides, what sort of example am I setting for the students getting in a yelling match with another teacher, regardless of the validity of my stance in the yelling match?

All this conflict and drama really ended my school day on a bad note and I am not super hyped about going back to school today. However, staying away would also send a bad message. I just don't want to have to deal with or interact with this teacher today and I am sure I could avoid him, but it will still be awkward and horrible. I feel like I should be more proactive and go back to school all prepared to work this out, but really I would just rather it go away. Plus I didn't sleep well last night (I was up at like 2 am Googling corporal punishment trying to track down the Samoan law that appears not exist, which sort of upsets me because my main argument with the teachers is what you are doing is illegal and it isn't really illegal, it is just against policy...and horrifying...also horrifying).

So all this to do and what was the impetus? Well, from what he was yelling at the students it appears their hair was too long and they needed a haircut. So if your hair is too long you are breaking a school rule and you get beat. What about a teacher who beats a student, they are breaking a Board of Education rule and a Ministry of Education rule, what do you suppose their punishment is?

— Sara

Yay, Infographics!



Granted, this is not an impressive visual display of information and I also cannot verify if the student came up with this idea all by themselves, or they are just recreating something they saw in a textbook or a brochure.
BUT
One of my students (sort of, she uses the computer lab a lot, but she doesn't take computers) used Microsoft Word to create this infographic on the environmental destruction of something (I cannot remember the topic) for her IA (internal assessment) for a geography class. She received no assistance from me. In fact, I would have no idea this wonder in rudimentary infographics was created, except the student asked me to print her IA. The newspaper designer in me is very proud.

—Sara

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Um...Yeah

Anti-Rape Sign

These signs have been up around Apia. Maybe it is just me, but isn't the 'No' an inherent part of rape? Isn't the 'No' what makes it rape in the first place?

— Sara

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Name This Plant: Watermelon

Name This Plant

Congratulations to Chris who correctly guessed this was a watermelon. I suppose this Name This Plant was sort of a trick since it was not a new, unknown type of plant. Instead it was a plant we are all familiar with in an unusual shape.

Casey is growing these out in his village and we had some at Erik's the other day.

At Erik's

— Sara

Thursday, August 20, 2009

But Nobody Else Has to Go to School

For the last two days, I have been the only computer teacher at my school. Usually there are four of us. The other computer teacher that teaches Year 12 asked me to handle his 12.2 class for the rest of the week on Monday. Typically that wouldn't be a problem. His 12.2 class is at the same time as my former 12.1 class, but I don't teach 12.1 anymore. The new teacher took over my Year 12 classes. However, the new teacher has been MIA for the last two weeks, so I have been covering the Year 12s again. I cannot be in two computer labs on opposite ends of the building at the same time, so I told the 12.2 teacher I would ask yet another computer teacher to cover his class....except that teacher hasn't been at school this week either.

It is a pretty hard to get motivated in the morning to start with, but to know that no one else has to go to school makes it even harder. On the other hand, the fact that none of the other computer teachers will be there is added impetus for me to go. So in that spirit, I am gonna get in the shower and head across the street.

— Sara

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Kids Kicked that CAT's Ass

13.1 Sitting the PSSC CAT

I don't like to brag, but my students rocked that CAT yesterday. I had one student who completed the entire CAT and all of the Bonus work (for an extra 10 points) in the allotted time and several other students who started on the Bonus work.

Yesterday morning I got to school early and started switching out old keyboards or keyboards with missing keys with spare keyboards I had left over after putting the new computers in the upstairs lab. I also switched out some really crappy mice for better mice. I had already set up the Year 13 CAT login on the computers for the students to sit the CAT the night before.

Right after morning assembly my 13.1 students came to the lab to sit their CAT. One student was missing. I was concerned, but there was nothing that could be done about it at the time. I read them the instructions and handed out the task and questions sheets and started the time for 60 minutes. During the CAT I made a constant loop around the room and marked off the time in five-minute increments on the board. I haven't marked all the CATs yet, but I believe that all but one of the 13.1 students completed all the steps in the CAT in the allotted hour and that one rocktastic student also completed all of the Bonus materials. 

Students were allowed to ask for help, they just lost one mark every time and I had very little help asking from this group.

13.2 Sitting the PSSC CAT

When 13.1 had finished, I sent them out to round up 13.2 and send them to me. Thankfully, the missing 13.1 student showed up with the 13.2 group. She had been late to school that morning, but she was still able to sit the CAT. Unfortunately, there was a 13.2 student missing. The students said they had seen her that morning, but that she had gone home. Well, I would just have to sit the CAT with this group and try to sort her out afterwards. Once again, I read the instructions, passed out the sheets and set the time for one hour. Once again, I made a constant circuit around the room and marked the time off on the board. 

This time I could see more students struggling. Every time I made a circuit and saw a student aimlessly clicking or creating tables or doing other things that were not CAT helpful I would say out loud to the students, "Remember, you can ask for help. It is only minus one mark. It is better to ask for help and lose one mark then to not finish the CAT." I also reminded them that if a question they didn't know how to do was worth only one mark, just skip it and go on to the next one. The more they finished, the more marks they could receive. 

I must have reminded the students this over 100 times during that hour and still there were two girls who hadn't been to class or practise regularly in quite a while, who were obviously floundering on the CAT and who refused to ask me for help. I cannot force the help on them. They have to make the decision to sacrifice a mark, I cannot decide for them they will lose a mark for help. But their refusal to ask for help was starting to drive me nuts. Neither of them completed the CAT.

However, the rest of 13.2 did a pretty fantastic job. From the looks of it, most of them completed all the tasks. I just have to see how well they did at completing them.

After the CATs were done, I headed to the upstairs lab which I had unlocked that morning not realizing that I was going to be the only computer teacher at school. I was worried I would discover a room full of unsupervised students doing horrible things to the new computers (someone students have already figured out how to move the taskbars or delete it all together and how to remove the applications menu from the taskbar...useful things like that). However, I discovered an empty, undisturbed lab. I was proud.

Bird in the Hand

While checking on the lab, I ran into a student with a bird perched on his finger. As it turns out it had a broken wing and the students were just sort of passing it around, petting it. The bird was totally calm about the whole situation. I warned them all to wash their hands when they were done. 

I had completed all this by the end of lunch, so there were still three more periods in the day. The Year 12 classes were scheduled for that morning, but didn't happen because I was doing the Year 13 CAT. I had both Year 13s scheduled for fourth period (once a week, I have them all together). They showed up and I told them they could have a free period since they just finished their CAT. Then I had two more free periods of students working on IAs and playing games.

Several students came to ask if I knew the Seven Wonders of the World. The Wikipedia on the computers didn't have a list, so I took my laptop up to the office and borrowed the phone line to look it up on the internet Wikipedia. As it turns out there are many different Seven Wonders lists (Ancient World, Medieval World, Natural World, Modern World and even a new list voted on in 2007). This sort of baffled the students who expected a more definitive list.

Last Student Sitting the PSSC CAT

Not long after the last bell rang my missing 13.2 student showed up.

"Where have you been?" I asked. "You missed the CAT. I am not supposed to let you take it now."

"Hard labor," was the reply.

That's right, she had been assigned to hard labor punishment the day of her CAT that is worth 30% of her grade in computers. She had spent the whole day across the street working at one of the other teacher's house. She was hot and tired and dirty from cleaning all day and now she needed to sit her CAT.

"Didn't you tell them you had  a CAT?"

Shoulder shrug response.

Cale had promised to be home with a celebratory, end-of-CAT meal of Mexican food immediately after school, but instead I sat the student down, read the instructions, handed her the sheets and started the time for one hour. She called me over after 40 minutes to say she was finished. I tried to convince her to do the Bonus work, but she was tired and wanted to go home.

I stuck around a little longer to finish a project I started while she was sitting the CAT. I have been yelling at students all year to stop saving music and games to the shared docs folder on the teacher computer. That is not what the shared docs is for and it fills up the hard drive on the teacher computer. That day during the last free periods I had reached my limit when I once again opened the shared folder and discovered games saved (and secreted away in other folders) multiple times. So I went around to all the computers in the lab and deleted all the games. I also came across folders of video clips. I watched them all and deleted any ones with naked people or sexually explicit content. I feel like such a crotchety grown up right now.

Anyway, CAT done! Now I just have to teach them theory and keyboarding before the beginning of October.

— Sara

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There Is Nothing Else To Be Done

I held classes every day from 9 am to 11 am during the second week of the Swine Flu Holiday. I drilled CAT practise into my students during every class period, free period and after school all last week. Today I made all students who had not finished a CAT practise stay after school to complete it. I didn't leave school until 5 pm.

There is nothing else that can be done. Either they know what to do on the CAT tomorrow or they don't. I am totally freaking out on the inside.

I have a tally of completed CAT practises on the board in my classroom (a sort of public incentive to do your work). Fifteen of my now 22 Year 13 computer students have successfully completed a practise CAT. Granted, the time limit for the CAT is 60 minutes and many of those 15 took several hours (or days even) to finish the CAT practise. I have about four students who have successfully completed a practise CAT in under one hour and two that were really close. There are seven who haven't completed one. They were either absent or didn't come after school even though I said they must. 

Tomorrow, first period, we see how it all shakes out.

Cross your fingers and toes.

— Sara

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gift of Meat

The Gift of Meat

I am a city girl. Where I grew up, I never knew the animals I was going to eat before I ate them. They came from grocery stores, pre-wrapped in plastic. Cows come in steaks, pigs come in pork chops and BBQ ribs, chickens come in breasts. Things do not work the same here.

In Samoa, animals are living things before they are dinner. Don't get me wrong, no one is making friends with them or naming them Wilbur or anything. But they start out a living, breathing creature and then turn into food. 

There is no traditional butchery in Samoa. From my experience animals are often cooked whole (pigs and fish in an umu or fried fish) or hacked apart with a machete and then cooked in a soup or put in an umu (chickens and cows). To be honest I am a little uncomfortable with these more random animal pieces. Much like my milk, I have learned that I like my meat more clinical. The killing of the animal doesn't bother me too much (though I was not a fan of the pig strangling during culture day in training) and neither does chopping it up. I just have a hard time with the finished product. I guess I need my meat to be in clean, evenly sized pieces of recognizable food with names that I know: breast, steak, chop, loin, fillet mignon...you know, like that.

Cale and I like to joke that in every pig or cow we see there are cuts of meat we recognize hiding inside. There are hams and steaks and brisket, if only we knew how to find them.

Cale and I were recently gift with a piece of pig from an umu. Our citified senses didn't know what to make of it. It wasn't a pork chop or ribs or even pulled pork. It was an honest to goodness piece of pig. 

The Gift of Meat

Cale and Tetsuya spent some time trying to determine where in a pig this piece came from. We had some information to go on. There was some spine and a blackend area that indicated to them it was part of body cavity (the innards are stuffed with hot rocks before umuing). But other than that, no one could really say for sure what part of the pig this came from. And to be honest that is no different than if I was handed a pork chop. If I had to point out where on the pig it had come from, I would fail that test. However, I would know how to cook it...or at least how to Google cooking it and then shout instructions to Cale in the kitchen, who is always better at cooking than I (and probably already knows how to cook a pork chop and wouldn't have to Google it).

Anyway, Cale and Tetsuya poked at it for a bit, but were unable to determine exactly where in the animal it came from. If you know, feel free to let us know.

— Sara

A Moment of Silence

For our neighbors to the south.

— Sara

Friday, August 14, 2009

On Milk

Milk

Anyone who knows me knows I am a little weird about milk. Don't get me wrong, I used to drink copious amounts of milk; I love milk. I just need it to meet certain specifications.

In order for me to drink any milk it needs to be very, very cold and very, very new. If there is a jug of milk in the fridge and I cannot remember the day I bought it — regardless of the expiration date — I won't be able to drink it.

Granted, all my past milk eccentricities were all based on the assumption we were talking about real milk. And, what, pray tell, is real mil? It is homogenized, pasturized, irradiated, refridgerated, 2% milk of the two or three brands that I like. That's real milk. Cale's mom gets her milk straight from a goat. A goat that she milked! That creeps me out a little. That milk is too new.

What we have here in Samoa is not real milk. Not in anyway shape or form. When I was first confronted with the heat-processed box that was not refrigerated, I was horrified. Milk! On the shelf! In the grocery store! Just sitting around in the room temperature! I cannot get behind this.

I first I wanted nothing to do with the box of milk, but I have quickly adapted to putting it in my tea and cooking with it. I even went so far as to dip a cookie in it once and have cereal in it. But that is it. You are not going to convince me to pour it in a glass and drink it. Ain't gonna happen. So I haven't had any milk to drink since we were in New Zealand a year ago. And before that it was in America before we left for Samoa. I wonder how my calcium levels are doing?

I also recently discovered this powered milk. It comes in tins and I have seen it in bags. Very strange. My experience with powered milk is baby formula and I am still a little baffled on how science manages to turn milk into powder and I can turn it back into milk by adding water. 

I was very skeptical when I tried it. We had no milk in the house, but we did have this tin of powdered milk from when Cale made yogurt. So I added water and lo and behold it turned into milk. WTF? How does that work? Not only does it turn into milk, but if you can use it to make yogurt, they manage to powder milk and keep all the creepy bacteria or microbes or whatever alive. Crazy science milk.

I look forward to my return to America where milk is kept in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and I will once again drink it out of a glass.

— Sara

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What I Continued To Do On My Swine Flu Vacation

Sara Picks Up Computers

We just completed our second week of unexpected Swine Flu Holiday. On Monday, 3 August, I looked out the window and saw some students arriving at the school. I desperately wanted to have class with my Year 13 students who have a CAT (common assessment task) worth 30% of their grade on 18 August. My students were not even remotely prepared. After missing a week of classes due to no water, a week of classes due to the swine flu, generally being behind schedule and having most of the students absent in the previous weeks, they were about three weeks behind my scheduled yearly plan. This meant I had not even covered one of the most important topics they need for the CAT, writing database queries in Design View.

The CAT is supposed to test the students’ abilities in database, spreadsheets and word-processing. However, the CAT is strangely database heavy. The students have to answer about 10 questions on the database table they are provided; questions that require them to write several queries; a skill I had not taught them yet.

When I saw the students arriving at the school, I went over and talked to the vice-principal. Would it be possible for me to have classes with my Year 13 computer students this week? Sure. He told the students who had come that day that the ones in Year 13 computers had class every day at 9 am. Unfortunately, I had to rely on word of mouth to spread this information to the Year 13 students who hadn’t come to school on Monday.

Monday I only had four students, but Tuesday and Wednesday I was up to about ten. Unfortunately, those numbers dropped off again on Thursday and Friday. Monday I went over Design View and the students completed assignments writing queries. Tuesday I went over the CAT format and the students did two practise database assignments that were identical to the questions that were asked in the previous two years’ CATs. I also had to try to bring up to speed the students who hadn’t been there on Monday on how to do Design View queries and the student who hadn’t been in school the last week we had school and didn’t know how to write SQL statements.

Wednesday I showed the students how to do the spreadsheet and word-processing portion of the CAT and they did practise assignments from the previous two years’ CATs. I also had to try to bring up to speed the students who came that had not been there on Monday or Tuesday and I had to figure out what to do about the student who had shown up for class for the first time in more than a month and didn’t know anything about databases.

Swine Flu Vacation School

Also, during these three days I had students not working on CAT practise, because in addition to their CAT on 18 August, all their other IAs for all their other classes were still due (even though school was cancelled). So they would stop doing computer work to type up Geography and Economics IAs and ask me to print them out. I felt bad for the students who are honestly trying and honestly want to do a good job and here they are getting screwed over by the flu.

By Thursday all my students were at different places and I couldn’t teach a class anymore. Instead, I just ran around the room helping. One student was totally finished with all the CAT practise, so I gave her a complete CAT to practise. She was able to complete that and she is the one student that I know for a fact that can probably pass the CAT in a week. Other students were still learning Design View queries or had gotten up to practicing the database questions or were working on the practise assignments from the previous CATs. There was the one student who was more than a month behind. I am not sure what I can do about her at this point.

Throughout the day on Thursday I tried to call MESC to ask about the CAT. I wanted to confirm that it was still scheduled for 18 August. Also, the calendar says that CAT was to be delivered to schools on 31 July, which was a week ago. As it turned out the woman at MESC had emailed the schools on Tuesday to say they could pick up their CATs. Unfortunately, schools weren’t getting the message since they weren’t in session. My school secretary was at school all week, but she didn’t get the email because she cannot get on the internet. Her new computer is full, FULL, of viruses. One or more of these viruses disabled the anti-virus software on the computer and won’t let me install new software. One or more of these viruses will not let her connect to the internet. So there was no way for her to check the school emails. This problem has been going on for a while and I have told the Board they must call CSL (the company that sold them the computer) to come out and clean the computer of viruses. So far, nothing has happened.

Also on Thursday we finally brought my computers over from Cale’s computer lab. I started to set them up after my class ended at 12 pm, but then the power went out and I decided to call it a day.

Friday I had many fewer students. By the end of the day I felt like I had maybe three or four students who can successfully complete the CAT. Three or four out of more than 30. Things are not looking good right now.

Thank You Basket

Friday was also the day that Blakey delivered a thank-you fruit basket from her school. The school secretary put it together and it was really nice of her. Cale pointed out that this is the first time that someone from one of the schools (other than the Peace Corps volunteers, obviously) has offered any thank you for the computers. I plan on asking everyone to send pictures and put together some sort of thank you for Brian once school starts again.

Girls of Group 79 Dinner Girls of Group 79 Dinner

Girls of Group 79 Dinner Girls of Group 79 Dinner

Friday I went into town for the Girls of Group 79 dinner with Rosie, Lissa and Hanna. Cale played darts with Erik at Heni’s. After dinner I went over to Erik’s with Cale. We ended up crashing at his place. Erik has a real honest to goodness mattress (not just foam) and we got to sleep on it. It was truly amazing. Sleeping on a real mattress is a rare event to be savored.

Saturday we were very tired and after a breakfast at McDonalds we went home and vegged for the rest of the day.

At Erik's

Sunday found us back in town. I still didn’t have a copy of the CAT and Jordan had left it for me on the hard drive in the office. So I went to pick it up. We were also going to get some groceries. We ran into several people in the office and ended up joining Erik, Casey and Casey’s brother Ryan at the Transformers. What a terrible movie. Erik actually walked out. We held on to the horrible, horrible, bitter end and then went back to Erik’s where we were joined by Matt for dinner.

Sunday was also Samoan Fathers’ Day, which meant Monday was a holiday as well. Cale and I headed back to our computer labs to finally finish setting up the computers. We did Cale’s lab before brunch, came home for some eggs and toast, and then went to my lab to finish plugging all the computers in. When Cale left me in my downstairs lab where I was preparing some practise exercises for the CAT, we had 20 of his 33 computers working and networked (the remainder wait for a second computer lab that is in the planning stages…plans that involve a sludge hammer). I had 20 of my 25 working (the remainder wait on the removal of a wooden chalk ledge below a useless chalkboard in the back of the room…the desks built for the computers are actually too shallow to fit a monitor and keyboard comfortably and this chalk ledge pushes the monitors out even further, making it impossible to put the keyboard under the monitor). Anyway, two happy computer labs filled with working computers. The day would not end this way.

I came back from my school upset after discovering that the database sent to us to use in the CAT was created using a version of Microsoft Access that is too new for the computers running Office 2000 in my school to open. When Cale came home from his lab where he was installing a new version of iTalc, an open-sources classroom-management program, I complained to him. Considering what he had to say next, he was surprisingly sympathetic of my plight.

Cale was in his lab, working on his server when he heard the first pop. Smoke poured out of the back of one of his computers and the electricity in the room started to do crazy things. When he pulled the plug on the smoking computer it caused other computers to turn on or off. Around the room he heard POP, POP, POP. He rushed to the breakers and shut down electricity to the room. Then he came home to distance himself from what could be a lab full of fried computers.

He has had problems with the electricity in his lab since day one. He has asked repeatedly that it be fixed. His air-conditioner was continually breaking because the electricity powering it was unstable. Now this.

After a settling down period, Cale and I returned to his lab. He opened his door.

“Do you smell that?” he asked.

We tried the power bits at a time, starting with lights and moving to the air-con. The air-con made a horrible noise and put out no air. Looks like it is fried again. Cale opted against testing any power on the computers until it has been looked at. Instead, he took apart the computer that had started the chain reaction. We found scorch marks on the inside of the case. He opened up the power supply.

“See that area there that’s all burny? It’s not supposed to look like that.”

With nothing to be done we returned to the house. Cale will have to confront the electricity problem tomorrow — when rumor has it his principal might be returning from New Zealand.

— Sara

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flash Drive Drive

Flash Drive Donation Meter

Everyday thousands of children across the globe go with out flash drives. Now, for just the cost of a cup of coffee a day, you too can help these suffering children.

Cale and I are hosting a Flash Drive Drive...and by hosting, I mean that I am posting this blog entry.

Please send us your gently-used or new flash drives and we will give them to our students at Prize-Giving at the end of November. Last year I gave the top three students in Year 13 and the top two students in Year 12 flash drives thanks to my parents. This year Cale and I have a goal to give one to each of our students. That is 64 flash drives.

For about $5 USD and the cost of postage you can make it possible for our students to save their homework and projects (and of course music and flash games, lets not delude ourselves here).

Plus, if you are going to go through all the effort of sending a flash drive to Samoa, you might as well fill it with TV shows or new music or good movies or funny YouTube videos for Cale and I and the other Peace Corps Volunteers! Don't worry, we will delete them before giving them to students. We plan on filling them with free open source software and resources before giving them to the students.

So, find a flash drive, put it in an envelope and drop it in the mail to:

Cale and Sara Reeves
Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia
(Independent/Western) Samoa
South Pacific

Thank you for your support.

— Sara

I Must Be Looking Older

One of my students, we’ll call him Bob, was working on a database question. The question was which student in the database is the youngest. Bob wanted my help in figuring out how to find the answer to this question. So I pointed out to Bob the information in the database, student ID number, first and last name, gender, years in school and birth date. I asked him which field would give him information that would tell him how old the students were. He wasn’t really sure.

“Well, there is you and there is me,” I said pointing back and forth. “One of us is oldest and one of us is youngest. Which one is youngest?”

“Me,” he said.

“Which on is oldest?”

“You,” he answered.

“Ok, so what is something about me that you can use to tell that I am the oldest?” I asked, thinking in reference to the information provided in the database and pointing at the table on the computer screen while asking the question.

He thought about it for a while and asked haltingly, “Um. Your face?”

— Sara

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

No Reason

FaoFao Vacation

I just like this picture.

— Sara

FaoFao Vacation

FaoFao Vacation

It was three weeks ago now that Cale and I had a mini-vacation on the beach at FaoFao. It was the time of year for the Methodist Conference again, so school was cancelled.

I just did a blog search and discovered I have never explained the Methodist Conference before, so let me do that now.

Every year each flavor of Christianity in Samoa has its own conference that brings together representatives from the villages of Samoa and the expatriate Samoan community abroad. The only one I am not sure about is the Catholics. Obviously, I am not invited to this conference, so I am not really sure what goes on, but I can tell you what I do know.

I know that at some point in the two-week-long event jobs are assigned or reassigned. That is how the first principal at my school was reassigned to a parish in New Zealand and the pastor of that parish became my new principal. This year one of the ministers that works at the Board of Education (and drove the truck to pick up all the computesr) was assigned to a parish in New Zealand, he leaves in less than two weeks. I also know there is lots of singing and dancing.

So there you go, the Methodist conference.

Anyway, Cale and I headed out to FaoFao for four nights instead of sticking around our village, where the entire village community was busy with something that didn't involve us.

When we left for FaoFao on Thursday we met up with Tetsuya in Apia. We were all going to catch a bus together, but after walking around town with all our baggage in the rain (to pick up some more gorceries) we decided to just call Dani (our favourite cab driver). It rained all Thursday while we were there, but that was OK with me. It was still very relaxing.

I was a little surprised to discover FaoFao so busy when we arrived. They were literally packed to the gills and then some. Since the last time we had been there, they had added an additional row of fale in front of the original ones. These new fales are smaller and square and on stilts. The block the ocean view of the old fale a little and they were built on the nice soft sandy part of the beach where I used to lay on my blanket. Now the only available beach is within the reach of the tide, so there is lots of shells and rocks and coral on it. I was a little disappointed.

The other surprise was the reason FaoFao was packed to the gills. There were lots and lots of palagi in the meeting hall singing in Samoan. I was greatly confused. As luck would have it, Cale picked up the paper before we left and there a story in there talking about a group from New Zealand, Australia and England that sing church music and travel around learning church music from other places. They were called Sing About. According to the story they specialise in Black Gospel music. I had a hard time with that. A bunch of white folk from Kiwiland, Oz and England specialising in Black Gospl music?

On Friday we were joined by Erik and John and a good time was had by all. Tetsuya left on Saturday morning, but we added Matt to our numbers that afternoon.

FaoFao Vacation

The main adventure of the vacation was the cooking. Typically, when you stay at a fale, the price you pay includes breakfast and dinner. However, we were paying a reduced price and had brought our own food. Cale and I had brought lots of breads, crackers, tinned soups/beans, some hotdogs, cheese and salami. We quickly discovered the rats like to get in to the food, even if you have hung it from the ceiling to protect from the ants. We lost a sleeve of crackers to the rat the first night and a hot dog bun the second night. We also lost some buns to mold by day three and we lost the cheese and remaining salami to a sorry excuse for a cooler and some ferocious ants.

Erik turned our cook-out into a gourmet adventure. He brought kababs. He brought the makings of chicken wraps. He brought a lot of fancy foods. We were getting a late start on cooking each night, so on Sunday night we decided to start at 4pm. However, come 7 pm and we are still not eating. There were fire issues and we were just not successfully heating the chicken. Finally, John asked the ladies from FaoFao if we could use their kitchen instead of the fire pit to cook the chickens. The ladies came out, took the chicken legs away and returned later with fully cooked chicken. It was super nice of them to do that, especially because we weren't paying them for food.

Monday morning the boys got up early and caught a bus at 6am. Cale and I didn't have school that day, so we didn't worry about catching the early bus. We had heard about a 10 am bus and planned to catch that one. After we were up and packed Cale asked after the bus again and this time was told 11 am. It was 9 am now, so we thought we would sit back, read and wait. At about 10:30 we sat by the side of the road to wait for a bus. 

The owners of FaoFao were concerned, telling us that the 11 am bus doesn't aways come. We were offered a ride into town with the pickup truck that was going to the store. Unfortunately, Peace Corps rules do not allow us to ride in the back of a truck (unless their are seat belts...the liklihood of which is nil). So we just settled back and pulled out our books. 

Around 11:30 am we were joined by a German tourist who was staying at some fale down the road. We all waited for a bus together. At noon we accepted there was no 11 am bus, but there was rumor of a 1 pm bus, so we waited. 

At 1:30 pm Cale called Dani to come pick us up. Dani's taxi stand is near Apia, so he was an hour away. We continued to wait. At 2:30 pm (about 10 minutes before Dani arrived) a bus came by. Dammit, we knew Dani was on the way. 

Long bus-wait story short, we finally arrived in Apia by taxi after 4 pm. Cale, the German girl (Stephi) and I immediately went to Italiano's for pizza. It was the first food we had had that day other than a masi popo (coconut biscuit) from 9 am.

After food we taxied home to wait for the arrival of Peace Corps volunteers from Tonga who were staying with us and to begin the Tale of the Computer Donation.

FaoFao Vacation

— Sara

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How I Spent My Swine Flu Vacation

School's been off for the past week due to an order by the Ministry of Health to help prevent the spread of swine flu. In some ways, this was a blessing. It meant that Cale and I had the time to work on the computer donation. In other ways, it is a big problem. My computer students are now four weeks behind my yearly plan and have a CAT (common assessment task) scheduled for 18 August that they are not even close to prepared for.

By Monday of our Swine Flu Vacation Cale and I had already been working in the computer lab for three days. Friday we picked up the computers, tested all the monitors and moved all the computers to Cale's lab. We didn't finish until 7 pm. Saturday found us back in the lab for more than eight hours. Sunday, again more than eight hours. As I approached hour six on Monday I was starting to get a little frustrated. Everyone is off school. Why haven't the other Peace Corps getting these computers called to offer help? I had texted Sunday night, suggesting that since we didn't have school, maybe some people could come help with hardware. I got no response. By the end of the day Monday I sent out sort of a mean text telling the other volunteers some help would be appreciated.

In typical Sara fashion, I had managed to stick my foot in my mouth a little when I discovered that not all schools had cancelled or that some schools were requiring the teachers to come and sit around even though there were no students.

Tuesday found Cale and I back in the computer lab for another eight hour day. The reason we were spending so much time was that we were discovering so many problems. What we wanted to do was install Ubuntu on every computer so that when they went out to the schools, they at least had something on them. However, we were finding bad hard drives left and right. We would set up a computer to clone the hard drive only to have it throw errors back at us. Installing an OS on 187 computers with no network was going to take a while to start with, but now we found ourselves hindered by hardware problems.

Wednesday Supy and his school were supposed to pick up his computers, so we made sure we had 30 with an OS ready for him. We had initially anticipated them to show up around 8 am or so (they told Supy they were picking him up at 7 am). They finally came around 11 am. The first order of business was to drive me into Vaitele to cash the check the school had to pay for their part of the shipping. Then we went back to Cale's lab to start the loading. Much discussion followed. It appeared the school committee realized they weren't going to be able to fit all 30 computers in the 12-passenger van they had brought with them. Also, it appeared they did not plan on returing to Savaii until Thursday. So what computers they could load in the van would have to sit in the van overnight. The committee members left saying they would track down another, larger vehicle. They never came back.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

The Tale of the Computer Donation

For the rest of the afternoon Supy and Matt (who had come out with Supy) helped with computers. Supy and I tested all his computers, which was good. In the process we found one bad hard drive (even though we had been able to dupe an OS on it, something was still wrong) and one computer I forgot to put the RAM back in after duping it. After a late lunch, Supy and Matt caught a bus home. Jordan came out with the broken parts he had found in the 25 computers he had taken back to Chanel and we spent several more hours in the lab testing hard drives. Wednesday was about a 10-hour day.

So far, each day this week I would tell the computer teachers at my school that tomorrow I would have time to come over and start to prepare the old computers to be moved to the libary, resource room and science lab and to move the new computers to the lab. Every day, I would never find the time. 

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Thursday we were back in the lab for a shorter day. Supy returned with his commitee. We loaded 30 computers and 18 monitors into the van. Then a second van arrived and we loaded the remaining monitors. As it turned out, Supy's school was not planning on taking the second van back to Savaii. The monitors were later loaded into a borrowed truck to be taken to Supy's school. We learned later it poured cats and dogs on the truck on the way to Supy's and the tarps on the truck were not sufficient cover. Max and Supy will be testing all those monitors soon.

After that Cale and I went over to my computer lab. We were finally getting around to preparing the old computers for the move to their new homes. We left the lab around noon and went to Tetsuya's for a lunch of sashimi. Then we caught a bus into town for Ana's going away celebration at the Peace Corps office. Later we met Matt up the hill at Giordano's for dinner. It was nice to not be in the computer lab after six straight days of more than eight hours and the three hours we had put in that morning.

Cale's Sprained Foot

On the walk back to Matt's place from Giordano's Cale rolled his ankle badly. When we got to Matt's we discovered his foot (not the ankle) had swollen quite a bit. We put ice on it and listened to Terry Gross interview a reporter from Anchorage on the whole Sarah-Palin-is-a-crazy-person thing.

Friday I had meeting at my lab at 9 am with a JICA volunteer from the Ministry of Education. He wanted to talk to me about the textbook Ryan and I are working on and to ask me to do a workshop on database in September. After he left, I asked some teachers if we could borrow their van to move the computers over from Cale's lab. They said we could after athletics practise was over in an hour. When I nexted looked outside, everyone was gone. Decided to give up for the day, Cale and I a cab into town so that he could see our medical officer about his swollen foot.

Teuila decided Cale should have an X-ray. While he was up the hill at Medcen, I walked into town to deliver pictures of our tattoos to the shop where we had them done. Then I walked back to the office and waited for Cale's foot outcome.

It was not broken, however, he was ordered to stay off of it. We made a quick stop at the grocery store (we had no food in the house) and went home where we elevated Cale's foot and watched episodes of Law & Order the Tongan volunteers had brought us.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

Saturday morning found us back at the computer lab to help Max load up the computers for his school and AJ's school as well. We fit an impressive 29 computers and 20 monitors into his 12-passenger van. After a little work on computers, Cale and I went back home. He was forced to laze around with his foot in the air while we watched movies and TV.

Now it is Sunday and I have cleaned the living room and the kitchen (it's been three weeks since I cleaned anything). The laundry is waiting for me across the street. Whatever we do today, we refuse to go to the computer lab.

What is on the menu for next week? We don't know. Conflicting accounts have the Ministry of Health ordering a mandatory school closure for next week as well (this is true), but the Methodist Schools being open next week (this is possible) or closed next week (also possible) or open on Monday and Tuesday next week with the rest of the week up in the air (rumors from Savaii). The director of our school board and both our principals are in New Zealand, so there is no one we can ask right now.

I guess the only way to know is to look out the window tomorrow morning and see if there are students.

— Sara

PS. Computer count at this time: 177 working computers. Two more to go to have the full 179 initially planned for. 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Magic Circus of Samoa

Magic Circus of Samoa

I am pretty behind in blogging life events. However, I feel that I can be forgiven, what with The Tale of the Computer Donation. Also, when I post What I Did on My Swine Flu Vacation, you will understand more just how busy we have been.

Anyway, 15 July, Cale and I went to the opening night of The Magic Circus of Samoa. You may remember we saw the circus last year as well. This year was a little different, in the interim we had met the circus's larger-than-life ringmaster, Bruno, with Marco and had visited the circus's home in Aleisa.

Magic Circus of Samoa

Marco and Marie Ines are close friends with Bruno and we attended the circus with them as Bruno's guests. When we arrived Wednesday night we were directed to seats in the front row (next to where the Prime Minister was sitting) that had reserved signs on the back that said "Govenor." I was concerned we were displacing a governor of some kind, but decided it wasn't possible since there are no govenors in Samoa. Marco told us that when he had stopped by earilier to pick up the tickets, Bruno had shown him these seats and asked if they were ok.

Magic Circus of Samoa

This year the circus had it's own band, who accompanied all the acts. It was an excellent addition. After some opening numbers from the band, the show started off with a little display of everything. All the performers were on the stage doing something. I sort of liked the frantic energy it gave off. Then Bruno gave his introductory speech and welcomed everyone to opening night. 

Magic Circus of Samoa

There were boys who spun around in metal hoops, a twelve-year-old contortionist who sat on her head, a woman who swallows copious amounts of water and then regurgitates it on command, clowns (and Saddam Hussein), unicyclists, an impressive chair-balancing act, trapeze artists, a tightrope walker, costumes, music, etc. It was wonderful. We finally learned what Bruno did with the Austrian bells we heard them practising with when Annette was here in December.

Magic Circus of Samoa

The pièce de résistance was the motorcycle ball of death. You may remember they had three motorcycles in this metal cage last year. Well, this year they had five. It was outrageous!

The circus was in town for three weeks and then they head out on a tour of French-speaking islands (including the Carribean) that will last two years, so they won't be back in Samoa next year or the one after that. The new volunteers arriving in October will most likely not see the circus...and that makes me sad. 

— Sara

PS. As usual, more pictures on the flickr