Thursday, October 8, 2009
66: They're Heeeeeere
When I got up at 6 am yesterday morning Group 82 had already been in Samoa for an hour. I remember that long flight here. Getting on the plane just before midnight in LA and arriving in Samoa just before sunrise 10 hours later. The planes must be getting faster. Group 82 arrived at 4:45 am. We didn't touch down until 5:30 am.
The Air New Zealand flight is kept at a comfortable meat-locker temperature, so getting off the plane in Samoa is a shocking experience. Even though it has been unseasonably cool here recently, the new group were still shocked by the heat and humidity. I remember when we first arrive the switch from the plane to outside caused my glasses and camera lens to fog up.
Cale and I took a painfully long bus ride into town around 7:00 in the morning. It is rush hour in Samoa and the only road is under construction.
I had first heard that the new group's welcome 'ava ceremony would be early in the morning. Some how I got 9 am in my head. Later it was adjusted to 10 am. I had made an appointment to shoot pictures at the Samoa Commercial Bank for an advertisement they are taking out in the school magazine for sometime after 10 am. When we got to the office we discovered the ceremony had been pushed back until 11 am. I called the bank and told them I would be late. It the time before the ceremony I called businesses asking if they wanted to advertise in the magazine. I sold another $200 tala ad. Only about $5,000 more tala to go!
I remembering being incredibly nervous and uptight about our welcome 'ava ceremony. Unlike this group and Group 81, we did not received any information about the ceremony or the words we would have to say ahead of time. Instead not long after we arrived we were given an crash course in Samoan culture and the pronounciation of our lines, "Lau 'ava lea le atua. Soifua." (This 'ava is yours God. Cheers [or to life or health]).
I also remember been acutely aware of this being my very first opportunity to accidently offend an entire new culture of people.
Of course I did fine and so did Group 82. Like me they mangled the language beyond all recognition and the older volunteers, trainers and staff got a kick out of it.
After the ceremony the trainees had lunch and then jumped right into language lessons. I headed off to the bank to take photographs. When I returned Cale and I went to Seafood Gourmet. We ordered our food and were waiting when the voice on the radio told us there was a tsunami warning and we should evacuate.
"Cale do you hear that? There is a tsunami warning. Call Fono."
"It's not a warning, just a watch. We got a text message earlier."
He handed me the phone. Well, thanks for keeping me informed.
"No. Listen, the lady on the radio says it is a warning. This is the same announcement we heard on Tuesday."
We called Fono and he said that he had received no official information of a warning yet.
On the safe side we decided to ask for our food for take-away.
While I was standing at the counter, the tsunami warning siren went off. I asked the man to give me whatever was done (I could see my toasted cheese sandwich on the counter). He disappeared into the kitchen. When he did not return right away, Cale and I simply left.
We walked/ran to the office around the corner where we saw what we thought was the last PC vehicle pulling away. It was the red pickup truck and the back was filled to the brim with new trainees. I tried to flag it down, but they were too far gone. Fortunately, Kellye was loading up her car with our new Administrative Officer and the TESL trainer who had just arrived that day as well. Cale and I jumped in the trunk (it is like an SUV...so not a trunk, trunk).
The roads were one giant traffic jam and progress inland was slow. On the way up the hill we passed Blakey and Karin walking on the road from Matt's house. I jumped out of the car to flag them down, screaming at them to run and get in our car. Fortunately another PC vehicle was behind us and they got in that one.
Next we passed Matt, Koa, Casey, Spencer and John up by Leififi College. Kellye had Cale jump out and tell them to continue walking to higher ground.
We consolidated at Dale's house with one group of trainees, while another group consolidated at another point. Already prepared, the trainees broke out a card game. The warning was cancelled not long after our arrival, but we waited an additional 20 minutes for the traffic to calm down before heading back down the mountain.
Cale and I went back to Seafood Gourmet where they made us a new lunch. It was like the crazed, mad, paniced evacuation interruption had never happened.
Had the earthquakes in Vanuatu generated an actual tsunami of damaging size, Samoa would have been in trouble. With Vanuatu to the north west, the water would have been coming to the heavily populated north side and Apia.
Anyway, without further ado, here's Group 82 (sans one, who was ill and not at the ceremony):
Posted by Cale