Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Am I Doing Here?

Besides asking myself that question quite often, I'll tell you what I'm doing here.

Basically, every morning I wake up and go to school, which is roughly a ten minute walk from my house. As soon as school starts, the kids have assembly. They pray, sing, and practice marching drills. I'm not sure what for. And they aren't seriously marching; hardly any of them even march in beat. Two year 8 boys get the cool job of doing the drumming; one of them holds an old cracker tin while the other drums the beat with two sticks. I hope I get to be them when I'm a year 8 boy. The school also has prefects. Yep, like Harry Potter. And also like the magical wizard, we have houses. On sports day, every other Friday, the school divides into four houses, blue, red, yellow, and green, to play various games. I'm leader of the red house! I like to think of us as Gryffindor, but as our past performances in the games might indicate, I think we're probably actually Hufflepuff.
The Green House

Sports Day!

Anyway, after assembly, it's time for school and time for me to teach. I start the day teaching year 7 English. And it's not like I'm teaching English how we know it; I'm teaching a foreign language. And the ability levels of the kids are all over the board. Keep in mind, they've been learning English since year one (equivalent to our kindergarten). So my year 7s are about 6th graders, about 11 years old, but their English reading and writing skills re probably equivalent to our kindergarten-third graders. Their speaking ability...some don't understand any English while a few can hold an open-ended conversation with me.

We teach from the scheme, a book thing given to us by the Ministry of Culture, Education, and Sports (Ministry! Harry Potter again.) The scheme is a blessing and a curse. It gives us an idea of what to teach, but it is also way past the level of most of the kids and wants you to fit three hours worth of material into one class period. The scheme is basically impossible to use how it was meant to be used.

"Man, detention with Sema sure is fun!"

And my discipline program for the chilluns, since I don't hit them, is to write their name on the board when they misbehave. Three checks next to your name, and you're out. Once they get three, then they get one mark on the detention poster. Dun dun dun. One mark equals fifteen minutes of detention, which I have them serve after school one day a week. In detention, they usually work on homework if I've given them any for then ext day, or they write their spelling words until I tell them they can go. Sometimes a few of the boys just rack up detention marks, so I'll have them come over to my house and pick up the rubbish, and by "rubbish" I mean leaves. That's right, leaves in your yard are a big no-no. And I hardly ever clean up my leaves. I think it embarrasses my host family too. They've started having the kids come over after pastor's school on Monday to clean up my yard. I'm pretty sure I'm the equivalent of the person back home who lets their grass get way too long in the summer. My yard is an eyesore. I think it's kind of funny.
"Geez, why doesn't that girl freaking mow her lawn?!"

Then I usually work on lesson plans until lunch/interval. Lunch is provided for the teachers by the families of the students. Every day, a different family brings lunch. It is usually taro (which I don't eat) and some kind of soup with chicken, and either tea, coffee, or niu (coconut) to drink. Yes, we drink straight out of coconuts. A few of the moms set up a little stand outside and serve the kids noodles for lunch.I'm not sure if the kids have to pay or not; I think they do. After interval, I usually teach a remedial reading class for the struggling readers in year 7. Sometimes we have class in the library or outside under the breadfruit tree. This class is a challenge; it takes most of the kids who won't listen to me and the kids who can't read and puts them all together. Right now, we're just working on phonics. If I can get these kids to read by the end of the school, year, I will consider it a success. (The Samoan school year starts in February with breaks in May and October. School ends in mid December.)

Monono Island
Rob, Olivia, and I Tipped the Canoe in the Background
Twice the Previous Day
 After reading, I hang out for a while and work on lesson plans again until school is done, which is never the same time. Some days I stay longer to do make-up spelling/vocab tests, or for homework help, or when it's a detention day. ((I'm also thinking of doing an extra reading class after school one day a week for the kids in my year 7 who are good readers. A lot of the smart girls always ask if they can join my reading class.) Or some days I'll leave earlier if I have to go into Apia for something. And every other Wednesday is teacher payday (not for me...we don't get paid, we're volunteers, remember) so that means school gets done early and all the teachers go to Apia.

To end the day, I usually walk home with some of the kids, usually they year 7 girls who love to giggle when creepy guys stare at me too long or the younger guys try to flirt. The year 7 girls get a kick out of it. And some days, there's a little boy who always greets me with, "Fa, Palagi!"

The Giant Centipede that Bit Me
This is After I Killed It

Coolest Little Brother I've Ever Had

Visiting Tafitoala
(Clockwise from Top Left)
Avei, Oneaka, Me, Poulima, Laupama, Ruka

Lauina, Baby Mikaele, and Sa

Keeping Cool at Sports Day

Eni, Lesina, Ina, Lisa, ma Rosanna Chilling
On My Porch

Boat to Monono

The Real World--Season Two

It's a world of bills, taxes, employment, unemployment, houses, or living with the parents. I believe this is known as "the real world." You know, that phrase that was drilled into our heads over and over again in high school.

A few days ago, with the miracle of a borrowed computer and skype, I talked to some of my best friends back home in the good ol' US of A. An offhand comment was made, something to the tune of, "Sam, when you get back to the real world..." Well, throughout college, I always joked about never joining the real world, and let's face it, college was definitely not the real world we'd been told about. Even when we pisikoas first arrived in Samoa and were walking down the sidewalks of Apia dripping in sweat, I was still joking about not being in the real world. However, after living here for more than five months, it's become painfully clear that this is a world more real than what most of my friends back home are experiencing.

No, I am not living in what high school indoctrinated us to believe would be "the real world." No, I'm not looking for jobs back home, or applying to grad schools, or paying bills and taxes (that's a lie, I'm still paying taxes and the student loans are still rolling in and grad school will happen when I get back home). But I am living in a world that everyday tests who I am, that everyday challenges everything I thought I ever was. Last time I checked, job applications don't make you question who you are or what you are made of.

I'm living in a world where people tell me men are better than women, where my words are twisted, a world world where I see children hit every day, where I'm told to simply "lead by example" when it comes to corporal punishment. This is a world of "Hey baby"ies and being randomly touched in a crowd, a world that makes me glad I took self-defense my last semester of college (let's hope I never need to use it). This so-called not-real-world is a place where I had to evacuate my house on the ocean after the earthquake in Japan because of a tsunami scare. (Samoa was hit by a tsunami in September 2009; you ever hear of that one?) A world where I am constantly being judged on how many leaves are in my yard, by every preconceived (usually wrong) notion people have of palagis (my oh-so-favorite word), and my level of Samoan. Again, let's be real. When I go back to the States, I'm probably going to be able to speak Samoan better than, what, 90% of the country? (And how ethnocentric is it that Samoans learn to speak English because ours is the dominant world language. In other words, we don't have to bother to learn Samoan.) A world where, when I can politely do so, I throw in that I can also speak Spanish just so I don't look like some ignorant, young girl, which, I'm sure a lot of people think I am. This is a place where I am solely seen as a pretty little girl teaching school; I am no longer the smart, talented, flute-playi9ng, writing, performing, phi beta kappa person who I was back home. Nobody sees that here (I played flute with the National Samoan Orchestra on TV and more people recognized me when they saw me on TV in the audience at Samoa's Best Dance Crew.) This is a life of just hoping some of my students will be literate by the end of the year, of wanting them to want to learn, but I fear that is too much to ask. This unreal world is a place where I worry about three little girls with an alcoholic father. It's somewhere where I've turned down marriage proposals. I've been bitten by a poisonous Giant Centipede and yeah, that might be something out of "Alice and Wonderland" or the movie "James and the Giant Peach" (I kid you not, that effing centipede looked just like the one from th movie), but how often do you get bit back home by a bug that makes you simultaneously laugh and cry as the injury swells?

No,I'm not living in y our "real world." I'm living in a world that's realer than real. (Ahem, Sean Cobb, I believe we talked about a very similar phrase last year in Senior Sem. I think I've finally figured out what it means..)

So for anyone who thinks I'm not living in the real world, I would encourage you to think of the last time you saw a piece of wood broken on the back of a child.