Friday, December 17, 2010

Samantha the Peace Corps Volunteer

I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer!!!! We were finally sworn in today after two months of grueling training. And by grueling I mean mostly fun, but a huge pain at the same time.

Sadly, it seems like after five faithful years my computer has decided to pass on to the next life. Bill, our IT guy is working on it, so hopefully some miraculous healing will happen, but I'm not counting on it. In short, the only time I'll probably be on the internet in the near future is when I can make it into an internet cafe in Apia. This also means I can't watch all those movies I brought, or listen to my music....Let's hope Bill can fix that computer!

In other news, write to me!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why Did I Never Learn “Here Comes the Bride” on the Flute?!

Maybe starting from the beginning is a problematic strategy.

In short, for the last two months, our group of twenty amazing pisikoas was split into four groups based on language ability. All of our villages were on the south side of the island, so depending on which bus you take, we were about an hour to two hours away from Apia. My village was called Tafitoala and to sum it up, if I could stay there and do my two years of service, I would in little more than a heartbeat. The other pisikoas in my group were Karene, Sene, Mikaele, and Mika; our language teacher was Fale. Like all of the groups, we bonded a lot and had some great experiences together like all the sivas we learned and all the fiafias we attended, but we also had our lows like when my host brother proposed to me, which, it turns out, was the last straw on the camels back. No worries; I said no. Leai fa’fetai. So that’s just some quick background info for the last two months of my life and more details will come soon, but like I said earlier, it’s hard to start from the beginning, especially when yesterday simultaneously held one of my lowest points so far and one of the greatest times I’ve ever had in my life.

Let’s start with the good. Rivka and Kilisi (Chris) are one of our married couples and while living in the training villages, both lost their wedding rings in the ocean, Chris while playing rugby and Rivka while swimming in a river. Jokingly one day, we all said we should throw them a new wedding and remarry them in Samoa. The joke became reality. Monday night, we threw them bachelor and bachelorette parties, and yesterday we held a wedding out by the pool. Chris and Rivka even bought new rings to exchange. All twenty of us were there, except for one pisikoa who already had another obligation. We all got spiffed up, and it has been a long time since we’ve all looked so good. Katie was Rivka’s maid of honor and Olivia was Chris best “man.” Mika was the faife’au (pastor) and started the ceremony with the ever-timeless quote from “Princess Bride.” “Marwege is what bwings us togever today.” Rivka had a bouquet made out of plants outside the hotel and a garter made out of a leaf. We ordered pizzas for the reception and had the best chocolate cake any of us have had in a long time. And of course, in true Samoan style, Vailima was on hand. Chris, besides having stellar vows, gave a great impromptu speech in which he said that this wedding was not just a testament to him and Rivka, but more of a testament to Group 83. I won’t give all the details of the speech, but suffice it to say, it was good. And really, what’s a wedding next to a pool if not the best opportunity to jump in wearing our fancy clothes?! So we did just that. Every single one of us was in the pool in our nice dresses or ie faitagas. And after hotel staff said we were too loud, as they do quite often, we all changed and went to YNot, our bar of choice. We truly all danced like no one was watching.

And to update everyone on the low point yesterday…well, first of all, this Saturday we all split up and go to our new villages for the real deal. Yesterday I was told that I really had nowhere to stay in my new village, Falefa (northern side of the island, about 45 min bus ride from Apia), and it was even mentioned that I might be getting a new village. This was all brought on because of miscommunication between the Peace Corps and the housing options from Falefa. I think most of you reading this blog know that I don’t like to let people see when I’m upset about something, but I actually ended up walking out of class crying yesterday because, as we’ve all learned from our short two months here, importance multiplied by uncertainty equals high anxiety. On the bright side, it was really cool how a lot of the Samoan staff and pisikoas seemed worried and tried to comfort me. But long story short, I do have a place to stay in Falefa. For the first few weeks, I’ll be staying with the faife’au and then I’ll move right across the street into my own house, which they are renovating right now. Good thing about it all though, I am literally feet from the ocean.

And to end on a much better note, here are a few pictures from the wedding.

The Girls

The Boys
Chris and Rivka
Getting Hitched

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Tide Away the Time

After weeks living in the training village with no internet access, here are a few pictures. A more detailed blog will come in a few days.

Mikaele, Sema, Sene, ma Mika
Aso Muamua i le Tafitoala
Our first day in Tafitoala, our training village

The Fale Samoa that is next to the Western house I lived in in Tafitoala

Our Last Day of Teaching Practicum in Tafitoala, the Year 5/6 Boys did some awesome Sivas (dances) for us

Mika, Olivia, Lopati, ma Tavita at Thanksgiving!

My FAVORITE Kid in the Village
I call her The Pom

Me and Polima

My Two Year Old Brother Tala

Karene, Sene, Mika, ma Sema
Our last time all going to Hideaway Beach while in the training village

Me and Lance

This pisikoa has the same tattoo as my dad!!!

Cutest boy in Tafitoala

Hideaway Beach

Playing Volleball

Sene, Sema, Mika, Karene, ma Mikaele
Our last day of class in the training village

The Crew with Meke, our Mascot at our Farewell Party for the
Host Families

Laupama and I again
I'm taking her home with me

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Before the Semi-Real Deal

This Saturday we move out to our training villages! So internet access is going to be rare if at all.

The concert last night went really well! I had a blast sharing something with the other PCTs that has been such a big part of my life. For those who are interested, I played Syrinx by Debussy, Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy by Doppler, and Ballade by Martin (I played the last two without the piano accompaniment, so the two against three part in the Martin got cut.) The other PCTs seemed to be impressed and a lot of the Samoans had really good things to say.
Two of my favorite comments:
"That's amazing. We never hear flute like that in real life, only on the radio or tv."
"Your breathing is incredible. You must be a good swimmer." My response: "Well, I don't drown." Another PCTs response: "It's a flute, not a snorkel."

Most of the PCTs who went to the Music Concert

Crammed in a Taxi

Our Language Class with Joe
(Chris, Pat, Joe, Natalie, Katie, Me)

Until the next blog...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"An answer to a little dream without words."

Apparently that whole writing every night thing hasn't worked so well.

Tomorrow I'm giving a mini flute recital at a music school near the college here in Samoa. A few other PCTs are going to sing or play piano. AND a few ambassadors from the American Embassy are going to be there. Jesus, no pressure or anything. We really just want to raise interest in music and let the music school know that we support them. Music isn't taught at primary levels at all, so it's really hard to find a Samoan musician who was trained in Samoa. The title of this blog is a quote that the orchestra conductor said to us: we might be the answer to his little dream without words, meaning both that it was a dream that he never spoke aloud, but also that we are answering his dream without words, with music. If I've learned anything from playing the flute it's that music transcends language. The same holds true here.

Here are a few things I've jotted down:
-It rains a lot here. You know the scene in "Forrest Gump" when Forrest talks about the rain? Yep, that might as well be Samoa. Sometimes it rains so hard that we can't hear the trainers talking. My language class has been outside in a little building next to the pool and every time it would rain while we were in class, I couldn't help but smile.

-This next story comes from Kilisi:
Yesterday he was walking downtown and a boy was pushing an old man in a wheelchair. The wheelchair just tips and the old man falls out. So the kid tries to hold the chair while lifting the man; Kilisi runs over to try to help, but the two of them still aren't making any progress until twenty Samoan firefighters run out of the station and take over.
-This one comes from a story Kilisi was told:
Last year when the tsunami hit Samoa, a man heard the warning to get out of Apia (because we're right along the ocean) and just booked it out of here in his pickup. He stopped at a stoplight and about fifteen Samoans jumped into the bed of the truck. The man didn't say anything and just drove to higher ground.

-Last night a few of us went out to dinner at a place called Seafood Gourmet. Next door was a small fire-dancing show, which isn't uncommon in Samoa. The cool part was that little boys were fire-dancing! Also at Seafood Gourmet last night, Danny had a huge bowl of chowder and...wait for it...a glass of tap water! Living on the wild side.

-We've also got a little mixture of languages going on that we like to refer to as Spanmoan. Spanish and Samoan put together.
Oa mai oe?
Manuia. Fa'afetai. Y tu?

-On one of the sheets on my bed is a faded tic-tac-toe game.

Friday night was our welcome fiafia. Groups 81 and 82 did some Samoan dances for us and we had fire-dancers down by the pool. After eating, most of us went out to a bar called Why Not. And really, why not?!

By the Pool for the Fire Dancers at the Fiafia
Saturday we move into our training villages. We'll each be with about four other people who are roughly at the same language level as we are. (Apparently I'm rocking at Samoan. It's that crazy memory thing.) What this means is that I probably won't have internet access for a while. Maybe here and there.

Plans for tonight: dinner and maybe a little swimming. Probably a convo on the balcony; that tends to happen.
Mika, Danny, Jeter, and I before the Fiafia

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Real World

“You are blessed; you are golden; you are favored.”

Almost a year ago, one of my friends read this quote to me in my horoscope (ahem, Aaron Albani). I knew I memorized it for a reason.

We have been in Samoa for one week. And yes, the cliché is true; it simultaneously feels like we’ve been here forever and like we just got off the Air New Zealand plane yesterday. However, we are already at the point of knowing the little quirks and mannerisms of others like how Mike calls me out on the extra syllable I add to words: No-ah, Do-in’t. I’m hoping little things like this are still endearing and haven’t become annoying yet. We all seem to be getting a good idea of everyone’s personalities through the serious conversations we have late at night on the balcony or next door at Scoops, or sometimes we just talk about TGIF and SNICK. We’ve come a long way already from intros in LA when Rachael introduced herself to me:
“Hi. I’m Rachael. You must be Megan.”
I pulled my hand back from the incoming handshake, threw my arms in the arm, and said, “Sam” and I probably gave her one of those looks that I give that I don’t know I’m giving.
She and I already reminisce with giggles about this moment.

It’s about 6:00 pm here, so 11:00 at home. We finished class just over an hour ago. We had our second language class today, so now we know some basics…the really really basics.
 Talofa. Talofa lava. Oa mai oe? Manuia fa’afetai. Ae a oe? Manuia fo’i fa’afetai
We’ve picked up some dirty words here and there and by making mistakes in class. Gotta be careful with vaivai which means “very tired.” But a little bit of a mispronounced vowel will provoke a slightly shocked look.

Going back a couple days, on Monday, we went snorkeling! That was a first. Blue starfish, schools of little reflective guys, even a squid. On the bus on the way back to the hotel, a few of us sang the best of middle school: Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Britney Spears. And yes, Journey even made an appearance. Slowly, well, not slowly at all, everyone’s learned that I love singing whenever I can remotely get away with it. Speaking of music, a few of us are meeting the Samoan orchestra conductor tomorrow night.

Nights, so far, usually consist of a movie of some type in one of the bigger rooms, beds pushed together to create that comfortable lounge feel. Every once in awhile we hang out with some other volunteers and spew questions at them. A run to the KK Mart next door is usually made so we can get ready for a little guitaring…Who knew how long that code word would apply?! And if you’re in on this code word, I hope you got a laugh just now.

…I should probably come up with a better blog schedule if I want this thing to get up to par with what I’d prefer it be. Writing every night, probably a good thing. One thing I’m quickly learning in Samoa is that I cannot be the perfectionist I’m so used to being. I have to let go of the control I’m used to. My blogs aren’t getting sent to a proofreader.

In short, we’re kind of a reality show. Apia 90210 (if only we had a zip code). Survivor Samoa. Temptation Island. Big Brother. The Real World. Our blog posts/journals are our confessionals. We’re kind of this little secluded group…who’s going to blow up at who first, who’s going to be the first hook-up, who’d be the first voted out. Tribal council jokes are not uncommon. It’s all kind of surreal; even though training life is nothing like home, or like what we’ll experience in our villages, this is the real world. I made the comment the other day that I don’t plan on ever entering the “real world,” something my friends at home have heard me say before. As we crossed the street, avoiding the stray dogs, Sarah turned to me and said, “Sam! This is the real world. This is your real world.”

We had a conversation about luck the other night. Conclusion: hard work (and maybe a little of that being golden, blessed, and favored thing) goes further than any abstract concept like “luck” can go.

Things work out. I used to say that I can’t wait to be able to look back one day and have everything make sense. I don’t think that point will ever come. It’s here now; it’s always been here. Life will happen, and meanwhile, I plan on living it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

“To strengthen you, not to conquer you.”

I guess at this point, the only semi-logical way to catch up with this blog is to work backwards.

Right now, I’m sitting in our classroom and looking over an inlet of the ocean, mountains in the background. It’s a little humid today, but not too bad. I’m sunburned! (We went to the beach yesterday; I’ll get to that later.) I’m not sick anymore; that was just a one day thing.

Today is a Samoan holiday called White Sunday. Basically, kids run church services. We all went to Tevita’s church. (Tevita is one of our trainers.) It was so amazing; I think everyone really liked it. The kids, probably three to sixteen, put on skits and sang songs. Almost everything was in English. Oh, and these little kids can harmonize already! After the service, we hopped over to another building for tea and snacks and mango ice cream which got all over my white skirt. I was a mess. Haha. I talked politics with a man from New Zealand. He’d recently read To Kill a Mockingbird and wanted to know if racism still existed in the States. After talking to him for a while, I met a woman from Fiji who is trying to start a Samoan orchestra! How cool would it be to play flute in the orchestra?! Oh, one thing that I’ve noticed about religion in Samoa: first of all, Samoan is very religious (Christian), but the people at the church and the kids all seemed really excited to be there today. And during skits and songs, the littler kids would just run through the older kids and hit balloons around and no one would stop them. No one cared. The kids were just having fun and enjoying themselves. It was great to see. At home, kids would get yelled at and would have to sit down. When the service was over, the kids seemed genuinely excited to shake the pastor’s hand and it seemed like they were doing it of their own free will. At home, a kid would have to drag him or herself to do that kind of thing. Maybe if we let people have fun at church at home, people would be more religious. Maybe not.

Group 83 after White Sunday

Yesterday, we were in paradise. Think of it, the epitome of beach, palms, sand, and the bluest water you've ever seen. We were there. I’ll start at the beginning. I woke up early and headed into town (we’re in Apia, the capitol, but we’re a ways away from the hubbub of town) to exchange money and buy some groceries. Then at 10 we loaded into two cabs and drove to the other side of the island to Tafa Tafa beach. We swam, got scratched up by coral, didn’t put enough sunscreen on, played a little beach football, napped in the fales, found some coconuts, a kayak turned up. If we weren’t so tired, hungry and sunburned, I don’t think anyone would have left.

I got back and did laundry. Laundry in Samoa is hard. I filled my bathroom sink with water and a little powder detergent from the grocery store that is next door, and scrubbed. Then I hung up my clothes on the balcony in front of the hotel to dry.

Then a few of us went out for pizza at a place called Italianos. The walls were covered in people’s signatures kind of like backstage of the middle school at home. And animals are everywhere here. Stray dogs…that might attack us. But we’ve learned how to scare them away. Anyway, so it wasn’t a surprise when there were baby kittens sleeping in the restaurant.

Last Friday was a fun day of class. We actually got an idea of what we’ll be doing in our villages once training is over. –I don’t think any of us feel like we’re really in the Peace Corps right now. We’re hanging out in a hotel with air conditioning in our rooms and going out to dinner. Once we get out to our villages and are alone, that will be the Peace Corps. –And then we had a discussion about culture and what is culture. Naturally, it was my favorite class we’ve had yet. Then we had Girl’s and Boy’s Night so the girl PCTs went out to Blakey’s with a few other volunteers. Blakey has a really nice house on a school compound. None of us will have a place as nice as hers. The principle of her school came over too, which was cool even though it took a lot of time away from Girl’s Night. The quote at the top of this post comes from the principle. I’ll have to remember it when I’m out in my village. After Girl’s Night, we met up with the boys at Zodiac, a bar in the jungle.

I’m sure so much more has happened. It’s hard to find time to write though. If we aren’t in class, then we’re eating, or sleeping, or just hanging out with each other. And it’s not super easy to use the internet. Oh, and an update from the last post: I’m not sick at all anymore; that was just a one day thing.

 My sunburn hurts. But the view is beautiful. 
A Boy at the Beach

Fale at Tafa Tafa Beach

Friday, October 8, 2010

Learning Samoan from Superman


Exhausted. Sick. Sweaty. Overwhelmed. Awed. Humbled. Excited.

It is now the end of the second day of Pre-Service Training (PST). Lying on my hard bed in my small hotel room in the capitol (with air conditioning!), I find it hard to decide where to start. The beginning?

Monday. Frosted fields of Minnesota. Last time I’ll see that for a while. Left Minnesota around noon and arrived to a rainy, overcast LA. Monday and Tuesday were basically consumed with orientation stuff. Surprise of orientation: all piercings are to be removed; all tattoos must be covered. Wow, wish I’d known that before. We had one person drop before we left LA. The only moment where I was close to crying was boarding the plane to Samoa. My carry-on was too heavy, so at the last minute I had to check it…but my flute was in it. I was able to take it out, but as I was walking down the aisle with my flute in hand, I started thinking about all the places my flute has enabled me to go…especially Eastern Europe last year with GWO. Remember…

Early Wednesday morning, we arrived in Samoa! Our plane got in around 6:30; roughly fifteen minutes later, the sun was in the sky. Minnesota humidity is one thing; Samoa’s got it beat. A quartet of Samoan men provided our first taste of Samoan music. After lugging our way-too-heavy bags around, we finally got to meet some of the PC staff! Each of us got a lei. Most pleasant surprise after arriving in Samoa: piercings and tattoos should basically be flaunted! Thought so. Samoan tattoo…probably going to happen. We had about an hour long bus ride from the airport to our hotel. We started training right off the bat; already have some Samoan under our belts. First, we had the traditional Samoan welcome ceremony: the ava ceremony. We were given lava lavas, the traditional Samoan “skirt” and sat on the ground in what would become our classroom, while PCVs from group 81 (we’re 83) and other staff performed the ceremony. We then had to drink some of the ava from a coconut after saying our first Samoan phrase: Lau ava lea lea toa, soifua….or something along those lines. All of us now have cell phones. Message me on facebook for my number and I’ll text it to you. After our dinner of a whole roast pig, most of us went down to one of the bars nearby and hung out with some of the 81 PCVs.
We all have Samoan names. Mine is Sema, for Samantha. In English I go by Sam, but if I wanted to go by Sam in Samoan, I would be Samuelo…a boy. My group’s Samoan teacher, Joe, is a bit of a celebrity in these here parts; he’s played Superman in TV commercials. And another one of our trainers, Sa’u, was on a reality show in Holland where he posed as a Samoan prince to try to meet a potential wife. In short, our staff is great and incredibly funny. For lunch today, a few of us went to a restaurant next to our hotel. Before I go any further, the views are amazing! It kind of looks like “Jurassic Park.” Anyway, after classes got done today at 4:30, I felt so sick; I felt sick yesterday too. Long story short, I think I’m officially the first person from Samoa 83 to throw up. Quite the distinction. And moving on. After dinner, we just sort of hang out on the porch where we eat. A guitar was pulled out tonight and the flute even made an appearance.
A little bit about our group. There are twenty of us and we’re hoping it will stay that way. We have two married couples and about 90% (I really don’t know; I’m bad at math) are in our twenties. It’s surprising how much we all seem to have in common. A few are from Colorado and two of us are from Minnesota. One of the 81 girls is also from Minnesota.
There’s so much running through my head. I know there’s more stuff that’s happened that should be in the blog that I’ll probably remember later. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quick Update

So facebook stalking skills are coming in handy. Haha. Anyway, found the blogs of some of the other members in my group (83) who are going to Samoa. Apparently, there are twenty-two of us in our group; twenty are in our twenties, and two are older than fifty.

A few of their blog posts talk about sad goodbyes and going-away parties. Yep, been there. I was trying to avoid thinking about that though. Even though this is going to be amazing, I can't help but wish I could go to a GWO concert, another play in Anderson, or just grab a capuccino from the Courtyard Cafe and head to the library to do homework.
Suite 16

I know I said pictures would come later, but here are a couple from the going-away weekend that was last Saturday and Sunday. Head's up, though: I might see a few of you again this Friday.

Island to Island

Remember the movie "Jungle 2 Jungle"? I hated that movie. Freakin Mimisiku.

Looks like I left St. Peter on Sunday just before it turned into an island. It's fitting; leaving my newly waterlogged home of the past four years only to relocate to another island for the next twenty-six months.

Today's post isn't anything too exciting, just pre-departure feelings. I figure, if I've got a blog, might as well use it.

Today might very well be the first day I've actually allowed myself to be excited about all of this. Up to this point, I've been really nervous and scared: the usual feelings anyone embarking on something completely new would feel. Throughout the last month, since I got the invitation, I've reminded myself of all the great things I've experienced that I was scared to do or wanted to back out of: I had a freak out before college started; I wanted to drop out of the wilderness trip before freshman year (it would have been so much easier to just move in with all the other freshmen, I thought. Never have I ever moved into GAC on an actual move-in day.). Now two of us from the wilderness trip are in the Peace Corps; that's a pretty good stat. I also realized part of my apprehension about everything is that, as of right now, I'm completely on my own with this. This will be the first time I've really gone anywhere by myself; I've never even been on a plane alone. All my trips have been with band or Spanish club. This gets to the heart of my newest excitement: meeting the other volunteers!

I looked up pictures of the hotel we'll be staying at while in Apia, the capitol of Samoa. It reminds me a lot of the hotel I stayed at in Paracas when I went to Peru in high school, which gives me mixed feelings. Peru was gorgeous, but I never saw myself living there or loving it. I'm hoping to fall in love with Samoa. A week from right now, it'll be about 12:30 in Samoa, which means I will probably either be sleeping in the hotel after an early morning arrival, or we will have already started with PST (pre-service training). Maybe two weeks from now, I'll already have fallen in love with Samoa.

One thing I haven't read anywhere: MONKEYS. Are there monkeys in Samoa? I wonder what the Peace Corps policy is on pets.

I'm looking forward to being trilingual after all of this.

"Bilingual, trilingual, and American." Let's break that stereotype, shall we?

Also, pictures will come...well, when they happen. We should have internet access in Apia.

Monday, September 27, 2010

One Week in the Minnesota Breeze

Due to many logical requests, I will, indeed, be keeping a blog while in Samoa.

I leave next Monday for a day of staging in Los Angeles, where I will meet other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) in the Samoa and Tonga programs. Then we all ship out on October 5th! We're thrown in there with two months of in-country training and we'll be sworn in in December.

My official title is English Literacy and Community Development Volunteer. From what I know now, I'll teach my own class of Year 7s for about an hour a day and I'll co-teach 4-6 and 8 Years for the rest of the day. The school day ends around 1:30pm because of the heat and humidity. That's right, I'm trading snowy Minnesota winters for year-long humid Minnesota summer days. Here's to the sun-bleached blonde afro and bronze farmer tan I'll learn to love. After the school day is over and during school breaks, I'll be working on community development projects; what those will be is determined when I get my placement in December. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for something to do with reading/writing, theater, or music. Speaking of which, my bags are going to be weighed down by the excessive amounts of books I plan on bringing. My flute, which I've had since tenth grade (the one whose foot joint took a tumble down the bleachers during pep band in high school) and has traveled to Texas, Florida, Colorado, South Dakato, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Germany will also be accompanying me along the way. I guess when I bought a used saxophone in tenth grade and then traded it in for a brand new flute, I had no idea what a world traveler that instrument would become.

Anyway, here's to the last week!