Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Speck on the Map- The Postcard Project

"A nun."

This is the most original answer to the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" that I've gotten from a Samoan student.

When I've asked students what they want to be when they grow up, most of them don't really have an answer. "A job," is usually their reply. Their bland answers are not due to an English ineficiency. They're just never asked this question. Often one wonders what makes American culture and answers are usually hard to come by since our country is a mosaic of other cultures. However, asking children this question about their future is something very American (if not just very un-Samoan.)

Not only are kids not asked this question, but they often lack the ability to imagine a creative answer because they simply aren't aware of the outside world. When asked if they would ever leave Samoa, a lot of my students say, "No. I want to stay here. In my village." They are also baffled when I tell them I don't know the people on "American Idol."

"But, you live in the same country."
"But it's such a big country!" Then I pull out the world map and try to explain how big the world is. (Poor grammar here, I know.)

One way to give these kids an idea about the rest of the world is the Post Card project. So here's the pitch:
If you read this blog regularly or if you just stumbled upon it, send us a postcard from where you live!!! Write a short message about whatever you want, speak to the students directly or talk about where you live, but make sure the picture on the front shows something about your neck of the woods, as we like to colloquially say here in Minnesota. Write the message in English, but a greeting in the language of your country would be wonderful. (Most likely, I'll use the postcards with my Year 7 class- roughly ages eleven to thirteen.) Address postcards to me:
Samantha Maranell, PCV
Peace Corps
Private Mail Bag
Apia, (Western) Samoa
South Pacific

As postcards come in, we'll put pins on a world map of the places we get postcards from. Let's make these kids a little more worldly.

Literary Recommendations from a Literary Snob

I've been called the literary snob of Peace Corps Samoa and as I gear up to travel back to the island after a rejuvenating Christmas break at home in the USA, I once again find my suitcase with, perhaps, a few too many books. Over the past fifteen months, I've read many a book; here are what I think were the best and the five worst.

The Best:
-Stiff by Mary Roach
-The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
-Columbine by Dave Cullen
-The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the OED by Simon Winchester
-Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (You cannot go wrong with this book.)
-The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
-The short story "Fantasy for Eleven Fingers" by Ben Fountain (Found in the book Brief Encounters with Che Guevara)
-Life of Pi by Yann Martel (!!)
-The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
-Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
-The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possibly by AJ Jacobs
-Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (!!)
-The Help by Kathryn Stockett (The movie does not do justice to this amazing book; two thumbs down to the movie; two thumbs up to the book.)

The Worst:
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson (Ok, so it was published posthumously, but wasn't the editor aware that the first and last one hundred pages of the book were completely unnecessary?)
-Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (The three person love triangle was genious in Sophie's Choice and this book was a sad attempt. Just rent the movie.)
-The Romance Reader's Book Club by Julie L. Cannon (It's as bad as the title implies. You take what you can get when on an island in the middle of the ocean.)
-The Other Side of Haight by James Fadiman (Ken Kesey, if you hadn't had a positive review on the book, I wouldn't have picked this up at all. Damn you Ken Kesey.)
-Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (Genocide and Holocaust studies fascinate me, but I really don't see how books that offer nothing new to literature in general or the genre in particular still get published.)

For anyone considering the Peace Corps, here are a few recommendations from the 15 month book list:
-The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs (Aid is clearly the answer.)
-The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly (Aid is clearly not the answer.)
-Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo (Perhaps not the best book on the subject, but one of our Peace Corps staff members said this book "changed her life.")
-American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps by Philip Weiss (The true story of a 1970 murder of a volunteer by another volunteer on the nearby island of Tonga. Face it, it can be dangerous at times. -This book may never have been published; we have an editor's copy going around Samoa. I recommend looking up the case if really interested.)
-Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (For a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery (This epistolary Peace Corps book is a quick read with many relatable moments.)
-Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand (Altruism vs Egoism. Personally, I consider both to be very legitimate reasons for joining the Peace Corps. In fact, if I didn't have egoistic, or selfish, reasons for joining, I might have quit long ago. The cliche is kind of true: I feel like I'm getting more out of it than those I'm supposed to be helping; if I had purely altruisic reasons, why would I have stayed?)
-The forward, introduction, or whatever it was to the book Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road by Donald Miller (For anyone who may be hesitant about leaving their pre-Peace Corps comfort zone, this book's forward will motivate you to get out there.)
-Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (This book will make you question everything.)