September 13, 2003 - Personal Web Site: This is my service of 27 months in the Peace Corps, where I am stationed in Samoa.
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September 13, 2003 - Personal Web Site: This is my service of 27 months in the Peace Corps, where I am stationed in Samoa.
This is my service of 27 months in the Peace Corps, where I am stationed in Samoa.
This is my service of 27 months in the Peace Corps, where I am stationed in Samoa.
Thank you for following me to Samoa for my 27 month
service in the Peace Corps. I will update
this travelogue as often as possible. I look forward
to hearing about updates in your life, so please email
often, and send mail once in awhile. I'll be back
before you know it!
Start of travels: Jun 12, 2002
The fun ends: Sep ??, 2004
With only 10 days left to be at my staging event, I have much to do. Even though I have 6 containers full of mostly winter clothes and school books, my room is still full of stuff. I've purchased my internal frame backback which I will initially use for packing and later hopefully use for travel, but have not packed it yet. I have a shelf in my closet I am using to collect items I will bring with me to Samoa. There isn't much there right now.
I also have certain other tasks I must do before departing. I woke up around 3:00 pm today as the sun started to creep into my room. The weather was quite pleasant, warm with a cool breeze. Before I knew it, it was after 5 and too late to get anything accomplished outside my room. I plan to call my doctor Monday to get a copy of my immunization record and also work out registration with my car. My name needs to come off so my parents can sell the Integra while I am gone. The ad we placed in the newspaper doesn't seem to be working, nor does my ad on Craig's List. After packing for Samoa, storing everything else, I'll be ready to go.
Recently I began feeling the stress of what lays before me. I am departing on a trip to a developing country, where I will be living with an unfamiliar family for 2 years. I am expected to live at the level of the host country nationals, but I plan to bring more than a Samoan could purchase with a year's earnings, currently $600US. The 3 most expensive items I think I am bringing are a short-wave radio, a laptop, and my mp3 player (which holds 3x more data than the laptop). I am also packing books, journals, postcards, games, clothes, sun screen, duct tape, pens, tupperware, and a few other items that returned Peace Corps Volunteers have suggested.
Surprisingly, my stress levels are low. I had my second dream that I can recall about being in Samoa last night. My first dream I remember bettter than my first. The beaches were not as clean as I have been envisioning, and the houses looked different. It was good because it made me realize not to expect what life will be like. The second dream is not as vivid. I don't really remember anything except that I had met the other volunteers who are traveling to the island with me.
My friends threw me a party in Los Angeles while I was down there last weekend. We had a great time, and I got to see some people that I hadn't seen in months. When they surprised me with a cake with the words "We Will Miss You" scribed on it in icing, I got teary-eyed about this trip for the first time, but only for a second. My parents are throwing me another party on June 8th where there will be a much larger attendance including my extended family, friends of the family, and a few other surprises from various other chapters of my life. I hope it will help bring closure, and if it does i will be sure to cry. This is how I am viewing life right now - chapters. High school was a chapter, each year being a division in that chapter. College another chapter, the Peace Corps will be my next. The other volunteers I meet, the family I will be staying with, the kids I meet in my village, and the numerous others who will help me with my endeavors throughout the next 2 years will be the characters in this next chapter.
So it would be safe to say that I have not felt the emotions I will be feeling yet. Maybe this is because I have been keeping myself too busy to think about it. I go to bed tired so I don't have to lay awake thinking about it.
I just got in at 3:00 this morning, and got a couple hours sleep before our tropical breakfast this morning. Then we had a traditional K'ava ceremony which was really interesting. After that I had lunch with a Matai (village cheif) and a couple government officials. This is goign to be SO amazing.
All 14 of us are waiting to use the 2 computers with REALLY slow access, so I have to sign off. I wish I had time to reply to your emails, but there is no time right now. I will hopefully write again soon, whenever I get back here. Oh, and yes, the address I typed in last time was correct. There is no street address, and no numbers.
I forgot my pictures in my "hotel" room. I'll try to remember the disk next time I come to the Peace Corps office.
First of all, another clarification on my mailing address. It might help to add "Western" in front of "Samoa" or at least a W. because the USPS still does not recognize Samoa as an independent state/country. It does exist, and mail will not arrive if they make you put a zip code on the piece of mail. If there is a zip code, it will be sent to American Samoa, not Samoa (where I am).
I am having a blast! Yesterday we had our first language class. The schedule I sent out in SF is the typical schedule, but there are may days where we have 8 hours of language. I will not be able to do my job if I am not fluent. I also plan on getting tutored after classes. Leata is a wonderful woman, so charming, so incredible.
We are staying in a "hotel" int he capitol for now. One week from now we are moving into a nearby village. There I will be living with a family, who will take care of me for the remaining 10 weeks of training. After that we will be assigned to our own villages, assuming we have mastered the language and cultural norms.
Yesterday I received 2 shots, one being tetanus, and the other for typhoid. Today we had another lecture on medical safety where she mostly talked about how to prevent Diarrhea. After that lecture we had a tour of the city, ate lunch, and now we have the afternoon/evening free. I bought a few lava lavas (sarongs) today, and a few shirts. Tomorrow we're all going to the beach. I can't wait to go snorkeling. I got a little sun-burned on my neck today, but no other illnesses yet.
I am going to hang out here in the Peace Corps lounge for the next hour, the it's off to dinner and then off to the bars. There is only one beer on the island, brewed close to town. It's called Vailima, but it is a German beer. Not bad. Next time I"ll have pictures for you. Tofa!
Yesterday was our last day of tradition language class. Starting Monday we're having High Intensive Language Training, where we get to pick what we want to learn. It's kind of like picking classes for college. There is a schedule set, and you pick the classes to go to. Weighing the good teachers with the fun classes shouldn't be hard. Vocabulary is where I feel I am lacking the most right now. It's just not there.
Tomorrow is Mark's birthday, so we're celebrating tonight. Dinner at the Pizza place, and then dancing at the club. Some guys from the village came into Apia on the bus this morning to tafoa, so they might come with us.
2 weeks left in the training village. Then it's 2 weeks in Apia, then swearing in on August 29, then the Te Vaka concert on the 31st, and then it's off to the "real village." We had our placement interviews last week, and we should find out our placement a week from today. I hear that Mark and I, the only 2 boys in the program, are going to be placed on Monono, the tiny island of 4 villages, and the other on Savaii, the biggest, but most remote village. I'm open.
I received my first mail today. I got 2 packages, actually. For future reference, I will let you know how it works, or at least how I think it works. If you send it regular air mail, it will take at least 2 weeks, no matter what the worker at the postal office may tell you. This particular package took 25 days from California. The other package was sent express 2-3 day, and it arrived in 3 days. It was expensive, so there is no need to send mail express unless it needs to be here that fast. Air mail works fine. Oh, and the customs people open the packages in front of you. So as long as it's securely closed, no one will steal anything before I get to it.
That's about it. People are waiting for the computer, as usual. I will post some more pictures. take care, all!
It's now official. I've been sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Last Wednesday all 11 of us got dressed in our best and participated in an hour long ceremony where we were the honored guests. The Charges de Affairs, a prior Peace Corps volunteer, swore us in in English, and then we repeated the affirmation in Samoan. Members of our host families were present to witness the dayís events. TV Samoa was there filming for the evening newscast so all of Samoa could see the newly sworn in Peace Corps.
Friday I moved into my new village. I woke up around 8:30 and already 2 committee members were there to greet me. I loaded my stuff into their pick-up and we headed to Fasitootai. On the way the driver explained to me that the village matai would be at my house to greet me and we would have a big meal. He made it known to me that I was to make a speech to the council about my work and that I was thankful for the food, the house, and their hospitality.
After arriving at my house, we unloaded my stuff into my house. My mother told me to tie my ie lavalava and go to the meeting next door in the fale leoleo. I went over, they talked, I talked, they talked, we ate, they talked, and then I went back to my house. I was tired from lack of sleep, so I took a good 3 hour nap. My father came to get me for dinner soon after waking.
Dinner was typical. It was nice to spend the time with my new family. We watched some TV, and then I went back to my house. My little brother slept in the room next door for security reasons I believe. Every night Iíve spent in either village at least one family member, usually more, has slept in close proximity to my bed.
I didnít sleep well because I hadnít strung up my mosquito net. I got eaten alive again, so I was awake at 6:00 am when the mosquitos came out. I grabbed my stuff and I followed my brother to his house for morning tea. I only ate some rice, but was on the bus shortly after. I met up with Sara at her hotel room in Apia. Her hosting agency is putting her up in the hotel for another few days because her house is occupied until the 7th.
Since being back in Apia the last 24 hours Iíve slept a lot (at the hostel), ate a lot, and seen a lot of movies. Weekends in Apia arenít the craziest of times, as everything shuts down on Sundays. This entire week is the Teuila Festival, a sort-of state fair for tourists. They sell arts and crafts and local foods, tonight is a parade, tomorrow is a fire dancing show. The festivities last all week, culminating with the Miss Samoa pageant on Saturday. The girlfriend of one of the Peace Corps volunteers here is a contestant in the show, and some of us are going to show our support.
Iím going back to the village for a couple days later this week. I figure Iíll ease my way into this new village life. Iíve spent a couple of nights there already, but not in a row. I figure Iíll spend Wednesday and Thursday night, 2 consecutive nights, next. After this coming weekend Iíll return for a good amount of time though. Iím anxious to get into village life there. My new village is so much more developed than our training village. Apparently Peace Corps does this on purpose so we are not let down when we get to our Ďrealí village.
So Iím really on my own now. Iíve picked up a copy of the 2002-2006 economic plan for developing tourism in the country which Iíll read at some point. I figure I should have a clue as to what I am doing if Iím going to help develop eco-tourism in my village. Iíve started to shop for things I will need like cooking and eating utensils. Iíll be in touch. I have no phone in my house, but I am considering getting one. It may come in handy, especially if Iím planning on using the internet a lot when Iím not in Apia. What do you think?
Oh, by the way, Iíve just reached 2000 hits on this site. Thank you to everyone who spends the time to read and respond to my postings. I appreciate the feedback, and Iím sorry if I have never responded or have taken awhile to respond to your emails. These updates will start to slow down, as I will not be in town as often. Iím on my own now. Itís scary to think that I have no set schedule from here on. Iím the boss now. ďWith great power comes great responsibility.Ē
Today is the 100th day since setting foot on this beautiful island!
I was apprehensive about returning to my village last Monday. Not for any other reason than fear of the unknown. I had spent 3 nights there already, but none of them consecutive. I was about to immerse myself in the village for a four day stretch without the company of other volunteers. I was to come back to Apia one week ago to check mail and hang out with the other volunteers. Here's my story of the ensuing 10 days:
For starters, an elderly woman had died the week before. The funeral was to take place towards the beginning of that week (last week). I was asked to sing with the youth group at many of the funeral events. The first night I accompanied my family to the big open fale on the family compound to discuss what gifts we were providing.
Aside: Funerals, Weddings, any sort of big events happening in Samoa are referred to as fa'alavelave. They are a piece of the ancient culture that still exists in 21st Century Samoa. Now don't get me wrong. These events resemble their respective events in the Christian world, only with the twist of the ancient traditions. Fine mats, estimated at $2,000 each, are exchanged for food generally. The sponsoring party always ends up ahead, meaning that they have a higher dollar value for the gifts they receive than for the gifts they give. And it's not considered a gift exchange. It's a way of showing respect.
Now to finish my story. The day after this family meeting my family crossed the road to give our gifts. We gave about 6 or 7 fine mats, some quite bigger than others, along with some boxes of canned food and crackers. I sat with the youth group and we all sang. We sang until 1:00 am. We started when the sun was still up, if you can believe it or not. We got a dinner break half way through, but it was still a lot of singing. I don't know why, but everyone keeps asking me if I'm a tenor. Perhaps it is the Samoan way for asking me to sing tenor. Samoans have a different way of asking/answering questions than I am used to. For example, in our training village some trainees complained about not receiving enough fruits and vegetables, namely the vegetarians. Our Training Director wrote a letter to all the families thanking them for serving us many fruits and vegetables. It's the Samoan Way he said.
The following day was the actual funeral service. It was held in the church at first. In the morning I got dressed again in my black ie lavalava and my white shirt with black tie. I joined the youth group again in the local church to sing again. And yes, I was asked again if I was a tenor. I really do think that I am a bass, but I sing tenor most of the time as long as I can hit the notes. Each member of the deceased woman's family got up to the mic to say their eulogy after the pastor said his words. Each showed emotion and took a good 5-15 minutes. One duo sang a song. This whole ordeal at the church lasted about 2 hours.
We then proceeded to pile into a bus for the next stage of the funeral. I didn't know we were headed towards Apia. I was freaking out because I didn't have any money or anything, and I was thinking that we might have to pay fare. It's only a $1.50 fare for the 45 minute - one hour journey, but I had left my wallet in my house, where it always is. I never take my wallet with me unless I am going to Apia. This may change if I get stuck needing money in the future. I just think it's better to leave my money in my house so I don't spend it on frivolous things or have the chance of it getting lost.
So I didn't end up having to pay fare. It must have been covered by the family. We didn't arrive in the heart of Apia; we were on the outskirts in a place I didn't recognize. I knew we were close, but I'm not sure how close. At any rate I went inside the funeral home and sat in the choir section. The pastor said some words, and we all sang some songs. I couldn't believe how involved this whole event was. So afterward I fortunately did not have to get on the bus. They are so uncomfortable. There was room for me in one of the vans, so I got a ride with one of the wealthier families of the village.
Back in Fasitootai... By this time it was getting dark and I noticed that all the cars involved in the funeral procession had their hazard lights on. Similar to what we do in America, huh? We all ended up across the road from my family's house again, and the grave was open. We sang more songs, and they lowered the casket into the grave. We all laid leaves or flowers inside and said a prayer. After covering the grave with the cement blocks we ate food and ice cream. It was so good! Sometimes you get the fake ice cream that is made on the island. It tastes like flavored butter. But the stuff I'm used to in the states is becoming more popular here. Ice cream trucks and stores are popping up all over. There is even one next door to the Peace Corps office. It's about $2 for a double scoop of ice cream.
So the funeral was over for me, but the family was still singing to the grave all day, as they did to the casket the night before. Late that afternoon I met the pastor to the local church. He invited me and my friend Ualesi (pronounced Walesey, but defined as "wireless" in Samoan) inside his house. It has to have been one of the most beautiful houses I've seen here. Like mine, it was part European style, part Samoan style. He told me that the boys of the village had helped with the Greco-Roman stained glass and the carvings of the poles in the living room. I noticed that I could see my house from his, as I could many other houses. His house is elevated slightly, maybe a whole story, and it is connected to the church I believe, maybe not. Anyway, he mentioned there was a wedding the following day, Thursday, and he invited me to it. It ends up that he had invited us in to help him carry the fine mats and boxes of food out to his truck for the faalavelave the following day. He was leaving for New Zealand, probably the hottest vacation spot for Samoans who can afford to travel, as well as Peace Corps volunteers serving in Samoa.
The actual wedding was not in my village, but one of the receptions was. I believe either the bride or the groom grew up here. The reception lasted less than 30 minutes. We ate ice cream and cake, and danced Samoan style a little. Then we were whisked away yet again in a bus. I didn't have my wallet on me, but it didn't matter. It was included in the faalavelave. The second reception was in Apia, again in the outskirts. I recognized where it was this time, so I could find my way back if needed. It was opposite this huge rugby field where a game was in session.
Inside there were maybe 300 people, all family and friends I'm guessing. I haven't been to many weddings in America, but this was definitely the biggest one I've ever been to. Samoans tend to have large families. Come to find out all the food and drinks were included also. They really went all out. I couldn't believe how many pitchers of beer I witnessed being delivered to the tables. It was disturbing to watch the Samoan men guzzle down the beer just because it was free. But apparently it's the Samoan Way I keep getting told.
The bus ride back to the village was an interesting one. This older man who had obviously exceeded his limit decided to sit next to me. He spoke his best English, which surprisingly I was able to mostly understand. I began to get really annoyed with him. I've noticed that I've gotten annoyed at Samoans in general lately because they always ask the same questions. "Where are you going?" "Do you have a Samoan girlfriend?" "How many girlfriends do you have?" I have been polite so far and politely explain that I have a girlfriend in America, and that one is enough, pointing to the ring on my finger. It's on my pointer finger, but I figure they get the idea, or will in awhile. Other volunteers have told me that it may stop, or may slow down. I can't wait. I'm doing my best to keep my patience. It's one of my more remarkable qualities, isn't it?
So after awhile this guy left me alone and started to bother other people. Finally he moved to another seat and a younger woman, all of 17 maybe sat next to me and asked to be my friend. "Friend" in Samoan means "girlfriend/boyfriend" in English, so I had to clarify. She had asked me in English, which is shy it was confusing. Apparently she just wants to be friends, but I was getting a different vibe. Life here is crazy! It all revolves around the gossip that is so prevalent in this culture.
My former seatmate decided he had had enough of the bus and asked to stop it. Or maybe someone else asked the driver to stop, or maybe the driver saw that he should stop it. At any rate, the bus stopped, and the man got off. It was apparent that he didn't want to be on it, and was fighting everyone else who wanted him on the bus. We were only 2 villages away from being home, yet we sat on the side of the road for a good 20 minutes while this man threw a temper tantrum. He must have been 50 years old or so. Some younger men and maybe it was his wife, some woman, got him back on the bus forcefully and we drove off. 5 minutes later we were home. I got off and went home. I had had enough.
But that wasn't all. The next night, Friday, my family sponsored a dance. There was a $5 cover. They must have made a bunch that night. The local band, who is really good actually, played all night, both American and Samoan songs. They played probably every song they could play twice, because the dance started early and ended late. I heard a few songs at least twice. Every night when I tafao (hang out) with my friends we usually stand in front of the band leaders house, where they practice, and watch for 20 minutes or so. I've met a lot of the youth in the village this way. I'm amazed that people are still asking me my name. I thought the whole village would have heard by now that their Peace Corps is here and what my name is. At any rate, the dance was fun. I danced with my friends, made some new ones, and even slow danced with a couple girls. I felt like I was in high school again. Slow dancing.... It was fun though, I actually had a better time than I was expecting. It began to get rowdy towards the end of the night, so I went home and to bed straightaway.
Since Friday there isn't much to report. I ended up being so busy that week that I had plenty to do. And I had called the Peace Corps lounge to check if I had mail, and I didn't have any. So there was really no reason for me to leave the village. I relaxed for the next few days. Monday I went to the plantation with my brother and 2 of my cousins. It was really far inland, I think at the end of the road. It was a good 2 miles inland from my family's house. We didn't do much but drink coconut milk and hang out. When we returned my family asked if I wanted to go shopping in Apia with my brother. So I went.
Tuesday I got up around 8, walked to my family's house (about one mile inland) for breakfast, and then we caught a bus. We went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, my host agency, to pick up some money for our father. Apparently the agency, known to villages as the Office of Village Mayors, doles out a monthly stipend to the mayors. It was upwards of $200 though. We shopped, saw a movie, had some ice cream, then caught the afternoon bus back to the village. The bus was the most packed I have seen since I've been here. A bus seats 32, but we had at least 50 people on it. Each seat that normally occupies 2 had at least 3 people on it. Everyone sits on each other's laps. It's the Samoan Way. Fortunately I am not a Samoan, so they don't make me. I'm trying my hardest to become a villager though. You can bet I'm going to grab a child to set on my lap the next time I see the bus filling up. It was awkward to me at first, but I'm totally OK with it now. There is totally a ranking on the busses too. The elderly, disabled, and titled matai sit towards the front, followed by women, and the young men, such as myself, sit in the rear. The back seat is by far the least comfortable, but I sit there because it is my place.
Roles and responsibilities in Samoa according to age, gender, and ranking is something someone could write a PhD thesis on. I could write much more on this, but I think you should come experience it yourself. I would thoroughly enjoy taking you all around the islands and showing you what most tourists don't see. Just send me an email with your availability and we can work something out. I have a few offers already. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I promise you!
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Story Source: Personal Web Site
This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Samoa; PCVs in the Field - Samoa
My name is Alex, I live in Portland Oregon. I have dual citizenship (Italian and American).
I will be graduating from a Building Constuction Technology Program in 6 month. In other words... I build houses. I would like to join the Peace Corps. I bumped into this web site and read all of your stories.I would love to join you in Samoa.
I know you probably have milions of e-mails to respond to and limited time but I would like to ask you questions about Samoa and what you do.
You sound like a great person. Do you have time to respond to my questions? What's the best way to communicate with you?
By Patricia Burns (adsl-68-127-154-19.dsl.pltn13.pacbell.net - 220.127.116.11) on Monday, July 19, 2004 - 1:49 am: Edit Post|
I too have visited Samoa, and it was the most wonderful experience.It was in the year 2000 and I often wish that I could return. I hope to someday!
By Anonymous (18.104.22.168) on Thursday, March 08, 2007 - 4:04 pm: Edit Post|
hello there, how are you.. anyways yeah hi im roshunn.. i was just searching the web.. and all of a sudden found ur page.. hay.. i think it' s really cool to the fact that you actually went to samoa... it's a nice place? and all.. but really srict rule's at soem point.. but hay... i read your 27 peace corp's thing where you were stationes in samoa.. ii would surely love to be a travelist some day..lol.. well take care bye....