|By Alexandria Ware on Thursday, September 06, 2001 - 4:04 pm: Edit Post|
|By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, September 14, 2003 - 12:43 pm: Edit Post|
Alex's Samoa page - RPCV Group 57
Alex's Samoa page - RPCV Group 57
click on map for more detailed version
I lived in Samoa, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific, from November 1996 to January 1998. I taught high school and junior high science and computing classes as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Seventh Day Adventist School (Aoga Aso Fitu) in Lalovaea, a "suburb" of the capital, Apia.
As per the usual Peace Corps schedule, I spent my first two months living with the Tu'u'u family in the village of Si'umu, on the south coast of the island of 'Upolu, learning the language and customs. There were three other Peace Corps trainees in our village: Brenda Koerner, John Healey, and Andrew Hughes. We had language lessons for several hours every day with our Samoan teachers, including Fagalele Lino (aka Funky), Suluga Lameta, Honolina Smith, Leata Lima, Faleseu Pita, and others whose names escape me at the moment. Silao Kasiano, director of training, took care of us when we had any problems and also delivered our mail! After class each day, we usually walked to the beach for a swim or played cards in the fale (open-walled one-room structure) and then went home to our respective families for evening prayers and supper.
Foods included rice, ta'amu (starchy root vegetable, usually boiled), ramen noodles, palusami (greens in coconut cream), soup with some kind of meat, fish fish fish, chicken, freshly baked bread, crackers and butter, papaya, pineapple, bananas, avocados, supoesi and suafa'i (sweet soups with papaya or banana, coconut cream, and tapioca)... all cooked over an open fire or, on Sundays, baked in an earth oven. To drink, there was boiled water, fruit juice, extremely sweet locally bottled soda, Coke/Sprite/Fanta from the local shop, sweet black tea, and koko Samoa, thick dark sludgy cocoa made from scratch (i.e., from dried ground cocoa beans) bearing absolutely no resemblance to Western-style hot chocolate, but still very tasty. The most exotic things I ate were snails and raw sea urchins (straight out of the water, bashed open on a rock); I decided not to try the bottled sea-slug innards or the fried coral worms.
Every week I went to church with my family, which was something of an ordeal, as I'm Jewish and tend to think Sunday mornings are meant for sleeping in and reading the newspaper. Instead, I had to get up earlier than usual, put on a white dress, and ride over dirt roads in the back of someone's pickup truck to sit in a hot room for an hour or two, listening to a sermon in a language I barely understood. The singing was lovely, though, and I did a lot of thinking while sitting in the pews fanning myself with a woven-palm-frond fan. The best parts: Driving to an evening service one night around Christmas time, with little Christmas lights on all the houses and stars overhead; going to choir practice with my sisters and having all the older ladies try to set me up with the minister's son (not so fun then, but a good story); and the children's pageant in which all the adorable little kids wore fancy white clothes and flowers and performed little songs and skits. And by the way, I can say grace and recite the first few lines of the Lord's Prayer in Samoan, which I just know will come in handy some day.
Every Friday, all of us trainees were loaded into a bus and driven up and over Cross-Island Road into Apia, where we stayed at a hotel in town for a night, went out dancing, ate slightly more familiar food, and generally decompressed for a little while. We read our email and enjoyed the air-conditioning at the Peace Corps office; went out for dancing, darts, drinks, and sashimi at Otto's, The Crystal, and the RSA; ate fish and chips (mmm, french fries with mayo) at Gourmet Seafood; bought stamps and aerogrammes at the post office; changed money at the bank; bought soap and toilet paper and other such necessities at Molesi's grocery store; and most importantly, exchanged stories with each other and the older volunteers, who usually told us something along the lines of "That happened to us too, and this is how we coped with it." Best of all was the discussion of How To Respond To Unwelcome Male Advances.
The last two weeks of training were spent in "model school", where we could all practice our teaching skills before the school year began. It was fun, though it's really hard to write lesson plans or get enough sleep when you live in a house with nine other people and very thin walls. I took a bunch of pictures of my students, who were all incredibly photogenic and who loved posing for the camera. I'll post them here when I get my hands on a scanner.
After training ended, I moved to Lalovaea, a "suburb" of the capital, Apia, and started teaching high school; my schedule included Year 13 Computing, Year 12 Physics, and Year 7 General Science. I also taught an introductory-level computing class for adults at the National University of Samoa. I was lucky: my students were mostly well-behaved (though the younger kids tended to throw things at each other and once started playing with matches in class...) and they all wore nice blue uniforms instead of, say, the blinding yellow-red combination of Samoa College. Samoan schools are all run on the standardized-testing model of New Zealand and Australian schools, so the poor kids have to take these nasty tests at the end of every other year, in English, and if they don't pass they usually leave school and go back to work on the plantation. It's a terrible system (especially because it stifles any creativity on the part of the teachers) and I hope the US stops this ridiculous trend toward more testing.
In my spare time I rode my bike all over town, learned to cook wonderful things with my friend Suzanna Randall, climbed to the top of Mt. Silisili (the highest peak in Samoa, at 1857m, accessible by a poorly cut and very muddy trail through heavy jungle), went running with the local Hash House Harriers, became a fish&chips connoisseur, hung out in the air-conditioned lounge at the Peace Corps office with the other Volunteers, and read a whole hell of a lot of books. Sometimes we'd go out dancing (usually to the Crystal), have barbecues/baseball games with the Japanese volunteers, or throw parties (involving much Vailima, the local beer, and 'ava, the local drug, which is now, much to my amusement, being marketed in the US as an herbal supplement to help stressed-out yuppies relax), or go watch really bad movies ("Escape from LA," "The Arrival" starring Charlie Sheen) at the air-conditioned movie theater which also sold tasty ice cream. Once in a while we'd save up the money to take vacations; I went to American Samoa a couple times and Sydney, Australia (with my mom) over summer break.
I can't remember everyone's name. This is terribly embarrassing. But I'll write down what I know anyway, and then I'll go home and look it up in my notebooks and training handbooks and all that.
My fellow PCVs in Group 57: Laura Brown, Lora Kasselman, Brenda Koerner, Sarah Owen, Deb Short, John Healey, Andrew Hughes, Meloni McDougal, John Nicholson, Chip Kelley, Lori Lai, Dan and Elizabeth Knight, Dan Warco, Paula Randisi, Mike Kolasinski, Jay Gebauer, Greg Lahr, Stefan Huh, and Barbara O'Meallie.
Others who weren't in my group: Suzanna Randall, Steve Williamson, Kristina Dahlen, Jessica Hughes, Cassandra Gilbert, Sara Russell, Eric Wilson, Sally Green, Deirdre Kiernan, Christine Anderson, Margaret Moore, and the Niue PCVs: Rich St. Clair, Doug Sonnek, Rita Levy, and Amy.
Non-PCV friends: Gary Schwalger, H.P. Tamasese, Mau Simanu, Junior Taua Fa'aso'o, Russell Burke, Andrew Steer, Thom McDade, Krista and Holger Maier, Yozo Taneda, Satoshi Ishii, Mikio Shimizu, James Atherton, Rino the restaurateur, and our charming neighbor Brenda the Attorney General.
Here are a few photos to look at.
# Read the Samoa Observer
# Read the Samoa News
# Manu Samoa!
# Wilex - Samoan gifts
# Samoa.ws ISP
Various information and tourist sites:
# CIA Factbook Data
# Official site
# Samoan Surf Spots
# Samoan Sensation
# Ecotour Samoa - I know the guy who runs this outfit, and while he is completely nuts, if you have a lot of money to spend and want a tour that's completely organized for you, this is probably the way to go. Personally, I'd rather see things on my own, but that's just me. The website does have some nice pictures, at least.
If you visit:
There's plenty of advice in the guidebooks, but here are some random pieces of advice, as a former resident with a better view of island life than a tour book writer who spends two nights in Apia before dashing off to Fiji:
# I've had a few requests from potential PCVs for advice on what to pack. So I wrote up this page. If anyone has suggestions for the list, email me and I'll write them up.
# Wear sunblock. Otherwise you will turn into a lobster in a mere fifteen minutes. Trust me.
# Dress modestly. Look, I know it's wretchedly hot and humid, and I know you should be able to wear whatever you like, but women who stroll around in anything more revealing than mid-length shorts and a modest tank top will get a great deal of unwelcome attention. Men will stare and make kissy noises, women will glare disapprovingly, and you'll generally cause a big fuss. This is not a nice way for you to behave, as it makes life more difficult for the rest of us foreigners who would rather combat the stereotype of white women being "easy". Male visitors can get away with shorts and a T-shirt, though you should really try an ie lavalava - it's much more comfortable, and your attempts to keep it on will amuse the locals. For more etiquette tips check out this site. By the way, ladies, don't make eye contact with men on the street; it's considered flirtatious. Pretend you're on the subway in New York.
# Pack goggles. Or a snorkeling mask. The fishies are just lovely to look at and the water is fantastically warm. Mmmmm.
# Drink niu. A niu is a pale-colored unripe coconut, which contains very tasty juice; you can buy it just about anywhere (ask for a "drinking coconut" if you can't pronounce niu, which is one syllable, "nyoo") for a couple tala. The seller will whack off part of the shell with a large knife and possibly stick a straw in it. You don't have to worry about it being contaminated, like the water, and it's actually better for dehydration than just water.
# Order the pasta. I don't know if Rino's Italian cafe is still there, just off Beach Road next to the big blue office building, but if it is, go in, befriend him, get him to make you a cappuccino, and hope that he has the fried eggplant and the spaghetti with lobster sauce, because that was one of the best meals I've ever eaten anywhere.
# Drive Cross-Island Road. Carefully. The views from the top are incredible, and it's fascinating to watch the ecosystem change as you go up, up, up to the top of the mountains.
# Go dancing at the Crystal. Hopefully it's still the same great place. Go early with friends to happy hour, where you can get terrific tuna sashimi and cheap drinks. Wear dark clothes so your underwear doesn't show through in the black lights, which also make gin and tonic glow, I kid you not.
# See Cindy. The drag show at Magrey-Ta's is not to be missed, especially the fire-dancers.
# Go to Ofu. It's an island in American Samoa. Rumor has it that the coral reef, a U.S. national park, has some of the best snorkeling in the world; just watch out for the strong tide. Stay at the Vaoto Lodge. The beachfront hammocks are nice, and Marge's cooking is great.