Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friends and Toilet

Talofa lava. Leva na fai lo’u blog. Na ou e pisi tele. Greetings, i haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been busy. Last week was my group’s Close of Service Conference. We talked about jobs, school, and all the things that come after the Peace Corps. In just a few months we are headed back to America and her bounty; reliable mass transit, wild Oregon blackberries, racial diversity, running water, and RESTAURANTS. But, also jobs, apartments, student loans, medical insurance, and GREs. Samoa’s has her own miss-list; i’ll post it in time. I know my PC friends will be at the top of that list. And here are some photos.

I received a 500 USD grant to build a dry composting toilet in the village through Appropriate Projects. We’ve finished phase 1 of 2: the lower vault. Ben, Jim, Spencer and Trent came over to help with the construction. My neighbors, Usu Fetinai and Saaga, thankfully showed up to help with the masonry. It requires an expert finesse i did not expect. The rest of the village helped prepare the site, gather supplies, prep concrete, and host my guests. As with any Samoan consruction site, there was ava. And, though I’m not shown working in any of the pictures (I’m holding the camera, Mom!). I did work, and i did drink ava.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I haven’t posted a blog in months. Things have been busy.

Sewing School: Aoga Suisui

It was a success! We had a five day sewing school at Women’s Committee house. 4 experienced village seamstresses taught informal classes and I assisted. By the first day of sewing school, beginners were sewing dresses, bedcovers, and school uniforms. There was some initial confusion about the purpose of the machines. We started the first day with numerous ladies dropping piles of cloth in front of me, explaining the type of garment they wanted me whip up. When that was rectified, the ladies did a great job of staying focused, sharing limited equipment, and being very productive…. Most of them completed at least 2 items for every 1 day session. The ladies pulled a couple kids out of school for the week to thread needles for them. Something I found distressing, yet useful. Sewing school ended later and later every day, until we were kicking people out at 9:00 on Friday night.

It’s been a few months since the school and all 10 machines are still living at the Committee House. I have cleverly thwarted requests from various people in the village to keep the machines as presents. The ladies have devised a schedule to establish equal use of the machines for everyone. Each of the villages 4 groups is given a week during the month when they can come to the Committee and use the machines AND every Thursday is village sewing day when anyone can come. I see at least 1 person using a machine every day. The Chinese Singers have the odds stacked against them. Right out of the box, only 7 out of the 10 machines we received were in working order. We were able to repair the other 3. So, if the machines can make it with their own cheap parts, they next have to deal with the tropical climate. The machines are kept in a room that has simple paneless windows in a location prone to heavy rains and high wind. And each machine must be pulled out of it’s cubby, then out of it’s box, then carried by a handle to the Committee house. The Committee house is quite close to the room BUT the hinged locks that hold the heavy machine base onto the handled lids are undependable. They just don’t fit together right and the heavy machines tend to slip away from the lid and fall on the ground, down the stairs, on your foot, or on a slow dog. So machines that didn’t work that well to begin with, often get wet and beat up. That’s Samoa.

Nofoe and Yogi

Muta'aga and Vatiana learn how to wind bobbins.

All the ladies with their new duds on display in the background.

Fiji: Fiti

I went to Fiji with the Group 80 girls: Briony, Erica, Karin, and Liz. Check out Liz and Erica’s rundowns at: http://ramblinliz.blogspot.com/2009/07/bula-fiji.html (liz) and http://ericafromamerica.blogspot.com/2009/07/bula.html (erica). Because, why reinvent the wheel? But here is a picture of a cool place Erica and I went outside of Suva.

Primary School:
I’ve been teaching at Tufutafoe Primary School. I didn’t come to the village to teach, and have had no teacher’s training. I’m scrambling to pull together lessons: a big reason I’ve been so busy. The village has been encouraging me to teach since I got here a year ago and I’ve been fighting it. The Peace Corps and it’s Samoan counterpart, the Samoan Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development have both been adamant about us trying to focus more on village wide projects: like water tanks, technology centers, the sewing machine school, community gardens, etc. I felt like I had many village-wide projects completed or in the works, and I’d grown a bit bored. So, I decided teaching would be my extra project. I am the “reading in English” teacher. I go to the school Monday through Thursday and relieve the multilevel teachers of half their class to read and play word games. I’m starting Where the Red Fern Grows with the Year 7&8 kids. I have free range in the classroom as to where I want to take my teaching. I would like to do projects about diversity, organic gardening, photography, and geography. I started teaching 2 months ago and this is how my schedule has gone. Week 1 and 2, AOK. Week 3 and 4, all public schools were shut down to prevent the further spread of Fulu Puaa: Swine Flu. Week 5, Monday was a holiday, the rest of the week, no classes for teachers training, Week 6, AOK. Week 7, midservice Peace Corps Meeting all week. Week 8, last week, I was back at the school. It was my fourth week of teaching in 2 months. Next week the whole school is going to Apia for a national Song and Dance competition about road safety. This is concerning the upcoming road switch, where, as of September 7th, all drivers will switch to the driving on the left side of the road. It’s a story in itself. And so is the fact that tiny little forgotten Tufutafoe, Samoa’s most remote village has made it into the finals for the Song and Dance Competition: only 4 villages out of hundreds make it to the finals. I love a good underdog. The song is awesome. My favorite line is “people in this country is our biggest industry”. It refers to steady export of Samoans to developed countries to work and send home remittances which constitute the majority of village families incomes. So, with that in mind, practice road safety vigilantly. Less than 2 weeks till Switch Day.

My Year 6 reading group.

Little Year 2 boy name Fa'aopo

The Road Safety Song and Dance competition. Fa'aluma, the boy in the white leads, the kids.

Composting Toilet:
Fellow PCV, Benj Harding, got the ball rolling for a composting toilet project before I even got to Samoa. He did his research and worked to get other volunteers interested in the project. It stuck with me. Last week I was informed that I would receive funding for a demonstration toilet through the program Appropriate Projects. I am going to have a few people help me build the new toilet at the Committee House. A composting toilet is a toilet that composts human waste into a humus or topsoil that is suitable as soil enhancer for tree crops, such as pepper, cocoa, banana, nonu, breadfruit, coconut, mango, and star fruit. As well as providing non-chemical fertilizer, a composting toilet dramatically decreases the amount of water the average person uses daily flushing a toilet. For reasons illogical, but consistent with western standards, water-scarce Tufutafoe has adopted tank flush and pour flush toilets. I flush my toilet once a day. If I don’t go for a full shower I use 1/3 of my total daily water supply on flushing the toilet, if I do the full shower, ¼. That’s a lot of washing, cooking, and drinking water wasted. The composting toilet I’m building doesn’t use any water beyond a half liter or so for weekly cleaning of the bowl. Also, there is not a public human waste disposal system in Tufutafoe. People dig pits and sculpt a concrete cover overtop for their flush toilets… Or just dig a deep tight hole and throw a toilet shed on top. Either way, human waste and pathogens are seeping into the ground and, therefore, into local groundwater. This creates unsanitary conditions in our couple of freshwater springs. They are used by 7 families for washing, cooking, and bathing and by the whole village for swimming. The composting toilet decreases ground water contamination by sealing raw waste in a concrete container where it heats up, such is the composting process, killing dangerous pathogens. So thank you Appropriate Projects. You can see the project here and other projects here. http://appropriateprojects.com/node/27

Finally here are some photos, mostly of Yogi.




Getting bigger, but he won't be full grown for months. Quite stout for a Samoan dog.

Nearby Falealupo's church ruins. The church was destroyed by a large hurricane in 1989.

Bones of unknown people that were ungraved during the same hurricane.

My 8 year old neighboor draws a picture of me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sewing Machines, Diabetes, and Animal Land

The Peace Corps encourages or requires us to do village surveys. As village based development workers, it’s good to get to know our neighbors, introduce ourselves, and assess general needs and wants of the community. I did my survey way back in September when my language was very weak. It was one of most intimidating things I’ve ever done: walking into strangers houses, awkwardly introducing myself, and then asking a bunch of (by American standards) personal questions. The village overwhelmingly needs access to fresh water and wants sewing machines. We’re still in bureaucratic limbo with watertanks but we did get sewing machines.

Two members of the Women’s Committee and I wrote a proposal to the New Zealand Aid Agency for 10 new hand crank Singers, fabric, and thread. The request was granted and we’ve had the machines for about 6 weeks. They are permanently housed at the Fale Komiti and will be available for use to all residents of the village. Next week we are having a sewing workshop taught by 4 expert seamstresses from the Committee and myself. It will cover the basics, like threading a machine, and will work up to sewing togiga and puletasi (school uniforms and dresses). The machines are a great way to save time (hand sewing being the alternative) and money (paying someone to sewing mandatory school uniforms). I’m really proud of my ladies for realizing how important it is to provide education and not just the machines. The 4 experts are also taking a full week out of their lives for sewing school. I’ve been preparing for SS all week: greasing up the machines and making posters. I’m excited to see how it goes.

Fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Nick Shuraleff, came to Tufutafoe to do a diabetes and high blood pressure testing clinic. We tested around 50 people in a day and a half. It seems that my village has a very high rate of (possible) Diabetes and HBP: compared with the other villages Nick has tested. Also in comparison, Tufu has a low obesity rate. It kind of throws a wrench in Nick’s “just, look at these numbers, there is a direct correlation between HBP, Diabetes, and Obesity” argument. Nah, Tufu is a just a fluke: it‘s genetics. There is a direct correlation between HBP, D, and O. Check out Nick’s blog. http://shuraleffinpeacecorps.blogspot.com There is even a bit about my African Giant Snail genocide mission. People that had dangerously high blood sugar or pressure were referred to the hospital where they can be retested and put on appropriate medication for, I’m assuming, an affordable sum. I know that an epileptic boy gets his medication for $4 WST (or less than $2 US) a month. The testing made me realize what a prominent problem the diseases are here. Samoa has the worldwide 2nd highest rate of adult onset Diabetes. Diet, exercise, and awareness are key in fighting the diseases. Nick ended the first day of testing by making a giant cauldron of low sugar pineapple preserves; awesome with fresh bread and good for you. At night, Nick stayed in my bed and I took to the mats next door with my ladies. Since they stay here to protect me, I got to sleep wedged in the middle of a Samoan people fortress. Obviously learning nothing from the first night’s snore decibel reading, I forgot to grab my earplugs the second night.

I wrote about Whiskey, my first dog. I thought Whiskey ran away for good so I got a new puppy. Yogi! Fat little flea infested Yogi. The same day village girls showed up with Yogi, Whiskey instinctually returned from her 2 month sabbatical. I guess she was jealous. Whiskey was back for good and decided that she should become viscously protective of me and Yogi. She started attacking everyone that walked by on the road and then started nipping at kids, wee kids. My house is a busy place: the Fale Komiti is the villages main meeting hall. This behavior was not cool! Then she started following me on my daily trips to the school and biting kids there. It was awful. All the buildings are open here, there is no way to keep her out and I wouldn’t be able to go to Apia to buy a chain for at least a month. I was upset and asked some older respected Samoans what I should do. They saw no problem and complimented Whiskey’s violent nature. They said she would keep the bad people away at night and keep the kids from bugging me. Then people started asking if they could have Whiskey. After the whole village called her a scrawny chicken eating floozy for months, Whiskey had turned into a swan in high demand. I gave her to a recently robbed teacher from a neighboring village. And…… It took Whiskey 4 hours to find her way back. We tried again today, this time with a chain and confusing bus ride. I hope it sticks. Hmmm. I may miss Whiskey. But, she smelled just awful, so maybe not. And she’ll probably come back. I also seem to have acquired a festering footed cat named Cat. Anyone that’s seen The Incredible Journey knows I have the major players. And I am not willingly taking 3 ill-behaved animals back to America.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Note: Though I am posting these at the same time, there is about a month in between their actual happenings. This blog reflects events of the last week.

Asiasiga means a check up. Sorry I don’t have the dictionary definition: the pastor’s wife won’t give me my Samoan-English dictionary back. So it goes here in the village. Yesterday I went on an asiasiga to all the families in my village. The Samoan government’s Ministry of Women has a village based representative in our Women’s Committee. Her name is Moe. We also have a village mayor, yup, our 3rd mayor since I’ve been here. His name is Tala. The village has rules on the standard upkeep of each household - Spencer says like a homeowner‘s association: true. In Tufu you have to #1 take care of unsightly weeds #2 the toilet facilities can’t be completely disgusting (this is relative) and doors are encouraged #3 the kitchen fale’s roof can’t be leaking #4 there must be an attempt to grow vegetables! The last one is a brand new village rule and quite progressive for Samoa. Tala, Moe, Moe’s BFF, Ula, and I: the 4 of us trampled around the village for 10 hours checking on our 40 families. The visual check took a few minutes at most, but we had to stop and eat and drink and gossip with half the fams. I’ve done this asiasiga business a few times and I’ve yet to see anyone get fined for slight upkeep neglect… a fine that I’m sure would never get paid. Other villages seem to be more liberal with the fining. So, I’m proud to say 37 out of 40 families have some sort of vegetable growing. During training we heard horror stories about how you would never see a veggie in your dinner whole time you lived in the village!!! Hogwash if you live here. Long beans, tomatoes, pumpkin and eggplant are the most common, but I also saw radishes, corn, and cucumbers. And cabbage, everyone has little cabbage seedlings growing. The village and I have started 2 community gardens. The first one is at the school and I’ve talked about that. The second is the Fale Committee garden which is tilled and ready to be fenced in. The women’s committee received government funding for vegetable gardening: they used the money to buy tools, fencing for the FC seed garden, and seeds to start the seed garden. (I had a hard time deciding if I should include the following information. I know it would embarrass the village… But I decided to go with it. It is probably safe to say that nobody from Tufu will ever read this and the village has done an amazing job trying to rectify the situation. I think it‘s an important detail to include) All the seeds were stolen from my house. It was hundreds of dollars worth of seeds plus a sizable donated supply from the government and my own private stash. The only seeds the weren’t taken were two cans of cabbage that I had misplaced away from the rest. The whole sitch was quite disheartening. The cabbage seeds that weren’t taken, and ironically don’t flower/produce seeds here in the Samoa climate, were distributed to the village and most people have started growing them.

Concerning the missing seeds. A few Tufu families and PCV have donated seeds. We are on the road to having all we need.


Faalavelave. Ahhh, faalavelave. It is a general term for an “event”, and I’m taking the liberty to narrow it down to a rare or one-of event in terms of a persons life. That was wordy. It’s like a funeral or wedding or something. And it also means trouble or chaos. Like, the rowdy kids are faalavelave-ing. Samoan tradition dictates “giving” and then “reciprocal” giving (in general) and also as a part of faalavelave (the wedding/funeral variety). But, not necessarily giving to whom and what one might expect.

So, the High Chief, or Alii Matua, Mr. Mamoemausu Taafaga, passed away earlier this week. He suffered a heart attack after walking home from church. He was in supposed great health and his death was quite unexpected. So the village mourns. Usu and his family are my next door neighbors and I am privy to the faalavelave that has ensued. His tomb has been partially built and the family’s plantation has been completely cut down and burned to nothing. I still can’t get a clear answer on the second one. So, FAALAVELAVE. Because he was the highest chief of our village there are special proceedings. First, the family has all get here. When everyone does arrive, the high chiefs of neighboring villages will all come to Tufu to pay their respects and provide a gift. That gift will be one palm frond per chief presented symbolically to the family. Since, in Samoa, we respond to giving by giving in return (and upping the anti), each Chief will receive $1000 (WST) from the grieving family(!) There are going to be 15 or so chiefs throwing in a frond(!) And on top of this, the family has to provide all the funeral supplies, grave, food (for a grip of really hungry Samoans), and various other expenses. Luckily the village is helping, we will all give what we can. OH WAIT! They will just have to give it back 10 fold. I somehow received $20 from the last funeral I went to… of a woman that I had never met, who actually lived and died in Hawaii before I even moved to this village. I did have to sing a song I didn’t know in front of an audience in her honor, so I was a bit passive about refusing the money. My contribution to Usu will be a bolt of white fabric for the family and I big plastic flower bouquet for his tomb. Usu was a very nice man. He treated me with the utmost respect. RIP

I had the best kitten in the world for 10 days. I was sitting on my porch with my Samoan brother, Peni, and a tiny white ball-o-cat came shooting over the railing and immediately annihilated the joint. Okay, so within 10 minutes he had destroyed my seedlings, broke my tea mug, and gotten stuck in the thatch. I was in love. For 3 days it was great. He crawled into my bed at night and slept on my neck. He was soft and sweet smelling and loaded with kitteny personality. Then he got sick. Something happened, maybe ate a toxin, and he couldn’t move. He just laid there looking awful while I fed him with a dropper and changed him. I had to leave town for a bit, when I came back he had passed. Poor boo. The Samoan kids had made a grave for him. It says Sieni’s cat and has flowers and rocks around it. I have never seen another animal grave in Samoa.


School Garden:
The school garden continues to grow and has begun bearing fruit. We have tomatoes and the beans are on their way. I go to the school nearly every day to regulate in the garden. Various kids duck out of class and help me water, weed, repair the fence, and fertilize. We talk about what they did in school thus far and where their other shoe is. Translating their creative answers helps me with my language. They practice their English on me: asking the names of my parents and how many kids I have. Um. Public garden enemy #1 is kids. They trample over seedlings, cause for the institution of the 4 kids allowed at a time rule, and the introduction of me as a disciplinarian. I’m so tough now.

Fale Komiti Garden:
We are tilling the soil. It is terribly rocky and I can now understand why the land was so readily donated. The ladies of the Komiti and I work in the rock pit a few hours everyday with pick axes and machetes. Both of which they make me use just so they can laugh at me. I’m also such a good sport now. We are working all around the grave of my cat. God bless the kids for burying my cat, but their placement, um, in the middle of the untilled garden, was a little reckless. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. We are going to plant corn, peanuts, beans, eggplant, okra, green peppers and sunflowers in the garden, oh and I‘m going to discreetly slip in some jalapeƱo peppers. They ladies are beside themselves about the peanut situation. I’m not sure what it is about Samoan ladies and peanuts, but other PCV are experiencing hyper zealous responses to talk of peanut farming. They are easy to grow in mediocre soil with little water or attention. Sweet! Peanuts it is. This garden’s primary purpose is to produce seeds for family gardens, and secondarily to introduce some new veggies to the village.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The mayor, pulenuu, of my village was let go. I’m not sure what the actual reason is/was; and I think it is wise not to rely on the various creative answers given to me by the women of the committee. I guess I’ll refine the information given into a sort of truth. I do know he was asked to step down 2 years shy of his family’s allotted 3 years to hold the position. Then, later that day, he was struck by lightning. He was knocked unconscious and has pretty awful looking burns on his chest, but is apparently okey dokey. He didn’t even go to the hospital. This just isn’t his week. His wife is having a baby soon. They told me, if it’s a girl, it will be named after me and if it’s a boy it will be named after my father, Wally. Hopefully that process goes a little smoother.

Women in Samoa can’t or don’t do a lot of things. They usually don’t hold Matai titles (ie they don’t hold political positions of power in the village council of cheifs). Usually. There is one woman mataii in my village. Her name is Luama. She runs a Noni Juice factory, is working on becoming a certified organic farmer, is partial owner of a flipflop (the staple shoe of Samoa) company, knows how to drive a delivery truck, is a selfmade woman, generally kicks ass and is quite a role model. (contradiction) She smokes, which is another things women don’t do, at least often, in public. The older a woman, the more slack she is given. You just don’t tell an elder what’s what here. Men do smoke in public. Women drinking alcohol in the village is a major taboo. I should add that after talking to other volunteers, the aforementioned may be more applicable in some villages than others. Like mine. Women do not drink alcohol in Tufu. Women, likewise, traditionally, don’t drink Ava. Ava, or Kava, is a tepid tea of dried ground pepper plant root mixed with water. Ava drinking ceremonies are commonly given to visiting parties as a village welcome. A young virgin girl, the taupou, mixes the Ava and all the dudes sit around in specially designated places and say specially designated things and drink Ava. Or, probably more commonly, there is no virgin or party to welcome, just a bunch of old farts having social hour. It‘s this country‘s version of the table of grandpas at Pig and Pancake that sip coffee all morning. The next house over is where they all gather in Tufu. I know Ava is also common at Samoan construction sites. Okay, so it is a mild stimulant and it makes your lips and tongue numb. Drinking Ava all morning affects me less than consuming 16 oz. of coffee (which throws me into a complete spaz). It’s pretty harmless. It tastes like Mate, which in turn tastes very similar to dirt. Oh, not that I would know… (As I write this, the old men are at it again, giggling like 1st grade girls).

---- A few weeks ago I was schlepping around my house when I spotted the whole matai council trekking up my hill. I was their target and I scrambled to find appropriate clothing, which I didn’t really. They crowded onto my porch and talked to me about the proposal I wrote to the UNDP for water tanks. They had some questions, but mainly just wanted to thank me for my effort. (I really hope the proposal is approved). To show their appreciation, I was invited to join them to drink Ava! I told them I heard it was forbidden for women, but they assured me this was a special case and they would love my company. They said I should change my clothes while they mixed the Ava and a boy would come and get me. So they all went to the fale next door and I changed and sat on my porch; waiting and waiting and waiting…. like a dumbass, apparently. The mataiis had pulled a prank on the Peace Corps girl. They drank their Ava without me and shared quite a few jokes on my behalf that morning. Now every time I see one of them, they dramatically asked me why I never showed up and tell me how sad everyone was that I didn’t come. Alright, matais, I see what your playing. It‘s the practical joke game and I am in.

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