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.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Finally! I got the ladies to take me fishing. I’ve been asking to go for 3 months. They were afraid I would slip on the wet rocks and break my neck… which I almost did, but only twice. And they totally biffed it too. We have about a mile of coast in Tufu: white sand with tide pools created by lava flow and a small lagoon (used for washing and bathing). Lady fishing is the harvesting of creatures from the pools at low tide. Man fishing is of the fishy type with a spear, rod and hook, or a paopao (outrigger canoe) past the reef. Man fishing past the reef scares the crap out of me, but I want to go sometime. And good luck to me on that. I send everyone into hysterics when I say I want to go. They sarcastically ask me if I am going to kill a shark: which I plan on doing and don‘t get the joke. So, the ladies (and kids) collect crabs, clams, oysters, lots of other mollusks, sea cucumber guts, whatever they can find. It’s a delicate dance scampering over wet smooth stone (with a foot long machete) to catch a spastic crab and I’ve acquired a new level of respect for my ladies and my dinner. And words won’t do justice to the beauty of the Tufu coast.

Vanity Fair (November 08), Vitoria, Pepe, and Teuila reading Vanity Fair (July 08)

I cherish my alone time. I get so little. This is how my living situation works. Samoan women fall into (at least) 1 of 4 groups. Aualuma, Faletua, Tausi, and Tamaitai o Taulealea. Respectively, women born in the village, wives of chiefs, wives of talking chiefs, and wives of untitled men. The four groups make up the women’s committee. I live in a little traditional Samoan house next to the women’s committee house (right next to, 9 feet). The bottom half of my walls are corrugated metal, the top half is screen. I hear and see everything they do and vice versa. The four groups alternate weeks in which they leoleo me. “Protect, watch over, or police”. And do they ever. There are constantly multiple women sitting in the open air committee house (still 9 feet away) leoleoing. They feed me and keep me company and harass me with inappropriate questions and comments. Often their kids not-yet-in-school accompany them and find entertainment in staring at me through my window. It’s pretty fun to watch me being grumpy that kids are staring at me through my window. The women are pressed for engaging activities as well. A few of them bring their fine mats to work on or their sewing machines. Most of the time they occupy themselves with faitala, gossip. Luckily they want their free time to be engaged more productively and we are in the process of starting a sewing center (with hand crank machines). Myself and a few knowledgeable Tufu residents are going to provide weekly lessons in basic sewing technique when we get the machines. The ladies can work on doing something productive in their free time and once the skill becomes second nature, they can multi task with gossip. I have gracefully fought to live here sans the leoleo and Tufutafoe is just not having it. So for now, I have only the rare hour alone when someone forgets to show up to protect me. And know that when this happens it is a great tragedy/embarrassment for the committee (in the eyes of the committee alone). Samoan culture excludes the virtues of alone time. Unfortunately.

The school garden. Tufutafoe Primary School’s motto is No Pain No Gain. Corporal punishment is illegal here, but a law that is often disregarded. Our school’s teachers luckily employ good judgement, SO, the motto can be looked at humorously. Hahaha. We have a five room school house. There are 8 levels and 3 teachers… we are 1 short due to a maternity leave. When fully staffed, each teacher has 2 grade levels, or around 25 kids. Year 1s are about 5 or 6 years old and Year 8s are 12 or 13. The extra room is used as a library and it is my goal to get a few computers up and running here. The school garden is fenced off and free of vegetation: not a garden yet. We want to turn it into a vegetable garden, starting with eggplant, green peppers, long beans, radishes, and tomatoes. I am planning the garden layout right now and have all the seeds, seedlings, and cuttings. Next week we till, bed, and plant. I am excited about working with the kids on this project. It is going to be educational, aimed at the specific grade level that is helping. The little kids will learn basic (really basic) gardening words in English progressing to the year eighters doing experiments with composting and soil type. There are 8 grade levels, but only 4 classes here. Each teacher has two year groups. By the end of my time here, I want the garden to operate without my supervision. It will be an ongoing project of teaching the kids and staff about seed harvesting, crop rotation, fertilization, irrigation, mulch, etc. Grips of Tufu people are excited about the garden. When word got around, someone donated a chunk land to the Womens Committee so I could work with them as well to start a garden. Helping these two gardens get off the ground is going to be a lot of work…. I am starting to get overwhelmed with projects. The crazy watertanks, a sewing center, new gardens, a school hall design to help another volunteer, a village computer, introducing composting toilets. Oh my.

Update: We planted half the garden. The Year 7 and 8 kids spent a the good part of the day tilling the ground and building beds while I followed them around with seeds and seedlings. We almost lost all our radish seeds when a boy named Mose decided they tasted good. Everything we planted is supposed to do well without much water. I am going to get some more seeds on Friday from another PC volunteer that has managed to cultivate a small vegetable farm in his village. Tufu and I are indebted to him for his book, advice, and example. Thank you, Nick.

Paul, Traditional Samoan Juice, and Nick

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