Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas without family

Christmas without Family

My Christmas Tree! 
I have been away from family before on Christmas... However, this Christmas was probably the best Christmas away from family I have ever had! I sent out a text to the other PCV saying, "We are only here for two Christmas Celebrations so try to not be sad and just enjoy the new traditions! (Something like that) and I meant it. Yes we will miss out on Christmas but we get to enjoy Christmas in Samoa! That is rare and something to be excited about.

On Christmas Eve I went to the village's Youth Group Christmas program and it was a fun production  There was a lot of singing and skits (like most celebrations  only this time it was Christmas songs and Christmas skits. Course they had me dance and I did my best which is not saying much. I got home really late but that did not stop me from doing something special to remind me of Christmas at home. I have a tapestry of a tree hanging in my room and I decided to decorate it like a Christmas tree. I cut out and colored ordainment  candy canes, lights, snowflakes and a star and safety pinned them to my tree. I was up until  ! It was a lot of fun!!
The main store on Savai'i
The next day, Christmas Day!, we went to church for an hour to read the Bible (in Samoan) about the birth of Jesus Christ and I had a Christmas lunch with my Pastor. It was a lunch from the resort down the street and actually really good.
My pastor and wife asked me to go to the Salelologa, the main city on Savai'i, with them to go shopping... Last place I really want to be on Christmas Day, I worked in a grocery store and I know over the holidays it is exhausting just to be there but I went and it was busy. Course.

Ti Family
Once I got home I received a phone call from Lynn, her family is visiting from America and wanted to know if I could join them for the day. Her family hasn't visited in 5 years! Time was on my side with that! So I went to Palagi world. We went to the beach up the street and looked at an old mill her father used to work at. After we went to their home and had a Christmas dinner. Steak, potatoes, green beans and of course lobster  They butchered the cow themselves and said how it did not taste the best... Are you kidding me?? I hadn't had real meat in about three months! I swear it was the best steak I had ever eaten!!
One of her son's then played the guitar and we all sang American Christmas songs until midnight. Normally you cuddle up next to the fireplace but I was cuddling with the air conditioning the whole time. (Air conditioner even! Oh my). I felt like I was apart of a family there, even though I did not know them very well and it made it really easy to be away from home. One Christmas down and only one more to go.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Killing Two Meetings with One Day

Killing Two Meetings with One Day

Matai Meeting:

Untitled Men listening to the Matais speaking.
Sophi and me.
Luckily I met Tapu Ti! He is the Head Chief of the village and is an amazing connection to have! He invited me to a Matai meeting the next day so they can all get to know who the Village Peace Corps is. I sat in-between the Head Chief  Tapu Ti and the the second in command chief, he is the Head Chief whenever Ti is in America. Prime spot to be sitting. I had no idea what was being said, luckily Ti kept translating for me. They were having a meeting about the guys in the village drinking over the Holidays and if they misbehave they would be fined. Ti was angry saying to either fine them or not but they have to be consistent. They are always threatening with punishment and only half the time enforcing it. Once they came to a decision on what to tell the guys they brought them into the meeting and sat them down. After they were done talking to them we had food. Always with every event. A woman named Sophi came and talked with me introducing herself. She is an older woman and the only woman Matai. She speaks great English and informed me it is Fa'a Samoa to speak at the first meeting. I asked her if she would translate for me. I thanked them for the opportunity to go to the meeting and told them I felt very welcomed in the village and was ready to get started. The second in command Mata then said he I am known as the daughter of the Matai's and if any boy wants to date me they have to get permission from ALL of them! So now- the joke in the village is the guys trying to convince the Matais to be able to date me. I am okay with that that type of security.
I was very tired from the long long meeting and just wanted to go home. Sophi informed me I had other plans already made for me, my mom was waiting for me at the Women's Committee meeting. Ohhh boy

Women's Committee Meeting:

Just having a meeting is all....
Oh my gosh...
This meeting was a riot! The purpose of the meeting, I think, was mat inspections and end of the year funding. After they figured out the funding they used for the year, apparently there was extra, which meant better go buy something! While some women were out buying whatever with the extra money the rest of the women ate loafs of bread cut in half with jam. (again, always always food). They served everyone a loaf and served me my loaf sliced buttered with jam. I did not think much of it until a woman informed me it is Fa'a Samoa to serve the guest sliced bread so they do not have to cut it up themselves. I swear everything has a reason and about 70% of the time I am unaware of the meaning or unaware it even has a meaning.

Samoan dancing, luckily.
After eating it was time for dancing! They turned the music up and everyone took turns dancing. It was not Samoan dancing either, booty bumping and shaking! These are all women in the 20s to over 60s. The women returned from buying their treat and passed around a drink. They placed an orange liquid in font of me and when I smelt it I think my nose caught on fire. It was so pungent and strong of booze. I think it was pure tequila and a lot of the women were pouring it down like it was water! I respectfully declined and the dancing turned into a full on riot! All within what seemed like 10 minutes these women were fully on dirty dancing and trying to get me to dance, one lady was stumbling over trying to get more drinks. I felt like I walked into a High School party where it was everyone's first time drinking. It was fun but after awhile I was ready to get home and away from the chaos. I do not think this is how all the women's meetings are but if it is... oh man do they know how to party.

Palagi World

Palagi World

Lynn and Tapu Ti are amazing! They live up the street from me and have such a fascinating life! She is from Idaho and he is from my village. She moved here with her family when she was very young and got married to Ti at the age of 16! They are now in their 60s and live in Samoa most of the year and America for 3 months or so. They have a big camping tailor attached to a fale and it looks like the tree-house from Swiss Family Robbinson! It is so beautiful and the view of the ocean from their home is breath taking! They have four-wheelers, a boat, snorkeling gear along with  fridges (with an S!), washing machine and a stove! All of their outlets are American and they are just SET! Whenever I visit she has something baked for me, whether it is muffins or cake it is always good! Lynn loves to make drinks too! GOOD DRINKS! Fresh juice or lemonade  Course she adds an extra ingredient for herself and I have still refrained since I got here but... the option is available if I want.
I call it my Palagi World because Palagi means white person in Samoa. I feel like I am on American turf when I enter their home, not to mention I get to have a REAL conversation with someone when I visit. I am very lucky to have them here to help guide me in the Samoan ways without any major miscommunication, not to mention new friends are ALWAYS fun!



There are two ways to get water here.
My shower/ bathtub/ sink/ washing machine
The pipes: Which is used for to shower with, clean the dished and wash the clothes. Our water is turned on during certain times of the day for us to do our washing. We have a running pipe in our shower but do not use it as a shower. My family has a big barrel under the pipe to be filled up when the water is on. We clean ourselves with the water for the barrel and a pitcher to pour it on ourselves. It is always cold, ALWAYS. Sometimes it's nice because of how hot it is here. In the mornings it is a bit harder to handle but every time it is a good way to wake you up!
Rain tank

Water tank: This is what all families use for drinking water. It is not filtered. Just a huge tank that collects water from the rain. The tank has a cover on it so leaves and dirt doesn't get inside as easily. To collect water from the rain it has a pipe from the roof and the water drains from the gutters into the tank. PC suggests we don't drink from it, if the gutters aren't clean then neither is the water. (Bugs, dirt, bird droppings). PC has given us water filters, always getting taken care of with our basic needs!
Sometimes you get put into a situation where you have to drink the water they give you. Well... you don't HAVE to but it's one of the awkward moments where it would be rude to turn it down. So- rain gutter bird poop bug dirt water has been in my system and thus so far I am still alive! I think I am going to have the strongest stomach when I return home.

Friday, December 21, 2012

WHAT question from America... What do you eat?

WHAT question from America... What do you eat?

Fish, carrots and rice,

Tuna and banana with coconut cream.
I am slowly cooking and eating food on my own.... When I am able to eat on my own I eat carrots, oatmeal, bananas, a lot of fruit, tuna and eggs. When I am NOT eating on my own my food is very very interesting. Samoans love to cook with oil and salt and their favorite substance is carbs. So... carbs on carbs with oil and salt. One time I was opening a can of tuna and tried to throw away the oil from it and my sister stopped me. She said Mum likes to eat breadfruit and oil. YUM! However- there are a lot of amazing natural food here too. I eat a lot of fish that was caught from the sea that day, SO GOOD! I am almost a pro at eating around the tiny tiny bones. The fruit here is unbelievable too! Mango, guava and pineapple to name a few. I drink/eat a lot of coconuts. It is the best thing ever!! Especially cold coconut. Hmmmm cold nu!!

WHAT question from America... What is your family like?

WHAT question from America...
What is your family like?

I love my family! If there wasn't so much adoption, random family visiting for long periods of time or kid freedom it would only be me, my mom and one sister...But, that is not the case. I have one sister (Mele) who I am very fond of! We do everything together and she is really good at speaking English too. She is 19 years old and I feel very lucky to have her with me.
My other sister is adopted. Her mom decided to run away with another man and she did not want to go. So my mom adopted her, not sure how official adoption is here. She is 16 years old and a bit shy.
Kid freedom- I have two brothers... again, kinda. They are the kids that roam free. Both their families live here in the village but they stay here. I am not sure why exactly. I think my mom takes care of them really well and their parents don't. Least, that is the just of what I got. Conversations are never detailed. She told me one of them, Daniel, is skinny when he lives at home and his school fees do not get paid.
Random family- Right now my Uncle from New Zeland is staying with us. I think he will only be here for a month and then go back home. I am not really sure.
My mom and I have an interesting relationship. She speaks enough English for us to have a conversation but not an in-depth one. I know she is funny because whenever we are around other people she is always making them laugh.
I love my family and I am so happy to have them. I was hoping I would be living with a family, more protection, easier to get involved and just nice to have people around that care about you. I feel very lucky to have them!

Mele and I waking up for the 2 am bus.

WHAT Question from America... What does your village look like?

WHAT Question from America...
What does your village look like?

My house
My new village is bigger (a lot bigger) than the training village but still small compared to others. I only have 500 people, including children, and it is probably stretched about 2 miles on the main road. There are other roads that go away from the main road but I have not ventured off too far up them yet. I have only gone up a few times to go to my family's plantation.

My family's compound is next to the main road and it is all lava rock. I am very lucky to be next to the main road, makes it easier to go into the village instead of locking myself up in my room blogging...
I am also lucky because my home gets water from the pipes. When I was walking to the plantation I saw two girls carrying buckets up the hill. I asked my sister what they were doing, she said they do not get water at home, their tank is down the hill closer to the main road.

My village is all lava rock but next to the sea. Some places are sandy close to my fale but there is a very nice beach only about a 10 minute walk from my home. Can you say spoiled?!

WHAT Question from America... What are you doing all day?

WHAT Question from America...
What are you doing all day?

This answer will change in a few weeks but as of now: I roam around a lot! The only things on my list of "to dos" is eat and sleep. So- I have to fill my time with whatever I want. I know it sounds like a mini vacation but Peace Corps has suggested we take this time to integrate into the village, which is exhausting.
I have been to Matai and women Committee  meetings, so much church, singing practice, (each will get their own blog) ceremonies and a lot of uncomfortable meetings/ dinners. I go to the Pastor's house a lot for lunch or to help weave mats.
My "yoga" room
Hanging with my sisters watching movies.

On my downtime I go running, do yoga (of course), read A LOT, write in my journal, blog to you and I love to hang with my sisters. We are going on walks, watching movies and volleyball.

I hangout at some of the shops just to meet more people in the village. My mind is always overwhelmed with what is going on in my life and if I am not too careful I can get really down at missing home or missing my comfortable life back in the states. It can get lonely here, especially because of lack of communication it is rare I have a deep conversation with someone. It can be so easy to just lock yourself in your room and get away from everyone during this transitional stage.  However- I know that is probably the last thing you should do. I am trying to get involved as much as I can and distract myself, it has been working really well so far and I know it will get easier once school starts.

WHAT Questions From America... Part Two

WHAT Questions from America part two

Unpacked my room!
I have moved to my official site! I love Savai'i. It is so beautiful here and the people in my new village are great! I live almost as far away from the Capital Apia as possible. The first night in my new room I did not sleep well. I tossed and turned and my brain was going 1000000 miles an hour. I could not sleep! Probably the worst nights sleep I have had since I got here and when I work up I was determined for it not to happen again.
With one of my many thoughts I had I realized this was not my place yet. I spent the entire day unpacking my room and even rearranged it to my liking. My mom was impressed I was able to move my bed alone and probably thought it was a bit weird.
I slept a bit better that night but still not fully rested. It took me three days of doing nothing but feeling like I was in Zombie mode all the time until I realized I needed to venture out in the village. I told my mom I wanted to get to know some of the neighbors  After that I was invited to a Matai meeting, woman's committee meeting, the Pastor's house, Bingo and actually started to get involved in the village. I am now sleeping SO much better! I am leaving for my training village for New Years this weekend and I am surprisingly a tiny bit sad to leave my village so soon. I already am starting to feel like home here and I know it is going to keep growing and growing every day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

OFFICIAL Peace Corps Volunteer blogging here!!

 Peace Corps Ceremony
Group 84! 

Obviously I was excited for my big ceremonial day, friends, family, food, speeches, dances, the works! These (more than) ten weeks of training has been overwhelming, stressful and emotionally draining but we did it! We did it and it is time for a BIG celebration!! BUT.. Cyclone Evan decided a big celebration was not needed and decided to canceled our plans for us.
Friends and family from our training village were not able to come, we had snacks instead of dinner and it was held at the American Embassy not the American Ambassador's home. It was not a huge event like originally planned. Instead, we had a mini celebration with us (OFFICIAL) Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps staff and a few extra came. Very small.
We still dressed up, swore in and although the actual event was not extravagant  none of us will forget WHY our ceremony tiny. It did not lack excitement though and how many Peace Corps Volunteers can say they swore into the Peace Corps during a cyclone??
After we went back to the hotel for our last night together before most of us were shipped off to our official sites. Some of the PCV still had to stay at the hotel, their sites were not ready yet because of the Cyclone.

After everyone was finished packing we celebrated being official Peace Corps Volunteers together with a Christmas Party! I started Secret Santa a few weeks prior and everyone exchanged gifts that night. I was Zach's secret Santa and my gift was a success! Kate is always being made fun of for her lack of facial expressions so she and I made a calendar of all her "emotions." She had a blank stare on every page. I think everyone loved it. Sadly because the power is still out, I was not able to print it just yet.
Alison and Josh bought "ginger bread houses" (made of paper and stickers  to decorate and Zach bought a cake. We had wine, music, dancing and a bunch of laughs! It was a perfect way to congratulated each other, wish each other luck and to say goodbye. Tomorrow we all start our own adventures!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cyclone Evan updates (more photos)

Apia seems to be picking itself up very quickly! Walked around the town and  saw everyone is still smiling. People are even rebuilding and it has only been a day since it happened... I guess there isn't much else to do other than start over. Here are some photos of the devastation, including the Peace Corps office!
We cleaned the Peace Corps Office today and it felt SOOO good to actually do something other than sit around rotting in the hotel. The hotel's water was being shut on and off and still no power. Bucket showers were even limited!
Poor Brad, worst timing ever to be sick with a stomach virus. I think he counted using the bathroom since we got here over 30 times... Which included hauling dirty water from the pool up three flights of stairs to be able to flush the toilet. Count your blessings my friends!

How I survived Cyclone Evan:
Chocolate and cranker for my phone
Writing by candle light.

During Cyclone Evan:

First floor of the hotel we stayed at.
Karen bringing us food

The Aftermath: 

Peace Corps Office
Always smiling!

Red Cross Photos:
Michelle and Alison
entering date
Brad, Kate and Madi sorting through clothes

Becca, Kate, Ally, Brad and Madi ready to work

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cyclone Evan

Never been in a cyclone before! It is an experience. Sadly our Ceremony is cancelled
for tomorrow, we had to rush this morning to stalk up on food and luckily had water,
Josh and I calling home letting them we are safe.
not sure how long I will have internet but the power is off.The last major Cyclone that hit Samoa was 20 years ago, it was overdue and we just happen to get lucky enough and be apart of it. I am worried about my family from the training village.
They do not have a safe place to go and I can picture all the damage the wind will
do to their village. I hope they are not scared and had a plan for what to do in this situation. If we were there Peace Corps would have made us travel into town days ago to make
sure we would be safe. The timing was lucky for us since we are all in the main city, Apia. We are in a hotel with bricked walls and have plenty of water and among friends. Plus, being Government "property" is nice too. Who would of thought the place I'd be during a Cyclone would be in the hands of Uncle Sam??

LEVEL ONE- I have all the information about it being okay, that I am in a safe place
and I just have to stay inside (which I may or may not have followed that rule) but
this morning when all the chaos was happening my mind was NOT registering the fact
that I will be okay. I could just feel my body tense up and I was getting
overwhelmed with stress. I called and called and called a few people to chat with
back home and eventually I decided I needed to do Yoga. SURPRISED? It was JUST what I
needed! So Allyson and I sat in front of the storm and did Yoga together. It was an awesome moment! The best way to spend my first Cyclone. After... I got the courage to go outside and make videos with Brad and Josh. It was a lot of fun to play in the
rain! I heard it already has 17,000 hits! Look it up! Search- Hurricane Evan in Apia. You can see me in it!!

Best thing to do during a storm! 
LEVEL TWO- My body is still not understanding everything will be okay. It is almost like it knows something bigger is going to happen. My body is tense and I am trying and trying to calm it down. Things around the hotel are starting to flood and I can
feel panic from those around me. I tried to comfort a woman whose home is getting destroyed and she can not contact her family. Weird to think it went from crazy and fun to be in the storm to very serious and upsetting all within five minutes.

LEVEL THREE- The hotel is pretty silent while we all listen to the storm destroy the city. Looking out the window is hard to see but I can not stop myself from watching. The water is rising higher and higher. The first level of our hotel room is full of
water, going down there reminds me of the Titanic when Rose and Jack go into the basement of the ship. I wonder about all the wild dogs and where people have gone for safety. I feel so trapped and helpless. Chaos is happening around me and I can literally not do anything about it.

AFTERMATH- Walked around Apia today. Never seen anything like this. Almost like my brain doesn't believe it is real. I feel like I am watching a movie or in a dream. The city, people's homes, their lives are destroyed. Photos up soon, trying to get as many blogs online while I can while we still have internet.

RED-CROSS- Samoa seems to be bouncing back really quickly. Seeing smiles on people's faces and they are already started to rebuild their city. A lot of us went to help at Red Cross today. We sorted clothes, went out in the fields and collected date, distributed things each evacuation site needed and did data entry. It felt good to go out and actually DO something to help.

Baha'i Temple

Baha'i Temple

There are nine pathways into the temple
Feeling centered

There are only 7 of these in the world, one on each geographic region and the one for Pacific Islands is here in Samoa! It was a beautiful ceremony! We went on Human's Rights Day so people read passages for the ceremony, Brad and I were asked to read one! I chose a passage from The Bhagavad Gita.
Brad and I going over our passages.
"Want not! Ask not! Find full reward of doing right in right! Let right deeds be thy motive, not the fruit which comes from them. And live in action! Labor! Make thine acts thy piety, casting all self aside, contemning gain and merit; equable in good or evil. Whoever settles a matter by violence is not just. The wise calmly considers what is right and what is wrong. Whoever guides others by a procedure that is nonviolent and fair is said to be a guardian of truth, wish and just. A person is not a supporter of justice simply because one talks much. Even if a person has learned little, whoever discerns justice with the body and does not neglect justice is a supporter of justice."
- The Bhagavad Gita- Chapter 2
Buddha- The Dhammapada: 19

A woman sang a chant and the echoing acoustics warmed my heart and almost made me tear up listening to it. I really connected with it and felt at peace the time I was there. I hope to be able to visit this temple more throughout my two years.
Chat for Difficulties
"Is there any remover of difficulties save God. Say praised be God. He is God. All are his servants and all abide by His bidding."
- The Bab From the Baha Holy Writings