Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Faleasao gets a new Faifeao (minister) and the town goes food crazy!

To the top left, KC is enjoying herself a delicious feast. To the top right, this pic is of my soon to be lunch. Yes, that is a coconut, which is my drink of choice here! The soupy looking option at the top left of my plate is oka (which is raw fish in coconut milk with cucumbers and scallions). UNBELIEVABLY delcious. That pink concoction is still a mystery to me...maybe canned fruit in...peptobismal. I couldn't tell you. Then in the bottom compartment is a round, giant piece of taro, a fish head (I have even eaten the eyes upon request...apparently they are a delicacy), pork (see pig pictured below), potato salad with seafood (maybe fish?) of some kind in it, sausage, and the always favorite here- corned beef. The fresh coconut was my favorite, and I really like the taro, too (starchy like a potato, but kind of sweet?). The picture to the bottom left is of coconut crabs- these were served to important people like the minister and Matai chiefs....not to little, palagi, volunteer teachers like me :(. And then, to the bottom right, copious amounts of fish heads for everyone. This is a pretty traditional spread here. I've been here long enough that I'm not sure what seems "exotic" to mainlanders...but all in all, it was a pretty delicious meal. I ate like a quarter of it...maybe.

The weekend also included three church services and a traditional 'ava ceremony, which I unfortunately didn't get to see. The chiefs and minister performed this ceremony, where you drink 'ava (or they call it kava in some parts of polynesia), a mild narcotic, out of a bowl that looks like this http://images.google.as/imgres?imgurl=http://islandedgedesigns.cubacub.com/kavabowl.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.islandedgedesigns.com/new-stuff&usg=__7xKRCdBMK3IcjeawxwSHCXPpuAI=&h=384&w=576&sz=29&hl=en&start=34&um=1&tbnid=AJc445a2OCOX4M:&tbnh=89&tbnw=134&prev=/images%3Fq%3DSamoan%2B%2527ava%2Bceremonies%26ndsp%3D21%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DN%26start%3D21%26um%3D1 in celebration of big events (re: new minister). I've had 'ava before for fun with the volunteers...it tastes like dirty dirty mud water....ewww, and it made my face go numb...it's like drinking novacane. I wasn't really a fan, but it's an awesome tradition.

More pics of the Faifeao's first weekend in Faleasao!

The picture on the bottom right is of the banana-leaf baskets full of delicious breadfruit and taro (traditional Samoan veggies/fruit) that have been baked in an umu (a traditional underground oven). The bottom left photo is of Kaitie helping the women of the town inside Faleasao Elementary's cafeteria prepare all of the food for the men in town (the food first goes to the Faifeao, the Matai Chiefs and titled men, then to the untitled men and women and then children eat last). The photo on the top right is of some women in town making trays of food for each man- that's right- one tray for one person...Samoans know how to eat. And the picture on the top right is of a woman fanning the flies away from the "plates" of food. It's kind of like my Methodist church's annual chicken barbecue......on steroids.

More pics of the Faifeao's first weekend in Faleasao!

To the left is the minister's (Faifeao- pronounced f-eye-fay-ow) house. To the top right is one of the Matai Chiefs special pigs for feasting and a picture of some young, untitled men in town carrying traditional banana leaf baskets of food for the festivities!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My adorable 5th grade class...

Oh Heeeeey! My class just wanted to say: "Ua mai oe!" (what's UP!?)
Aren't they cute in their purple Faleasao uniforms! This is my classroom (my messy teacher's desk to the bottom right in the second picture, bulletin boards, chalkboard, reading center in the first picture all the way to the left, and traditional grass mats beneath the kids feet in the first pic). Awesome.
Here's the lineup from front to back in the first pic:
Sabrina and Tavini
Brandon and Tracy
(and then left to right all the way in the back) Hellen, Lopi, Aao, Patricia (or Loa, my host sister), Jack, Alphina and Terisa! We're missing Tiu, Claire Anita and Achilles.

I'm really lucky! They are a great class (though thoroughly exhausting), and there aren't that many of them. And look how studious they look in that second picture (don't be fooled). I'll try to keep updating more pictures later!

Manuia le aso!

"Have you ever seen a possessed guy before...?

The beginning of December has been...interesting. It's summer here in the southern hemisphere, and it's the rainy season in American Samoa. Downpours drop from the sky out of nowhere....it will be beautiful, sunny and humid as all get-out, and then BAM....like Blitzkrieg, raindrops the size of gumballs are pounding on your classroom roof making it impossible to talk to the student 5 inches in front of you. At least I don't have to worry about a drought anymore...drinking water abounds in my metal rain barrel! I've also found that it's exhilarating to run in this kind of weather (and a lot cooler, too). So, after work, KC and I will run along THE only road that exists on the entire island. Earlier this week on a rainy afternoon, we made our way over the hill to the next village, Ta'u and we came upon a crazy situation....

At the bottom of the mountain is the sole medical clinic on the island. It's staffed by one doctor, Malo, and his family (who I LOVE). Anyway, as I'm rounding the corner, I look up, and see about 9 boys carrying a teenager's lifeless body into the clinic. It was shocking to witness....there are no ambulances here (or even right now there are hardly vehicles of any kind since we are always almost out of gasoline). The boys had been playing volleyball at one end of town when Ili (the teenager) collapsed. The clinic, which is about half the size of an olympic swimming pool, was bombarded by the whole town. Families followed after the human ambulance that carried the boy through the double doors to the clinic. KC and I stood there in horror. We interrogated the crowd: "What's going on!? What happened? Is he conscious!?"
The people who responded had a hard time understanding us, and with what little English fluency they had, pointed to their chests and said..."His heart, his heart."

It seemed like the entire village was there, pushing past each other trying to enter the clinic. Even in my moment of panic, I was touched by the community's support for one of their own. A medical emergency here can often be fatal...with one doctor, no medicine and hardly any equipment, without airplane evacuation, something treatable elsewhere can easily become life-threatening here.
KC and I decided to stay outside of the clinic (which also serves as the doctor's house) to stay out of the way. After about a half an hour, Malo's wife, Caroline, emerged. She said she didn't know what was going on, but he was conscious because she could hear him screaming. Malo was working on him. We waited with her in the rain, making small talk and trying to ignore the eerie screams coming from inside the clinic. After almost 45 minutes, Malo emerged shaking his head:

"Have you ever seen a possessed guy before?"
KC and I just stood there. "uhhh....what?"
Malo continued, "Do either of you know how to do an exorcism...the faefeao (minister) is off island..."
I could tell Malo was being sardonic, but KC and I were still shocked! Possessed!? We could still hear his screams coming from inside the clinic. I explained how someone told us it was his heart. Malo shook his head and said that it seemed that an "evil spirit" had inhabited his body and was trying to escape..and the villagers were trying to exorcise it with Fofo (special Samoan massage) and banana leaves.

My kids assured me the next day that Ili had been saved and all was well in Ta'u again. I had my class write about if they believed in ghosts. I knew that there was talk of this island being haunted by Aiiku (I-ee-ku), ghosts, but, after reading my kids responses and witnessing this crazy "possession," I'm sure going to be careful walking around town after dark. I mean...I'm prone to rare occurences like tsunamis and earthquakes...I really don't want to get possessed while I'm here!

Since I haven't posted in over a month and a half.....

Here's a quick synopsis:

October was "rough." Three large earthquakes, one giant tsunami and a small drought that made it fairly difficult to find drinking water for a while. Everyday was a challenge in some new way...emotionally...physically...spiritually. October was kind of the bane of my existence.

November proved to be a little better....no natural disasters (always a plus). However, it still seemed fairly exhausting to me, personally, because I began applying to graduate school in Women's Studies and English, meanwhile attempting to teach/plan/manage a class of children who do not enjoy school. (But I guess I understand... who wants to learn when it's 85 and tropical outside your door all year round? Professor Kaminsky always said Chicago had ideal learning conditions because the weather made you never want to leave your room....and I think he was on to something. Though, when the temperature is constantly pushing 90, air conditioning would probably prove the same incentive....if there was air conditioning :/ ). Anyway, I digress... So, November was spent writing my personal statements, working on a 16 page writing sample and researching schools and deadlines. What makes this process awesome on a remote island is the infrequency there is available internet. So, even though there were several weeks without any connection to the world wide web at all, I somehow managed to get my applications together.

That's my excuse for the lack of blogging...sufficient I think?

emotional stress+no intrawebz+grad apps allow no free time= no blogging :(

But now, as I have my four-to-five schools lined up, I'm ready to get my blog on again. If there's ever anything in particular you loyal readers want to read about (food, weather, people, events etc.) feel free to comment and let me know! Living here makes it hard to differentiate what's exciting to read about in the developed world. So holla at me!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

White Sunday!

On October 11th, Faleasao celebrated White Sunday (or Aso Sa Pa'ePa'e). This occasion happens once a year to honor the children of thevillage before God. This is when the church performs baptisms, andmost notably, the kids memorize long Bible recitations and SamoanHymns and perform for the entire community in their fanciest whitePuletasi (for girls) or ie (for boys). The Church Service lasts almostthree hours (starting at 9am). I've uploaded pictures from the event,including some of the delicious meal (To'onai) that Aso cooked for thefamily afterwards. I took a sweet little close-up shot of my favoritedish ever from Samoa- fe'e (pronounced fay-ay) or OCTOPUS! It'sdelicious and cooked in a really sweet coconut sauce...mmm mmm.KC, Kaitie and I actually performed with our family for White Sunday.We each memorized verses from Isaiah (Chapter 53, verses1-5) and thehymn Ou te pese ia Keriso (which means "Sing to Christ"). My versewas:"O le aoaiga e filemu ai tatou sa i ona luga lea: o ona faalavalavafoi ua malolo ai tatou"It's essentially about how Christ died for our salvation. I have avideo of my family's performance that I will try to upload when theinternet is fast enough. Until then, I hope you enjoy these pictures-feel free to ask any questions or comment-Manuia le aso!

Monday, October 12, 2009

more palolo pics (sorry for the duplicates- internet is too slow to correct!)


WORMS! Or so we thought...

On Saturday night, KC and I ventured out to the beach (which took about 15 steps), and we waited on grass mats with the locals for the palolo to arrive. Palolo happens once a year, when small brown and green worms emerge in the middle of the night from the coral. The Faleasao residents come with flashlights and fishing nets to catch this rare culinary delicacy. KC and I joined the entire village in the coastal water around 1 am (when the palolo emerge!) to see what all the hub-bub was about. We did enjoy a few raw, tasty morsels (quite salty and tangy...not my favorite). Some great picture taking also ensued (see below). Mostly, it was just a great cultural experience to enjoy the annual festivity with the entire town and try a food I would have never experienced outside of Oceania. Eventually, we hope to have some fried with eggs (how they tend to be cooked here). Oh...KC and I also found out that they are not exactly worms...though they look like it. THEY'RE SPERM! Coral sperm...oh the foods people find delicious...and this once a year event is apparently their one night of procreation? Now I'm not a scientist, this is just the local word- but I think I'm going to still think of them as just worms...somehow it's more appetizing to me. ENJOY!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pictures of the local newspaper's coverage on the earthquake and tsunami

The pictures below are of the local Samoan newspaper's coverage of the tsunami. I've also added a photo of my blackboard- I was teaching my class about natural disasters the afternoon before the earthquake and tsunami...eerie.

My earthquake and tsunami experience on Ta'u

Over the past three days, I've been trying to process the events from Tuesday. It's been nearly impossible to come to terms with the earthquake and tsunami's effects, and I am still trying to navigate how to deal with the events. I think telling the story about how my village was effected is the best I can do. My experiences were scary, but at the end of the day, I am so so lucky that our village was essentially untouched by the two natural disasters. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga, Indonesia and everywhere else in the world that has been suffering from the effects of natural disasters.

Tuesday started off like any other Tuesday. I was up at 6:30 to get ready to be to school by 7 am. It's nice that my elementary school classroom is about a ten foot walk from my fale, so there's never any need to hurry. KC stopped by around ten of 7 so we could walk over together. As we were about to leave my fale, the floor of my house began to tremor. KC looked at me, and she asked what was happening. I said, I think this is an earthquake. I remembered the one from about a month ago that occured late in the night around 4am. I was half asleep, when I awoke to my bed swaying back and forth- it felt like I was on a small sloop in the middle of the ocean. This time, though, everything shook: the walls, my bed, the shelves, the table. The earth started to moan and shift, and it sounded like walls of my house were groaning from the pressure and movement. KC and I were unsure what to do at first- the last earthquake had only lasted about 30 seconds, but 30 seconds into this one we knew we needed to get outside. We walked out of the fale to the property next to Aso's house and stood there. The earth continued to shift and sway to the point where I almost couldn't stand up. People started pouring out of their houses. Aso came out of her house and looked at me with a fearful gaze. "It's not stopping," I said to her depserately, my tone half telling her, half asking her to do something about it. I started to panic as the movement of the earth grew more exaggerated. I just kept saying "oh my god oh my god" over and over again. KC and I stared at each other as the earth moaned and swayed around us. Finally, after the longest three minutes of my life, the 8.3 earthquake slid to a stop.
I looked at KC, my heart still pounding, and I said, "there's going to be a tsunami." We both ran to our cell phones and called our parents leaving messages as calmly as possible that there had just been a massive earthquake and please let us know if there were any tsunami warnings. I went back inside to get my backpack with my belongings in it, and KC went on ahead to school. Once I met her in the schoolyard, she waved me over to where her and another teacher were conferencing. She told me that she got through to her dad, and they had put out a tsunami warning for our country. "We're evacuating," she said. It was so surreal...I couldn't believe it was happening. Our warning had come from the US- from KC's dad! where was the Samoan gov't on this? I started to get nervous as the principal gathered all of the children and teachers to begin praying. I began to fidget with nervous energy- I kept thinking we need to get to high ground. Our school is about 35 feet from the open water of the Pacific- who knew how much time we had. I asked a teacher what we were waiting for after the prayer, and she said the bus was on it's way. Unfortunately, our island has been without gasoline for two months, so our vehicle supply was dwindling, which is obviously unnerving in an evacuation situation. Suddenly, Sano, the ex-military 7th grade teacher, came running around the main office building screaming in Samoan. The teachers and the children started yelling and everyone began running for the hill. I looked at KC..we had no idea what anyone was saying. We started running alongside the children, trying to stay calm and keep order as much as possible. I kept yelling frantically at Samoan teachers to explain to us what was happening. Everyone was so scared that no one heard my question in the chaos. Finally, the first grade teacher heard and responded: "The big wave is coming, the big wave is coming- go go!"

I was sure at that exact moment that I was going to die. I have never been so terrified in my entire life. We just kept running for the hill. Finally, we made it to the top of the first hill and trucks began to speed towards us from the other side of town. KC and I began to throw the school kids into the backs of pickup trucks. Finally, we found one full truck with one space in the passengers seat open, so we pleaded for the driver to stop and let us in. Once we were in together, we told him to go as fast as he could down the hill, into the next town, so we could make it to the base of the mountain. We had to get to the top of the mountain to get up away from sea level. Just as we were coming down the hill, KC looked out the window to the coastline below. The ocean had receded out far past where low tide can reach. The water was a murky brown, pulling back out towards the deep, blue water. We didn't know where the water was going, but we were sure it would have to come back soon. We yelled at the driver to go faster- yelling to the children to hold on as the truck bumbled over the dirt road through Ta'u. The driver cussed that he didn't know this was going to happen. No one told him- and now we were running out of gas. KC and I began to pray, and I was almost to tears as we reached the base of the mountain. The truck began to stall as we slowly slowly crawled up the 75 degree incline. Finally, the truck died, and we jumped out of the car, pulling the children out of the back of the truck and running them up the hill. I was on the phone with my mom at this point, and I was lucky to let her know I had made it to high ground. The trucks kept flying up the hill from town, bringing loads and loads of people. One large yellow school bus unloaded half of the village along with pillows and blankets. We made our way to the top of the mountain to the high school, where we were able to gather most of our classes and wait under a metal pavilion for more news. We were there for hours, taking phone calls from friends and family. Letting them know we were okay. Though we were without electricity or water for hours, we knew we were lucky to be alive. Our village was one of the only villages untouched by the tsunami. We had a surge of water that destroyed some boats in our harbor and the earthquake took out some trees and caused some rock slides, but our houses and roads were safe from the dangerous forces that could have easily wiped our little coastal village off the map. Even the islands of Ofu and Olosega just a quarter of a mile away had destruction and one missing person. The main island, where the rest of the volunteers were located, was obviously the most effected. Though all of us volunteers are alive and safe, we're all trying to help our villages and islands cope with the losses they've had. Students in my class lost family members in Pago Pago. Friends on Tutuila lost students and teachers. The emotional trauma on my island definitely left me shaken up after the earthquake and tsunami, but I am very lucky, and my heart goes out to everyone in American Samoa- because everyone is family here.


The pictures below are hard to look at, but they are the remains of the village, Leone, I was living in before I moved out here to Ta'u. They were taken by one of the volunteers in our program. My friends (and fellow vols) that are still living in Leone (a town on the western side of Tutuila in American Samoa) are luckily all alive and doing okay. We've been in touch over the past couple of days, and we're all just trying to process the death and destruction that has literally swept over our new home. Leone's death toll was only 6 or 7, compared to the dozens that were killed in Pago, but obviously any traumatic tragedy like this one is hard to process no matter where you were in American Samoa on Tuesday.