Friday, July 31, 2009

Teaching, snorkeling, adventures and more!

Because internet access is rare AND my very own computer bit the dust, my opportunities to add to my blog are few and far between. Since I have a moment, some sweet sweet internet access and a friend's la computadora, I will take advantage and try to catch everyone up on the past few days of AmSam happenings.

This weekend, I was able to snorkel for an afternoon with Kate and KC. We walked for 45 minutes to one of the prime snorkeling locations on the island. Airport Beach has incredible coral reefs with marine life that pales only to the great barrier. The water is transparent with a soft, turquoise hue. We were in a quiet cove that resembled a pool more than the Pacific Ocean, though only 100 yards away there were 15-20 ft waves crashing on the other side of the reef. We were protected by a wall of volcanic boulders, which allowed for the calm waters and visibility to the ocean floor- which where we were was only about 20 to 50 feet. Inside these coral beds, there were more species of fish than I am capable of identifying, but the few I did know were some beautiful zebra fish, a giant blue starfish! and the biggest stingrays I've ever seen, with tails measuring over 6 feet long. It was terrifyingly awesome- and no I did not get Steve Irwined. I don't have my own snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins), but Kate let me borrow hers. It was probably the coolest afternoon of my life (though I feel like I could say that everyday here so it might get cliche real quick). 

Yesterday (Wednesday), I had my first teaching practicum, which consisted of me teaching a classroom of elementary school kids a lesson about Action Verbs in 10 minutes. Probably the longest and most terrifying ten minutes of my life. Teaching is impossibly hard. I respected my educators before this experience, but after this year, I will kiss the ground they walk on. You have to be an actor, entertainer, expert, authoritative dictator, friend and parent all at once. My lesson plan was simple- introduce myself, ask anyone if they can define an action verb (no student could) and then explain the definition. I then had the students play action verb charades and hopefully, by the end of the ten minutes they would be action verb experts. It did not quite go according to plan- BUT I think I was able to teach some of them something haha. Not bad for my first try I suppose. I have probably the least amount of experience here- many of the volunteers have education degrees, masters degrees in their field or both. I continue to have faith that they saw something worthy in me b/c apparently there were 1,200 applicants for these 33 positions. We shall see...

Next Thursday, we are supposed to fly out to Ta'u (I say supposed to b/c apparently it is common here to book a flight one day and fly out three days later...we call it Island Time or 'I.T.' for short). Classes then start the following monday. I was told by my principal on the phone yesterday that I should be teaching fifth grade. I think that's a good age, so I'm excited about my placement. I also found out that I will be living in a home-stay with a local mother and her daughter. The mother, Aso, is apparently the person to know on the island, so hopefully we'll get along just fine :). 

My adventure from yesterday is quite blog-worthy. KC and I had the day off after we taught on Wednesday, so we decided to find some trails to hike on the other side of the island. We hopped on a bus (which will take you almost anywhere on the island for a dollar) and ventured towards Pago (pronounced Pongo) harbor. Note: We had no idea where we were going or what we were doing= best way to have an adventure. About halfway there, the bus driver told us that he couldn't go any further, and so we realized we had to now find another bus. After trying to figure out what the bus driver was saying (he really only spoke Samoan w/ some very basic english) and which bus to catch next (he also insisted I take his phone number and call him on Friday night...note to self: Palagi (pronounced palangi..means white) women are quite the catch). Luckily, a really nice local guy, Henry, decided to help us find our next bus. He also then insisted we go on HIS hike, which ended up being a 45 minute 90 degree vertical climb to the steepest point imaginable. Samoans are the nicest, most generous people in the world- but they are also very set in their ways. So they will be glad to help you, but it will be the hike THEY want to take. At least I got a good workout in and saw a breath-taking view of Pago Harbor. Henry also taught us some more Samoan words, some oral history and we learned he was Matai (which is like being a Prince on the island). His family is very well respected, and he will inevitably be a Matai leader one day. The Matai system is tribal and is incorporated into their island gov't. It's part of the historical chief system that's hundreds if not thousands of years old. He also bought us our bus fare back and showed us a great local spot to eat (we had delicious tarot covered in coconut and banana chips). My group of friends might even hang out with Henry tonight if we all go dancing. Henry is enlisted in the army and will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan this February. Almost every single family on the island has someone serving in US military. It's incredible how patriotic this island and how they can sacrifice their lives for a country that won't even allow them to vote in the presidential election. 

Well- sorry for the long post- I try to keep them short, but I've learned so much in just one week- it's hard not to share it all! Fa Soifua <3

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just a few more pics from my week...I couldn't help myself

My new AmSam friends!

Above are pictures of me and some of my new American Samoa Teacher friends/colleagues out to dinner with the Samoa DOE. We had some delicious fish, pork and vegetables at a Samoan Cafe in Tafuna. To my right is KC (who will be living on the outer island with me) and Jessie. In the middle photo from left to right is Brigit, Kate and Julia. The very first photo is a picture of my delicious dinner- mmmm Samoan food. My favorite so far has been poke (pronounced pokie), which is raw tuna marinated in coconut milk- amazing. The food is so good here there is even a Samoan word for food coma: "moi." They don't mess around. 

Ready...set...get jealous. Photos of my week in AmSam (Tutuila)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Week 1 In American Samoa

Sunday night we arrived around 9 pm in Pago Pago (pronounced Pongo Pongo). There, our group of 33ish volunteers met up with our Field Directors, Brandi and Lisa, and journeyed to the local technical high school via big yellow school bus! The rumors we had heard are true: we are indeed sleeping on a classroom floor for two weeks. They were generous enough to provide us with surprisingly comfortable mats, sheets and pillows. I was so tired after 15 hours of flight that a yoga mat would have looked like a Sheraton bed.

Monday: I woke up this morning at 6am AmSam time (don’t be impressed…it was not hard to do considering it would have been around 1pm in New Jersey). Today, Brandi and Lisa eased us into our orientation by keeping our schedule fairly light. We spent the entire morning at “the museum,” which is much like their center for the arts. I believe (don’t quote me on this) that it is DOE funded? It functions to preserve Samoan arts and culture by teaching 5-18 years olds how to wood carve, weave, and dance like their ancestors. It was incredible. INCREDIBLE. The children and adults were all so generous: they made woven headbands and bracelets for everyone, taught us how to dance (or tried anyway) and helped me learn how to say key Samoan phrases. For example:
Hello- Talofa
Thank you- faafetai lava (pronounced Fah Fe Tie lava)
Goodbye- Fa Soifua (Fa Sew ee foo ah)
Please- Faamolemole
And of course the essential my name is: Olou igoa o Courtney (pronounced with long o and u vowels- Oluo ing –o- a o)
After an amazing morning at the museum, we had bag lunches and then took a school bus ride around the island. It was a beautiful, clear sunny day, and the island is absolute paradise: turquoise water, 3,000 feet of verdant, palm-tree-dappled volcanic mountains and cool ocean breezes. I know- by this point you’re all like- Shut up already! Sorrrry

I do have to say that the group is great. Everyone is so friendly, easy-going and supportive. It’s a weird two week period because we all know that we will be split up really soon (especially my group who will head out to the outer island for the remainder of the year). I find myself getting closer to people who are staying on the main island, and I am sad to leave. But I think there will be some really great people on my island, too, and though our setting is more remote, it’s the experience of traditional authentic culture.

Tuesday and Wednesday: We've purchased cell phone plans (email me if you want my new number!) and had two full days of teacher orientation. We've all bonded a bit more, met some locals and are all around enjoying the island lifestyle. I move to my outer island on August 6th (school then starts three days later- yikes!). Until then, I am enjoying the luxuries of the main island, like being able to drink the tap water and eat the vegetables without bleaching them- yay rusticated living! I miss you all, and though my internet access is minimal, I will try and keep everyone updated as much as possible. Until next post- Fa Soifua (goodbye)!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Departure for American Samoa!

This Saturday, I leave for LA at 8 a.m. out of Newark. Saturday evening, I'll be meeting up with the teachers in my program at a hotel, and then Sunday morning we all depart for Pago Pago via Honolulu. I'll be in Pago Pago (the capital of AmSam) for two weeks participating in teacher training and orientation to the Islands. The rest is a mystery! Right now, I'm finishing up packing: two large suitcases, one backpack and one laptop bag. Not bad considering I probably used to take this much for a week of spring training in florida during high school (sadly not an exaggeration). I'm feeling very excited, slightly nervous- right now I'm excited to see what the island's vibe is, but pretty soon I'm sure my nerves will shift to my role as a teacher. Though I've had some teaching experience in my life, it's been minimal, and I've certainly never taught ESL or elementary school. The nice thing about the program I'm going with is that they train us very well, and I'll have great social support from my group. Though having very little idea what to expect personally or professionally from this experience will really make this quite an adventure! Thanks to everyone for their support throughout this transition- it's going to be an awesome year <3. Talofa lavalava!