Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fun facts about my experiences here so far:

I’ve eaten: squid, crabs, snail-like creatures, green bananas, breadfruit, papaya, coconut fresh from the tree, lots of delicious fish and this October, I will be eating some worms- get ready for THAT blog update!
I’ve seen: hermit crabs everywhere!, a huge whale in our harbor spraying the air with water from it’s blowhole, lots of flying foxes with three-foot-long wingspans, incredible sunsets, my bedroom shake from a 6.0 earthquake at 4am, the inside of a serious storm seen from an eighteen passenger plane, a church service where the entire island attended (yes, we all fit into one church), a three foot machete cutting through jungle brush, traditional Matai dances, clear starry nights (without light pollution!), caves and lots of sharp coral and volcanic rock.
I’ve visited: all three coves north of my village, all three villages on my island, Tutuila (there, I went to Bruno’s Magical Samoan Circus, a Leone High School football game [kids from there play in the NFL!], & roadside papaya stands) and this upcoming month I hope to visit the National Park where there are ancient star mounds, a giant crater and a bat cave!!!

Fai fai le mu! (*take it easy!)


I feel settled in for the first time since arriving here. I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but I wake up mornings feeling at home in my bed, familiar with my routine and comforted by the ocean outside of my window. I am not homesick, though I do sometimes struggle with bouts of exhaustion that make me miss specific comforts of home: like being able to call family and friends more conveniently and frequently, having internet access (which provides me with world news, valued blog updates and email), and a hot shower would be nice once in a while. Otherwise, I love the kickbacked island lifestyle. This laidback way of living can create problems with administrative inefficiencies (like sometimes randomly letting school out 20 minutes late or early depending on someone’s mood). It can make it hard to plan and keep the kids in order when the world around you seems chaotic. But, once I walk out of the classroom door and make my way through the warm air of the grassy courtyard and take in the deep blue of the ocean and sky surrounding me, I let go of the type A Northeast mentality of my home’s culture and embrace the fa’a samoa life I am now a part of.
I’ve been working extremely hard in the classroom (ok, I can’t let go of my type A work ethic completely!). KC (a fellow WT friend who teaches 8th grade at our elementary school) and I often pull 10-12 hour days (for no paycheck- we’re crazy!). Our weekends are spent planning and grading, and even six weeks into school, my bulletin boards still seem too empty. I’m trying to accept that teaching is a never-ending job with its own learning curve- otherwise, I’d go crazy trying to feel “done” with my work. It’s just impossible. Since I’ve accepted it, I am now loving the constant work of teaching more than ever. My students are fairly well behaved, and I’m confident with my classroom management abilities (thank you Behavioral Psychology!). Everyday, I figure out new and creative ideas for lesson plans. Not having internet access is tiring because I’m sure there are these great lesson planning ideas out there for what I’m teaching, but I have little to no access- so I often feel like I’m reinventing the wheel…my kingdom for daily internet access! Otherwise, I’m fairly surprised and (dare I say) impressed with how naturally I’ve become a teacher. I really love it! Maybe it’s not too surprising considering how I’ve always been passionate about my own education.
Education for these kids is so important (well…education for everyone is, but specifically…) because as US Nationals, it opens up a world of possibilities for them on the mainland US that they wouldn’t otherwise find here on this island. It gives them another opportunity to leave so they don’t have to rely on the military to “get off the rock” as they often dream about to me and KC. English fluency can provide a pathway to academic and occupational possibilities that would not only enrich their lives, but also bring economic and cultural advancements back to Samoa. I try to be careful saying and thinking about this because these are fairly US ideals I’m talking about here and my agenda is always a biased one, not matter how objective I try to be. This country is beautiful and rich with its own cultural interests. People here doe not necessarily need to buy into a capitalist, “climb the ladder” mentality. But, fluency and literacy creates opportunity- and what they choose to do with that opportunity is any free (free as an US territory’s population can be) person’s choice. It’s a lot to think about. I just hope I can be successful bringing knowledge to these kids and inspiring a love of life-long learning.
I am also gaining so much from Samoan perspectives and traditions. Samoan culture is so beautiful and strong- I hope I can dutifully bring what I will know by the end of the year back to the states so people from the mainland can see how lucky the US is to be connected to such an amazing place. This experience IS a cultural exchange after all.

Here are some additional pictures from the past few weeks...

From bottom to top: KC and Kaitie's fale; the inside of KC and Kaitie's fale- their kitchen (where the breadfruit recipes happen); the church of Ta'u (the town next to us); the only hospital on the island where there is one doctor and one nurse; and finally a picture of my town, Faleasao, at low-tide- so pretty! Enjoy!

Saonoa's Plantation

KC, Julia and I met Saonoa (his name is pronounced S-ow-noah) the weekend Julia caught a flight back to the main island after her visit in Faleasao. Julia struck up a conversation with him at the Fitiuta airport on Ta'u. He has a beautiful plantation just a mile past the high school (about four miles from my village), which he invited us to come visit (these pictures are from us taking him up on his offer- he has such beautiful land!).

He worked building houses in California for a long time, but just last year, came back to live on Ta'u, his birthplace, and set up a plantation. He's an artist who likes to combine the practical uses of horitculture with the art of landscaping and craft-making. He showed us his hand-made trellises, his lovely hawaiian apples (w/ the consistency of pears and the tartness of an apple), and his stock of green bananas! He's a generous man who loves to sit around waxing philosophic with us. He showed Kaitie and Dan (below) and KC and I around his plantation last Saturday. He's been a great person to get to know here because he understands the complex relationship between Samoa and the United States and what it's like to bridge that gap and live in that borderland. I look forward to more visits and maybe even some gardening!

and we made a delicious brinner (breakfast for dinner!) at Julia and Jessie's house before our Monday depature...

oh sweet sweet sustenance...

KC and I visit the big island (Tutuila!)

KC and I had to take a trip to the main island a few weekends ago for inservice. Boy were we sad, grocery stores, our friends, football games, going out to dinner, internet access and air-conditioned fales. It's a tough life there, but we thought we could manage. We were there from Friday until Monday. Below are pictures from our weekend. To the top right is a picture of the Leone High School football game. Thanh, Kate and Julia all teach at Leone High School- so we were happy to show some Leone Lions Pride. Below are pictures of Kate and KC enjoying some refreshing beverages at a nice chinese food establishment we found. Julia and Thanh (the picture to the top left) are also extremely excited by their fruity beverages (understand that their excited faces are Zoolander Blue Steal model faces..i mean..i can't help that my friends and I are ridiculously goodlooking...). Next, we have two pictures of Kate, KC, Jessie, Julia and I at Bruno's Magic Samoan was pretty magical...

Julia (from Leone on the big island of Tutuila!) visits the island of Ta'u!

Julia came to visit our beautiful town of Faleasao on Ta'u! The following pictures are of our (me, KC and Julia) epic hike to the third cove (To'a) north of our town. On our way home, we found a coconut crab (which I was apparently incapable of taking a picture was speedy!)

From bottom to top: KC and I dodge sharp coral as we hike along the coast with our matching nalgenes; Julia (rock-climber extraordinaire) attempts to scale a large wall of rocks that leads to a cave; KC and I inch down a fairly steep precipice towards a glorious coastline (our cove destination!), Julia captures a candid photo of KC and I taking in the beautiful view after reaching To'a cove; and finally the elusive cocunut crab in it's natural habitat...they are delicious if you can catch them!

These are some pretty fantastic pictures of my family ("aiga") at our town dance (siva).

To the top left, KC is dancing with a young, untitled gentlemen who is line to become Matai! Below is my sister, Loa (right), with one of her friends, Sabrina. They are both my fifth grade students! The middle picture is of my older sister, Lasi (pronounced Law-see), and a random, adorable toddler from our town. The picture with me and KC at the Siva, below, also shows my host mom, Aso (to my left), Jedi (Lasi's 3.5 year old son) and to the right another random child from our town sitting next to KC. The picture at the bottom is of me, KC and our favorite favorite 2 year old neighbor, MJ, who we're pretty sure is the Buddha reincarnated. He is the most joyful, well-behaved child in the whole world. Everyday, he runs up to me and demands hugs and kisses. Even on the most stressful day here, (and surprisingly on this tropical island there are a lot of them), he makes everything better!

Pictures of my fale (my bedroom and bathroom). This is my own space, and then I share a ktichen and living room with my host family.

I found some long-lost internet acess on my island!

After a three-mile walk up a volcano, I have finally found internet access at the one high school on our island. My dial-up is too slow at the elementary school to update my blog there, but at the high school, some miraculous kind of internet is allowing me to update- so here are some quick, chaotic posts about the last...errr...four weeks of my crazy and adventurous life in AmSam. Mostly, I have a bunch of pictures you might enjoy.

The first few are of the inside of my bedroom and bathroom (connected to Aso's fale). I also have a picture of KC and Kaitie's house and their kitchen (where on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights, we make our own meals! We're working on a cookbook for 101 Ways to Cook Breadfruit... (I'm pretty sure we're at about 32). Remember- food on this island consists of breadfruit, canned items, hotdogs hotdogs hotdogs, corned beef, spam and then endless amounts of white rice. Needless to say, do not move here if you have dietary restrictions because when you're on an isolated island, shipping anything fresh is nearly impossible. Luckily, every once in a while KC and I get to eat a fresh coconut or papaya, so it's not all processed food all the time. But boy do I miss a good grocery store.