Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tofa Soifua (Good-bye)

I have one more day left in Samoa and then it's back to America via Air New Zealand. I'm feeling a little anxious and unsettled at the moment. It kind of like someone is pushing me out of the country and I'm not quite ready to go. Time has just gone too fast this last week, with farewell after farewell. It's emotionally draining. I'm so exicted to see my family as two years is a long time to be away from them but, there is someone here that I will greatly miss. I wish American Visas were easy to come by or that he could shrink and fit in my suitcase, but alas, I'm pretty sure nothing has changed in the last two years to make either one of these things happen.

To all the my family and friends who sent me lots of letters and packages full of crystal light, lotions, deodorent, chocolate, newspaper clippings, sports shoes, eyeglasses, batteries, music, and countless other luxuries....Fa'afetai tele lava (Thank you very much!) You made getting through the challenging times that much easier. Thank you for supporting me.
Thank you so much to my friends Kristen and Todd for helping me manage this website, and for developing and posting my pictures. I can't wait to meet up with you guys when I get home.

My itinerary home is a week long stop in Phoenix, 2 weeks (maybe 3) in Las Vegas, followed maybe by a 1 week stop in San Francisco, and then back to Kalamazoo. As hard as it is to say good-bye to my life here in Samoa and to all the dear friends I've made I really am happy to re-connect with all my friends and family back home, not to mention hot showers, and washing machines. I may try and post a few more pictures when I get home but other than that this is the end of my story of my journey in Samoa. Tofa Soifua.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

O lo`u fa`amavae (My farewell ceremon)

As is customary in Samoa, when someone leaves she is given a "fa`amavae" or farewell ceremony. Today the school gave me my fa`amavae. It was a two part event actually. The first half of the morning was our Parents' Day, where we sold items the children had made or cooked, performed traditional dances and songs, and displayed the children's work from the throughout the school year. It was a busy morning getting everything prepared. The teachers all camped at the school last night in order to get everything in place. They decorated the workshop with traditional Samoan plants and flowers and put everything on display. The morning went smoothly enough and my class sold nearly all our jams and pickles that we had canned. TV Samoa had been invited to come and film our Parents' Day and promote our school but they unfortunately they did not arrive on time for it.

The second portion of the event was my farewell. And just in time, TV Samoa arrived. This of course, was not the plan. Wanting to film something though, so as not to make their trip a total loss, they decided to film my fa`amavae for the national news program. I was asked to sit by myself in a chair in front of all the parents, teachers, and students. A parent began by giving me a speech and then one- by-one the students presented me with a gift while the parents sang a farewell song. I lost it immediately. Tears welled up and without warning the floodgates opened and I was a sobbing mess. I had been give at least 25 candy and flower "ula" (Hawaiian lei), 15 pieces of Samoan style fabrics, 10 Samoan purses, 2 fans, a Samoan picture frame, and 10 or so other wrapped gifts that I haven't opened yet. And all of this for the national news. (yes, news is slow here) Once all the students had finished I was asked to give my own Samoan speech. Well, I took a deep breath and thought to myself "I'm fine, I've practiced this thing all week, just do it". And I did. I spoke slowly as to not get my Samoan confused in my highly emotional state. When I had finished I realized I had only forgotten half a sentence. "Pretty good", I thought. "Glad that's done". Then I was asked to perform the closing traditional Taupo dance (see previous post). Again, I thought to myself "I can do this. No mind that I'm an awkward lanky white girl attempting to perform a traditioanl Samoan dance for all the nation to see." Afterwards, it was time to eat. "Yes", I thought, "The easy part". Oh, but not really. After being given my plate, I was immediately asked to give an interview with TV Samoa. The news girl was very sweet and said that my Samoan speech was beautiful and so could I please do the first part of the interview in Samoan. "Samoan people will like that very much", she said. "Oh, dear", I thought again. "She doesn't know that I rehearsed and memorized that speech for two weeks. It's one thing to speak broken Samoan to my students (who love me no matter what) and to taxi drivers and store clerks, but for all the nation to hear me speak like a four-year old??? I asked her to give me the question before the camera started rolling to prepare an answer. It went smoothly enough, first in Samoan and then in English. I hardly think my leaving Samoa should be on the nation's one and only news program but as my time in Samoa has taught me, it's not really my decision. This is their country. Let the people decide what they want on their TV. Nevertheless, I'm pretty excited to see myself on TV one last time. I have been by far, the most frequently filmed volunteer here because of various events my school has been involved in. Why not, have one more 5 minute spot of fame to close it all out?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Twisted gut

With only two weeks left of my service in Samoa, I'm undergoing what I can only describe as "twisted up gut". In some ways, I am so ready to go and yet, on the other hand I feel like it's not yet time. I have a project under way to build an accessible playground for the school. Last week, I heard from the funding agency that my proposal was approved. We've ordered our building supplies and some ready-made swings and a teeter totter and turned in the invoices to Australian Direct Aid. I just have to wait for them to cut the checks. There's no way that it will get built before I go but I need to be okay with that because I have a very competent new volunteer replacing me as soon as I move out. I'm trusting that she will be able to follow the very detailed plans I'm leaving her and finish the project. I wish I could see the fruits of my labor but I'll just have faith that it gets done without me.
I've bought my ticket to the States and am planning to visit Arizona and then have Christmas in Vegas with my brother, sister, and cousin. I can't wait to see my family. But, there are also people here that I now consider just as close as family and don't want to say good-bye to them.
The hardest part I think is taking another jump into the unknown. I have a routine here in Samoa, a job, a set group of friends, a paddling team, a running route, etc...when I get home I won't have my normal routine. Everything will be unfamiliar just like it was to me when I first arrived in Samoa. Adjustment to Samoa was very difficult but re-adjustment to America might be just as if not, even more difficult. Every day this week I've woken up with a morning bout of the runs. Although, it's possible I've contracted Giardia again, I think it's more likely attributed to anxiety. There is just so much to think about. Even as I write this my stomach is in knots. I'm sure it will pass as soon as I get on my plane to go, but good-byes are tough as are new starts.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"No, it's me, not you"

No, your computer is not having problems with my site. It's me. I'm having a really hard time uploading the video clip of my taupo dance. I thought it would be really easy to do after I made that last post but alas, it has not. Keep visiting the site though. I'll keep trying. Thanks for your patience

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Siva Taupo

About 2 weeks ago Group 75 arrived in Samoa. They are the 75th group of Peace Corps volunteers to come and assist Samoa in its development. As senior volunteers, the rest of us put on a traditional welcome fiafia for them to showcase traditional Samoan entertainment. We had our senior boy volunteers perform a “slap dance”, our senior girl volunteers a “siva teine”, and even a “sasa”. Someone’s boyfriend’s brother agreed to fire dance for us and the evening was closed by the traditional Taupo dance. Now, in a typical fiafia in a Samoan village the “siva Taupo” is performed by the High Chief’s daughter. She wears a fine mat tied around her body and a huge heavy crown called a “tuiga”. The dance is performed solo although, traditionally the village boys will get up behind her and dance ridiculously to make the crowd laugh. If a boy wants to show awe and affection for the Taupo he will lay down in front of her while she is dancing and if she wishes she can return the affection by briefly placing her foot on his back while she continues her dance. A box or plate is placed in front of her where the crowd may get up to place money in or they may choose to stick money onto to her coconut oil covered body. At a certain point in the dance the audience is invited to dance with her but behind her.
Within our Peace Corps community we don’t have a high chief but traditionally, the group of volunteers who are closest to leaving select a girl from their group to be the Taupo. I was given this amazing opportunity for this last fiafia. My boyfriend’s sisters made my fine mat and tuiga and taught me how to dance as a Taupo. His brother taught me how to spin the traditional Taupo knife in the dance. All came to support and watch me perform this ancient tradition two weeks ago. It was an experience I’ll never forget. Magical is all I can say about it. A friend recorded it and I have it posted for you to see. The filming is not high high quality but it will give you an idea of what a siva Taupo is. I did drop the knife once. It was covered in Coconut oil and could barely hold it as it was. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pu'a'a i le pasi (Pig on the bus)

I just want it documented that there was a pig on my bus today. I live just outside the main town area and not in the faraway village area, but today I shared the bus with a pig inside a rice sack. The young man who brought him onto the bus dropped off the rice sack next to the bus driver in the front of the bus and then went to sit in the back of the bus as where, young Samoan boys are to sit. I was amused for the duration of the bus ride to the market watching the pig squirm and try to escape his containment to no avail. I thought to myself, "I absolutely must write about this".

Things I'll miss

As I near the end of my time in here, I find myself becoming more and more reflective. Every moment seems to capture an essence of Samoa that I will forever want to carry with me. Such a moment, happened several days ago that I would like to share with you all.

It was a particularly hot day. The kind of hot day that makes wiping sweat off your brow pointless because it will only reappear with in 5 seconds. I was carrying my duffle bag full of GRE studying materials and two very heavy plastic bags full of groceries along Beach Road. I had walked about a mile from the market on my way to the Peace Corps office under the "big burning ball of hate" (a.k.a. the sun) when a young, short, little boy who, could not have been a day over nine, walked up beside me and asked me in the traditional Samoan greeting, "Where are you going?" I've grown accustomed to this greeting in the last two years but, in the hot sun, my tired body reverted back to thinking that this was an intrusion of my privacy. I thought, why does this little boy care and why does he want to speak to me? Is it just because I'm a palagi (white person). I answered with an abrupt one word answer of my destination. He continued to walk beside me and I quickly realized that I should be nicer to this friendly little boy and then returned the question to him in Samoan. He seemed relieved to know that I spoke Samoan and we struck up a pleasant conversation. He soon offered to carry my heavy bags. I told him he could carry one of my grocery bags but he insisted on carrying both of them, which most likely weighed near close to his own body weight. He carried them the entire distance left to the Peace Corps Office even despite it being a bit off the course of where he was heading. I was not afraid that he was trying to steal my bags for reasons being that one, I knew I could outrun this little guy and two, because he was really only acting out the traditional role of what a Samoan young boy would do to serve his elders or guests. When we reached the office, I offered to buy him a soda or snack but he refused and quickly turned away to head to wherever he was going. He wanted nothing from me except to show traditional Samoan hospitality and service. I highly doubt I will encounter 9 year-old strangers in America who will offer to carry my heavy bags in the hot sun and who would also refuse any payment for service. This kindness and generosity I will no doubt greatly miss upon my return home.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Some thoughts about leaving

It's now 10 weeks before I say goodbye to Samoa and I'm feeling quite anxious, excited, sad, and stressed all at the same time. The last two years have been the most soul-changing of my entire life. I've grown in ways that I'm sure others won't be able to see as they are changes that are internal. I know, however, that I am a completely different person than who I was when I first stepped onto Samoan soil. I'm anticipating a bit of culture shock, as they say, but mostly I'm anticipating some confusion and stress as I won't have my usual routine when I get home. Right now, on the weekdays I wake up around 6:30am to the sound of crowing roosters and then maybe do pilates on my "fala" (mat). School begins at 8:30 and I spend my day speaking Samoan to my students and joking with the school staff. After school I might give a workshop, train staff on using the computer, or have a meeting in town. Around 3:30 I take a not too crowded bus into town and stop at the PC office to check my e-mail before I head to paddling (by far, the best part of my day), where I get to watch the sun set over the ocean. Then my boyfriend, Simati, and I go home in the back of a friend's pick-up truck to make a quiet dinner at home. Everything will be so different when I'm back home. Different from what I remember. Although, I know in my head that different can be good and that this next journey will be just that. Another journey. I really don't have a specific experience to journal at this time. I more or less just wanted a outlet for some of the feelings I'm having right now.