Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don't Believe in Ferries

There was a collective hangover this morning, only partially a result of celebrating Jim and Faye’s wedding the night before. Most of us head back to The States Sunday morning, and with the wedding over, conversation has turned to buying souvenirs, summing up the trip, and figuring out what needs to be done between now and 4:00 a.m. Sunday when we leave for the airport. That’s a sobering transition of mindset, and it cast a dour mood across the group this morning.

Things grew worse as the morning went on. The taxi ride was bumpy, the 10 a.m. ferry was canceled, and shopping in Salelologa seemed like more trouble than it may have been worth. And then we returned to the wharf.

They were loading the little boat.

While I lived in Samoa, I wrote about the little boat (here). The little boat is an outdated and terrible method of transport, and I imagine it’s only out of frugality and monopoly that the Samoan Shipping Corporation still sees it as a viable option. And that same monopoly is why we had no choice but to get on board.

Morale was already so low that the impending feelings of powerlessness and anger melted away quickly, and all that was left was comic inevitability. We returned to Samoa to remember old times, and we were about to sail into the gritty.

Chris and some others didn’t share my amusement. They hunkered down early and tried to sleep in an effort to anesthetize themselves from the loathsome voyage, but Blakey and I cheerfully accepted the challenge. Fools.

Our entire group started with a rookie mistake: we nestled in along the side of the hull in between some parked cars. So tiny is the little boat that seawater frequently laps up over the sides of the boat, and before long we were all drenched and miserable.

We moved the entire collection of bags several times during the course of the trip, at first to get them away from the splashing of the sea, and then again later when the rain started.

The rain was short-lived and maxed out at a sprinkle; it was nature’s only mercy.

The seas have been unseasonably choppy during our entire trip here. During our stays in Lalomanu and Manase, the ocean has been dappled with whitecaps. AJ was strongly admonished by the Tanua staff for taking a kayak beyond the reef in these conditions. And on the ferry, the listing was relentless.

I pride myself on strong stomach and my ability to withstand seasickness, but going over the ups and downs yesterday was quite the crucible.

Paul, Blakey, and I stood in a circle talking for most of the journey. Paul told a story about the worst ferry ride he experienced while living here. We had to cut him off as our own nausea seeped in.

Blakey pointed out that with many of the other patrons sitting in the tower looking down on us, it might be the biggest audience she’d ever had to watch her throw up. She wondered aloud about the classiest way to conclude that performance. “If it happens, should I take a bow after?”

I quietly mapped out my own evacuation plan. If the need ever arose, I was fully aware of my shortest path to puke over the side. At one point, Chris crawled to the center of our circle, effectively blocking my access to the boat’s edge. I got up and moved.

Eventually we passed Upolu’s outer reef, and the choppiness of the ocean lessened. No one threw up, much to everyone’s relief. Eventually we stepped on to dry land, soggy and sun-drenched, exhausted and still trying to make amends with the lingering nausea.

Even the Savai’i veterans agreed today’s boat ride would rank in their top 5 worst boat rides of all time. Indeed, we sailed from Salelologa, and we arrived in Mulifanua, but most certainly voyaged through hell.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Our camp set up at the beginning of the trip.

View of the ship's tower from my original position squeezed next to the tire of this truck.

Once the drenching began, Dan moved to this spot, nestled between two cars.

Supy and Chris moved to the boat's bow to try and lessen the splashing and listing.

The scene when we finally arrived.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Jim and Faye's Wedding

This is a 2-wedding trip; two weddings over two weeks on two islands. Paul's was last week on the south side of Upolu, and Jim's was today on the north side of Savai'i. Paul married an Aussie, Jim married a Samoan. It's globalization at its finest. I could blather on about the similarities and differences and such, but I'd rather just show you the pictures. So without further ado, here pictures from the trip's second wedding. Enjoy.

Flower girl Hazel and ring bearer Helen.

The entire wedding party.

Artistic silhouette of bride, groom, and officiant. Notice the banana bunch hanging at right.

Signing of the marriage certificate was included in the wedding ceremony.

Wedding photos on the beach.

Danny 80 and friend-of-the-Peace-Corps Seke wore matching ofu.

Trent 80 was best man. He made a bilingual toast.

I wanted to take a picture of one of the long dining tables at Tanu Beach Fales, and this gentleman leaned in and smiled without prompting.

Faye, Jim, and Supy.

My friend Cherelle and I goofing off.

Supy's Taxi Service

Coming over on the ferry yesterday, we rolled deep: eight members of group 81, one from 80, one from 83, plus large contingents from Paul and Bex’s families. Herding around like this has been our M.O. for lots of this trip, which has been pretty great and pretty overwhelming. On occasion it’s been nice to take smaller, more relaxed excursions. So when Supy borrowed Jim’s car to go Foailuga, Trent and I happily went along.

With Supy at the wheel, Trent shotgun, and me in the back, we set off for Foailuga, about an hour west of the wharf along the south side of Savai’i. Top speed is this country is somewhere around 40 mph, so drives like yesterday’s have a leisurely feel. Trent’s blood sugar dipped a little, so we stopped at a faleola for soda, masi popo, and some ice pops.

I was only halfway through my ice pop when Supy slowed down the car, looked at Trent and me, and asked, “Should we pick them up? Is that okay with you guys?”

I hadn’t noticed the woman with the baby on the side of the road nor her 6(?)-year-old daughter who had waved us down. Trent and I didn’t care, so I scooted out of the middle and the three hitchhikers climbed in.

It turned out they weren’t going very far—just one village over—so we mostly drove in silence. The 6(?)-year-old eyed me cautiously. I think the woman was a little surprised to have flagged down a car full of palagis, but she was very gracious.

Much of her family was standing out near the street when we arrived at her destination, and we got a couple amused looks. No sooner did she get out of the car then an older gentleman approached Supy’s open window.

“My son hurt his arm,” he said in Samoan, non-urgently. “Can you give us a ride to the hospital?”

Trent and I were quietly entertained by Supy having to pay the price for his good deed. Meanwhile Supy balked at the man’s question. The main hospital on Savai’i is in Tuasivi, an hour in the opposite direction. But the man reminded Supy of the hospital in Foailalo.

“Yeah, okay,” said Supy.

So I scooted to the middle, the older gentleman got in on my right, and two teenagers got in my left—the boy with the sling sat on the girl’s lap.

This group was a lot chattier. We rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioning. Trent offered the man the rest of his orange soda, which the man accepted.

Ten minutes later we dropped them at the nearly empty hospital. The man offered Supy a 2-tala coin, which Supy declined. He smiled at us and we were on our way.

Foailalo is right next to Foialuga (lalo means “down”, luga means “up”), so we headed to Supy’s friend’s place. We stayed about an hour, eventually wandering down to the beach fale resort in Satuiatua. We said our goodbyes and got back on the road.

Three minutes into the drive, we passed the old man and his kids walking down the side of the road. Supy pulled over, and they piled back in, the boy and girl sii-ing once more. The man was still holding the now empty soda bottle. The air was thick with nonchalance and the reunion somehow felt inevitable.

When we dropped them off, lots of people were still out in front of the house. The amused looks turned to laughter this time. We waved and drove off to join the big group once more.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me in the backseat nestled between fares.

Highlight of the day was running into my old student Lise. I had her in my class both years for year 12 and year 13 computers. I followed Supy and Trent into the beach fales, so I was at the back and I saw her from a distance, and I immediately called, "LISE?!" Her face lit up. It was exciting.

Breakfast of Champions in Apia this morning: Kekepua'a from Lynn's (the best in the country) and Uncle Johnny's Orange Drink, which is essentially offbrand Sunny Delight.

Dan has gone full native, using the ferry ride to nap in the aisle.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Back to the Start

As I walked up my host family’s driveway, I could see men in the fale out back, none of whom I knew; the dog out front looked familiar, and it reacted to my presence in such a way that it knew who I was, but it wasn’t threatened; I was relieved to see the van was in the makeshift carport, meaning that even though I was showing up unannounced the family was home; and as I rounded the van, Akanese was the first face I saw gleefully sprinting toward me calling my Samoan name, “Mati!”

Though I’m here for weddings, my biggest indirect priority on the trip was to go back to the training village to see the host family I lived with during the 11 weeks of training in Fall 2008. During my stint in the Peace Corps, I continued to visit them, about once a month on average. Since I lived so close to the capital and didn’t have one cohesive village with which to identify, my training host family filled that niche for me.

Heading into this trip, I knew there’d be few firm plans, but I spent the most time mentally planning my trip back to the village. I spent a hefty amount on back-to-school supplies and used the bulk of my luggage space with backpacks and knick-knacks and chocolate for my family.

Supy, Blakey, and I rented a car this morning, and after picking up some coke, chips, and pisupo, we headed back to the nu’u.

In terms of anxiety, this was probably the pinnacle for the trip. Measuring the time at our permanent sites in years, our neighbors got to know and accept our palagi ways, but the relationship with the training village was different. From a very macro level, it was their job to train us in the ways of Samoa, and in some sense, to program the “American” out of us. They hold us to a higher standard. Whereas most Samoans would smile politely at my mangling of the language, my family still calls me out, “Why is your Samoan so terrible?”

Supy wished Blakey and me luck as he got out of the car. And I wished Blakey the same when I did.

Those pangs of anxiety didn’t exactly evaporate when Akanese came sprinting out and calling my name, nor when her little sister, the now school-aged Keleme did the same. But the satisfaction I got from seeing those kids and how happy they were to see me eclipsed that anxiety, and I felt foolish for waiting so long to come and see them.

My mom and sister greeted me with giddy kisses. They sat me down and chatted me up as Nese and Leme examined the gifts I’d brought.

The village took a beating from last December’s cyclone. Mele’s 70th birthday party was a success. The new road going through town is much wider. My sister in America got married. My parents are doing well. Filipo wanted to come, but he couldn’t make it.

There was a verbal reconstruction of time timeline of things. Keleme was born in April 2008. I showed up in October. I moved out in December. The tsunami happened. Akanese started school. Keleme was two and a half when I left. She starts school in January.

But the real fun came when the adults found things to do, and I got to play schoolyard clapping games with the girls. Popomano (sp?) (at my suggestion), then Chicky-Chicky-Bom-Bom (sp?), then a brief foray into American games when I tried for the millionth time to teach Slide, then finally E Malaki (sp?).

Asolima turned on one of the DVDs I brought, and I escaped the pisupo I was served by showing Akanese how to work the pencil sharpener and Keleme how to use the refrigerator magnets.

And by then it was time to leave.

I regret not seeing them sooner, and depending on the way Saturday works out, I might go back and see them before I leave. When else will I get to play Chicky-Chicky-Bom-Bom?

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.


E Malaki.

Akanese and I traded glasses briefly.

Family portrait.

Patty, you were totally right about the decorative PostIts. I stuck one to Keleme's forehead and the kids were off to the races.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

FOMO and Vagabonds

At the beginning of the marathon I ran last October, I started with a volunteer pacer who was aiming for a time slower than the one I was hoping for. The idea is a little counterintuitive: pacers are typically used to speed a runner up and motivate him or her to finish at a specific time. I used the pacer to slow myself down. My tendency is to plow through all my energy at the beginning of the race leaving my body cramped and exhausted miles before the end. The strategy worked well: everything in moderation.

But moderation was a difficult state to obtain in the Peace Corps’ carpe diem, limited-time, rest-when-you’re-dead atmosphere. Even more difficult is employing that strategy to this trip. 2 weeks is not a lot of time, and my mindset has been to take advantage of every moment I’m here or else elapsing time will waste away.

I’ve heard acronym hipsters in The States refer to this as “FOMO”, the Fear Of Missing Out. Upon seeing an issue of 7x7 Magazine on my coffee table, a friend told me she stopped reading it because it gave her a FOMO complex. All these people doing all these cool things, and how can I stay in on a Friday night?

It’s a subconscious calculus that occurred to me in my groggy state this morning. I realized that in my head, I was expecting to go back to my Samoan home tomorrow. I taught at Maluafou College near Apia, and I was looking forward to a quiet return. Except I don’t live there anymore. Tomorrow is one of the free days on the unofficial group itinerary, and I have errands to run around town, people to see, things to do. Also I haven’t arranged accommodations for tomorrow night. As of now, I’m a vagabond.

Except for Dan, who lives here, we’re all vagabonds for the next 7 days. This is by design: Samoan hotels tend to be flexible, and without strict timelines or reservations, we allow ourselves extra flexibility to combat this Fear Of Missing Out.

I realize this probably sounds pretty stupid. Hotel reservations were not invented to enclose or restrict, but part of the joy of the Peace Corps is the spontaneity of adventure, and the group’s collective decision-making is more likely to benefit those with open schedules.

I can distill this quick calculus down to qualitative answers to the following questions (there’s probably more, but this is the list I generated off the top of my head):
  • What is the state of my health?
  • What is everyone else doing?
  • How much money am I willing to spend?
  • When is the next time I need to be somewhere?
  • Will there be a chance to do this again in the next 7 days?
What’s considered the “right” answer to these questions changes frequently. Sometimes you want to do what the group is doing, and sometimes you want some time alone.

Based on this morning’s groggy calculus, I’ll probably get a hotel room in Apia tomorrow night. But rest assured I’ll be up early on Tuesday. I can rest when I’m dead.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

The Peace Corp with Bex and Paul. Left to right: Supy 81, Jim 80, Jordan 81, Dan 81, Bex AYAD, Paul 81, AJ 81, Chris 81, Blakey81, Trent 80, and me 81.

Paul and Bex took individual pics with everyone. This one is with Trent. Bex was a good sport about the ocean eating her dress.

Euchre is back in full effect.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Paul and Bex's Wedding

The impetus for this trip was Paul's Wedding, which was today, and Jim's wedding, which is next weekend. Rather than writing out an entire post about all this, I'm going to enjoy the festivities and leave you with some pictures from today's events. The wedding was held at the Tofua trench on the south side of Upolu.

I hope you're well.

All of the wedding's guests rode a Samoan bus from Apia to Tofua.

Chris 81 took the lead in acquiring teuila flowers and decorating the bus.

Dan, Blakey, AJ, and Chris.

Paul and his mom and brother.

Bex coming down the aisle with her father.

Paul's friend Andy read a quotation. Paul and Bex married each other without an officiant, but Blakey served as emcee.

This picture is cute and surprisingly un-posed.

Trent 80, Fei, Jim 80, and Blakey.

Jordan, Trent, and Dan at the reception.

The bouquet toss.

Paul and Bex Sii-ing on the bus on the way to tonight's festivities.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Odds and Ends Thursday 76

Dan’s station wagon has been making lots of trips to Faleolo airport picking up Chris then Blakey then Paul and Bex then me, often with a day or two between arrivals. AJ, Jordan, and Trent 80 fly in this afternoon. The car sits 4 comfortably, but we’re all a little pumped for these guys. Supy doesn’t get in until tomorrow, and we’re all going to be on the south side of the island by then, so today’s arrival is sort of the last piece. I think we’re gonna shell out the $60WST for a taxi for the greeting committee. Why not? Here are some other odds and ends from the week:
  • Air Pacific didn’t have any window or aisle seats when I checked in at the ticketing counter, but I got called up to the podium while I was sitting at the gate. The lady from the ticketing counter smiled at me. “I got you an aisle seat,” she said slyly as she slid the ticket toward me. Then as I was boarding, she took my ticket and whispered, “The seat next to you is open.” After I was in my seat, she came on to the plane and asked if I was comfortable. Then she wished me luck. Full service from Air Pacific!
  • Or she had a crush?
  • In Fiji remixed techno versions of “Crazy in Love” and “As Long as You Love Me” blared on the bus on the way to Suva. Yep. That’s the South Pacific.
  • Fiji had a lot of pine trees. Weird.
  • I found Slate Bourbon (blended in Chicago, but only sold in Australia) at the duty free shop in Fiji. First time I’ll have had it since New Years 2010.
  • The Nokia phone still uses T9, but I can connect to my Gmail and Facebook accounts. It’s a little anachronistic.
  • Speaking of that, the proliferation of Facebook in Samoa has prompted a phenomenon that never happened my first time around: there’s many more people here in Samoa reading the blog. It’s a little fun, it’s a little spooky.
  • Taufua Beach Fales down here in Lalumanu has its own WiFi payment system. $20WST for an hour, $50WST for the day. Seems like there should be an in-between step.
  • Samoa jumped the International Dateline on New Year’s Day 2012. This means that we used to be 4 hours behind, and now we’re 20 hours ahead. So I’m writing out Odds and Ends Thursday on Friday here. It’s kinda weird.
  • I’ve been conducting some back-and-forth with people in The States, and scheduling is confusing. I’m supposed to talk to a woman at 1:30 p.m. PDT this coming Monday, September 23. In practice, this means I need to get on Skype at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning Samoa Time. Wrap your head around that.
  • Some months ago, the Ah Liki company introduced a new Samoan beer ,“Taula”. This forced Vailima, previously the country’s only brewer, to improve its original recipe and then to introduce 2 new flavors: Pure and Export. Export has an alcohol content of 6.7%, so it’s commonly referred to here as Povi or “The Bull”.
  • Among Peace Corps, my blogging has been far less controversial. People aren’t as loathe to give me time to compose, type, and post. Is this because we’re older and more patient? Or maybe because the blog has proved as a useful record of our time in Samoa? Or maybe because after 2 years of the incessant time suck that is this blog, they’ve all been beaten into submission?
  • I got lost in Moata’a again today.
That’s all I got for today. I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Saw this shirt displayed in an Apian storefront. Never ever call it "San Fran".

Speaking of San Francisco, they're showing the America's Cup here. New Zealand is faring very well.

For some odd reason, Farm Joe has tips for getting rid of a hangover prominently displayed just inside the store's entrance.

Mo Money Mo Problems

Samoa and I have come a long way in the last 5 years. When I walked into the Digicel store in October 2008 to buy a cell phone, I didn’t have much money in my pocket, and Samoa’s fledging cell phone industry was still in its nascent stages. I chose a basic Nokia out of the 3 or 4 options available, filled out a little card with my name and some personal information, handed the cashier $50WST and that was that. I went through that process again yesterday and ran into lots more red tape.

Annual inflation here is a little crazy. In an old post, I quoted annual inflation as between 1 and 3%, and based on anecdotal evidence since I arrived, that actually seems a little low. I was looking forward to the cheaper cost of living, and relative to San Francisco, things have been okay. But my brain’s pricing estimator is still programmed with 2010 prices, and grocery store trips have been jarring. $12WST for Weet-Bix? $4WST for a quart of milk? Oof.

As the amount of capital increases, investors and investor attention increases. That simple cell phone transaction above has a lot more eyes on it.

First of all, I had to wait in a really long line. Pricing schemes have allowed cell phones to become widely available across the socioeconomic spectrum. And after SamoaTel was de-regulated, the market was flooded with cell phone data plans. Just after I left Samoa in December 2010, I started to receive Facebook friend invites from students attending the school where I worked. Cell phones reached ubiquity while I was here the first time around, and they’ve only added to that.

Side note: just as I reached the counter, I looked over and Filifili, one of the kids I’ve kept in touch with the most, was standing 10 feet away, waving patiently.

I told the man behind the counter I wanted a Nokia 111. He scoffed a little. “Do you have Samoan ID?”


Aside from passports, I’ve never seen nor heard the phrase “Samoan ID”. Further, how could he tell that I wasn’t Samoan? What gave it away? And finally, why does it matter?

“Our policy is to only sell to people of Samoa.”

I was forthcoming in admitting I did not have a Samoan ID, but I claimed I was moving here and needed a phone. After much pleading, he told me I’d need to bring in Samoan ID or a Samoan passport or I would need to find a Samoan who could “vouch for me”.

After hearing this last part, my brain whipped out its internal Rolodex. Peace Corps? Other teachers? Old students? Filifili!

I turned across the room and shouted his name. The cashier cried, “Uso!” The impatient man behind me in line joined in. One of us made the elongated kissing sound. Filifili’s ears perked up.

He vouched, and now I have a phone.

One last story before I sign off:

I drove Dan’s car home tonight by myself. Dan’s house is located at the end of a maze of roads in Moata’a, and I have said to Chris and Blakey several times over the last few days that I wouldn’t be able to find his house on my own.

But there I was, driving through the streets and backroads of Moata’a, realizing this situation was difficult for 2 reasons:
  1. I never drove during the Peace Corps, so knowing how to get to places off the bus route was all about being on foot; and
  2. We were all teachers, and most of us lived on school compounds rather than private residences, so our spots were centrally located within the community. We were easy to find back then.

Eventually I broke down and called Blakey to get clearer directions (none had been written out; I’d mostly been relying on visual cues). Oh well. Technology only complicates. Until the country gets GPS.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Me and Filifili. I took him to lunch today.

Many of you have probably heard my rant about how Samoa needs coasters, and lo and behold, they got them! But... they're laminated. That green part isn't absorbent, which kinda defeats the purpose of the coaster all together. Two steps forward, one step back.

Pinati's Samoan street food got a huge facelift. But don't worry. Jesus is still up on the wall.

A new restaurant in town, The Edge, serves Samoan nachos made over taro chips with Samoan veggies on top. Delicious.