Monday, October 31, 2011

The Water Saga cont.

Water is still more or less off in my village, but it has been raining recently which is absolutely wonderful. But this story starts way back in August.

Way back in August, I was trying to think of a way to help all the families in my village improve their water situation. The first thought that jumped to my head was “Water tanks, of course!” However, water tanks for a whole village is a big undertaking, and I wanted something small that each family could do with their own resources. Aha! Rain gutters! Everybody in my village has a tin roof on their fale, but no rain gutters, so the water falls off in many little rivulets, which takes a little while to fill a bucket in a heavy rain. But if you collect multiple little rivulets, buckets will fill a little faster. Wanting to demonstrate this for the village, I went to the hardware store, bought a pvc pipe and some wire to hook it up to my fale, and asked for help when I got back to my village.

“No, you don’t need that. We asked for water tanks from the Mormons and the pastor will be getting a water tank.” (The longer story behind this was that he had asked someone in the village to write a letter asking for water tanks to some Mormon organization that makes donations.)

Kalofai. A water tank would be great, but it would completely defeat the purpose of putting together a makeshift rain gutter so that other people in my village could see how it worked, and, if they wanted, rig something up of their own. I had reset my goals to a small step to make the problem a little less overwhelming, and now I was back to the big solution.

That was back in August. Two weeks ago (in October), a water tank magically appeared. By this time, I was completely convinced it wasn’t coming. The next question was if they could use my pipe to hook up the water tank. “The Mormons only gave one pipe for each tank, but we want to collect more water, can you ask Peace Corps to give you more pipes?” “Peace Corps can’t give me more pipes, I bought this pipe myself, but you are welcome to use it if you need it.” Then the water tank sat there for a while, and after another week or so, it was hooked up to the house. A little cement base appeared, rain gutters went up, and all the pipes were connected to the water tank.

This is another one of those bittersweet moments. Yes! I have water in my backyard (it has actually rained enough that the tank overflowed and the excess was coming out through a crack in the top). This will make it so much easier to flush my toilet, do my laundry, fill my water filter, and I may even start cooking just so I can wash dishes! The downside of it is, now that I don’t walk across the village multiple times a week to take showers and do laundry at the waterfall, I’ve become more of a recluse. I would generally only nod to people and exchange greetings as I was walking, but I saw people on a daily basis. It also filled up my afternoons. And yes, my family has a water tank, but what about everyone else in the village? Only 5 families have water tanks, and that doesn’t really change anything. I’d still like to write a grant to get water tanks for the rest of the village, but first I need to figure out where you buy them (nobody seems to know) and how much they actually cost so I know how much money I’m looking for. I’d also still like to rig up some type of rain gutter, but since my pipe is gone that means I would have to buy another pipe or figure something else out, and that takes so much effort. Not to mention, I would probably have to do it myself. This is a project I would actually want outside help with, but I’m putting good money on getting a response of “but you don’t need it, you have a water tank.”

So yes, my life has simplified immensely (at least as long as it keeps raining and keeps the tank full), but, man, convenience makes me lazy.

The water area known as sinasina falls. It has been much improved
since the water went off - pipes put in, rock beds made so you have
a flat surface to work on. It's pretty snazzy.

The little pond where I used to wash my laundry. It's been collecting
sand somehow, though, so now I don't use it anymore because my clothes
don't come out quite clean.

My new preferred laundry spot. Has a pipe and a
nice pile of rocks at the bottom.

More of the same

This is where all the water comes from. The picture doesn't show it
well, but it's just a dripping wall of water. I feel like it belongs in
some hotel in Vegas. I probably saw it at Rainforest Cafe.

The vaitaele - the pool. All the water went away when it didn't rain
for months, so it's been collecting trash, moss, and plants, and now
that it's raining again, it looks like slime.

This is where I shower. This is the preferred pipe to
use because it has the most water coming through it, so
it's always busy with people with HUGE baskets of laundry,
dishes, and anything else to clean.

The view from the shower

The water tank

Testing Season

Term 2 of the school year in Samoa is interrupted by mid-year exams. It takes a good two weeks out of the schedule to give the exams, grade the exams, write out the grades on a report card, send the report cards home with kids, then meet with parents about them the next day.

Term 3 has about 4 weeks of actual class, then 4 weeks of exams, then 4 weeks of prize-giving preparation. It’s not really 4 weeks of exams, but it’s pretty darn close. First comes the week of national exams for Year 8 (which are supposedly being phased out and this year is the last year they will give the national exams to Year 8). From then on, Year 8 doesn’t really do anything at school except play volleyball. Normally, final exams for the rest of the school would follow immediately after national exams, but they are delayed by two weeks this year due to training for the new curriculum being rolled out by MESC. So then we will go through another two weeks of writing exams, giving exams, scoring exams, sending scores home, then meeting with parents. I’m not sure exactly what we will do after that, but from what I can gather from my students, it will mostly consist of practicing songs, hymns, prayers, and dramas to perform at prize-giving. I haven’t been to a prize-giving yet, but it’s kind of like a graduation ceremony, except it’s a really big deal. Everybody knows who is first, second, third, etc. down to last in the entire year. Students receive prizes if they make the top 3 (or 5, or however many prizes can be afforded), and there is an obscene amount of candy.

I have to admit, I’ll be a little happy if this year really is the last year for national exams for year 8. They are a huge fa’alavelave (disturbance), and all fa’alavelaves are marked by massive amounts of food. The year 8 teachers were all sent to a different school in the district to proctor the exams – they couldn’t proctor the exams for their own students, which makes sense. So every morning we would greet the year 8 teacher and the principal from a different school in our district, they would get a huge breakfast, then MESC would deliver the standardized test for the day. Once the proctors went into the classrooms, the other teachers would go in to eat the breakfast left-overs, of which there were always plenty. The classrooms had to be specially prepared for national exams. At my school, it involved taping up brown newsprint across every inch of wall. At other schools, this involved ripping down every single poster and paper covering the walls. I like the method at my school better – my visual aids stayed intact. Two hours were carefully marked out for each exams (proctors marked time left on the blackboard by intervals of 10 minutes, starting from 120), then all the students would go home, and there was another feast for lunch. The teachers at my school had a good time trying to get me to talk to every single male that entered the school (we had several guests every day for the week of exams; there was a lot to be done to prepare the food) and telling me they were all my uo – my boyfriend. That got awkward pretty fast.

Overall, my school was fairly subdued. At the end of the week, cooked pigs were given to the proctors as well as other gifts of food and some money. One girl told me the proctors at her school were given huge bags of palagi food every day after exams, in addition to receiving a pig every day. Another girl told me that her host mom, who also happens to be the principle at her school, spent $1,000 tala on the food for the final day of exams. People really go all out. Since 4 year 7 students came in every day to serve the food, I, as usual, had very few responsibilities. I finished one book (I was already half way through it) and got 150 pages into Anna Karenina. Let me tell you, that is a really long book.

Next up are final exams, then prize-giving. I’ll be sure to let you know how they go.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Facing Reality

Some slightly more serious ponderings on the one-year mark of life in PC.

Before I came to Peace Corps, I was a dreamer. No, I was a big dreamer. My list of potential careers were: Oscar-winning actress, first person on Mars, secretary general to the UN, and world-renowned classical pianist. As I moved more and more towards social justice as a career path, my dream shifted to: change the world. I noticed this change mostly when the ultimate award I wanted to receive switched from Oscar for best actress to the Nobel Peace Prize. Did I mention yet that I dream big?

I blame these notions of grandeur on something in my upbringing. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but at a young age, I was instilled with the belief that I am limitless. Anything I set my mind to, I can accomplish, and God help you if you get in my way. I still believe this, although to a lesser degree now that I’ve been in PC for a year. I’m forced to face reality, and in reality, I can’t single-handedly save the world. Kalofai (that’s too bad).

Having grown up with an ego accustomed to getting whatever it wants, this was a very hard reality for me to accept. Always expecting success, and almost always getting success, it is hard to meet with anything less than success. I’ve come to realize that when I visualize myself working on projects, I see the project in its final form. I see the library fully constructed, packed with kids reading fluently and using computers. I see new attitudes towards school, with all students (and teachers) in attendance every day, with some degree of passion for learning. I see everything improved. But that’s not what happens at the beginning of the project. The beginning of the project must necessarily start with small steps. Successes, if they happen at all, are minimal. Failures abound, and projects must be regularly rethought and constantly pursued. If you let up to catch your breath for even a second, you sometimes lose the momentum needed to carry you through to the next step.

All in all, my first year in PC feels like a failure. But again, I think the feeling of failure marks the life of a PCV. PCVs come from the breed of people who dream big, who have ridiculous expectations, and who want to save the world, so anything that falls short of that feels like a failure. 

It’s hard to accept that I won’t be making the life-changing differences I first imagined. I won’t shatter anybody’s world, I won’t move mountains, and I probably won’t even really move grains of sand on the beach. For those of you interested in becoming a PCV, this is the reality of PC. You try, and try, and try, sometimes you try harder, sometimes you hardly try at all, and most of the time, you see nothing different. It makes me disappointed to think that the most I can hope for is to impact the life of one person while I am here, and it will probably be an impact that I won’t see while I am here. I got an e-card for my birthday that said, “To the world, you may be just one person, but to one person, you may be the world,” and I don’t want to accept that I may just be one person. Aren’t I destined for great things? Aren’t we all?

My new guiding truth is “development is a process, not a project.” I can’t save the world by teaching English for 2 years in a rural primary school. So much more needs to change, and that is where my next guiding truth comes in. At my high school, seniors could submit a quote they wanted printed alongside their picture in the yearbook. The quote I submitted (and somehow got lost and wasn’t printed) was “Nobody makes a bigger mistake than he who does nothing because he can only do little.” I try to remember this because in all honesty, I can only do little. My little contribution – everybody’s little contribution – is what will eventually add up to a monumental shift.

That being said, I feel that I personally have achieved light years of improvement. I spent my entire first two terms convinced that I couldn’t teach, and now, sometimes, I think I have pretty OK lessons. Don’t quote me on this, because I swear that come term 1 next year I will absolutely deny it, but I’m even kind of looking forward to next year and working with students in the new setting of a new grade in school. I would have told you before PC that I had infinite patience, but now that infinite patience has at least doubled. I am learning to be flexible, I am learning to let things go, and I am learning that sometimes the most you can do is just get through the day. I am constantly striving for balance, which never actually seems possible in PC, but I feel like I am more aware of life, and I try to make a more concerted effort to live each day the way I want to. I can even remind myself (sometimes) to not get too frustrated with my students because they’re just kids. Ya, it sucks when they act up, or don’t do their homework, or fight with each other, but address it and move on. The best I can do as a teacher here is provide a supportive and encouraging learning environment because most students don’t get that. My goals have changed, my project visions have changed, and my definition of success is slightly lower than it used to be. That’s the way it has to work if you are going to survive anything. You have to adapt, reflect, try and try and try, and take a break when you need it. You’ll get through, and hopefully you’ll get better.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Updated Resume

I’ve been living in Samoa for one year now – woohoo! – and I have about 14 months left. This is my list of experiences, accomplishments, and achievements that have proven valuable and/or useful in Samoa, but they probably won’t make it onto my resume.

  • I was a bad jaywalker when I left the States, but I am now exponentially worse. In my village, I prefer to walk directly in the middle of the road instead of picking a side. My sister said I would be run over by a car before I leave Samoa because my jaywalking is so bad

  • My pace of life has slowed down to the point where if I have 3 things to accomplish in a day, it’s a super busy day
  • I’ve managed to sleep on the bus on a few occasions. This gives me hope that maybe someday I’ll be able to sleep on an airplane (I’ve got a long flight home whenever I make it back), but I know myself well enough to know that it probably won’t happen

  • I will humbly appoint myself Pro of Living Without Water. Roughly half my time in PC I’ve had water, the other half, it comes and goes. At first, I felt like I was suffering cruel punishment every time the water came and disappeared on a whim, but now it’s become more of a fact of life. Sometimes the water is there, but then it will go away eventually.
  • I can take a 1-bowl bucket shower. For those who don’t know, you take a bucket shower with a larger bucket holding a significant amount of water, and a smaller bowl to dump water over yourself. I accomplish a 1-bowl bucket shower by not washing my hair (that requires a real shower) and using a scrubby cloth and bar of soap. For added luxury, I now add boiled water to make it a hot bucket shower.
  • I have yet to make it through an entire bottle of shampoo or conditioner. Granted, I have only been washing my hair twice a week for the past six months, and I have three separate bottles going, but I still think that’s impressive. After six months here, the ginormous bottles of shampoo and conditioner I brought with me were still half full, and I was getting sick of them. So I bought new shampoo, and then my water went away. I also have a different shampoo at the office so I can take a hot shower and get nice and clean occasionally.
  • Just last week, I finally finished the 250ml bottle of Nivea lotion I bought when I arrived here. Kinda the same situation as above, but I just don’t need lotion as much when it is so humid.

Fast Learner
  • I once opened a can with a knife. Well, it’s more like I got it halfway open. Can openers tend to rust really fast here, so most people just use knives. I was staying with a friend, and she didn’t have a can opener, so after about 20 minutes of back-breaking effort, I managed to get about 2/3 of the lid open with a knife. This is kinda the technique I’ve observed: jam the knife down into the can, push it forward, and repeat. Easier said than done.
  • Spreading butter on crackers with a spoon. Actually, pretty much everything gets spread on everything else using a spoon. This actually seems to work quite well and is not so difficult to learn as opening a can with a knife. However, I still don’t get the privilege of buttering crackers at meetings. I’m not a pro yet, just a novice.

Open to Suggestions
  • A lot of the things I told my campers when I was a counselor now apply to me. Particularly, water cures everything (but it hurts here, and this is happening, and, and…) Suck it up and eventually you’ll get over it. If you’re still sick later, maybe we’ll send you to a doctor. Also, fake it til you make it – I was never really fond of this one in the first place, but it’s much harder here.

Other Accomplishments
  • I’ve been stung by a centipede. I think. I’m about 90% sure on this one. I was staying with friends who have seen centipedes in their fale before, and I woke up in the middle of the night to a sharp pain in my arm. I didn’t see or here anything creeping around, but it hurt like crazy. It felt like I was getting a shot for 30 minutes (OK, I probably wasn’t awake for 30 minutes, I didn’t check my watch, but it felt that long) – just that continual, deep, stabbing, throbbing pain. For a while, all I could do was suck in huge gasps of air, hold my breath, and clench my teeth. Eventually I went back to sleep. It was still sore the next day, but two days after it was fine.
  • The mere sight of a cockroach no longer makes me gag.
  • I can kill most any bug I find in my room with bug spray and sweep it out the door. However, still afraid of wasps. I don’t try to kill those, just hope they fly away instead.

Other Comments
  • I’m pretty sure I’ve reached my maximum capacity of tanness – or maybe I’m just really good with sunscreen. Either way, I haven’t really changed color in about 3 months.
  • Things I miss most about the states: the change of the seasons, the food (particularly Mexican and buffalo wings), multi-story buildings, carpet, cushy chairs and couches
  • I’ve been writing down all the dreams I can remember since about February or March. I’ve been to King Soopers in my dreams maybe 5 of 6 times.
  • There are a lot of things that make noise at night in Samoa, and I always think there is a rat in my room. I do have reason to be suspicious because I did find a rat in my room once. But I’ve learned that cockroaches are incredibly loud. They mostly crawl around my room when they’re near death, so I have to sweep them out the next day. My first few months here, I would always turn on my headlamp to investigate the source of the sound, only to find it was a cockroach. Then one night maybe a month ago I was absolutely convinced the scraping sound was louder than normal. So I turned on my headlamp again, but I couldn’t spot anything. When I got out of bed in the morning, there was a crab hiding behind one of my shoes.

References available on request, although it could take some time.