Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adventures in Kitty Care

Almost my entire life I have had pets. One of the things that stuck out to my in all the PC literature I got before I left was that it explicitly stated a “pet policy,” which allows PCVs to have pets, but asks that we take care of them. Before leaving, I swore I would not get a pet while I was here because I most likely will not take it back, and it’s just cruel to raise an animal to be a palagi pet, then abandon it to someone who treats it differently. But of course I couldn’t do that, and now I have a pet.
Her name is Nora and she is a tiny gray tabby. The PCV I got her from told me all sorts of endearing stories about what a wonderful cat she is, but now that she’s gone, I’m hearing from all the other PCVs how she always said “Nora is the cat from hell.” I can see how that would apply to Nora, but I still love her, although sometimes I feel like she just uses me because I feed her.

She has a tendency to go crazy at least once a day, usually at night just as I’m getting into bed. She starts clawing on anything she can catch, then she scrambles around the room, darting from hiding place to hiding place. If you’re not a cat person, I can see how this would be annoying, but most of the time I just find it highly entertaining and always egg her on. This is probably another form of animal cruelty – I get her all riled up only to keep her trapped inside my room.

One of the less fortunate aspects of having a cat is that she kills things. Rather, she likes to play with things until they’re dead, then she leaves them wherever they were when she lost interest. First, this happened with a bird. A bird was flying around inside my fale, Nora caught it in the hallway, then dragged it into my room to play with it. By the time I got there, my room was covered in gray feathers, and the bird was limp at the door. Nora, I don’t like it when you do that! The next time something similar happened, it included three instances in one day. I was putting her food dish down in the morning when something small scrambled across my feet. Of course it was a cockroach, and of course I immediately jumped on my chair, and Nora started to play with it. She left it dead next to my desk when a lizard caught her eye instead. The lizard managed to get away, but it was one of those that leaves its tail behind, and Nora ate the tail. That was all in the morning before school. When I came back from school, I found Nora with something cornered in the hallway behind a rock. I couldn’t see what it was, but she would lose interest or it would get away soon enough. So I went into my room and started my usual after school routine when Nora burst into the room after…a mouse. Immediately I was back up on the chair, screaming to the high heavens, telling Nora that she could do anything she wanted with the mouse as long as she got it out of the room. Eventually, she was close enough to the door that I could shove both of them out with my broom. Then I locked her out and did yoga, and when I was finished, she was sitting there completely satisfied with herself, the now dead mouse further down the hall. Ugh….

However, the most difficult situation to date occurred outside my fale. I let Nora wander around because it means I don’t have to keep a stinky litter box in my room. She was over in the neighbors’ yard when their dog saw her, started barking, and chased her up a tree. My neighbors came to get me to tell me she was in a tree. I figured it was just a low branch and she would jump down soon enough, but no. You really do need firemen to rescue cats stuck in a tree. She was perched probably 12 or 15 feet up in the air. First my neighbor climbed on a broken cement water tank to get closer to the branch, but Nora wouldn’t come when he called her. She was shaking and clinging to the branch with every last claw. So I climbed on the water tank too, and while I got her to walk out a little way, she never came close enough for me to grab her. So my neighbor pulled himself up in the tree to try to pick her up, but he’s 12 and afraid of her claws, so that didn’t work. After about 10 minutes of his telling me not to climb the tree, I just pulled myself up, and picked Nora up. She was still terrified. My neighbor climbed out of the tree and back onto the water tank, but he wouldn’t take Nora from me because she still had every single claw out. He threw me my lavalava (I had abandoned it so I would be able to climb), intending for me to wrap Nora up in the lavalava so I could hand her down to him without claws sticking out everywhere, but I wasn’t particularly fond of that idea. Eventually, he and his sister went to get a wooden ladder the family had constructed, then they put it up on top of the cement tank against the branch so I could climb down holding Nora. From the water tank, maybe 5 feet in the air, Nora was brave enough to jump down, but immediately ran away and I couldn’t find her. We commenced a search party and after about 10 minutes, my 12 year old neighbor discovered her sitting up on the wall between the shower and the toilet in the tap out back. Of course Nora wouldn’t let go of her grip so I could pull her down and carry her inside, so the older sister, 15, helped pry Nora’s paws away one by one while I pulled her down from the wall, and finally I had her back inside. Overall, the tree rescue took at least a half hour – I don’t think I spent as much time in a tree hanging even the most stubborn bear bag at camp – and the search and rescue took another 10 or 15 minutes. It was quite the afternoon event, and I came away with plenty of little scratches and ant bites.

Of course everything Nora does she sees as a huge accomplishment and something that should make me love her even more. I always tell her not to leave dead things in my room, and now I tell her that she’s not allowed to climb up trees until she learns how to climb back down, and I tell her she doesn’t appreciate me enough, but I don’t think it gets through to her. She usually wins though, and I love her anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Debunking Survivor South Pacific

In a recent package from home, I got a DVD with the first five episodes of the latest Survivor – Survivor South Pacific. I have just a few things I want to get out there so people don’t have any false impressions about it.

·         First, it’s set in Samoa. Yes, Samoa is in the South Pacific, but can’t you at least give us a little credit for all the great scenery?

·         All the shots of huge waves breaking? Those are zoomed way in – no waves that big break anywhere near the shore in Samoa. Most of the islands are surrounded by reefs, so all the big waves break much farther out.

·         Also, that scene they cut to sometimes as they’re coming back from a commercial break of a huge wave breaking against a cliff and sending up all the spray? That’s been enhanced. There are plenty of places in Samoa where the water meets a cliff like that, but due to the reefs, there are no places where a wave that big will hit a cliff that size and produce that much spray.

·         The people playing survivor have obviously had some basic introduction to Samoan culture or general South Pacific island life. I say this for two reasons. First, very briefly, in one shot in the first episode, you can see one of the girls weaving a palm frond. I would not have known to weave a palm frond at an angle unless somebody had told me, so I’m assuming somebody told them too. Second, also in the first episode, one of the rewards is a basket full of taro. The basket full of taro that they show the host revealing on camera is taro still in its most raw form, covered in dirt. How would they know that they have to peel it and cook it if it were the first time they had seen taro? OK, you can probably tell from looking at it that you need to peel taro, and I’m pretty sure you can eat it raw, but still. There is some preparation involved.

·         They have an awful lot of supplies given to them. Scuba gear, a canoe (canoes in Samoa really do look like that – a hollowed out log and a beam to balance it out), water bottles, machetes, fishing gear. The reef fishing is pretty legitimate. From what I’ve seen, that’s the way to do it. Although when I saw people fishing in my village, it was a group of probably a dozen men, they weren’t quite so far away from shore, and they didn’t have a boat.

·         However, they do not know how to handle coconuts. The way I see them doing it on the show works, but that’s not the best way to get at a coconut. On the show, they just hack through the husk until chop off the top of the coconut, then drink from it husk and all. If you really want to be an islander drinking from a coconut, you need to husk the coconut first, and then open one of the holes on top of the coconut and drink from there. However, I think it requires significantly more effort to husk a coconut than to hack away at it with a machete, so they’re probably OK for a TV show.

That’s all I really have to say about Survivor South Pacific. Maybe there will be more nuances that come up when I get later episodes, but don’t be fooled – they’re not completely unprepared. They’ve been stranded with a little introduction, a few tools, and some help.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Year in Books

I’ve been in Samoa for a little over a year now, and I’ve been averaging a book a week, which is a bit surprising to me – I thought I would be reading much more than that. I certainly have more downtime now than I’ve ever had before, but I guess the content of the books is different. In college, I would have a book or two going for each class, and one for fun on the side. Here, at any given time, I’m ready 2 or 3 books, sometimes 4, and 1 or 2 magazines. I couldn’t tell you many details about most of the stuff I read, but the big ideas stick. Anyway, just for fun, I’ve been writing down the books I read when I finish them, and here is the list of books from Year 1. Some with comments/summaries/opinions, and recommendations about what to read and why. I say you can trust my opinion because another PCV has told me TWICE now “That book you recommended was so good! I’m going to read anything you recommend.” Once is a fluke, but obviously my opinion on books can be trusted J
Lord of the Flies
Little Bee – story about a girl from Africa who shows up on the doorstep of an English woman who saved her life. I didn’t find it to be super compelling, but other people have loved it.

The Girl Who Played with Fire – I highly recommend the Steig Larsson series. This is the second book. The first is hard to get into, but worth it when it gets exciting (about halfway through). Loved the second book
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – memoir. Insightful and reflective at times, but more often, I felt it read like a journal entry.

Days of Gold
A Certain Slant of Light – interesting concept, about a soul wandering around the human world because it hasn’t been able to let go of the death of her body and the mistakes of her life.

The Power of One – MUST READ. I love this book
The Prodigy

The Return of Merlin – Actually a Deepak Chopra novel based around the stories of King Arthur. I liked it, lost some of the references because I haven’t read any of the King Arthur/Lancelot/holy grail stories
Tuesdays with Morrie – LOVE this book, and in general I’m a huge fan of Mitch Albom. The reflections and life lessons of a dying man, highly recommended.

The Last Lecture – also the reflections and life lessons of a dying man. I actually read these books back to back over the course of about 24 hours. Don’t do that. Actually, I would tell you not to even bother with this book. Compared to Tuesdays With Morrie, this book is too full of the memories and stories he wants to share and less about life lessons to pass on.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – final book in the Larsson trilogy. Still exciting, still highly recommended.

Into Thin Air – Very compelling read, although I got lost at times because he also mixes in the history of Everest. Made me want to read more books about climbing mountains
Fight Club – surprisingly close to the movie (I saw the movie before I read the book). Good book, I’ll have to read it again to understand it better

A Culture of Makebelieve – I also LOVE Derrick Jensen, but I wouldn’t recommend his books to everybody. I also wouldn’t recommend reading this book when commencing Peace Corps service
For One More Day – I’m always a fan of Mitch Albom, but this isn’t my favorite book of his

When You Are Engulfed in Flame – David Sedaris, generally always interesting
The Waste Lands – Book 3 of the Steven King Dark Tower series. My favorite book in the series, made me want to watch Firefly after I finished it.

Wizard and Glass – Book 4 of the series, also pretty good.
Wolves of the Calla – Book 5 of the series, also good, but where it starts to go downhill

Song of Susannah – Book 6 of the series. Shorter than most of the other books, it goes a bit out of the story to focus on only one character
The Dark Tower – Last book of the Dark Tower series. I almost couldn’t finish it because I was so fed up with it, but that’s just my personal opinion. Overall, a very interesting series, complex and original stories, with lots of cultural references and allusions to other stories. Once you make it to the last book in a 7 book series, how can you not finish it?

Snow Country
Ishmael – Another one of my favorite books ever, but again, I don’t think it would appeal to all audiences

Reading Lolita in Tehran – Excellent book! It’s subtitle is “A memoir in books.” She is a literature professor who teaches an underground Western lit reading class during the Iranian revolution. Expertly weaves together analysis of literature with real life situations. I wrote one of my college professors to recommend using it in class because I loved it so much.
Atonement – I was a little underwhelmed. Interesting story, but not quite what the back cover promised it would be.

The Hunger Games – First book of the Hunger Games series. Excellent books, all of them!
Timequake – Probably my favorite Kurt Vonnegut I’ve read so far. Premise of the story is that an accidental slip in the space-time caused everyone to relive the past ten years, but they can only do exactly what they’ve already done.

Life of Pi – NOT a true story, don’t be fooled by the author’s note/introduction/whatever it is. Good book though. I recommend it.
Catching Fire – second book of the Hunger Games series, must read.

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell, always interesting. I read it to try to get ideas for how to get people in my village involved in a health challenge. My health challenge didn’t really take off, but I still recommend the book.
The Happiness Project – Simple and fairly easy read, some good ideas and reflections.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – This was the first book that got the response of “I will always read whatever books you recommend to me.” MUST READ. I love Jonathan Saffran Foer, and I think this book is a little bit more easy to grasp than Everything is Illuminated. Both stories include multiple perspectives, both laugh-out-loud funny in places, and both moved me to tears.
Relentless Pursuit – A look at Teach For America. I liked it because it included stories from both TFA teachers, TFA higher ups, school administrators, and a history of the organization. Comprehensive, and having been both a volunteer and a staff member within the same organization (Women’s Resource Center in college), I like getting the full story from multiple perspectives best.

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha – RPCV story. She was in Africa at the turn of the century, 1998-2000 I think it was. Seemed to me like a general re-telling of her experience. More observation than reflection.
When Things Get Dark – Also an RPCV story, Mongolia 1999-2002 (he extended for a third year). The back cover promises it to be a riveting, shocking story about his dealing with alcoholism as a PCV, but it reads more like an attempt at a confessional without any real reflection. He includes sections about the history of Mongolia, which are nice to have, but don’t really add to the overall story.

The Great Gatsby – It’s the third time I’ve read this book, second time I’ve read it outside school, and I still feel like I’m missing the critical parts of the story. Some things just go way over my head. But I caught more this time, mostly because it was one of the books analyzed in Reading Lolita in Tehran, so I had a better idea of what to look for.
Push – WHOA. Heartbreaking, inspiring, intense…I loved the voice of the book

The Vampire Tapestry – Not so great, and not a big addition to the vampire genre. You don’t need to bother with this one.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I finished this book and asked myself, “What was the point?” Crazy stories, no real unifying sense to the book, I’ll probably just stick to the movie versions instead of reading it again

Dracula – What interests me most about Dracula is that Dracula seems to be THE authority of what a vampire is, and every other incarnation of vampires that I’ve come across always dismisses some part of Dracula as just a myth, or just a cover up, or whatever. Long book, but a great read.
Gone With the Wind – Another long book. Actually, a really, really long book. Fortunately, the story moves through most of the book, but near the end, I found myself thinking “When will it be over?”

American Taboo – highly recommended for currently serving PCVs, not recommended for people going into PC, and if you are friends/family back in the States waiting for the return of a PCV, do not read this book until they get back. If you want to read it at all. Don’t even Google it to see what it is about.
Twilight – guilty pleasure, quick and absorbing read.

The Unberable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera. Second book I’ve read by him, I think I understood this one better. I consider him interesting, but I don’t know I would call it highly recommended.
Mockingjay – last book of the Hunger Games series. MUST READ.

New Moon
The Ponds of Kalambayi – third RPCV book I’ve read, and the first one I really liked. I felt I could relate to his account of PC service, even though he was in Africa in the 80s and had a motorcycle. Highly recommended.

Breaking Dawn

Through Painted Deserts – interesting book. Felt slow and tangential at places, but reflective and thought-provoking at others.
Dead Aid – book written by a female African Economist (educated at Harvard and Oxford) about how international aid perpetuates the cycle of poverty in Africa. Highly recommended for anyone interested in social justice, international, or governmental work.

But Do They Have Field Experience? – collection of stories from people who have worked in developing countries. Some are from PCVs, some are from people on international volunteer trips, some are from ambassador’s wives, very interesting.
Sway – This was the other one that earned me the “I will always read whatever books you recommend.” Quick, compelling read because the authors jump from one example to the next every 2 or 3 pages or so. Very interesting book, talks about why people make stupid decisions even though they know better.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – recommended for the Big Bang Theory audience. It’s about a guy who is a mechanic for time machines, then he gets stuck somewhere outside of time. Lots of wordplay (he likes to spend most of his time in the present indefinite tense), lots of cosmological concepts, confusing in places, and makes you slow down and think in other places.
Ender’s Game – Sci-fi about kids in battle games. Overall, I like it. However, I saw the ending coming from a mile off.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lost in Translation

When I first heard I was going to Samoa, one of my friends told me about a friend he knew who spent two years in Samoa, but had a hard time learning the language because everybody spoke English. I thought That won’t happen to me, I’ll try harder than that. Well, I’ve been trying for a year, and I have just about a year left, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to be fluent in Samoan by the time I leave here.

I often wonder what I sound like to the people in my village, and especially to the students at my school. I’m not as worried about making a fool out of myself in front of my students because I figure it helps them make mistakes when they try speaking English if they see that their teacher makes mistakes when I try speaking Samoan. My students are also very helpful teachers. They correct me when I’m wrong and they know what I’m trying to say, and when I talk to them outside of school, they know to speak slowly, enunciate, and limit their vocabulary. But Samoan still seems like a funny and often tricky language. In a way, it’s simpler and easier than English. The alphabet is smaller, you pluralize the verb instead of the noun(savali means to walk, savalivali means to go for a walk, savavali means two or more people walking) , all verbs change to past tense the same way, you can change a verb into a noun by adding –ga at the end, or you can change a noun into a verb by adding fa’a- at the beginning, etc. etc. The hard part is that so many words have way too many meanings. For example, fiafia roughly translates to “like,” as in I like that. It also means happy, excited (and exciting), party, and anything else roughly related to those words. Uila means electricity, bycicle, and lightning. Fai is your generic doing verb. Fai se kuka – make the food. Fai sau ofu – change your clothes/put on your clothes. Fai se mea’aoga – do the homework. If I don’t know the verb I’m looking for, I just use fai and I usually get my point across. All these different meanings mean that I’m never completely sure of what I’m saying, or what people are asking me, but I have a rough idea of the conversation.

Another tricky part is that where you place the emphasis changes the word. Moli with the emphasis on the first syllable (MOH-lee) means orange, both the fruit and the color. Moli with the emphasis on both syllables (MOH-LEE) means light. I always wonder what words in English sound similar but have completely different meanings and how I would respond if somebody asked me if I wanted to eat a light.

I was headed downtown with a few other PCVs in a taxi a week or two ago, and I told the taxi driver where we wanted to go – we were making multiple stops. One of the girls in the car told me “Now that Sarah is gone [the girl in our group who ET-ed – early termination], you probably have the best Samoan in our group.” I wouldn’t agree with this completely, but I would say I’m definitely in the top 5, maybe even in the top 3. However, I still feel incredibly limited in my language. I can have conversations with people because I know how to talk about my family, my work, where I’m from, what I do, and things like that. But anything more complicated than that is completely outside my abilities. Still, it’s nice to know that I can at least talk to people. Some of the PCVs swear they only know how to say hello and good-bye, but I think they’re exaggerating.  I can teach an entire class in Samoan using variations of a few stock phrases

Nofo i luga o le fala – sit on the mats (as opposed to sitting at their desks – students seem to pay less attention when they sit at their desks)
O le a le…(faiupu/upu/mea/mataupu/fesili/tali) ­– start of a question – what is the (sentence/word/thing/subject/question/answer. I like that one – sometimes I tell my students they have to write only the answer instead of both the question and the answer, so whenever they double check, they always ask me Tusi na’o oe? – Write only you? Because my name is Tali, get it?)
Tusi i lou api – write in your notebook

Of course you need more words than that to give an entire lesson, but once you get the basics, you don’t need much more.

There are times when I feel my language abilities are frustratingly inadequate though. I was trying to explain to my neighbors the other night about carving a pumpkin on Halloween. Ave se maukeni. O se mea lae totonu, tu fafo. Fai se ata i luga o le maukeni. Take a pumpkin. The stuff inside, put outside. Make a picture on the pumpkin. I think that one got lost in translation. Another example, I asked one of the kids across the street o le a o le upu mo le sky? What’s the word for sky? She shrugged at me, so I tried to explain. O le mea, e masani lanu moana i le aso, ma pogisa ma fetu i le po. The thing that is usually blue in the day, and dark with stars at night. She shrugged again, so I just said aulelei tele – it’s very pretty – because I was trying to talk about the sunset.

Overall, I think I know enough to get by. I doubt I’ll get significantly better while I’m here, but I’m not doing too bad. However, I would caution you not to count on me to translate in case of a medical emergency. I don’t think my language skills are up to that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

October in pictures

October consisted of teacher's day (teacher's appreciation when all the students brought gifts for their teacher), White Sunday AKA Kid's Church (I have pictures, but I forgot to upload them!) Our 1 year anniversary celebration at beach fales, and Halloween celebrations - a murder mystery party and the Halloween party.

He's a coconut tree, get it? It won for best costume