Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Last Weekend

Yes, this picture was taken in Apia!

Along with the fiafia this last Friday, this past weekend has been fairly eventful. After a late night on Friday cleaning up after the event, Tim and I headed out early Saturday morning to a village close to the wharf on Upolu: Faleasi’u. This is where Suluape lives, the legendary traditional Samoan tattoo artist.

If any Peace Corps wish to get a tattoo while in country, he is the only person we are allowed to see. Unlike most tattoos which are done with a gun, Samoan tattoos are done traditionally. The tools usually include boars bone filed into small spiky needle-like ends and then tied to the end of a stick. These are then tapped into your skin by another stick. So, the tattoo artist holds the stick with the bone needles at the end of them and then taps on that stick with another. This method of tattooing is VERY painful and it also goes much deeper in your skin than a regular tattoo; it goes into the plasma.

Many volunteers have opted to get a tattoo done by Suluape. I myself have one on my ankle and the top of my foot. It was one of the most painful things I have done (not including cutting the finger off that is). Our medical officer usually wants us to wait a good year until we decide to get the tattoo, and Tim has hit that year mark. So, I accompanied him to Suluape’s house.

When we arrived at his place, he was gone in Apia so his wife served us morning tea consisting of cup o noodles. After a good half hour he finally appeared. Tim decided to get the top part of the traditional male tattoo around his calf. Since the area of the body this tattoo covers is fairly large, Suluape had to make it fit on Tim’s calf area. The result ended up being a very detailed and fine looking tattoo. It really is nice; lots of ink and detailed design. After 4 hours of tapping away on Tim’s leg with a brief 10 minute break, it was over. Suluape’s family served us food of rice, fish and canned corned beef and then gave us a ride into town. Overall, Tim got a nice tattoo…

The other thing I feel worth mentioning from this weekend is a store. Sunday morning before we all headed back to Savai'i, Dylan and Tim told me about this new store just past the market that has everything you could ever want. I was skeptical since most stores here have few things I really crave. When I stepped into this store it was like I was back in the states. There are entire aisles dedicated to cereals! There were boxes of Hamburger helper and Rice-a-Roni (I have never seen these items in this country before). There was chocolate cake mix, frosting, pickles, mushrooms and candy… Really anything you could ever want from back in the states. No more do your parents have to send you that shaving cream you just cannot live without or the box of Mac and Cheese… I was so amazed I wandered around it for over 40 minutes and still didn’t get a good idea of all that they carry. Now, you are probably wondering how much all of this costs… yes, it is expensive and no I don’t care. I dropped a little more than I had planned, but it was worth it for that bottle of Arizona Ice Tea and real Saltine crackers…

Finally, I have caught everyone up to date on my life thus far. My dad comes tomorrow morning. Crazy. He arrives on my birthday and is insisting on baking me a cake. (He even sent over a box of cake mix – though now I can buy it at that new store). He’ll be here for 2 weeks, for Halloween parties, PC meetings and everything else. He said he wanted to come back and just live like a volunteer for awhile, namely riding the buses…

I have included a few pictures from Tim’s tattoo and the new store. Until next time…
Traditional tattoo tools.
Suluapa pounding away on Tim's leg. The other 2 guys are holding the skin tight.
The back of Tim's calf.
The side to front of the tattoo.
Cereal... I don't need to say anything more.

Fiafia Night for Groups 1,2 and 79

It’s that time of year yet again… another new group arrived in the country October 10th. Group 79, who are essentially the group that replaces my group. With the arrival of a new group usually also brings the fiafia that the current volunteers and staff hold to welcome them into the country. However, this time, things were a little different…

2007 marks the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps service in Samoa. Along with the t-shirts, events and other fun things PC had planned throughout the year, a previous group decided to return and join in on the anniversary. Group 1 and 2 (the first and second groups to ever serve in Samoa) came back for their 40th anniversary. They flew into the country on October 17th and so we thought it would be fitting to include them in our usual fiafia. Friday morning of the 19th there was a huge parade in Apia honoring Peace Corps and our service here. All current volunteers were asked to participate and Groups 1 & 2 was included as well. It was a big deal with many speeches and the Prime Minister making an appearance.

Our usual fiafia was held later that night. Along with special guests Groups 1 & 2, we also had the Prime Minister attend. That turned out to be a fairly big deal. We had to do things a little differently and a little more officially. Since all of these special guests were attending, the volunteer and staff community really had to increase the amount of food we usually prepare for the fiafia. I ended up making 2 spinach and onion quiches and brought 2 liters or orange juice. One of the nice things about being the group heading out, is that you are among the first to eat, so I got a nice sampling of all the food prepared. The fiafia started with an ava ceremony in which we welcomed the returning volunteers (RPCV) back. One RPCV did something pretty unique. He brought a fine mat with him that he was given 40 years ago from a student of his when he finished his service. This RPCV was from Corvallis Oregon. One of the new trainees (Aaron) from Group 79 is also from Corvallis. The old volunteer gave Aaron the fine mat and told him that he had to return in 40 years and pass it off to another new trainee… I think that’s a pretty cool tradition to start.

The taupo (a traditional female dance done at the end of our fiafia) is usually performed by a girl in the group leaving. Both Candice and I had wanted to do it, but she won the coin toss. In the end I am glad that it was her who got to dance because her school got way more into dressing her up and preparing her than mine ever would have.

In the end it was a fun night; sad it is my last fiafia. The new group seems fairly nice, though I didn’t really get a chance to talk with many of them. I was a little self conscience at first because of the skin infection on my face, but in the end, who am I trying to impress? :) Enjoy the pictures.
The ava ceremony. Everyone seated in back are volunteers.
Candice's Taupo dance. She's wearing a fine mat and look at that head piece!
One of my students who transfered early in the year showed up. She is related to Leata, part of the training staff. Mom - she is Faatafa who was staying with my neighbors. Notice the soars on the face... ew! At least it wasn't that bad anymore. :)

White Sunday

The second Sunday of every October usually brings about the favorite holiday of every child living in Samoa… White Sunday (or Children’s Day). Last year was my first taste of this holiday, since we arrived in country the Wednesday directly after it. It is a time when the kids to put on the church festivities, receive new clothes, shoes and jewelry, get served first at the huge Sunday meal, and generally spend all day in church. It’s also called 9 hour church day.

This year it was difficult for me to get into the spirit of the holiday since I ended up getting a pretty bad case of strep throat a few days before and hadn’t been able to make it in for antibiotics yet. I still watched the entire thing though. In the morning it starts out with a regular service as usual, except all of the pews and benches are pushed back and mats are laid down in the center of the church where all the kids sit. After the message (regular length of time), the first series of singing and dancing begins.

The first set of songs and dances are usually split up by Sunday Schools. Little kids start first and then the order moves on up until the older, unmarried adults. Then we break for to’ona’i, like a Sunday brunch. Last year we had a huge to’ona’i in the hall, but the families wanted to do individual ones this year. Since I do not live with a family I thought maybe I wouldn’t get food this time around, but Laupama sent her girls down with a fairly huge helping of taro, palusami, lots of fish and more. Then my neighbors sent over some ice cream and cake as well. I felt loved.

After eating and resting for roughly an hour, it’s back to church. There is another small service with a message and then the singing and dancing starts again. This time the groups that go are split up into houses in the village. Usually a “house” consists of many families semi-related to each other. My “house” is the entire school compound. This second round is always my favorite. The kids really get into it and even some of the adults participate. There are also a few dedications to those who have passed on over the year, old and young. Most of the people who passed on were between the ages of 65-75 which really shocked me. Uesiliana put on a special dedication and song for Paepae Viliamu (Laupama and Rev Viliamu’s daughter who passed away this last January of Rheumatic Fever). It was the same song that we all sang at her funeral.

Like I mentioned earlier, it was tough to sit through it all just because I was sick. In fact, I tried to leave a little early, but it was after the sun had set and the reverends didn’t want me walking home by myself in the dark.

Overall it was a good Sunday. However, I am glad we don’t have something like that in the states… after all every day is children’s day really. Enjoy the pictures below…

The church all decorated for the big day
All the pews pushed back so kids and adults can sit and perform in the middle of the church.
Kids dancing. My principal's daughter is in front, on the right.
Aufata concentrating real hard on the festivities... he's asleep!
Kids take a break from the long day of singing and dancing.
Everyone having a good time.
Uesiliana kids dancing.

The memorial song for Paepae. The picture in front is of her.
Kids line up for a dance.
My neighbors Luteru and his daughter Terisa.

Cultural Day

Thanks for all of your comments, concerns and prayers for my health! My face is really starting to clear up, though there is some scarring, and I finish the medicine for the strep tomorrow. So, back on the mend with a few new postings for you!

Beginning of October marked our annual Cultural Day. Last year I think we held it in June, but this year due to postponements (for example the Prime Minister dying in May) we held it fairly late.

For those of you who don’t remember or have forgotten since last year, cultural day is when the whole school is split into 4 different groups “houses” and prepare songs, dances and skits to compete for the best house. It’s also the time when we have our annual Ms and Mr Uesiliana College competition. The theme of this years’ Cultural Day was “Other Nations.” I think in the spirit of the recently ended South Pacific games, in which 32 different island nations were competing in Samoa, our school chose a similar theme in which each house had to prepare songs and dances that reflected some of those nations. My house represented Tonga. The other houses’ represented Tokelau, New Zealand and Fiji. For the most part the dances were Samoan, but there was an extra little flair in them attributed to the represented nation. For example, the house that chose New Zealand for their country put on a mix of Samoan and Maori dancing… and they stuck their tongues out a lot (something the New Zealand rugby team does).

The night before the event, I wandered up to the hall around a quarter to midnight and everyone was still up and working. I ended up helping out a little even. One of the dresses that one of the Ms Uesiliana competitors was going to wear had a beautiful hand painted flower on the front of it. However, the paint had bled quite a bit into the fabric and it did not look very good. I mentioned that I had acrylic paints in my house and one of the paints matched the fabric color of the dress. So, around midnight I was meticulously painting a dress. For the day of, Laupama made me a nice new bright orange puletasi for the occasion. She also made matching puletasi’s with the fabric for her 2 girls.

Another volunteer from the new group, Kate, took a bus out to watch the festivities with me. She lives in Tafua-tai about an hour bike ride away. Some of my students live in her village and they were excited to see her there. Plus it was fun to watch the dancing and skits and talk with someone during it. Most of the other teachers are busy working: serving food to parents and guests, preparing the clothes for the Mr and Ms Competitions, counting up the money from the donations, running the songs and dances, or just staying busy. They usually don’t let me help with any of that even though I try, so I end up sitting in the front taking pictures.

Overall, it was really similar to last year, but it was fun to watch slightly different variations of the usual dances. Below are a few pictures from the event.
2 of my Year 13 students (Fale and Togipau). Their group represented New Zealand, though this dance is more Samoan.
Meka won the Ms Uesiliana competition. This was her traditional wear outfit.
The girl from my house did not win, but her talent included some traditional Samoan activities like mixing the ava. (Something done at ceremonies).
Afele and Sam (year 13). They are painted up like Maori.
A few students sing unaccompanied. Isaia (3rd from left) and Siteka (5 from left) are both Year 13 students of mine.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sicky that I am

I just wanted to post an update to let you all know why I haven't been posting things lately. I have so much to write about, but being sick has taken priority. White Sunday was last weekend, I accompanied my friend Tim to get his traditional Samoan tattoo, Group 2 (second group ever in Peace Corps Samoa) are back in country, the new group 79 had their Fiafia last night, and my dad arrives in a few days. I have so many pictures and lots of fun stories, but you will have to wait until a later date for all of that. :)

I have been sick with strep throat and some skin infection on my face. It was pretty bad and i felt very self conscience for awhile, but it's almost over. There is no penicilin ANYWHERE in the country, so I am on something a little weaker. :)

Anyways, a few of you had emailed me asking why I haven't emailed back or updated my blog. I just wanted to fill you in on what's going on. I am getting a lot better and will try and come in sometime next week to post pictures and a nice big update.

until then...