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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Clothing

Clothing...
I am trying to figure out when the clothing rule takes effect. At what age do children need to be wearing shirt, at what age should they stop running around naked, and at what age should they be following the village rules for dress.
In most villages children are rarely wearing diapers. This makes sense to me as diapers are costly and will just be throw out usually in the backyard. The thing thaty bothers me about this, is the babies do not usually have anything covering their bums, so they will just randomly pee on the floor....which reminds me of a dog like behavior. Once in Manunu my two year old nephew was wearing pants....however, the pants were covered with so many holes that the urine was quick to go straight onto the floor. It does not seem to matter where children urine as an old cloth can just wipe it off.
Children of ages up until about thirteen are often walking around without shirts on...boys and girls. Sometimes it is on thir own property, but often it is not. When should children be putting on their clothes?
The village rules are that women are to be wearing shirts that cover their shoulders and e'a's or skirts on their bottom. You will be find if you are caught wearing different gear by the Woman's Committee you will be fined tala. However, when does this rule take effect. Is it when you finish Primary School? Because sometimes I have seem children aged eleven walking around in shorter skirts and tank tops. How is this FaSamoan?
It is confusing when Samoan rules take place and when they are not to be followed..
For those of you that are frustrated with my spelling, I am sorry as I am in a rush to type this as there is a line for the computer...

Personal Space

Privacy and personal space are two things that do not exist in Samoa. It is really funny coming from America where everyone insists on having al ot of room and gets bad if someone will sit too close to you, as here it is not the case. It seems as though here it is natural to be as close to someone as you will be breathing on them. For examples at events in the communty everyone sits cross legged on the floor. People sit so close to each other that they are practically on top of each other. Also, you will find men and boys pretty much leaning on each other. It is strange to get used to, because in America it seems that there is a fear to get too close to sit next to someone.
Also people here are used to sharing everything. Their lives are an open book. There is nothing wrong with picking up someone's telephone and reading all of their text messages, or looking over someone's shoulders to read what they are writing. If someone receives a piece of mail, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to pick it u and read it.
Because I am not used to this it is causing my little sister to believe that I have a secret uo that I am not telling her about. I don't want to give her permission to just grab my cell phone at any point because to me it does not seem right.
Plenty of times I will find out that my sisters or brother have just picked up my camera and began taking pictures of random things and although I trust them...I still know their record for breaking things, and if they were to break my camera, I wouldn't be able to afford a substitue for it, especially right away.
I tried talking to them about how they should ask permission before they take something, but because that is non Samoan, they do not understand it.
Maybe by the end of this expeirence I will be a more patience person, or maybe they will just become more Americanized..
I guess in two years time I will figure it out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

address

hey...here is my address..
Lillian Watson, PCT
Peace Corps Samoa

Private Mail Box 7139

Salelologa, Savaii

(Western) Samoa

South Pacific

my old address works, but you can send it here faster

growing up

Before I came to Samoa I was a grown up
When I was 18 I graduated from high school and moved away from my parents. My dad always called going to college a way for parents to pay for their children to run away from home. I have always thought of leaving as being such an amazing decision as I was able to learn to fend for myself (even though my family has always helped me out through any hardship I may have encountered). It never stopped me from loving my family, instead I think it made me feel closer to them as I appreciated them a whole lot more.
The Samoan family is a whole lot different than what we are used to in America. I remember a few years ago when I was visiting my parents and I asked my father if I could spend some time with friends later in that evening. He looked at me with kind of a laugh and replied, “You know it doesn’t really matter what I think you are going to do it anyway.” Which was kind of true. I have always asked permission to do things but my parents knew they could never really stop me as they have raised me to be independent which is the best gift they could have given me. Right before I was about to leave for Samoa I went to visit my family twice (I still had to work, and had to space out my visits for that purpose). During my first visit, I decided to take a trip to D.C to visit some friends. I thought it would be a nice trip to take with my brother before I left. My parents did not really want me to go, but they knew that going to see others was important to me, so not only did they approve of me going, but my father also let me borrow his car for the few days, which made him use the bus.
In Samoan families, the structure is completely different. As long as you are staying on your family’s compound, you need to abide by their rules. That means if you want to take a trip to the city to buy some groceries for the family, you need to make sure you ask dad if you can go first. You need to wake up when you are told to, clean when you are told to, pretty much do everything when asked. It does not matter how old you are, because you still are you parent’s fanou (offspring) and need to show your respect to them.
My brother who is in his early thirties decided to hop on the bus with a friend just to go for a ride. He wanted to keep his friend, the bus driver, company. However, he did not ask permission first, and because of that all of the oldest children were brought together to be scolded for one person’s actions.
I am stuck in the middle of this weird world where I am not sure of my place. I know how I have been living and I know what I have been seeing in Samoa for the past two months. I also know the regulations of Peace Corps to ensure our safety.
Peace Corps made a book for our host parents stating the rules for us to ensure our safety. They apparently made it pretty clear in the document that the family was in charge of my safety and to make sure nothing bad happens to us.
Although it was extremely nice for Peace Corps to make this document for our benefit, it somehow made it harder in some aspects. I hate to say it, but many families in Samoa are uneducated and rarely are these documents read. I was placed with a very educated family and so the whole thing was read (probably twice). The rules we were given is that if we are gone away from our site over night we need to inform the office so that way they know about our whereabouts in case of an emergency. If it is longer than one night we need to fill out a form as it is taking away our vacation time.
A few of us decided to meet up to spend Chanukkah together. My host parents were away for the day that we planned and my sister mentioned it to my host father while I was at dance practice. My father was extremely worried about me first off for being out at night and informed me that the group leaders themselves need to come pick me up to ensure I arrive wherever I need to be safely.
I was then questioned about the trip I planned. I explained a little about Chanukkah and how it is a week long holiday that started just about when we arrived in our villages. Because of the miscommunication because of the language barrier, he was under the assumption that I would be gone for a full week and wanted to know why I hadn’t told him about this prior. I tried to explain that we wanted to celebrate it either on the Monday or Friday (the last day) night. But because my family in Savai’i goes to church on Saturday we decided so do something on Monday night so I would be able to go to church that week.
My dad was very concerned about Peace Corps knowing about my whereabouts. From what he read in the manual, Peace Corps said they would let him know whenever they needed me to leave site, and he was not informed of this instance. I tried to explain how we are allowed to go for one night as long as they are contacted. He told me to contact them, and have them call him.
The next morning, on a Monday I called (I did not want to disturb anyone’s Sunday for such a minor thing). I talked to my assistant country director and told him where I was planning to be, and the reason why. He said that is no problem and was happy that I contacted him on this manner. I then asked him if he would be willing to call my host dad to let him know you approved of my whereabouts (just like my tama had requested). I think he was confused as he has never gotten that request before. He told me that it is my responsibility to do so.
I tried calling my tama, but he was unavailable and I left a message. I left the phone numbers for Peace Corps with my sister so she could contact them in an event of an emergency. The whole time I was travelling I was nervous that I was breaking the rules with my tama and going to lose his trust.
That night we had a great time celebrating and catching up on life, but I still had the nerves for dealing with my dad the next day. I kept texting my sister and she said not to worry. One of the Peace Corps girls I was with was laughing at the situation.
It is quite comical. I was an adult in America for many years. Then I come to Samoa, and at the age of 26 am back to acting like a teenager.
I am still confused over how to handle these kind of situations because it is strange seeing all of these worlds collide as I wonder how to go through life.

All I want to do is dance

All I want to do is dance
There is always too much to do in Fuiluga. I talked with some other Peace Corps Volunteers that were in my group, and they were having the exact opposite of a problem. There was always so much to do that it was very hard to get the actual work we were supposed to do done. I was pretty much having my days booked so badly that I had no desire to awake early to get my run in as sleep seemed much more important.
The one day where it felt like I had a break I went to the city to get a little bit of internet work done, and the trek to the city can be very taxing on yourself.
My first weekend I did what any good Samoan did-go to church. Since my family went to church on Saturdays, on Sundays I was free to pick whatever church I wanted to attend. Since I attended a little party at the Methodist church a few days prior, I decided it was a good opportunity to thank them by attending.
Although I only went to the first service, they were eager to get me to come back and were playing twenty questions with me to find out if I would attend the afternoon service. (However I decided that at that point 5 and a half hours of church were more than enough for one weekend!)
My brother Soki invited me to the beach after church to tafao with his friends. It was a beautiful experience. There were children who brought their horses into the ocean to bathe them. It looked like a post card as they eased the horses in and then continued to ride them in the water.
Then there were a few of us under one of the coconut trees relaxing on the sand. We all acted like I did when I was five, and going to the beach was the most amazing trips you could take it the world. We played in the sand for a long time; digging holes, covering people in the sand and just building things seemed like it was second nature to us.
Some of the boys stopped playing and began to practice a SaSa dance. The Sasa is a dance that is traditional for Samoan where a group of people sit on the floor cross legged and mimic motions. We did a sasa when we were leaving Manunu, but it was nothing compared to what these boys were doing. I began trying to do what they were doing. They then invited me to their dance practice that evening.
That evening Tony and another boy from town picked me up to take me to practice. We walked down the road in town through the dark for a few minutes. The road through Foiluga is not paved with tar and is extremely rocky with huge holes scattered about. (Being the klutz I am I was always nervous because I knew I was going to biff it and land in a pile of rocks.) We then turned into a grassy area which was someone’s home and we began to hear Christmas music blasting from someone’s stereo.
At first I walked around the open fale watching in amazement, but quickly I was invited in. I watched at first and then they gave me a place to be in line. We first did a sasa and then they told me to stand up as I was doing the next dance as well. We did a traditional Samoan dance, the hula, an African dance as well as many, many others. I did all of the dances with the exception of the boys dances. They didn’t take the time to teach me the dances so I just mimicked them. That night we spent two hours practicing and I was exhausted and dripping with sweat from all the dances.
The next day I was available I was brought over to practice singing as I was now a full blown member of the Methodist Church Youth Group. My tama, Tupai was the leader of the group, even though he was not a member of that church.
Tupai lives to sing and perform. It seems like it is his life. In our fale he has many ula that he has collected over the years that people have given him at his performances all over the world. It is a beautiful decoration in the room. He has given his time to help a few churches work on a performance for the holiday season.
So I had to learn a few more dances and pretend to sing. Since the words were rarely shown to me I only picked up a few of the words. For the next few days I had at least two of those practices a day averaging at least four hours. (Along with the other dance group…which brought me up to six hours of singing and dancing..pretty impressive for someone who is horrible at both of them!)
I got myself into trouble because when I was walking around town one of the neighbors asked me if I was going to dance practice. I went with him, not knowing that I was going to a different dance group. Apparently the youth group is divided into three groups that have a sort of dance off on Christmas. Anyway I went and did the dances with them.
Through the coconut wireless the other group heard that I was dancing with them, and I guess they were not happy that another group tried to steal me away. Although I loved my new group as they let me do every single dance, even if it was meant to be only for boys, I had to only pick one group and had to go with the group that found me first.
Tonight (the Friday before Christmas) the youth group is performing in front of a lot of other churches. They gave me a few spotlights which makes me nervous, especially when I do not know the songs!
All I can hope for is the best, and at least I will be as well dressed as them as I was given my own uniform to wear.

Monday, December 14, 2009

road switch

Although I was not here for the road switch I asked my tama (Tupai) about it. The road switch happened in the beginning of September. Apparently the night before there were crews on the road painting arrows throughout the roads so everyone knew which side of the road to be on. In Apia they also painted in some areas “Look Right” to remind pedestrians which way to look. They also created a lot of speed bumps to encourage slower traffic as some people may still be confused about which side of the road to be on.
The next morning people went on the road at 6 am. They then had areas for them to stop until given the word. They announced something on the radio to switch to the other side of the road and all of a sudden everyone did. From what I was told there was no confusion at all as it was easy for all of them.
There has only been one major accident since the switch, and it wasn’t really from the road switch. It happened right by the town of Manunu from one of the buses. The bus, like most buses in Samoa, was going extremely too fast for its own good and missed a turn and flipped over. Somehow the bus was burned and many people were hurt/killed. Because of this accident we were reminded that it is appropriate to tell bus drivers “Alu lemu” or go slow.
Another change because of the road switch is the night clubs. Nightclubs used to be open until midnight, however Samoa was worried about the drunk drivers on the road if the clubs were open so late, especially with the road switch, so they decided to close them at 10 PM instead. I keep hearing rumors that they are supposed to switch it back soon, but I am not sure when. (Not that it matters as I do not live near the city.)
The reason for the road switch was because of costs. It is very expensive for cars to be shipped from America, American Samoa, or other places that drive on the same side of the road as us. Because New Zealand and Australia drive opposite us, and it is closer, they decided to switch to be like them (and enjoy the cheaper shipping of cars).
It is really funny because although no new cars can be brought in that have the driver on left side, there are still plenty of them around. So you will see cars with the driver on both side of the car. It is really comical and I am amazed how few problems have emerged from such a big switch.

church

Going to church
I’ve been in Samoa only a little over 2 months and have visited 5 different congregations here. If you were to ask someone who has been living in Samoa to explain the importance of church they will tell you how it is similar to living in a Muslim country, only with Christianity.
Part of the reason why religion is so important here is because the missionaries who came back in the day are the ones who introduced Samoans to education. Before then there was no formal education system in place here. Some of the religious schools are the better schools in the country. For example the only schools that I have heard that have computers that actually work, and internet are Momona (Morman) schools.
Everywhere you go everything is started with a prayer and usually ends with a prayer. This can be seen at meals, school, ceremonies, and other places. It is difficult entering this world when you are not used to it. It seems really odd for me that at the start of every school day the children are praying. (Especially since I will be working in a public school.) I wouldn’t have expected this at a US Government event, but at our swearing in as Volunteers, a priest was present.
I started off my time in Samoa with going to the Catholic Church for White Sunday. This was the only church that I went to while I was in Apia. This church held services both in English and in Samoan. The two types of services had a few differences which surprised me. Services for the Catholic Church are about an hour long.
When we moved to Manunu the family I stayed with was Momona and so every Sunday we trekked to the next town over to Sauniatu for church. Sauniatu is a village owned by the Momona Church. Walking through that town reminds me of those movies like Pleasantville where every house is perfect, the lawn is perfect, there are even solar panels to heat the water for showers. Wherever there is a Morman Church there are also activities for the children. Every Morman church that I have seen has had a basketball court, many have volleyball nets, and others have fields to play rugby.
Going to the Morman Church is a full day affair for my family. We were in the second ward so service was supposed to be from 12-3. However, since the walk was about twenty minutes, we often left before 11 to ensure we got there in time. The first two hours are for Sunday School. Sunday School is for both children and adults. The last hour we all got together to have the full service.
Manunu had only one church, the EKFS church (Congregational Christian). One day I joined the other Pisi Koa who go weekly to the youth service of the church. It was quite different than anything I’ve been to. It was made up of all singing and dancing. They showcased the importance of not being in a gang and saying no to drinking. It was very impressive.
Romo, the pastor of the EKFS church, invited us to represent the village at the district church day. They described it to us as a singing competition where all the villages get together to showcase themselves as they sing their best song. The event was called the Me. For a little over 2 weeks we held singing practice daily. All of us squabbled a lot as we didn’t like anyone else’s ideas and for them to keep us in school for so long (8-4:30 felt long enough as it was!) . We had Maka playing the piano, then others didn’t like it because the piano had a funky beat to it. Maka decided he would join the rest of us singing, and we became one of the few accapello singing groups of Samoa. The day of the event we went to the EKFS church to practice at their service. They seemed to approve of all the hard work we put into it and were ready to head over to the church in Saoluafata to perform. We were the sixth group out of eight to perform.
It seemed as though there were hundreds of people packed into the church (as well as outside). Many people in our village showed up to support us, along with a few current volunteers! For some reason they decided for us to be the only group to get up on stage to perform. I think everyone was a little shocked to see us going up on stage without a keyboardist. However once we started singing in Samoan the crowd burst into applause. It felt weird for them to applaud us, as no one else seemed to be getting the same appreciation as we were getting. The event ended up being a huge success and the village was extremely proud of us.
The fourth church I went to was the Seventh day Advent Church. The family I am staying with in Savai’i is a member of this church. They go to church twice on Saturdays to recognize the Sabbath. The building is big enough to hold many people, however only 3 families are members of this church. After the first service the members of the church came to our house to have the to’ganati. We then went back in the evening. The evening service was put on by the children and they called on people for prayer and song.
Being a volunteer part of my job is to get to know the community and the easiest way to do this is to go to church, so I went back again the next day (Sunday) to the Methodist church. I met some of the members of the Methodist church a few days prior because they were having a party that I decided to attend. There was music, dancing and volleyball which made it a good time.
There are 2 more churches in my village that I plan to attend in the upcoming weeks and plan on going church hopping to make sure I see them all without spending my entire weekend in church. Since my school is made up of 3 villages I plan to visit those other churches too, so I can get to know my students before the school year starts.
This weekend I spend five and a half hours at church, which is a lot, especially for someone who rarely went to church or synagogue in America. So to celebrate it being over (although I kept being invited to other late services, which I politely decilined) I went to the beach with my brother. It was great place to unwind and take a nap on the beach. (Although my sunburn on my face might not agree! At least at the beach you still have to be covered up(long shorts and teeshirts), so I did not get it elsewhere.)
Tomorrow I will be meeting with Lasela and we will do our own celebration for Chanukkah. (It is amazing how many different religions you can be involved inn within one week!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

prizegiving

We left Apia early in the morning to explore the wonders of Savaii. A few people woke up to see the 7 of us off. (Since they were not going as far they were staying back to await their new families to come and get them.)
When we reached Savai’i our new families were there waiting for us to arrive with pickup trucks to carry all of our goodies. My new tama and my uncle (visiting from New Zealand because of a funeral) were there. We headed straight home. I felt like a dog with my head out the window staring at the amazing beauty of my new home. About an hour later we reached home and we quickly put my belongings inside my room, then headed straight into the car again.
We were off to Gagaemalie Primary School to take part in their prize giving. Prize giving is an event that takes place the last school day of the year where children who are at the top of their class are rewarded prizes. The prizes are things for the family, like dishes or drinking glasses. Also people are picked to siva to raise money for the school.
We were extremely late (as expected from traveling such a far distance). When we arrived I said a quick Malo lava to the school committee members that I passed outside the school. I was then seated in the front facing everyone. I was invited to siva and my new uso, Lynn, put a candy ulu (lei) around my neck. After the dance the vice principal got on the microphone and told everyone that I was the winner of the dance competition and was rewarded more sweets. He also announced me by my name with his last name as if we were married. (You have to love the quirky Samoan humor.)
The pastor said a few words to welcome me into the community. He reminded me that even though there are 3 nu’u that make up this school, every door in the community is open to me as I am now a part of everyone’s family.
The prize giving began for the 8th year. Since it is their final year at the school they are all rewarded prizes and if you are top student, you receive more. When the students come up to get their prize the put the candy necklace around those who have helped them out and then a huge procession of people come up to flower them with the candy ulu. It was a beautiful sight to see.
They were then called up to dance and money was raised. Then out of nowhere (at least to me) they called me up to siva by myself. I was extremely tired and know that I did not do the Samoan dances their justice.
After the events were over the teachers gathered together with the school committee members for a delicious and large lunch.
It was an interesting day and a great way to start off my life of living in Savai’i.

peacecorps

It’s official..
One December 9th, 2009we swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers. The ceremony took place in Apia at our home away from home, the Pasifika Inn.
Earlier in the morning my Manunu sister, brother and cousin stopped by to tafao (hang out) for one of the last times I would be living on the island of Upolu. Camilla, my sister, also brought with her a brand new pulatasi for me to wear to our ceremony. After spending a little time with them I finally had to retreat back inside to get ready for the big affair.
We met downstairs in the Peace Corps office for the first part of our induction. Robin Jager from the ambassadors office lead us in our official swearing in, where afterwards we had to sign the oath we gave.
We then went back up the few flights of stairs where our Manunu families were waiting. It was a wonderful ceremony. Romo, the local pastor for Manunu, was there to lead us in prayer and had some very nice things to say. We then sang our trademark song that we preformed at the Me (probably spelled wrong, but it was the gathering of churches for a kind of sing off). Our country director, Dale, and Hp, our fearless leader throughout training, explained how amazing we were for the past 2 months. Recapping just a glance of what we did during training. The CEO of MESC (Ministry of Schools Sports and Culture) talked about our program and how excited she is to see it begin. She also talked about her experiences as a child with the first wave of Peace Corps Volunteer teachers. Robin lead us in another oath specific oath for Samoa while also adding wonderful remarks of her experiences as a teacher.
Then probably, the best speech came. We elected Martini to speak on behalf of our group and he did a fantastic job representing each one of us. The previous night while we were having out amazing family dinner of Mexican food, Martini began pulling everyone aside to ask about their experiences leading up to the Peace Corps, what it means to them to be a volunteer, and the best experience they have had. He did a spectacular job summing it all up in a speech. He mentioned Uefa’s spaghetti sandwiches, and Emi’s hats. After that a few of us said a few words of thanks to our training staff. I was asked to talk about Joe.
Joe was my first language instructor here and did an amazing job teaching us (especially for this being his first teaching assignment).Joe reminded us all of the Gecko from the Geico commercials. The first day of class we did the Macarena to learn the alphabet and the fun continued to roll on with singing Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes nonstop. We played a lot of games, which sometimes got us frustrated with the language being difficult . Joe continued to push us and it paid off. We were terrified to get another teacher because of our comfort level with Joe being so high. So our first day of class with Terry, he snuck in early to write us a quick note to wish us luck and tell us he loved us.
It’s hard to believe the grueling 9 weeks of training are now over. We had a lot of fun living with each other and taught each other a lot. We know embarked on our own journeys, the real reason we came here. Our paths will cross a lot, as we continue to make up the Peace Corps family, and I am excited to see what the future entails. (Hopefully no spaghetti sandwiches!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Peace Corps


What it means to be in the Peace Corps
Yesterday was two months since we arrived in the country. We have all had a lot of wonderful experiences and learned a lot. However I am still not sure if I know the feeling of what it actually means to be a person in the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps is a truly unique position to hold. There are three main objectives that I am to accomplish by being a part of it. The first one is to share with my host country the ideas of Americans are like. By living with me for the few years they will have a better understanding of what it means to be an American and to hopefully gain their respect. I’ve shared with my family in Manunu pictures that I have and post cards that I have brought. Since the family does not have access to a television, it was their first views of America which seemed pretty amazing to me. As an American we seem to have the whole world at our fingertips. If we want to learn about something we can go to the library and research it and see a lot of pictures. Here, I only know of one library, and it is in Apia, so it is not accessible to most. It seems like many schools do not have libraries, and books in general are very rare. While in Manunu we saw only one family with more than 5 books. Americans also have the internet at their fingertips and can go to many places to go online and Wikipedia anything. In Samoa internet is very scarce. There are places that you can go for wifi, however it is very expensive. Internet cafes are also pricey. Some people do have dial up internet in their houses, however from what I am told the companies are unreliable. They will often disconnect you for no reason and are often changing their phone numbers to make it difficult. Also you need to pay by the minute for the landline of your telephone and pay by the minute for your internet time. From what I was told I think the minimum wage for Samoa is around $2 tala. That is about $1 American. For an hour of internet where I am it is $15 tala. When you have so many other financial obligations to your family, it is very unrealistic to think that some of the money may go for internet. (This means if you would like to help me share pictures by sending me postcards, I world love it!)
The second is to share with other Americans about the beauty and ideals of Samoa. To understand this I need to deeply put myself inside the lives of a Samoan. This makes me very happy I am not going to be living near a city and will get to know more of what it means to be a Samoan. I am looking forward to learning the language to communicate in every little part of my day. I will be involved in the different community functions as well as get involved with my Samoan family and see how they do things on a daily routine. This will mean hopefully learning how to cook on the fire, make the Samoan oven, and more fun trips to the plantation!
The last objective for myself is to use my knowledge to make my community for the next two years a better place and put together projects that will be ongoing well after I leave Samoa. This will be a two part process. I will first be teaching English in the classroom and co teaching with another teacher to work on using different teaching methods. We are also to put on staff development sessions to hopefully work with the teachers to learn new strategies to deal with incorrect behavior, other than corporal punishment. We are also to go into the community and set up different projects that will make the community a better place. Where I am moving they would like me to set up gardens and do some other projects that I am unsure of at this time.
For the past two months we have been babied by having our mail delivered directly to us. (Opposed to starting tomorrow, where the mail is delivered once a week, and it is about an hour bus ride to the post office to pick up my mail.) We can have language help pretty much any hour of the day. (I can get a Samoan tutor in my new village but I will be the one to do all the preparations for it.) Having our medicines for any ailment we think we might have delivered directly to us, and fast. (We will have a medical kit, but it might be a long trip to go see our amazing medical officer Teuila. We will have to do a lot more self diagnosing using our handy dandy medical guide and letting her know what it is we have. We still will get our medicines, but it will not be as easy as before.) We will also not have filtered water readily available for us and will have to filter it ourselves.
No matter what I am excited to see what the job entails. I am excited to understand what ti means to be in the Peace Corps and have it make as big a difference in my life as it has in many other people’s lives.

Halloween


Just looking over my posts I realized that I have not shared my amazing Halloween experience with everyone. Halloween this year was on a Saturday and we were looking forward to joining the rest of the volunteers for their usual celebration at an Apia drinking establishment….. but because it was on a Saturday it caused too many difficulties. We were not able to go because we would get back too late for our families likings and it would not be culturally acceptable for us to go back the next day as it is rude to enter the village on a church day. That meant we would be making our own celebration.
We started off the week teaching our families about Halloween. Some of us ran into more difficulties than others. I remember hearing about Emi’s experience with her family. She told her family that people dress up and go to houses and ask for candy. She heard one of her brothers tell someone else that Halloween is a holiday where, “people wear masks and rob others for candy”. So as you can tell some well a lot less successful.
My family knew a lot more about the holiday, about 23 years ago they were in American Samoa for the holiday and were able to celebrate it. My two oldest siblings in the family dressed up and collected a lot of candy. So when I told my family we were putting on our own Halloween party for the children of Manunu they were immediately expecting us to shell out tons of money for candy for their children.
One day at lunch time I taught my family the trick or treat rhyme, only I made a mistake and said it wrong. I told them it was, “trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat, if you don’t I don’t care, I’ll pull down my underwear.” They thought it was hysterical and were saying this phrase for weeks following Halloween.
So for our Halloween we decorated the church hall with our fun construction paper cut into different designs. Then we set up different stations for the children. There was a place for “Pin the Nose on the Clown”, musical chairs, duck duck goose, pumpkin decorating (on construction paper), face painting (with markers), limbo, and races. They had all different kind of races, 3-legged races, sack races, mask making, relay races, and maybe a few more of them. I really wish there was real pumpkin decorating as pumpkins are in season…but maybe that’s a plan for next year.
The children showed up ready for fun. They ransacked the area to play all of the different games. I played with them musical chairs for a little bit and then helped out at the pumpkin decorating station. We were having a good time then in true Halloween fashion…. We had a blackout!
There were probably over 50 kids screaming and running around along with several teenagers who came to see what kind of trouble they could get themselves into. There was no light whatsoever for a few minutes, until some of us Peace Corps found the little flash lights we used to walk to our Halloween festival. We tried to corral the children onto the floor just to have a little bit of order. I don’t really think we really had a plan of what we would do with the children once they got onto the floor.
Finally Elu (Dan) stepped up. Elu started doing a ton of clapping exercises to get the children to quiet down and pay attention to him. He started the children on a spooky story. We all knew that many of the children’s ability for speaking and understanding were limited so he used all of us who dressed up.
The story began in a quiet little village of Manunu were everything was peaceful…Until….A giagantic bumblebee (Kaelini) came to the town and scared all the children. The children of the village were extremely scared of the bee. Suddenly a ghost showed up (me) to scare the bee away. The ghost haunted the village running around making spooky noises. Next, a pirate (Viliamu) came to scare the ghost away. The story went on with tigers (Emi and the children she drew tiger faces on), a cat (Ali), and I think a few more people. When Elu was about to run out of things to say, a nice Peace Corps (Katelini) entered the story with a gigantic bag of candy. They held the bag up in the air, reminding me of a piƱata and all of a sudden dropped it on the floor. The children were going crazy to try and pick up as many little pieces as they could while fighting each other for some of the pieces.
So our story was over, and the lights were still out….and we really did not know what to do.
But…we still had music from our battery speakers working off of our Ipod. So Lasela and I tried to get the children into a game of freeze dance. A few of the older once picked it up, however it was very difficult as some of the little children were still screaming from the lights being off.
Finally, almost an hour after the lights went off, they suddenly turned back on. We were so relieved and had the children playing the games again. However the noise level was still too loud for us to enjoy our time. Kaelini came up with the amazing idea to play limbo with the children where the exit point is out the door. It worked and the gym was a lot quieter…
But the children did not understand the idea of leaving the hall and not coming back as they all filtered back into the room. So…we played limbo again, and most of them did leave. There were still a few kids drawing and it was upsetting to force them to leave, but we were getting way too exhausted.
We cleaned up for about half an hour, but did not want to call it a night.
In Manunu there is an old fale ruins where all that is left is the stairs leading up, and a few concrete columns. I never heard what the structure used to be, or even the significance of it, but we all came to love this area. We decided to go up there and in true American fashion share ghost stories. It was such a great night, and it was sad to see it end.
The next day for church children still had their markings from our face painting, and some of them were having difficulties parting ways with their masks. It was amazing to see how much these little children appreciated us for sharing our holiday with them.
I honestly think it was one of the best Halloweens I have ever experienced. I would love for group 82to go back to Manunu next year and continue the tradition.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Siva


Samoa as a country has its laws, some of which seem a little more absurd than others, such as it being illegal for a man to impersonate a female, however it is not illegal for a female to dress like a male. Each village also makes up their own rules to abide by. One of the big ones in Manunu is no drinking. Although I do not agree with this kind of law normally I do understand where it is coming from. From my two months of observations it seems as though people do not know how to stop drinking until they are sloppy drunk. They have no middle ground and so if they are to have one drink, it really equals many, many more. This causes the people in the villages to be on high alert as the drunks are ready to start fights and harass people.
One night I was hanging out in the faleo’o with my three brothers when a young man came by drunk. You could smell the alcohol coming off of him. He tried to grab my things and was acting very obnoxious. He was blocking the entry way to the faleo’o so I was unable to leave. Finally my cousins from across the street came by to try to help out in my situation. It was a rough night because these people cause you to lose sleep.
Dances in Samoa have been a lot of fun. Every week we were in Manunu they held a siva for us to have fun at. We were very cautious at first with dancing with others of the opposite sex. We were told during one of our many training sessions that it is polite and respectful to accept the dances from people of the opposite sex. But we should only dance once as if we dance more than once it will give off the wrong impression and you are thought to be dating that person and might give off more connotations.
The first two dances were held by the church as a fundraiser.
The first Friday was our welcome to the village. All of our tina’s made us beautiful outfits to wear. We were then called up one by one to talk a little in Samoan and Siva Samoa. At this point in our service we did not know much of Samoan dances (not that right now I know any more…) but we still tried anyway. When you are called to dance they put out a little bowl for people to put tala in. If others wish to dance at that point they are to drop money into the bowl.
Samoan men are very amusing to watch as they dance Samoan to a female’s dance. They remind me of a strange ape. They hop around on the floor patting their chest just like a monkey would. Then they lay on the floor in front of the female to allow the female to dance on them.
The second dance was for the youth group at the church and so it was us with a lot of little children. Whenever a song ends everyone sits down at the side. Then people come up to you and bow to ask you to dance with them. With so many children it was hysterical because the children would come running at us like a storm. We would have about 10 children around us waiting for us to stand up and dance with them. Many of us Peace Corps had the same silly dance where we jumped a while lot. I ended up giving myself such a workout that I pulled a muscle in my leg!
The third and fourth dances were more like a nightclub where you had to pay to get inside. They covered up an open fale with tarps so no one could see inside. They had a dj instead of the normal band. They money was raised for the family holding it so they could lend it out to others. (At least that was how I was understanding it.)
The third dance my tina made me another outfit that was very tight, but it was very nice. We went inside and it was hotter than anything, but at least they were playing great music. We danced the night away for a few hours… and then when it got too hot we went outside and danced in the rain. We were called up to the dj to introduce our self and say if we had a uo, or a friend (meaning boy/girl friend). We then did a group siva Samoa. As the night rolled on more and more strange people were showing up. The surrounding village men had come, and did not come sober. They would try talking and dancing with me and my Peace Corps friends, and we were not having any of that. This night we decided not to listen to the rule of dancing with people and did not care that their pride was hurt as how they acted it felt well deserved. By the end of the night we were covered in our own sweat so badly that it looked like we spent the whole night dancing in the rain. (The only way you could tell differently if by smelling us!)
For the fourth dance less Peace Corps people came, and so the girl to guy ratio was really bad! In the beginning we had a lot of fun dancing with ourselves. However as the night went on it got worse and worse. It seemed like there were more drunk people at the dance than lived in the village. Some of the Peace Corps girls did not feel safe and left. It is good to see that everyone still knows what to do when they reach a situation like that.
Our final dance was our departure from Manunu. We showed up earlier than the rest of the village, and of course many little children followed us. So we danced for a bit with the children. After some time the rest of the village came and we preformed a few dances; an all girls traditional dance, a boys slap dance, and a group sa sa, which is performed on the floor. After we did our dances the community asked us to perform the song we did at the district church festival the previous week. They were extremely impressed with our skills. We were then blessed with an amazing treat. Three of our language teachers dressed up like woman and did a hysterical dance to “Mama Mia”. In the middle of the dance two Samoan women came up to dance with them. One of them was my tina and she was hysterical as she used her full body in the dance moves.
I’m looking forward to many, many more dances in Samoa!

thanksgiving

I remember my first time being away from America without Thanksgiving. In 2000, my sister Jen and I went on an amazing journey to Dublin to celebrate the holiday. We ran around the streets touring everywhere wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and people giggled with us because they understood what the holiday was for us. We were able to go out to dinner for our Thanksgiving meal at Captain America’s Restaurant where we had a true American meal of burgers and fries. Dublin was a great place to celebrate the holiday.
This year was different, but in a good way. I learned it is very difficult to explain what this holiday is to people who have very limited English, especially while my Samoan also is very limited. I explained how it is a holiday where we have a to’ona’i (feast). They explained how they celebrated that every week after church. It was very hard to explain how our holiday was different than their Sunday meals.
Peace Corps decided to have our Cultural Day on Thanksgiving. That meant that class would start an hour early so we couldn’t do our awesome ritual of going running. Around 6:30 my brother started bringing our necessary supplies to our teachers’ fale. We were to bring taro (it’s called talo in Samoan, and it is similar to a potato…only in my opinion more delicious!), popo (mature coconuts), leaves, and I think meat of some sort. Around 6:45 I joined Ezra, my brother at the fale.
In normal Samoan society the men go out to the plantation to gather the necessary food items while the women stay back to cook. However, in some families where there are more of one sex or another, gender roles may have to switch. Our Peace Corps family is a prime example of this. We have 15 females in our group, and only 5 males (one of which severely sprained a muscle in his leg and would be unable to go to the plantation). So many of us females were to head out to the plantation. I was one of the ones chosen. (We had to bring one of our Samoan siblings to come help out for this day, and most of us brought our brothers, since there were more male Samoans, many of the males had to stay back, and Ezra was one of them. Because of this I called him my sister or tuafafine (sister of a male), and he called me his tuagane (brother of a female.)
We started off on our hike. It had rained all morning and the ground was very muddy. We walked for about 20 minutes on this path wondering where Samu (Lasela’s brother) was having us walk to. We were going to his plantation and many of the Peace Corps brought their family’s machetes. It was pretty funny because only females were carrying knives. We finally turned into the bushes and continued on our path. We were walking single file with some people carrying machetes, it reminded me what a death march might look like. We finally arrived at Samu’s plantation.
We divided into a few groups; one to weave baskets to bring things back, another to collect popo from the ground, and another to collect fire wood. I was in the group to get fire wood. We went to a tree that was laying down (I don’t think it was dead though). And people began using their knives to cut down huge parts of the trees (they pretty much looked like they could be a full tree themselves).
After working for about half an hour at the plantation we went back. I had fire wood that was about three times my size to carry back. Maka was walking in front of me and I accidently placed the log into his bum a few times. We walked to the bridge (about our half way point) to wait for some of the others to catch up. After about a 5 minute rest we continued walking to our village. Those who stayed behind began applauding our efforts when we arrived at the fale as they had completed the cooking.
We headed into the village meeting area where we ate koko esi (coco and papaya soup-it’s delicious!). We then quickly switched roles and started an ava ceremony. An ava ceremony is usually used to welcome someone into the village, however they wanted us to practice doing it so we knew the different roles. Martini was our ali’i (highest chief), Kale was the person who delivered the ava to the different people, Maka was the person who called out the names of everyone receiving the ava, Kaelini, Korina and myself were the ones making the Ava. Manu the highest chief in Manunu did the ritual talk of welcoming to the village while the other matais began talking as well. It is an amazing thing to see all the people talking out of turn at such an official meeting like this. Martini was then offered to talk, and when he was it would have to be in Samoan, Manu decided that it would be best if he did the talk for him.
While the talk was going on we had to make the Ava. It is pretty interesting how things have to be done in such a specific order. Korina had to wipe the bowl in circles going in a specific directions each time. I had to pour the water into the bowl, while Kaelili supervised.
Then out of nowhere a monstrous voice came out of nowhere. Maka began doing the ceremony talk. He then called out names for people to receive the ava. The ava is served in a shell of a popo. It is delivered in a specific order where the most important get the ava first. When the person shouting out the names is unsure of the name of someone, or just wants to be funny he will call out random names. (During our Ava ceremony for Manunu I think there were about 4 of us named Julie.) Maka had some of the locals helping him out as he called them Jesus and other funny names.
When you receive the cup of ava, you say a little speech to thank for it and then wish for health. You then throw the popo shell to the person who gave it to you. When this was done to Kale he dropped it once.
After the ceremony we began heading back to our trainers’ fale to prepare our to’ona’i. I started with preparing the umo (Samoan oven). To prepare the oven we have to moved rocks around. I got bored at this station and didn’t want to get too hot around the fire so at the first chance I had to leave I left!
I then went with a group to prepare the moa (chicken) and other birds that families brought. I first had to pluck a dead chicken. Then I was given the huge kitchen knife to cut the chicken into pieces. When I began cutting the chicken blood began splattering all over me. All the chicken was put into a pot. Knowing my eating habits I knew I would not be eating the poultry because they put more of the birds into the pot to be cooked than I liked to eat. They then went to make it into supo moa (chicken soup).
I then headed over to the area where people were de shelling the coconuts. There is a sharp stick in the ground and you have to try to break into the coconut and get the little piece out. My first one took 20 minutes and that was with help from many people. I decided to keep practicing and did 3 more. I think my last one took less than 5 minutes, still a long time but it was a lot faster than my first one.
I was then given a machete to open the coconut. I tried a few times and failed. I was so terrified to cut my hand to pieces. I think someone saw my fear because a Samoan showed up to help me crack it open.
I next went over to the area to shave the coconut so they came make coconut cream. All Samoans have this little bench with a sharp hook that you use to scrape the popo. Someone then used the stringy thing to get the juice from the shaved coconut.
We then went to make palusami (coconut cream wrapped in banana leaves). We had to pull apart leaves and then put them into our cupped hands. Then poured the cream into our hands and wrapped it in the leaves. They were then put into the umo.
They then brought out the pig. They gutted him in a put places and put steaming hot stones inside the pig. The pig was then put leaves inside the pig. I decided to join in. It was kinda crazy how intense the heat from the steam was.
While the food was cooking they brought out leaves for us to weaves baskets. After weaving our baskets we weaved plates.
We then picked roles for our big meal. Some people were picked as the matais, others were chosen to prepare the plates, others were chosen to serve the food and have the bowl to wash hands. I was chosen to fan the matai’s food as they ate.
Lia was the highest matai and with that title bestowed on herself she was to give the prayer for the meal. She thanked everyone for all the delicious food, thanked Peace Corps for the beautiful girls they brought and other pretty funny things. I then was fanning Uefa and Maka’s food to make sure there were no flies. They were the slowest eaters in the world. I swear they were still eating for about twenty minutes after everyone else finished.
We then headed over to the trainers fale for the rest of us commoners to eat. We went around the group to say what we were thankful for as we ate our meal. After our meal we got a thank you from the village of delicious ice cream. We served the ice cream to all of the people in our village who have helped us over the day. After the ice cream it began to pour again.
It rained and rained and rained. We were supposed to have a sports day after our meal, and we did not want it to ruin our fun. We headed out on the malae (field) to play softball. It was so much fun sliding all over the place. My team was so much worse than the other team. We got three outs so quickly while their team was at bat forever!
After our game we had choir practice for the big church festival we were to sing at a few days later.
It was a great was to celebrate Thanksgiving because we were all coming together to create delicious food and having a lot of fun throughout the entire process.
We got to celebrate a second Thanksgiving which was more of an American style on that Saturday at Robin’s house. Robin is the Charges d’affaires for the Ambassadors office. We had a great time eating and socializing with everyone. I will never forget this year’s Thanksgiving as it was truly unique.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

theft

Living with such a loving family you wouldn’t expect one person to deceive you. I went from living on my own in Colorado to having 4 sisters, 3 brothers, 2 nieces, a nephew, a cousin, and a mom and dad living with me. Alone that was a huge change. There were a few places where people slept. There was a Palagni style house which was one big room in which me, my 25 year old sister and her 2 year old and 7 month daughter also slept. A Palangi house is what we call our normal houses with walls and doors. There was a faleo’o where the boys slept(my 3 brothers and my cousin). A faleo’o looks like a hut. It has leaves out together to make the roof and is a plain wooden floor. There was an open fale where the girls slept (3 sisters, and my 3 year old niece). The open fale had a tin roof (with ridges so you can collect the rain water), and a few wooden support beams. It was also the place where we usually ate our meals, and hung out dancing because the radio was there. Behind that was the kitchen which was a true Samoan kitchen, which means a wooden shack, with a thatched roof, a wooden flat area where meals are prepared, and a space that was all dirt for the fire. The flooring was rocks which were sometimes used in cooking the food. My Samoan parents slept on the wooden flat area. In the kitchen there is no electricity at all. So when the need comes for light, they will often burn old coconut tree leaves.
In such small quarters it is very easy for people to get sick and spread it around to everyone else. So when I first arrived in mid October, one person had the flu, and by the time I left in the beginning of December 7 people in my family were currently sick with the flu. When little children are sick, they aren’t the most pleasant to be around, especially when you want to sleep!
In the Palagi house there was a bed with a curtain around on side of the bed, and on the other side of the curtain was the mosquito net for the other three to sleep in. All the locals do not sleep on beds, and rarely do they sleep on mattresses, usually it is mats on the floor.
Of course to my great luck the two and 6 month old and my sister Jenny were all sick. Throughout the entire night the children would take turns waking up screaming because of them not feeling good. It was pretty ridiculous! About 5 times during the night they would wake up screaming for about 20 minutes. I have not met one Samoan who is a light sleeper, so usually when they start crying I hear it right away, but my sister does not hear it until much later. After a little over a week of not getting much sleep, my family began to notice how grumpy I was getting (along with everyone else I came in contact with!) and that night they switched the sleeping arrangements.
My 16 year old sister and my 3 year old neice were in the Palagi house with me. The 16 year old is toe tali titi (not spelled right, but it means cheeky). One day when I was playing basketball outside Maka’s fale, I took my i’e (wrap around skirt) off. (Since his house was right outside the village woman can get away with wearing long shorts.) She swooped by and picked it off the rock I had it on and started wearing it. My 21 year old sister came by and asked me where my i’e was. We both saw Fili my 16 year old sister wearing it. She was immediately scolded for it and had to give a big apology for it. Another example of Fili being cheeky is she woke me up once by slapping me in the bum just to ask to borrow a paper from me.
Anyway, our host families are required to do laundry for us once a week, and since my 21 year old sister was helping out at another family member’s house with the chores, Fili was told to do it. During the week she kept mentioning that she would do my laundry but never did it. I finally asked Jenny, my 25 year old sister, and she said she would get Fili to do it that day. It finally was done and two days later I was not the stinky kid anymore. Later in the week, my clothes were running low again, and I directly asked her in front of her big brothers to do it. About 5 minutes later they were on the line drying. I didn’t put two and two together until I got my clothes back…. And they smelled! She was mad at me for interrupting her fun time so she decided to wash them without soap.
During the time Fili was sleeping in the same room as me I noticed that my things were being moved and sometimes she would take the key to my locked box to roam around while I was sleeping or in the shower. I also was surprised to find that all the money that was in my wallet was taken. It was only $5 tala, but it was still upsetting…. Especially because some days you just really want an ice cream! I wasn’t sure who took it as it could have been taken anywhere.
My last full day in Manunu I began packing and realized my favorite shirt was not there. I went and brought it up to my two siblings that I was closest to, Jenny and Ezra, my 24 year old brother. They immediately asked me if they noticed anything else missing and I told them about the money. Jenny immediately went through Fili’s school bag and found 4 shirts and undergarments. Ezra told me that Fili was stealing my shampoo and conditioner because he noticed that day that there was a plastic bag with white goop inside it.
As soon as Jenny made the discovery my parents returned home from their trip to Apia. They immediately sat down to have our little family meeting. They apologized for what happened and everyone cried for “ruining my time in Manunu”. I told them not to worry because a few events can’t ruin as much fun as I was having. My tama gave me tala from his pocket to make up for the money that was taken.
Almost as if it was on cue Fili showed up from school. She was summoned into the dining area in which we were sitting. My tina began yelling at her, hitting her and pulling at her hair. I know parents do hit their children all over the place, but not growing up with it, I was rarely exposed to it. She apologized to me, and thankfully I was able to leave the stressful situation because it was time to go back to school.
This event made me nervous about the classrooms. Because although corporal punishment is not allowed in the schools, it still happens frequently. I wonder how it will be when I see it happening for the first time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

dressing conservatively

Dressing conservatively
In the United States we always seem to dress however we please thinking that there are no consequences to our actions. You see people wearing short shorts and tank tops every place you go. No one thinks twice about what their wearing because it is the cultural norm.
In many villages in Samoa they have a dress code that you must wear a lavalava (a wrap around skirt) if you step foot off of your family’s property. (This is for females). It doesn’t matter what you have under that: shorts, pants, it is still a requirement. You also must have your shoulders covered and can not wear a tank top or anything of the sort. If someone catches you dressing this way the village will fine you. For example my sister was caught walking about 20 feet from the bus to our house in sweatpants and a tank top and the woman’s committee caught her and she was fined 20 tala.
The more conservatively you dress the more respect you are given. If you wear the traditional clothes (polatasies [I still can not figure out the spelling for that word] for females and i’e lavalava [not sure if that is the correct spelling, but it is a real handsome skirt] for the males) less people will harass you at each place you go to. Many seem to give you the upmost respect and you will have the best chance to have a Samoan speak to you in Samoan. When you are out dancing people will give you your space and not dance too close to you, which is real nice when it is consistently way too hot here!
While living in Manunu (our training village more inland) we had 4 dances. The first two were put on as a fundraiser for the church. The first one was a welcoming to their community. We all had to Siva Samoa and all dressed for the part wearing traditional clothes. (I was told later that I looked like a Pastor’s wife in the outfit my family made for me. When you Siva Samoa you are called up to introduce yourself, answer some questions (the main one is have you found a Samoan boy/girl friend yet) then you slowly head to the dance floor. You attempt to do these beautifully flowing moves while people pay money into a bowl to dance with you. Females that go out there to dance do their amazing Samoan dance moves while the males remind me of apes. They jump around (sometimes on all fours) screeching and yelling things that do not make sense to me. They throw themselves on the floor for the females to dance on top of them.
When a person of the opposite sex asks you to dance we are supposed to always accept as it is the polite more traditional thing to do. However, if you dance with them for more than one song, there is a good chance their dancing with you might mean something more to them and you might be thought of as their boy/girlfriend. This dance was very nice because no one was trying to dance too close because everyone seemed to show the respect that was due based upon their outfits.
The second dance was put on for the youth group and the Pisi Koa, however several others showed up as well. Again, we were all dressed traditionally and had several people of the opposite sex join us in dancing with groups of little children. My favorite was a boy asked me to dance while I was dancing with a group of 3 year olds. I told him that I could not leave my dance partners and he could join us. He immediately joined us in holding hands and our silly three year old dance.
The last two dances in town were different. This may be due to the fact that the pastor was out of town so one of the families opened up their open fale as a dance club. It was pretty unique how they set it up. They put rain tarps all around the outside so no one could look inside. I wore the traditional clothes as my mother had just made me a new purple polatasi. However, since there was no real dress code many people wore other clothes. I began to notice that for the females wearing other clothes men began to test their boundaries with you. Dancing closer and acting more inappropriate. (On a side note the nu’u rules include no drinking alcohol. Many people from different nu’u came to this dance and did not come sober. Many of them stank of alcohol on their bodies and it was not good to be even near them.)
For the last dance we had in our village none of us wore a polatasi (we began to realize how hot we were getting wearing those outfits while dancing for several hours). Although the majority of us were still wearing long skirts and covering our shoulders with tee shirts, we still had to deal with more harassment from the boys. Many of them have seen American girls on television and in movies and those forms of media do not portray American females in the best light. They think of Americans as being loose and ready for a good time. Wearing traditional clothes was like a boundary for the Samoans. If you are dressed up in their clothes, they have a more clear understanding of not to mess with you. However that night since none of us were dressed that way, we were constantly being pushed. The night ended early for one Pisi Koa because of not being able to take the harassment from the opposite sex anymore. Even though we all had to be more on guard, it was still a good time.
Last night Corina and I decided to see what Apia nightlife was like for the first time before heading back to Manunu today. One of our trainers suggested a specific night club. After stepping foot insider there I found out why…. It was mainly for tourists and so it was full of Palagis. We had no real plans to go out and so she was still dressed in her Polatasi and I was wearing a polo shirt and capris. The other people in the club were dressed how you might see many dress in America and Corina and I were shocked to see so much skin being exposed! Dressing more conservatively was great for us because people tended to leave us alone and we were free to dance by ourselves. We had such a great time getting this extra special treatment that after swearing in we are planning to go back there dressing in Polatasis every time. Sure it gets hot wearing the traditional clothes, but it is worth it if you are given your piece of mind.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Going to the prom

Going to the Prom
It all began on Friday the 13th. It was a day of excitement because we knew the information we were about to find out would shape the way for our next two years. Our amazing leaders put up two maps; one of Upolu and one of Savai’i. It had listed the names of current volunteers and the names of cities we were destined to go to. One by one they called out the name of the village, gave a little bit of information about it and one person began to jump for joy as they now knew more about the place they would live. We then put a picture of ourselves on the map so that way we could see where we would be in relation to one another.
When they called out my name, I began to jump for joy not even realizing what nu’u they were placing me in. Finally my subconscious clicked in. They said Gagaemalae which was my first choice for villages. I quickly put up my picture while doing a quick little dance then ran to my seat of the floor neglecting to pick up my information packet of the new village. Feeling silly, I walked back to get the information.
That weekend we had the tough jobs of telling our families that we have grown so attached to that some of us were heading far away. They continued to tell us that they would miss us, and tell us how much they love us. They all made us promise to visit as much as possible.
On Monday we embarked on a voyage to see our new homes. Some of us would find a new family to take us in as their sons and daughters, others would find community members to help them settle into their new homes. My sisters walked me to the trainers’ fale at 3:30 in the morning to take our van ride to the market. Once we got to the market we hopped on the pasio va’a (bus to the ferry). This was my first real bus experience here and busses in Samoa are very unique. Everyone is very accommodating to make sure there is room for everyone. People sometimes seat 4 to a seat while still keeping that smile on their faces.
We then took the 8a.m. ferry to Savai’i. It was a beautiful ride. (This was probably because we were on the bigger ferry boat that does not rock quite as much.) Afterwards we had to rush to our next bus. I asked some locals questions about the bus and it was funny because I was ask them questions in Samoan and they would respond in English. There are a two people working on the bus, the driver and the helper. The helper helps everyone load their packages onto the bus and makes sure everyone who is old, young, or Palagi has a seat. The helper also runs errands for what seems like his entire nu’u. He was constantly jumping off the bus to drop off a propane tank, or buy items from several stores.
The helper was the one who told me we had made it to my primary school. (It was close to 11:00) I was so confused because I was expecting to be let off right at the school and there I was being left off on the road. To my left was this amazingly blue ocean and to my right was a dirt path covered in trees. I headed down the path anxious to see what was going to be in store for me when I came across this old wooden blue building. As soon as I stepped into the gates of the school children began crawling out from every crevice of the building wondering why a Palagi was on their property. Soon after a few teacher came out of their classrooms to welcome me to their school and walk me into the teachers’ lounge. I talked with the pule (principal) for a bit as she was going to be my new tina. Soon after the other teachers began to show up and and we were showered with food that the students prepared for us. After eating we chatted for a little bit and then headed home. (Schools in Samoa let out early during exam time.) We had about a ten minute walk to my new fale.
My new family was very welcoming and are very intelligent. I have 4 new sisters (two of them are living at home now) and 2 older brothers. I really enjoyed spending the two days with my family. When I returned back to Apia on Wednesday I was excited to find out that they still wanted to spend time with me. My brother Joe invited me to an event on Thursday night which his sister would also be at that I have never met. I could not understand what the event was and obviously did not know how to dress for the night.
Joe picked me up in a cab with his cousin. Apparently his cousin had the wrong idea and thought I was Joseph’s date. I must have said tuagane (brother) about 100 times during the trip! We showed up to this giant parking lot (Well giant for Samoa..) and I see people heading up this amazing staircase in formalwear. Upon entering I realized we were at the University’s Prom. I had an amazing time dancing with my brother and sister. It reminded me of how a dance would be in the States with the similar music and dancing. My family took amazing care of me making sure no stranger would dance with me to keep me safe. I had such a great time and I will never forget my first prom of Samoa….where I wore Capri pants and a tee shirt!

Palagi

Palagi…
Walking around Samoa you will hear the word Palagi used quite a bit. At first a lot of us thought it was something offensive and wondering why others called us that. Not only are we called Palagi, but the English language is also called Palagi. When asking school children to say something in English, they might look at you funny because they do not know what that word is…but as soon as you say Palagi, they will sometimes start chatting away.
We were very confused about this term and wanted to know the facts behind it. We talked to some of our trainers and they were telling us how it is actually the opposite. The term came about when all the Missionaries were invading Samoa. They said it was like a beautiful sea of white people.
Being a Palagi you are definitely recognized everywhere you go. You are always getting the maximum amount of attention. People stop you to talk to you walking around the streets, at a fia fia (party) everyone is always approaching you to siva (dance), and children will just follow you to wherever you may be heading to next. It feels as though you are a celebrity.
It also does have its negative effects as well. You are assumed to have a lot of money. If you are heading to the shop to get a snack those children who are following you will also expect you to purchase them a stack as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

o lo'u nu'u o Foailolo

O lo’u nu’u o Foailolo.
I know I have not written in a long time, but there was no internet access at all! Before I write about some of the amazing adventures that I have had… I wanted to let everyone know where I will be living with fore the next 2 years.
I am leaving the island of Upolu and moving to Savai’i (about an hour and a half ferry ride away). I am going to be working at Gagaemalae Primary School which consists of 10 teachers (7 females, 2 males and one fafafine). The school was built in 1928 and has a bit of a charm to it. There are fala (woven mats) spread throughout the floors for students to sit on to do their schoolwork. Every day the students prepare a lunch for the teachers and since testing is going on in the schools, all of the students leave at that time. Gagaemalae is made up of 3 nu’u (villages); Satuiatua, Foailolo (where I will be staying), and Foailuga.
From the school grounds you can see the beautiful blue ocean, and if you take about a ten minute walk up the main road you will come to my fale. I am going to be living with the pule (principal) of my school. She has 6 children, and 4 of them are living with her at this time. My room is a corner room so I have a really nice breeze flowing through it. Each day I awoke to the birds chirping and hearing the ocean waves.
Imagine those beach screen savers on your computer, because that is the beauty of Samoa and I am thrilled to be living in it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

husbands...

I feel like I am losing all these vital members of my family…Thursday one of the few people who can give New Jersey a good name went home. Peka (Becki) is so amazing and brought a smile to us every day and it was so sad to see her leave in a taxi to go. Peka always wore the best skirts and was just so much fun. I know it is not good bye forever because she is way too amazing to let go out of our lives. Last night we will lost another person in our family, Amanda. Amanda is planning on coming back soon. She just really needs to get everything under control.
On a brighter note I almost got myself a husband! I was walking down the street near the sea wall in Apia to go to the Digicel store…and this is the first time I was brave and decided to go out by myself! Normally when we walk down the street I am the social butterfly saying Malo to everyone we pass…but since I was by myself…I decided the safer route was to just get my New York walk on and just be on the zone without talking. However this police officer stopped me to say Talofa…so I responded with “Talofa lava”..then he said something really fast that I could not understand. He saw my confused look and asked where I was going, where I was from, what I was doing in Samoa..I responded of course to be nice. Then he told me how he would really love to get to know me better. That put up a big flag so I told him I am sorry but I had to go meet up with someone. After doing my business at the store I ran into one of the volunteers, Koa. He agreed to walk back with me to the hotel….and if we ran into the police officer again he was going to pretend that he was my husband. Thankfully we didn’t see him on our walk back!
We learned about what to expect for our village trip. We are leaving today and won’t be back to civilization and electricity for 4 weeks. It should be a lot of fun. We learned a lot of ways to offend our new Samoan family and hopefully I don’t do any of these things or find new ways to offend them!
About an hour after classes we had a fia fia (party!!!). The current volunteers put on an amazing show for us and cooked for us. The women did traditional dances that looked beautiful. I really can’t wait to be up there in a year entertaining the new trainees! The men also did a traditional dance where there were all oiled up and wearing leaves around their legs and around their necks. They had a drummer keeping them in line and it was awesome! My favorite part was when they yelled out tiger they made a tiger face and did something similar when they yelled out buffalo. There was a skit made by our trainers and a few people in our group sang a song. We then travelled outside for….
FIREDANCERS! They were amazing. It was so awesome as they twirled their fire sticks with the greatest of ease! Once one of them accidently lit his hair on fire..it got out easily at least.
After the fire dancers we went upstairs to eat. All of the current volunteers made a gigantic feast of food. I think the funniest food someone brought was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I talked to the guy who made it later and he said in the future I will consider it gourmet cooking.
We had some drinks and went to the bar across the street, Bamboo. It was a great time hanging out with everyone there. I stayed until 12:45…so I am really surprised I went out running at 6 am this morning!! I actually think I did the best I’ve done in awhile… running my mile without getting tired at all. I know it will be different in the village because we won’t have the sea wall to give us a path..but we will find a way!
I’ll write again in four more weeks!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

rainy days

Rainy days…
My alarm went off at 5:45 this morning and I went to the window where I was drying my clothes from washing them in the shower. (Why pay $18 tala to wash one load of clothes at the Laundromat when it is free to wash it in the shower? Korina came to me and was like “Don’t you hear the rain? Why are you bothering getting up?” I went with her to look out the window and the road next to our hotel was a lake. It was pouring more than it did in Ecuador, it was insane. I went to the balcony and studied a little bit since I was still awake….happy I could still get some more pj action for the day. Korina came out to do some exercising and all of a sudden we see Bill splashing through the puddles. When we asked him about it later he explained when you are from the Northwest you get used to running in the rain all the time. So sadly today we only had some yoga time…hopefully the rain will cease later so we can go out after our last class….and before sunset. Now I truly understand the difference between the rainy season and the dry season…and it was real neat to experience the end of one and the start of another so quickly.
We are about to meet with the Ministry of Education of Samoa…so Tofa!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

seizures and tsunamis

Malo, O e mae oe? (Hey how are you?)
We had a sad piece of news today…one of the people in our group who is super amazing is heading home. On Monday when we had our water safety day she had a seizure on the boat. It was real scary. We were all joking around on the front of the boat and then all of a sudden Amanda looked like she had collapsed. Someone yelled out that she was having a seizure. We all began yelling out to our safety and security officer to stop the boat while others began yelling out what to do to help her. “Open her mouth”, “Put a spoon in her mouth”,” Does anyone have a towel?” It was insane. As soon as she came to they put a towel over her to give her shade. When the rest of us got off the boat to go snorkeling she went inside to the cabin to lay down.
Snorkeling was awesome. I haven’t used my equipment in a long time and forgot how my snorkel works. I forgot that when the snorkel is in the water….no air comes through. I almost had a panic attack in the water….and then realized I just needed to reposition my snorkel. I had a blast taking pictures of the coral reef. It wasn’t as colorful as many of the other places I’ve been to, but it was still awesome. We saw tons of little fish and an amazing star fish.
After the snorkeling trip we rode on the bus to the beach. The busses in Samoa are so different. They should have told us to bring seat cushions for the bus….because it is all wooden. It kind of looks like the front of the bus and the back of the bus don’t match….like they build their own wooden seats and put it on the front of like a regular bus from the US. The bolts that screw the wooden seats to the wall also stick out of the wall so if you sit straight up, you get poked by the most annoying screw. There are also Plexiglas windows that can go completely down which is nice because you get an amazing breeze and never are too hot on the roads. Samoa is also full of many many many many speed bumps. So it seems like you can never go too fast because you will be stopped in a few hundred feet by another speed bump. On the bus I sat next to Maka (Matt) and annoyed him with my game of not just twenty questions….but more like 500 questions… I think I know his whole life story by now!
We went to the beach. Phono (our safety and security expert) told me that you have to pay to get onto all of the beaches. It is about $3 tala (Samoan currency) for walkers, and $5 tala for bikes. The sand at the beach was so clean. It was full of dead coral…I wish it was cheaper to mail things back to the states because I would send you all some! A bunch of us played Frisbee on the beach…. And I learned most people in my group can’t throw a Frisbee… The water in Samoa is so amazingly clean. It is the most beautiful blue. We played in the ocean for like an hour before we continued our bus tour of Samoa.
On the bus we went all around the island…U’polu (that is the island we are on, and the main island). We heard it takes about 4 hours to get across the island. There are about 3 main roads from the map we looked at. Most of the villages are on the coast line so the busiest road goes that way. There are also two roads through the mountains. We travelled all the way to the disaster areas from the tsunami and the earthquake. It was ridiculous how far the devastation travelled. There was garbaged washed up everywhere. We could see how far the water travelled because wherever the land was brown instead of green, the water hit. Someone said it took about thirty minutes for the water to leave the area. There are still some areas where there used to by swamp, and it seemed like the swamp was still overflowing. This was over a week after the devastation so I can not imagine what it looked like last week. There went little blue tarps set up for tents in many places for temporary shelter. It was pretty amazing how some of these buildings survived that were close to the water, while others that were a few hundred feet away from were completely.
When we got back we decided to go out for pizza, however because the holiday on Sunday they were closed. A few of us went out for Chinese. Although I keep telling myself I am never going to have chicken again…we somehow ordered it. We pretty much demolished our meals…except for our sweet and sour chicken so we got it in a to go box. The volunteers that are serving currently always give their leftovers to the only homeless person in Apia. He is a sweet old man who is missing his legs. It always makes you feel good when you give him the food with a little “Manuia le poi (have a pleasant evening).
Tuesday we had a lot of language classes and I feel like I am doing good with the language. I decided to make myself a liquid diet….and it was pretty interesting how people treat you in Apia when females are getting alcohol. We heard it is socially accepted in Apia for females to drink, and at the bar I have never seen a problem with others ordering drinks…however when Lacella (Rachel) and I went to the KK Mart to buy a beer. The woman who bags the groceries asked me rudely “How many of those do you have in a day?”, while others shot me nasty looks. This really surprised me because we often see little kids buying alcohol and cigarettes for their parents (all they have to do is say they are of age….and they agree…even if they are 5). Lacella and I had an amazing night giggling and enjoying the evening. We watched some South Park and had a good ol’ time.
Today like every other day we woke up for our run. We were going to try for longer, but I couldn’t do it. My muscles are so soar from running every day. After our run we went to the third floor balcony to do our yoga. Since it was so hot we were dripping with sweat and our hands were slipping all over the floor. It was pretty funny.
However, when we got back to reality and out of the exercising world we heard the news that Amanda had another seizure. Because of that she has to go back to the States to finish testing to find out what is wrong with her. Tuela (Our Medical Officer) is going back to Nashville with her to make sure she makes it okay. I really hope they solve the problem and she can join us back here ASAP.
Today Tana (Dana) and I went on a fast walk to town to buy cell phones. It is crazy how much cheaper cell phones are here than in the US. My Samsung phone and SIM card cost only $59 tala. It was pretty awesome. It kinda made me upset how much more they costs in the States because for our cheap phones we did not have to sign up for a crazy service plan. In our language class today we walked around town asking people in Samoan what their names are, where they are from and about their families. It was really interesting. I think my class is the most amazing class ever!!! It is really upsetting because we are switching groups so we can learn from all of the instructors tomorrow. I will really miss them.
Anyway the evening awaits and I have to find some dinner…Manuia le po’i!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

movies...

I wish mycomputer would play these stupid AVI files.... and no one is online to help me.... this is a sad day...
We had a whole lot of language training today and an amazing day yesterday...where we got to see the tsunami area and play in the water.... ill post more about it later!
peace out brussel sprout!
Tofa!
ps...ants keep trying to play in my computer....that isn't good...right?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

White Sunday

We have had a lot of training sessions…most of them long! We started learning the language. It is pretty cool… although it is difficult to remember all the vowel sounds. My first group teacher is Joe…which is kinda funny because there is no J in the Samoan language. We asked him what his Samoan name is and it is Iosefa. I guess they are pretty close.. but it made me start thinking of a few of the Samoans I have met…quite a few have “western style names” such as our amazing leader Henry Paul (HP). He said he got his name because his parents really enjoyed the singers Peter Paul and Mary.
We also had to get more immunizations….o what fun! I got my first ever flu shot and typhoid. As expected, I do what I normally do…and get nauseous! Martin (Samoan name Matini) was sitting next to me and I made him look after me. I am sooo happy that I roped him into it because I was not feeling too hot. And after shots we got the pleasure to learn about diarrhea….What an interesting topic when you feel horrible (I’m kidding!). We did learn about a few new diseases that are not found in the States.
After that wonderful lecture many people had to switch rooms because the volunteers that were staying at our hotel were finally going back to their home country…and they wanted us all on the same floor. I am happy that I was one of the very few that did not have to switch rooms at all.
Later that day I learned that there were two Phillies fans in my group. So we shared evil eyes during our upcoming lectures as we flaunted out hats…I do believe the Rockies one looks better!!!I have a bet going with both of them. When the Rockies win this series I get taken to lunch by someone and another person has to wear a Rockies hat for the week…. If by some strange phenomenon the Rockies lose… I have to take someone out for lunch and wear a stupid Phillies hat… Go Rocks!!! (By the way I am really bummed out about the snow out of the game… I think that would be an interesting way to play… I mean if the Broncos have to subject other teams to that kind of weather…why can’t the Rockies?)
We ended the week of our group discussions with a pizza filled girls night. We learned about dating Samoans….only the term dating does not really exist. It is really a courtship... (Don’t get any ideas mom!) So if you hang out with a person of the opposite sex a lot you are preparing for marriage. Apparently marrying someone from the States is considered an amazing find…so we should be expect for village women to try to set us up with their sons..weird.. After the discussion we went out with a few of the volunteers to a bar called Bamboo across the street. One of the volunteers knows the owner and the bouncer of that bar and told us that we should make friends with every owner and bouncer of any place we go to ensure there are no problems. It was great to hear their perspectives on life and about half an hour after we arrived the boys came to complete our family outing.
This morning we went out around town because most of the restaurants and stores would be closed Sunday and Monday for the holiday..White Sunday I think it is called. We went on a mission to find the cell phone store, buy veggies because we are having our own version of Stone Soup on Sunday night, and find a three prong converter. I don’t know if it was just because of the holiday weekend or if it is a weekend ritual, but everyone was out around town. There were people on the streets selling everything and some of the stores were so crowded that it overflowed onto the streets. I ended up buying two cabbages (kapisi) from a really nice woman on the streets who helped correct my Samoan attempt to say cabbage. We went to the bank to exchange our money. I learned later that my group went to the bank that had the best exchange rate (all the boys learned this the previous night.) We went to a book and stationary store to buy index cards and other items to help us study and learn the language just a little bit better….hopefully! We also went to Digicel to find out about cell phones and they were sold out of all of their cheap phones. I don’t think I need a cell phone that much to buy a super expensive one! We walked around practicing what little Samoan we know, and every Samoan that I have encountered is super patient and willing to help out with our quest to learn the language. They are willing to help us when we falter and translate things they say when we give our confused looks. The people in this country are truly amazing!
My mission to like tea and fish is going pretty well. I have been drinking tea every morning. It is not that bad without sugar but it reaches its best taste when I add one spoonful of their delicious sugar. I have had fish a few times. I have been adding hot sauce and other sauces to try to get rid of the fishy taste….It has been working okay… I am actually going out for dinner at a place called Seafood Gourmet pretty soon…so I am looking forward to trying more of it.
Speaking of food, I feel like I have been in heaven every morning with the amazing food they serve at breakfast! I have become in love with papaya (esi). They also always have two of my favorites, mini bananas and toast! I don’t know what it is about the butter they have here but it is so addictive! If you are ever travelling to Apia I fully recommend the Pasifika Inn based on their free breakfast!
Just to let everyone know I lost my memory stick for my camera in my computer…and can not figure a way to get it out… as soon as the mail comes from my loving sister in a few weeks I will put pictures on!
Today was a holiday…it’s called White Sunday. It is a holiday pretty much for the kids…which I think it pretty dang awesome. From what I understand…the parents wait on the kids and do everything for them. We went to the Catholic church for their Samoan mass. It was so beautiful seeing all the young children lined up to go inside the church. All of them were dressed in white. Many of the boys had these cute little red bow ties. They also had these amazing flowers around their head like a crown.
When Mass was starting, the alter boys walked in first, followed by the parade of children. There seemed to be hundreds of them. During the mass, two groups of children took turns doing a dance with songs. It was an amazing experience to watch them. Later on, when they were doing the wafers, the choir was singing and there was this stunning female who was dancing in what looked to me like one of the mats we sat on during the Ava ceremony. She had a lot of red flowers and had something that looked like a machete in her hands to dance with. There were two boys on the side wearing their lava lavas and an awesome necklace doing a dance as well. After Mass was over, the children were given candy leis, and Rachel and I decided to stay a little while to see how the English mass would be different….and it seemed VERY different… at least to me. We did not stay the whole time but it reminded me of a mass that you would find in most Catholic churches in the US. The children did also parade in for the holiday. They had these cute little pictures they made with them for the holiday.
We decided to leave after 30 minutes to walk down the road to see what the other churches were doing. Some of them were decorated with balloons, others with amazing colorful signs. Throughout our entire walk back to the hotel it was full of amazing songs by these cute children.
I hope everyone in the States enjoyed their White Sunday as much as I did!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

tsunamis and funerals

The first day in Samoa was an adventurous one. We got our new Samoan names…my name is Lili. We did a ceremony welcoming us to the country of Samoa. This is done in the villages as well. It sounds like we will be a part of it a lot of times while living here. For the Ava ceremony there are a few speakers that say things. They are the leaders of the group welcoming us. It is a big deal to be one of those people. There are also two people that give us coconut shells full of kava. We all say something in Samoan, drop a little bit onto the ground and drink the rest. I still think kava tastes like dirty water!
After the ceremony we were given some time to rest and we were in our rooms. A little while later we heard knocking on doors and were told to meet in the conference room (also the dining room). We were told about the earthquake on another Pacific Island and that we were in a tsunami watch because of it. While they were talking to us sirens began to go off and it was immediately changed to a tsunami warning. We all ran down the stairs and jumped into vehicles so we could flee as fast as possible. After the cab of the truck was full, we all began piling into the bed of the truck. I think we had at least ten people in it. We began to go up hill. While in the vehicle we saw little children and immediately one of our trainers jumped out of the truck bed and went to go assist these children. We also saw a woman in a wheelchair and someone running to bring her uphill. We travelled until we reached the Peace Corps hostel. A few volunteers that were nearby also showed up. The rest of us in training and volunteers went to the country directors house. They were constantly on the phone making sure everyone was accounted for and safe.
While outside the hostel I talked to one of the volunteers and learned about this worm that people eat. Apparently it is only available once a year and this Saturday is the day people go out with nets to get it. I guess they eat it raw. It costs like $100 Samoan a worm because they are so rare.
Not too long after we were safe and clear to leave. We weren’t allowed to be in the back of the pick up anymore, so we had to wait our turn to get back to the hotel.
Later that day….we heard another siren….at 5pm….
They apparently do it at the end of the work day…
And today we learned they do it at the start of the work day….at 9pm.
In the morning we took a walk. A few people wanted to scope out the terrain for running. There are quite a few uncovered manholes so it was good for them to check it out. We also learned about the local dogs. Apparently they do not like runners and they will attack them. Many many many people told us to carry rocks or sticks to hit the dogs.
Today was a holiday for the tsunami and earthquake victims. We saw a parade of the funeral procession. Just like in the US, they use four ways on the vehicles.
Things are going well and it is such a beautiful place to be here!