It is early in the morning on October 7th 2010. I would just like to write a big Congratulations to myself and the rest of my group for making it through one year. One year might not sound like much, but our group has been through a lot, and I love each and every member of it because of everything.
We started with 23 amazing people, and sadly we trickled down and are now at fifteen. They expected our group to lose many, since we are “the guinea pigs” of the project. It was really sad to see them go, especially because we all saw the drive they had, combined with their amazing ambition, and we saw it head back home.
I feel as though I am a different person that I was a year ago. I remember quite vividly October 5th of last year, the day my sister dropped me off at the airport. She stayed with me, following the line as it went through security as long as she could. She had tears in her eyes, and I did too. When I was finally on my own, people began to wonder and ask me where I was going. When I told them, I was given a, “Wow”.
I didn’t know what that wow would entail, and I don’t even think they did. It didn’t matter though,, they knew I was off on an adventure across the world, and I was excited (and a little nervous) about it.
I arrived in Los Angeles and found the shuttle to our hotel for staging. I was greeted by my friend Tiffany, a fellow Coloradoan. (Can I call myself that for only living there for four years?) To be honest Tiffany but who was I to talk!) , and I wasn’t sure what would happen to our friendship. We talked for awhile, but really got the chance to know each other when we roomed together during training. The first thing I learned about Tifa, is she is definitely not a morning person, the complete opposite of me. Other things I learned is she hysterical, has a warm heart and will always be there for you. Also she is extremely intelligent, and learned Japanese while living overseas.
Over the next day I met more people from our group, but I had trouble distinguishing them from the Tongan volunteers that were there with us.
Here are some of the things that struck out to me from our first encounter:
Ali and Amanda both had beautiful dreadlocks. They were advised to cut them off, since dreadlocks broadcast an image that they probably weren’t looking for. No one had to worry, because after about a week of dealing with Samoan humidity, there began to be problems, and Ali cut hers off. Amanda left about two weeks into training for health related issues. I am sure she is still rocking her look in Tennessee.
Matt had hiked the Appalachian Trail. Apparently you burn enough calories during it that at the halfway point, everyone eats a half gallon tub of ice cream to themselves. He also brought a little hiking guitar with him, which everyone loved.
Many of us were scared of sharks, luckily for us, and not our Tongan neighbors, we do not have sharks near the coastal waters.
In N Out burgers are the best food to eat when you are about to leave home. They really are a treat.
When we got on the plane I sat next to Cassie. We didn’t talk much during our long overnight flight. (Trust me, we made up for that later.) And I didn’t know this at the time, but my future best friend was sitting right behind me (Rachel), thinking I was strange as I changed my clothes completely while sitting on the plane.
When we arrived, I wanted to hop back on the plane. It was only five in the morning and the heat was already unbearable. I remember thinking that there was no way I would ever make it through a year of this, let alone two.
As we entered the baggage claim area, there was amazing Samoan music filling the air, and after going through our last customs check we were greeted by HP (our leader through training), Rosie, Benj, and Spencer as they gave us ulas and helped us load our bags onto the bus.
We went to our hotel, and quickly made ourselves at home as we befriended the entire staff so they would help us practice our language. We then participated I our first of many ava ceremonies, and experience our first of many falavelaves. We had to evacuate up the hill because of the chance of a tsunami.
We were greeted by the current volunteers with an amazing fiafia (party) where they showed us traditional dancing, as well as fire dancing. It was an experience, and a great break from our normal 8-4 (or longer) training schedule.
After being in Apia for almost two weeks, we moved to a quant little village of Manunu where we were greeted by our new families. We learned how to act like a Samoan with them, as well as have a lot if fun. Moast mornings Dana, Corina, Rachel and I woke up at sunrise to run to the Morman village next to us. Many days I went to Matt’s house or the Morman church to play basketball, Other days we went to the waterfall or river to enjoy a nice swim. Once and a while we went for a hike to the plantation. Each week we had a dance and danced our bums off. It was a busy life, but we enjoyed it. Especially with the special events we were able to participate in. The first one was Halloween. We threw a party for the kids in our village and it was amazing playing the little party games and dressing up. Next we had culture day for Thanksgiving. We went to the plantation, cooked food over the fire and learned a lot while having fun. At the end of our two months in Manunu we were excited with how much we had learned, excited to start our new jobs, and sad to leave our families.
In the beginning of December we swore an oath and became volunteers. We were so excited as we split ways and spread out throughout the islands of Upolu and Savai’i.
I learned how to siva Samoan in my village as I danced the night away on Christmas, and enjoyed caroling Christmas Eve.
I joined Dana with biking to Falealupo for the last sunset of the year. Most of group 82 joined us and we had a great time celebrating the end of 2009 and the start of an amazing full year in Samoa. Since we were missing the ball drop in NYC, we preformed our own coconut drop for the different New Year celebrations in America.
School began in February and I learned a lot more as a teacher than I ever thought possible. For the next many months I was to teach years 1-8 and I always had a great time doing it. We sang songs, played games, had read alouds, and did many English activities. I learned how stressful situations can be, just witnessing corporal punishment as I vowed never to do so.
Also during those months I had come to love my family. I live with parents, a sister, three brothers (it was 2 for about 10 months), a niece as well as many animals. I also got to fall in love with my sisters who live elsewhere, Sharlene in Califoria, Masau in Vanuatu, and Sharon in Apia. I became best friends with Champ, our loveable dog (when he isn’t attacking pigs), and Sunshine, the cutest cow who I love to spent time grooming.
During the coming months I enjoyed exploring all around, riding my bike, wherever my legs had the strength to pedal to, or running around (literally) to try and meet people. I also began volunteering at the college (high school) to help with computers and homework. I enjoyed Salelologa as a nice escape from village life, and a great place to catch up with other volunteers. Us girl volunteers got together for flossing parties (we seriously spend many hours flossing teeth), making palagi food, as well as enjoying the amazing water of the Pacific. Sometimes we all got together in Apia, and enjoyed the nightlife, as well as the company of those we rarely saw. Twice the US Coast Guard came, and we had a great time spending time with them, especially during Independence Day when we got to even tour the ship.
In May I went on my first vacation, to American Samoa. I had a great time with Emily and Kelly as we went on waterfall hikes and I explored the National Park.
I ran in my first race ever, a 10k, and got 6th place. A few months later, I entered my second race, a relay race around Upolu, where the 6 of us ran 104 km and won the race. It was an amazing accomplishment because a year ago I wasn’t a runner at all.
Running wasn’t the only thing to keep me busy, I was also attempting to bike everywhere. I explored all over the south shore of my island, with only two big crashes.
My parents came for a visit two months ago, and with the exception of my mom’s fall, we had an amazing trip, exploring all over Samoa.
Then, I took my second trip. I went to Tonga, and swam with whales, dolphins, and had a great time with the Tongan volunteers.
It has been a crazy year, full of a lot of fun. I would not change one part of it. I have made many friends, that are now like family members to me.
Yesterday the new volunteers arrived, and I am sure will have just as a good a first year as me and my friends have had. It is hard to believe in one short year, we will be finishing up our service and ready to travel back home.
Life sure does move fast.