Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lili Has no Style


“Where are you from Lili?  Why don’t you dress like the other Peace Corps nearby.  The other Peace Corps has style and you don’t.”

I had this lecture for several days.  While I am here, I try to dress simple, and dress Samoan.  Most other volunteers do the same as we want to blend in as much as we can, since we already stick out pretty bad. 

I am not into being fia au’lelei, and think putting a tub of gel into my hair every day and wearing gaudy jewelry, but I think this is what the people were looking for.

Today I finally got some redemption.  And I did not even have to iron my clothes to get it.  I washed my hair in the morning (which I normally don’t do…as you know wet hair will get you sick, along with being in the sun, being in the rain, being in the sea and many other places…) and put it in my normal braid.  I then put earrings in.  I still had my simple Samoan clothes, a white tee-shirt and red lavalava.

“Lili you look good, you need to dress like this for school every day.”  It made me laugh because it was just the wet hair that looked like gel and earrings to make the difference from ugly to style. 

I will probably still go back to being the “ugly Peace Corps” since I have a bad habit of losing earrings, and taking long cold showers is better at night.  Being without style is okay with me, I like how I am!

(Pictures are of “unstylish me” with my students)



Can you Imagine....

I hear there’s a place called America.  It has been in my thoughts lately. 

Can you imagine a world… 

Where you don’t have to eat or drink ants?
Where water and bathrooms are found inside a house?
Where people are able to talk to others of the opposite gender without others thinking they are promiscuous?
Where you don’t have to wonder about what creatures might be swimming in your water?
Where your radio can actually pick up stations to listen to music?
Where your local television antenna does not go out frequently?
Where you can be out after dark (7pm) without people talking bad about you?
Where you can do things besides go to church on a Sunday?
Where stores actually have the food you want to eat?
Where you can take hot water showers?
Where teachers don’t rule with a stick?
Where you can wear whatever clothes you choose to without having people judge you?
Where the weather does not dictate what you can or cannot do?
Where you don’t wear moldy clothes?
Where rats and cockroaches outnumber you in your bedroom?
Where ants eat your computer?
Where there is toilet paper in the bathrooms?
Where you don’t save everything, just in case you might need it, even if it is broken?
Where you can travel by car?
Where you do not crowd 4 or 5 to a 2 person seat on the bus?
Where you don’t have to travel for over an hour to use the internet?
Where you can control the temperature inside a room with something called a thermostat?

I heard that this world exists in America.  A world that is carefree.  How exciting will it be it visit a place like this.  I have been daydreaming about it all day.


The Ants in the Band

The Ants in the Band

I pick up my flute to play, and get distracted by half a dozen ants crawling up my arm.  Are they heading into my flute?  Is that better than when they eat my computer?  There are a dozen of us sitting under the big breadfruit tree ready for another long practice.  Only, unlike band practices in the past, it doesn’t feel long.  Time flies by with all off the jokes and smiling people, and my mind wanders wondering about what might crawl on me next without my knowledge…

Being a band geek is taking up my life.  Practice is two villages away, and begins at 2:30 in the afternoon and ends between five and six at night.  Do I regret it?  Not at all!  I am having a blast! 

Seeing ways for improvement, I am acting on it as soon as possible.  I am finding new music (a good way to introduce American culture through music- go me accomplishing my Peace Corps goals!) to share with the group and they are enjoying my ambition.  I have also seen what is lacking in the band, and looking for ways to remedy these problems.  Since it is a brass band, I think they need help with their brass instruments.  I think they have never been oiled.  Keys stick at all times making it extremely difficult to play.  The bass drum is missing one of its skins and they are using a piece of fabric to replace it.  There is a lone saxophone, without reeds.  I have found people that are coming to Samoa, who I think are helping this situation, since I haven’t the slightest idea on if you can find any of those needed materials in Samoa.

Our band is having its first performance this Saturday at a village wedding.  Last week I thought of us as a beginner band, but with 2 ½ to 3 ½ hour practices each day, everyone is beginning to sound so much better.  We have five songs in our repertoire, and most of them sound decent.  I am really excited to see how this wedding turns out. 

The band has already started planning for my farewell party, a day in which we will play music all day and barbecue.  It sounds like it will be just what I need in December. 

(Pictures are of the band and my attempt to teach flute lessons)




Statistics came out not too long ago stating that in the Pacific nations 75% of deaths are due to obesity factors.  This is astounding!  I knew health was a big issue here, but I did not realize that it was that bad. 

Because of this fact, Peace Corps is trying to focus on health issues, which is why last year we did the Samoa Health Challenge II (The first challenge was a televised program similar to the Biggest Loser), and this year with the Samoan Health Challenge III.

After last year’s debacle with trying to get my village involved, I decided to go to my neighboring village to see if they wanted to start the program.  My neighboring village has a very active Women’s Committee, and I mean active in the physical sense.  Twice a week they get together to play a few hours of volleyball, twice a week they plan group walks, and I think once a week they have jazzercise.  They are a group that is motivated and I am eager to work with them.

Last week I talked with the president and a few other members, and I am still waiting to hear back from them on their decision.  (Chores and prayer time make it hard for long meetings.)  They seemed to like the program, which is very exciting.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that this year’s challenge I can run successfully!

(Picture is of women in my village playing volleyball) 

Last Week

Last Week

This is it.  it is the last week.  The last week of Gaga’emalae as I know it.  The school that I have come to love will be demolished to build a new school building.  Throughout the cracks, leaks, holes, mold and unsupportive support beams, I have come to really love my school.  So many memories were build there, and I was taught of how to be a simple teacher.  A teacher without the frills and luxuries I had in American schools.  Luxuries like copy machines, paper, books, computers, resources, art supplies and more.  Instead I had to go back to the olden days of creating everything on newsprint for the students to see. 

Things of course have improved since my first days at the school because of generous donations, but they are still so much simpler than how life was in America, with laminating machines, white boards for each student, chairs and desks for each child, and a library that was full of helpful material that could help you teach any subject.  (To think I thought at the time we were not being given enough materials.  If only I could have known about the situation here, I would not have complained so much!)

Next week, our school will move to my village.  Vehicles will come to bring the mats, desks and benches out of the school building.  We will set up mobile classrooms in different people’s houses, which means I will have to travel around the entire village to visit each of my classes.  In the heat of the day, it is going to be rough! 

I am excited to see this grant through to the end, and happy I will have the opportunity to teach in the new school building before I leave.  (I am also anxious to see the demolition process!)

(Pictures are of some of the memories I have had at my school)



Lotoleaga.  Jealousy.  When I started doing the postcard project jealousy began to grow inside me.  I went to several other PCV blog sites from around the world, and seeing how mobile they are made me a little jealous.  Their blog sites are amazing, with great menus and are organized perfectly.  Some of them are on Twitter, and share that with their readers as well.

In Samoa internet is expensive.  There is no such thing as free internet anywhere.  There is no wifi that you can steal from a neighbor’s house, just internet cafes and a few wifi hotspots at hotels for internet you can pay for.  I am always on a time crunch because of how costly internet is. 

I wish I had time to play with my blog and make it more user friendly and pretty.  But as it is, to cut costs, I rarely visit my blog, and post my posts through email, and so have no choice on the placement of pictures I attach or anything else of the sort. 

Still without my modem, I have to travel to Salelologa to use the internet.  This is about an hour and a half on the bus each way.  The closest village with a computer with internet is about an hour’s drive in the other direction.  It does not seem worth it to travel that far for dial up internet. With our grant in the final steps, I have been having to send out emails weekly, which means long trips on the bus to send a work email. 

I am jealous of the people that don’t have to do this.  Those that don’t have to make a day’s trip to the city to send an email. 

I don’t think of myself as high maintenance for internet.  I don’t need it for too much, and have never seen the need to spend all day on it.  I have never been a person to pay for high speed internet, since it is costly in America as well.  The last time I have had fast internet in my residence was in the dorms at the University of Wyoming ten years ago.  But back in America, travelling to the library, or a restaurant, or even the gym was so easy to use internet at.  And on lucky days, when the signal was good, I was able to sit under my tree and use my neighbors internet.  How I miss the days of the 5 minute drive for internet. …

(Picture is of how I have been using technology in the classroom)


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rachel's Library

Rachel’s Library

I love when I have the opportunity to visit other Peace Corps in other villages because seeing their successes inspires me to work harder to be like them.  As you may know there are many amazing volunteers around the world, but because of lack of technology accessibility, I am unable to learn more about them.  Therefore, I am stuck (in a good way) with my Peace Corps family in Samoa.  From seeing their interactions at work and in the village I am amazed at the compassion they all show with everyone.  I always come back to my village encouraged to do more and work harder. 

I had the opportunity to visit Rachel’s school last week.  As I ran after the bus that didn’t see me in the darkness of the early morning, I quickly put a smile on my face.  “Te alu i fea, Lili?”  I explained how I was going to visit Rachel.  “Oka se mamao!”  (Wow, that’s far!)  She’s worth it, I said. 

On the long bus ride I saw several family member s of different volunteers.  When we arrived close to Maka’s school, the bus started filling up with pineapples.  Every student going to the college seemed to have several.  (To be fair, there were a few students with niu, and other fruits.)  I texted Maka to find out what exactly was going on in his school compound, and learned that the Ministry of Education was visiting. 

About an hour later, I arrived at Rachel’s school where  I saw them watching the video of their English Day play they put on last term.  Afterwards Rachel, who just started her own postcard project, showed short travel videos about her first postcards (Japan, New Zealand and New York).  Rachel’s community in New York pooled together money to buy the projector, and it was great to see how it is being used there. 

After school, I walked with Rachel to her house.  Little did I know we were being followed.  Shortly after we arrived, we began to hear voices.  Kids had shown up to visit Rachel’s travelling library. 

The travelling library is a program that is put on by the US Embassy.  Our Ambassador and Charges De Affairs are always working hard to improve education in Samoa.  At the Nelson Memorial Library, the main library in Apia, they put together an American section which features a collection of work from many American authors.  There is also internet available there.  It is the only place in Samoa that offers free internet, and I am sure it will continue to do so as long as it is not abused.  They then put together a travelling library to go to the different schools.  There are several tubs of books.  One has reference materials, another with children’s books, and the last has smaller chapter books. 

Rachel was the first to get the travelling library, and so far is having great success with it.  Each day, children come to her house to check out new books, and it was great to see them in action how they pick their books.  Like kids in America, they base most of it on the cover picture.  Others spent the time flipping through to make sure it had words they could understand.  We spent about an hour with those children.

Seeing Rachel’s library made me jealous-If only I had my own house, I would be able to do such programs right where I live.  But since I live with a family, it is much harder, since I never want to impose on them.  I love living with a family, don’t get me wrong, but seeing the other volunteers, you see the perks on their living arrangements.  I still think I have it better than most of them, since I get Samoan cooking and language 24/7! 

Malo galue Rachel!  Keep up the great work!


New School?

New School?

If the rumors are true, the Ambassador of Japan came from New Zealand, while I was away in Fiji, and decided to change the start date for our new school building project.  As soon as my school can set up a new bank account, work will begin.  I guess they have decided on several houses to use as temporary classrooms while the project is underway. 

My sister approached me and asked how I was going to do my rotating classroom.   I told her I will see how it goes.  I think I will have to cut down all of the classes I go to because of transportation as it will take time to walk to different houses throughout the village.  (I heard it was only going to be in one village, but I am not positive.)

We will see how it goes, but I am excited that I will have the opportunity to see the new school building before I leave. 




My little USB modem was “borrowed” while I was away, so until I buy a new one, Internet can only be found in Salelologa, so I decided to go there.  Spending the time on the internet, made me wish I lived in another area where internet cafes were in more of an abundance. 

Internet cafes are a pretty new thing to Salelologa, and Savaii.  There are a few now, which contain about 2 computers each, and two places where you can use wifi.  I went to the place where I can use my own laptop, to avoid spending time transferring files of emails and other things to upload onto the computer.

The internet was deadly slow.  So slow that I debated if it was worth staying to finish sending my emails.  (In 2 and a half hours I sent 19 out of my 21 emails.)  But the thought of waiting a few more weeks to send them out, I decided to power through the annoyances building up in my head. 

For the longest time, I didn’t mind the fact that internet is so infrequent here, but after visiting other countries in the Pacific and seeing how there is free wifi in many hotels, and extremely cheap internet elsewhere, you can’t help but get a little jealous.  The countries really aren’t that far apart from each other, and everywhere else has cheap and affordable means of communication.  Why doesn’t Samoa?  Is there such a monopoly here over the internet, or does it really just cost more to run here?

In Samoa we seem to be so far behind in technology, and the cost of using it holds so many people back.  I am anxious for the day where Samoa catches up.

(Picture is of Salelologa)

Village Improvements

The Stop Sign

My village is developing and growing.  Finally after about 7 months of roadwork, our road is finished.  There is a thin layer of rocks that are stuck well into the ground.  It looks pretty good if you ask me, and is a perfect ride for cars.  At the end of our road there is a stop sign. 

I told another PCV about the stop sign, and knowing where I live she asked why.  I told her it might be for the 2 busy ferry times where an hour after the ferry arrives on our island, we have about 10 cars drive past within 5 minutes.  Jokingly, I told her the traffic does get pretty bad.

Also new to the village are bus stops.  When I arrived there were none.  One family built one (They call it that family’s house, but everyone uses it for a bus stop.) about 2 months ago, and just last week the villagers got together to build two more.  I am happy because there is one right by my house now.  It will make waiting for the bus in the rain much nicer! 

I wonder what is next in the village’s plans for improvement. 

(Pictures are of the road leading up to the stop sign and one of the new bus stops.)


Plantation = Good Husband

Plantation = Good Husband

The other day while playing volleyball, I bonded with the only other female playing, a female about the same age as me that was working in Apia.  We did the normal talk about how old we were, churches, how long I was staying, and then  the topic of relationships came up.  When I told her I did not have a friend yet she told me I really need to work on that.  She then explained the perfect man to me, and why he was in Samoa. 

“In Samoa, you can find a man that has a lot of land and will have a nice plantation.  You can then put cows on that land.  He will be able to take care of you with that and you will have a nice life.”

In America, they always say that a good catch is someone who has a nice job, can handle money, is smart, nice, or other things like that.  Hearing that the perfect person was none of the characteristics that I grew up with, but has more to do with a plantation, made me smile.  I live in such a simple world, and I love that most people continue to think these ways and stay unmaterialistic (well as much as you can get…)

(The picture is of some of the boys in my village.  They asked me to take a picture of them and show it to girls overseas to tell them come to our village.)

Cool Kids Join Bands

The Band

All the cool kids join bands.  When I was in junior high I was in the marching band, but other than that I have only been in performances taking place at my junior high and high school.  It was always fun to be a band geek.

Last week on my run, I saw a group of people congregated on the steps of a church two villages away.   There were trumpets, cornets, baritones, tubas, and trombones.  They were playing simple music, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, but it was so nice to see.  On my way home, I stopped by to see if I could join the band.  I told the conductor that  had a flute and wanted to join them.  He asked me if I could play the saxophone.  “No, I only have a flute,” was my response.  They told me when to show up for the next practice.

I came to the church, and sat on the floor with the rest of the band.  As we were all sitting with our legs folded only moving to avoid the sun, I thought of my old music teachers and how they would be in shock and upset with our posture.  ( I remember in high school our teacher spent a fortune on chairs specific for music, but here there were chairs at all.)  The band leader wrote the score of what we would be performing on the broken chalkboard, as the members shared a single ruler to make sheet paper in their notebooks to copy the music. 

There are two of each of the instruments, so the boys in the band have to take turns sharing the instruments.  I remember always having to clean mouthpieces before using another person’s instrument growing up, but here we did none of the sort.  There are no hard feelings from those people that sit there trying to learn the music without the instruments.  They just sit and wait their turn, humming the melody.

Being in Samoa, everyone shares, and so I try to share as well.  I showed a few people how to make a sound from the mouthpiece of the flute, and showed a couple the finger placements on the instruments.  There is one girl that I am planning on teaching how to play.  They also shared their instruments with me, and I was impressed with myself when actual notes came out of the cornet and the baritone.  One of the boys tried to show me the fingering for a scale, but I quickly learned that changing your airflow for those instruments is difficult for beginners.  

Next week my band will perform at a wedding, which seems so obtuse for me.  It seems strange for a wedding to have a brass band there (with a single woodwind instrument).  But I am sure it will be fun.  Like all wedding bands we will be getting paid-in delicious Samoan food.  I am really looking forward to seeing what it will be like.

I heard the other Peace Corps volunteers talking about joining a band in Apia-the National Orchestra of Samoa.  I called the conductor, and will join them in their performances over the American Independence Day weekend. 

Just a few weeks ago, joining a band seemed like the farthest idea in the world for me, but here I am  currently in two different bands.  Man does it feel good to be a band geek again!

(Picture is of one of the PCVs singing at church.)



Last year Samoa experienced the most amount of rainfall in a long time, this year we are going through one of our driest periods.  Waterfalls everywhere are drying up, making it a bad time for tourists to visit. 

Throughout Samoa, you see yellow grass across every field.  It is also effecting the plantations, as many of the crops are dying.  What we have noticed more locally is cucumbers and tomatoes.  Those that are still able to have some grow, and charging much more for their produce because of lack of income from their lost crops.

The past two days we experienced rain showers, which were amazing.  It had been one of the first times I have seen rain since coming back from Fiji.

I hope precipitation starts up again soon to help Samoa. 

(Picture is of an eggplant, not a cucumber…)

Lili x 3

Lili x3

Samoans are always named after people who have influenced the lives of their parents.  This is why there are many people throughout Samoa named after PCVs, since volunteers have been here for such a long time.  I feel really special because I now have 3 little ones that may not remember me when they grow up, but hopefully, their parents will be able to share stories about times I had with them.

The first was in my training village, where my one year old niece was given the nickname Lili.

The second was my librarian who had a baby last month and named her Lillian.

The third just happened last week.  My cousin from my training village, whom I love like a sister named the baby after me and Rachel (her sister).  The baby’s name is Foaina Racheli LiaLia’i.  I think it is such a unique name for a baby, and can’t wait to see her. 

(The picture is of our school librarian and Lillian.)



While I was in Fiji, my brother and sister brought out things that I requested.  One of them was shoes.  I go through sneakers quickly in Samoan terms from using them daily running through different terrains.  Today I decided was the perfect day to try them out.

I have been ka’a from kolini because of joining the band and not having the time to run, and not wanting to wake up in the morning to run in the dark.  So it has been about a month since I have run to the right of my house.  I was so happy I did.  I missed those people in my neighboring villages.  I love the call from all of my friends and students.  I used to hate how it interrupted my breathing to answer, but I have truly come to adore the “Where are you going?” every minute of my run.  I must have been invited to rest at two dozen houses. 

I decided to stop my run early when I saw a volleyball game two villages away.  It is so nice how welcoming everyone is in this area.  I truly don’t think there is anyone in this area who does not know my name, making me feel like a complete celebrity.  The village I stopped in is split in two categories: people who call me Riri, and those who call me Lili.  I think there is real confusion on what my given name truly is. 

After the games, I walked back, looking forward to the many houses I planned to toma (rest) at.  I picked one of my favorite year 8’s houses.  His mother is hysterical in her efforts to find me a uo.  We ended up playing the game of me yelling, “Malo pe’u!” to each male that passed on the road to see if anyone would stop.  I think we intimidated many of the men, and would only get little comments back from them. 

As I continued on, one foot began to hurt more and more.  For some reason, one shoe was tighter than the other.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I found a child who likes to go running with me, and saw his feet were about the same size as mine, and gave him my shoes.  He was so surprised and grateful.  I love the smile on these children’s faces when they get a present they were not expecting.  I told him this means he will have to train with me more often, and I know he will, as long as he does not have many chores. 

I continued on walking without my shoes on for the last three quarters of a mile.  I had a few people stop to ask me where my shoes were, and I just responded, “there,” which made us all laugh.  I stopped a few more times to talk with people, which was so enjoyable.

I know I must talk many times about my experiences training in my village, but it is because it gives me such a wonderful feeling in my heart.  I really love being with the people in my village, and neighboring villages.  I really don’t think there is a better feeling in the world.


Friday, June 10, 2011

It's a Cannibalistic World in Fiji

It’s a Cannibalistic World in Fiji

There is so much amazing things to do in Fiji, yet still I felt homesick for Samoa while there.  It had a taste of the Pacific, yet was so different.  The best part of my trip definitely took place in the Pacific Ocean.  We scuba dove 5 different days seeing so many amazing things, yet we still weren’t at the best diving sites in Fiji. 

If you do go to Fiji, here are four of my highlights from my trip to help you plan:

Sand Dunes at Sigatoka- At the sand dunes they offer 2 hikes, one taking an hour and the other two hours.  I enjoyed this so much I actually went twice, once with my siblings and Kimora, a JICA volunteer in Samoa, and then back again by myself to see what else I missed by only doing the shorter trail.  The shorter hike takes you on the “tame dune” as much grass and vegetation has grown on top of it, yet you are still hiking through the hills of sand from the Sigatoka River.  It leads you dune climbing to the ocean where the waves are stronger than imaginable and back through the sand forest.  For the two hour hike, which I made the mistake of going at the heat of the day, you are lead on beautiful bird trails until you reach the most fantastic site.  The untamed dunes are incredible!  They are so big and wonderful.  There felt like there were kilometers of hills of sand, and only me exploring them.  I attempted to climb them, and learned that after a running start, it still is difficult.  There was only one other set of footprints in the area and I truly enjoyed leaving my mark everywhere I went to.  In the sand I saw pottery that has been left there for hundreds of years.  It was unbelievable and a must see in Fiji!

Cave Tour -Although there were many other perks of taking this tour, such as seeing a traditional village and riding on a bilibili (bamboo traditional raft), exploring the cave was awesome!  The Fijians who had an enemy used to used to use this cave to protect themselves from their enemies in the time of cannibalism (their religion before the time of missionaries). In the cave there is an area called the pregnancy gap, where the river running through is extremely high.  In order to enter the cave you have to crawl through with basically only your head sticking out of the water.  To avoid being eaten by enemies, they would have the water flow stronger, so the cannibals could not enter. 

Arts Village Tour-On this tour we got a hint of what life was like in the past, which showed me the most similarities to Samoa, except I think cannibalism was bigger in Fiji than it was in Samoa.  Tribes would start wars with each other when the village chief wanted more mistresses, and they would fight until every man died.  The women and children were on the side watching.  The beautiful women of the losing side were kept as mistresses for the chief, the ugly ones died.  The children were tied to trees for other children to be killed and eaten by the winning tribe’s children. 

Robinson Crusoe Island-They have by far the best fire dancing in the world.  Samoa is where fire dancing began, but after sharing it with all Pacific islands, they have helped to perfect it.  I saw such amazing fire juggling as the Fijians did acrobatic stunts.  It was incredible!

Fiji is a great place to visit, and it has helped me to realize how different each Pacific country is, even though they have many similarities.

(Pictures are of the beginning of an ava ceremony, the most amazing fire dancing show, fire walking, the entrance to the cave, and the sand dunes.)

Driving a Car is Just Like Riding a Bike

Driving a Car is Just Like Riding a Bike

I was nervous, my sister saw it in my eyes, yet we had planned to rent a car, and we were not going to back out of that plan.  She drove the car the first day and a half, but wanted to see me drive to make sure I could do it without being too scared. 

The speed limit on most roads is 80 km per hour (about 50 mph) which is about double Samoa’s speed limit.  I already felt like we were flying each time I entered a bus or taxi, and to think I had the power to determine my speed again, made me panicky.  I had not driven a car in exactly 1 ¾ years. 

I took the wheel in a more deserted area, and blamed the slow speed on the rocky road, saying I wanted to make sure a rock would not chip my windshield.  As I merged onto the highway (main road) I was anxious.  I sped up to 60 kmph, and felt the thrill of going what felt like light speed. 

I learned over the next few days that driving a car is just like riding a bike, after a long hiatus, if you take it slow you will pick it up again.  It might take time to get your ability level back to where it once was, but you will get there.  At least unlike riding a bike, in the car I didn’t have any accidents while relearning.

There are a few things I will be nervous about for driving in America in 6 months.  I think the reason why driving a car wasn’t more difficult was because driving is on the left side of the road and I was using a left hand drive car.  After only seeing driving on the left side of the road (except in Savaii where they always drive in the middle of the road) and riding my bike on the left side, it just seemed natural.  Switching back to the right will be scary. Hopefully I will be able to pick it back up again.

(Pictures of are of the bridge I told my sister to drive on (as you can see it ends in the middle of the river….she was not sure if she should trust my driving after that), me with some of the Fijians after our kava ceremony, two Fijians making fire, a bilibili-traditional bamboo raft, and me enjoying Fiji)