The Mark of the Jandal

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away

When god created the heavens and the earth, he (or she depending on how you anthropomorphize your deity) decided to place Samoa in the middle of the ocean far enough from the equator to be livable but not so far south to have actual seasons. This created a warm --- some might say hot at times --- and humid climate. This is an ideal climate for plants to thrive, and thrive they do. This also produced a wonderful environment for the Samoan people allowing them plenty of food to thrive and flourish.

Like the Yin and the Yang, the universe demands balance. While this combination of heat and humidity is quite agreeable to the papaya trees in my front yard, it is not so ideal for electronic equipment. It is with deep regret that I report that god had some takething to do last week. My little PowerBook was called by god to the information technology convention in the sky. It was a rather slow and painful death, that I cannot recount here because it is still too emotionally troubling. Normally slow deaths are considered bad ones, however, while standing on it's last leg, my PowerBook gave me the opportunity back up all of my important data. This last effort by my little laptop resulted in very little data lost.

While looking upon the corpse of what was once my little companion with a matte metal finish, I began to think about those service centers located in distant lands. Really, the only thing separating the recently deceased and another shot at life was a little water. A little research would reveal that the closest authorized service centers (the warranty is still valid until February 2008) are in Vanuatu and Tonga. Alas, less water than that which lies between here and Australia, but more than I can bike in a day.

I began inquiring if any one I knew was planning on making any trips abroad soon. It was with great delight that I found out my Dean was heading to New Zealand on Thursday evening. I asked her if should would make this pilgrimage with my laptop and place upon the alter of an authorized apple service person for the appropriate sacrifices. When she agreed, I could see my Mac approaching the glowing doorway to the information technology convention in the sky from the dimly lit parking lot. It could hear my voice calling it back, telling it that it was not it's time.

And so that is where it things stand now. My Dean left for New Zealand on Thursday to return a week later. The poor fragile little Mac stands and the breach between an unforgiving environment and the here after. And I toil away making lectures and practical activities for next week....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

PCV to Welfare Queen

So while having dinner with a volunteer who will soon return, and I was posed with a question: How does one get on welfare?

This particular volunteer, we'll call her Tinkerbell, is planning on going back to school when she returns in a few months. There is going to be a ten month period before she starts school where she will be living at her parents, and any employment will be modest. When we finish up our service, we receive a readjustment allowance. The number that is advertised is somewhere between $5,500 and $6,000 --- I don't recall the specific amount. However this is considered income, and is of course taxable. I don't find this surprising. Anytime I've ever made money, the government has always taken their portion. However, Tinkerbell, finds this very frustrating. Since she's planning on having very little income, she was wondering if it would be possible for her to get on welfare, unemployment, or foodstamps during the intermission between being a Peace Corps volunteer and a graduate student. By doing this she hopes to get back the money the government will shortly abscond from her readjustment allowance.

I should point out that she is from a state that was one of the original 13 colonies. Being from the south, I just lump all of those north east coast states into one amalgamation. I simply call them all New England. Considering the situation, I asked her what kind of house her parents have. "Is it a large house", "It's got 6 bedrooms". "Really," I ask, "and how many people live there?", "Just my parents". So I picture a mailman driving up to this nice six-bedroom house in one of the New England states (did I mention it has a wraparound porch?), to deliver a welfare check. I told her that I defiantly wanted a picture of the mailman's face when he delivered it.

At one point she asks if Whole Foods takes foodstamps. My first thought is what kind of car does she drive? It's a Honda. So I picture the following:
Fade in

A nice looking Yankee girl drives to Whole Foods in her Honda. She fills her shopping cart with organic fruits and vegetables, some nice whole grain bread, 1/2 pound of fair trade coffee, humus ground by the indigenous peoples of some middle eastern country, dried mangos, Dr. Bronners magic soaps (the peppermint kind), etc. Then she takes the cart fetus (those carts are tiny) up to the exceedingly happy person at the checkout counter. The nametag reads 'Bearskat'.

His real name was Tom (named for his grandfather who worked 65 hours a week to send his dad to college), but that was given to him by his oppressive parents who only gave him a Mercedes for a high school graduation gift when all his friends got a Lexus. Telling his parents he was going off to college, he sold his Mercedes, and started following Phish around the country. This is where he got his new moniker. One day he was high on something, and he saw some mushrooms growing out of a steaming pile of feces. Thinking these were magic mushrooms growing from a cowpie, he decided to try a couple. His hippy friends, being true hippies (meaning they left their oppressive parents the previous year and toured with Phish), knew it was no cowpie and that these were not magic mushrooms. It turns out they were poisonous fungi sprouting from fresh bear skat. Trust me, it's easy to confuse the two. They have similar viscosities and the taste is almost identical. However, Bearskat is sightly acidic while cowpies are more grainy and fiberous. The latter depending on whether the cows are free rage or forcefed corn in one of the mans cattle farm. Phish would only have their concerts on free range cattle farms, so a cowpie t would be more familiar with the fiberous variety.

Bearskat will have that cult like glow about him that is a prerequisite for working at Whole Foods and not actually acquired while working there. His nose ring will glimmer, his hair will have the pungent smell of bees wax and patchouli (moving independently on Bearskat's head like a mound of termites), and his teeth will be yellowing from a combination of smoking and because he cannot afford the Toms of Main anise flavored tooth past he prefers. As he opens his mouth to speak, the smell of cloves betrays the partial cause of his dental delima. As Tinkerbell unloads her baskets from the tiny Whole Foods cart, she will find out Bearskat's sordid history --- it's hard to maintain hippycred when you come from such rich oppressive parents, and he's constantly having to defend himself. When the total comes up, $450, she'll pull out her food stamp card and present it. Bearskat will nod approvingly, the left side of his mouth up turned, as he and his friends also try to stick it to "The Man" whenever they can. As Tinkerbell leaves, Bearskat will invite her to goto a "Greatful Ted" show --- "It's a one man band", Bearskat explains, "My friend Ted, he does Greateful Dead covers and remixes selections from Dicks Picks; volume 16 is the best."

Tinkerbell, leaving Bearskat with a nonanswer, will then load her pesticide free, non-hormone fed, fairtrade wares into the trunk of her beige Honda Accord (I'm not sure of the color or model, but this is, of course, my imagination). She will then drive to her parents six-bedroom house and unload everything from the thick cardboard, biodegradable Whole Foods paper bags --- Who actually chooses plastic in Whole Foods? They don't have plastic, they just give you the choice so you can feel good about making the right one.

The next morning, she'll get up and have a huge grapefruit from some local organic farm, some Sumatran dark roast, and a bowl of cerial that's as dense as pet food. She'll sit on her wraparound porch reading the New Republic with her digital camera by her side. As she sees the mailman approach, she'll stroll down the driveway and thank him for her welfare check, smile, and take his picture.
Fade out

I'm sure that my more conservative friends and family will appreciate someone trying to get their hard earned tax money back, all the while defeating the system from the inside out. However starving the beast doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of killing it. The beast, it seems, has a high credit limit and the ability to set interest rates. Nevertheless, cheer on Tinkerbell as she bitchslaps uncle Sam with her pixie dust.

Oh yeah, I really do like the licorice flavored toothpaste.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lawn Care

During training, I noticed how most people would mow their lawns with weedeaters or machettes. The machette kind of made sense to me: it was cheap, few moving parts which would break, didn't require gas. The weedeater, however, seemed a little odd. As with other seemingly odd things I experience, I never really asked anyone why this was. I would ponder it for a while and come up with my own solution. If it came to my mind while I was talking with a Samoa, I'd probably ask. My reason relates to the ground here. It's full of volcanic rocks poking up every where, and I assume that this geographic feature would make using a lawn mower very expensive. Weedeaters on the other hand are quite robust when it comes to striking hard surfaces.

The most noticeable aspect to me, beyond the army of men brandishing weedeaters, is what they wear to work. Now I know that a lot of dirt and dust can be kicked up with a weedeater, but they wear coveralls and face masks. I have trouble wearing pants here in the wet season, and these guys are out in the heat of the day completely covered. Of course, around lunchtime a break must be taken. With that I'll leave you with the following: