The Mark of the Jandal

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I Say Old Chap.

It's time for a lovely excursion out to the countryside.

Bryan and I decided to take a trip out to see our host families and to spend some time with Josh, another volunteer living on the south eastern part of Upolu. We left Sunday morning around six so that we could get into Falevao, our training village, before church started. We made pretty good time and arrived around 7.30. Since church starts at nine, I had plenty of time to take a shower and put on my Sunday best, a white linen shirt and a nice lavalava. In the States I never go to church, and those who know me would find the following to be an understatement: I'm not a particularly religious person.

However, church seems to be pretty important to the folks here, and my host mother really seems to enjoy it when I go. I don't mind much, though some sermons can be a trial of will. Since most of the service is given in Samoan, and I understand less than my two-year-old niece, the preacher could be fomenting revolution for all I know. Since I don't have a clue about what is being said, I just sit back, think, joke with my host sister, perplex the kids out with my flexibility, and listen to the music. I like the music most of all, though my vocabulary being what it is, I really don't know the specifics. I am able to get this: God and Jesus are quite amiable folks and seem to deserve a lot of praise. The best part is that most of the songs are sung to music played by a guy using a synthesizer. I know many are not familiar with the tormented genius of Wesley Willis, but every time I hear the guy at church fire up the synthesizer, Wesley Willis is the first thing that pops into my mind. I imagine him singing something like the following (note this will only make complete sense if one is familiar with Wesley Willis is and also spent some time in Samoa):

It was a rockin' show at the Falevao lotu
The sermon really whipped the pigs ass
The faifeau really rocked the fale
He read from the book of Iosua
Fa'afetai Iesu
Fa'afetai Iesu
Fa'afetai Iesu
Fa'afetai Iesu
Rock over London, Rock on Chicago
Samoatel, Top it off.

At least that is what goes through my head, but in reality the people in the church are much more harmonious:



For the village, church is the big event of the week, everyone gets gussied up. Standard fare for guys is an ie faitoga (think dress skirt), a shirt, jacket, and a tie (all white). Andrew's host family gave him a nice pink tie to wear the first time we went to church during training -- think 80's new wave band. The ladies will normally wear white dresses and large hats. These are a few pictures I took in training.

After church, we went home and had To'ana'i, the Sunday afternoon meal -- think thanksgiving-like consumption every Sunday. I subsequently passed out for an hour or so. I have a grandmother in the village who is suffering from Parkinson's disease. She has a little area of the main fale that is hers, and most people leave her alone in that area. While she seems pretty nice to me, whenever I tried to talk to her during training there was one thing I always understood: my Samoan is bad. She always seems really excited to see me. I believe this is because she is pretty lonely.

I'm told she was quite the disciplinarian back in the day. I've heard some good stories about her accuracy with rocks implying that her reach did not stop at the end of her arm. This brand of negative feedback fits in well with my own experiences outside of my family and from what I've heard from other volunteers.

Aside on child rearing
Some of the other volunteers are convinced that any form of corporal punishment for kids is just evil. I personally have no problems with it. I recall one January when my father drug me outside, stripped me to my underwear, and hung me upside down from a tree. He then went and gathered my friends and hosed me down with a water hose as they pointed and laughed... No, my dad didn't do this, but I remember threatening my sisters with this when they were younger. I'm sure the benefits from such a treatment would far outweigh any emotional scaring. Basically, I don't really have any problems with beating kids when they deserve it. It's just wrong to do it for fun. However, if you enjoy beating them when they do deserve it, well that's just part of the human condition. Basically, child rearing here hasn't been denatured like it has in the States. Of course the lady who threw a stick at her kid and killed him, it's true, I read it in the news paper, probably needs more guidance when it comes to dealing with kids.

Well, back to my grandmother in the village. I always say hello to her when I arrive. She always asks when I'll be leaving and when I'll be coming back -- of I don't feel any pressure with this ;). Old folks are taken care of pretty well here. Best I can tell, my grandmother has four daughters and one son still living. She stays at our house where my host mother's family takes care of her which is I believe how the elderly and infirm are taken care of here. Because she is the matriarch of the family, she's given a large area of the main fale. Most of the rest of the family spend time in the smaller fale where the cooking is done. For special church services there are performances (Christmas, Easter, etc.) and communion (first Sunday of the month). The church will send people out to the houses of the infirm to give them communion or perform for them. Given all of this, she still spends a significant amount of time alone. So when her grandson came over to take her out for a drive she was pretty excited. I think that was the first time I've seen her leave the house area.

After that, we had a little dinner and watched "Golden Stars", the Samoan version of star search. Following that was something with "Hiphop" in the title. This is a show where people do dance sequences to mixes of popular songs. I know this is going to date me, but if anyone who grew up in the 80's remembers the show "puttin' on the hits', combine that with "You Got Served", and throw in a little break dancing and you have the Hiphop Show. As the evening went on, kids from my end of the village started to collect around the tv. After about 45 minutes of the Hiphop Show it was time for bed. Marques was going to meet Bryan and myself, and we were going to Josh's village.

Bryan showed up at my fale around eight or half past and said that Marques had called and he was fairly close. Marques arrived a little exasperated asking for water. I gave him my spare niu which he vigorously consumed. We left Falevao around nine. Much to Marques' chagrin, we spent the first 45 minutes to an hour going uphill. After this there was another large hill before we reached Josh's village. The most humbling moment was when a sixty to seventy year old woman chopping down a tree, about a foot wide, with a machette told us how we were string bike riders.

Josh teaches carpentry at the Aleipata Secondary School which is located in the village of Saleaumua on the eastern tip of Upolu. He lives in a house at the school with two other Samoan teachers and a student. Josh is living what I would call the "Peace Corps Dream". He's living with host country nationals, electricity is uncertain, and the only running water he currently has comes from the PVC pipe in his front yard. The water is pumped from one or two villages away, and I believe the pump is broken so the water literally comes out in a trickle. I'm pretty sure the pump is at a lower elevation because if he lifts the pipe off of the ground the trickle stops. So for water Josh walks a couple houses over with a couple five gallon buckets which he uses to fill his toilet and water filter. For bathing Josh goes to the public pool which is a natural spring which mixes with sea water. See what I mean? "Peace Corps Dream"

I don't think most people appreciate how important water can be. Back home one turns the valve and it pours out of the faucet clean enough (in most cities anyways) to drink. I've been in a few situations here where I was staring at water thinking to myself: "Self, do you really see anything in there, it wont kill you. There's no such thing as microbes, it's just evil spirits. If I get sick I can just rubs some leaves in coconut oil on my belly and it will fix it". Self would always reply with sound advice protecting my intestines. Understanding the importance of water, Josh quickly filled out the paperwork for a grant for tanks to store rain runoff. As it turned out, the grants went through and he just needed a truck to get the tanks from Apia to his village.

That night Eric, another volunteer living down the road, came over. He finished training around August/September, and was living with a host family. He had been pushing for a Faleo'o, a traditional Samoan fale with a thatched roof. He had the money for it, but getting it built was something different. Matai meetings had been held and Eric said that tomorrow looked like the day. I thought this would be pretty neat to watch and possibly help out with --- westerners here are like delicate flowers and may be easily broken by physical labor.

When we showed up the next morning, Eric was out in the jungle with the fellas gathering up thatching for the roof. I sat back and watched the machette artists do their work.

As I understand it, the Swiss Army has their own knife, and I hear the generals even get one with a remote control. Really though, who needs some special attachment two open cans that's just going to get broken? The machette is a single blade of metal that can be sharpened until all that is left is a letter opener. From the day it's made in China until the last molecule of iron is oxidized it is a hammer and everything else is a nail.

Sitting in the fale with a woman named Taula (If I recall correctly) She looked to be unscrewing a copy of Street Fighter II. I asked her if it was broken and she told me they needed the tape for the roof of the faleo'o. I hope Eric appreciates the sacrifice host family was making. Honestly though, I really do appreciate how much gets reused around here. Notice the toothbrush used to thread the tape through the thatching.

By the time we had to leave, they were finishing up the outline of the roof. By the end of the day they had the skeleton of the roof finished and a good portion of the thatching. This whole process sort of reminds me of a barn raising. A communal effort to distribute the workload over several capable individuals. It would have been nice to stay a week while they finished everything.

We went to visit the head of the local church, a former language trainer for the Peace Corps. He's a Catholic, but not a priest, but like a priest except he has a wife and quite a few kids; I think the word he used was catacyst. He fed us, basically any time you go into someone's house here they feed you. The highlight was a lime juice drink sort of like limeaid.

Later, after returning to Josh's house, a truck was driving up with three water tanks and some cement. The truck from the village was having mechanical difficulties. It was just as well because it is small and would have taken three trips. The pule (short for puleaoga or principal) hired someone to transport the tanks. It worked out well, and I'm sure Josh is really excited at the prospect of having fresh water close at hand. I got Bryan to take the second picture because Heather says the only pictures she sees of me is when I'm at the beach or at a party. Yeah that's Marques taking pictures of me. See he didn't want to get his Best Buy shirt dirty. I think it was the special Windows XP release day shirt. That evening we played a mean game of scrabble and went to bed relatively early.

We left the next morning at sunrise. We rode along the cost for a bit before heading inland. Between me getting a flat tire and stopping for a snack and some water, it took us about four hours to get from Josh's place at the northern part of the eastern tip of Upolu to the cross island road by my house that bisects the island. So we started at about 100 ft above sea level at a little after ten in the morning. It took us about three hours to get up to aroud 2500 ft. Along the way the wet season caught up with us and dumped copious amounts of water from the sky. Some would say the rain gods were angry, but I actually welcomed the water over the afternoon sun. Close to the top of the hill we arrived at Papapapaitai Falls. On that day the humidity had the clouds hanging low.

I've ridden down this hill, but I've never gone up it. However, once I saw the railing on this hill I recognized it as the last hill (or the first when going down), so I paused to take a picture.


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