Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Days in Country

Talofa everyone!  Malo!  I have had an amazing last few days since I left the US.  The flights were certainly the least enjoyable part with closer to 24 hours straight traveling.  I got to watch a few good movies though (Prometheus was amazing)!  I also officially never experienced October 6th because of the time zones haha.  As we were landing, the view of the island was spectacular!  The waters were gorgeous turquoise and the ocean came right up to the runway.  The airport itself was so small that the plane pulled right up next to the only terminal.  We walked off of the plane onto the runway and there was a big crowd welcoming us to Samoa including handing us leis of welcome.  Once we went inside, it was so funny seeing the terminal!  It was basically a two-room building where one was customs and the other was baggage claim/check in.  It was wonderful though because in the baggage claim area, there was a live band playing tradition Samoan music!!  Very very cool, and we all felt so welcomed.

The bus ride into Apia was such a wonderful experience!  We drove about 45 minutes through small villages that basically ran into each other, creating one long “village”.  There were no downtowns, no supermarkets, no fast foods, it was kind of refreshing.  As we drove past groups of people, they all waved to us and shouted “Talofa!” (hello!).  Because it was a Sunday, people were all resting either in their open Fales (traditional houses with no walls – think giant gazebo), lounging in their rock pools, or sitting on their house steps with their families.  Once we arrived in Apia, there unfortunately was no time for resting our poor jet lagged bodies.  We went right to our hotel for our welcome orientation followed by a welcome pizza party (I know, I know, I’m in Samoa!  How dare I eat pizza??  But it was darn good….).   That night in my fale with my roommate Angelina, we had our first bug encounter.  Our screen door wasn’t fitting all the way and a giant wasp looking thing flew in!!  Aaaah so of course we couldn’t sleep for thinking about it.  Luckily there was a handy bug spray sitting in our room.  Once we sprayed it though, the thing just got angrier!!!  Luckily after 5 minutes of dodging it, the thing twitched and fell to the floor (whew).  After that little incident, I went right to bed and didn’t move once until morning.

Yesterday was a huge day full of so many activities!  Morning started with the coldest shower of my life.  I thought that for sure if I just went into it, it’d all be okay but nooooo.  So after a few minutes of gasping, I finally gave up shaving and called it quits.  The first activity of the day was the Ava Ceremony, officially welcoming us to the village.  The village chief and head families as well as the top people in the Peace Corps Samoa came.  Apparently this is a ceremony that happens all over the island when a visitor comes, for if you don't participate in it, then you’re not welcome in the village and not respected by those in it.  Basically you listen to lots of speeches from local chiefs.  At the end of the speeches, one at a time we say “Lau ava lea le atua” then drink from a coconut shell that contains the Ava drink.  Interesting thing about the drink is that a sip makes your tongue go numb and drinking too much of it can make you go temporarily paralyzed.  Needless to say, we were all excited to try it!!  It definitely stood up to its reputation.

After the ceremony, our official training began with safety, medical (first lesson being diarrhea!), and basic language training.  All of our teachers are such amazing people.  All except two of them are Samoans and boy do they love to smile and laugh, it’s so comforting!

One point that all the teachers tried to emphasize was about the local dogs in Samoa.  They are apparently not the nicest and will take to ambushing walkers or packs of them go after joggers.  They suggested taking rocks and throwing them at the dogs while shouting “Halu!” to keep them away.  This is such a hard thing for me to fathom and so sad.  Since I’ve fostered dogs for awhile now, it saddens me greatly to see a nation of dogs that are forced into this behavior by people’s hatred and fear of them.  One side project I hope to work on for myself is to try and rehabilitate at least one dog at my permanent site.  I’d love to show my host family the other side to dogs that they don’t see.  On the dog note though……..we were walking back from training to our hotel and a group of 5 dogs jumped out of the bushes, biting one girl pretty severely.  They were chased off, but wow.  I think I’ll have to be careful of the pack mentality and try to befriend single dogs.  I talked to a Peace Corps Volunteer about this who came and talked with us today.  She brought in a dog as a puppy and raised it while she was here.  It’s an idea.

Today I had the wonderful experience of getting my mobile phone up and working.  I’ve successfully had a call from the US and am looking forward to many more in the future.  Our group also decided to walk down to the sea wall just nearby the Peace Corps office.  We got our first good view of the harbor in Apia and it was absolutely gorgeous.  Samoan people were sitting on the walkway around the harbor and enjoying food and company so we felt right at home doing the same.

Bay in Apia

I’m getting more and more excited about our training village that we all are moving to this Saturday and will be in for 3 months.  The village is picturesque beauty so I’m particularly psyched to go snorkeling.  We’re also getting our first host family on Saturday so I have to admit I’m a little nervous about it.  The likelihood of them speaking English is very low so it’ll be difficult at first because I don’t speak any Samoan but they’ll become a great resource after a few weeks of training.

Still getting used to the humidity – check back with me next week if I’m managing better :) I’ve been told you adjust over time.

View from our training room

1 comment:

  1. ha ha I see you have already taken a dog picture! Beautiful photos.