Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Q+A Time!

I sent out a post on my facebook page asking people to send me any questions they had about my service, life here, future plans, whatever.  Here are the ones that I received!  I'll update if I get more and feel free to ask your own in the comments section below.

Was it hard to get used to the heat? 
Have you ever seen that movie Volunteers with Tom Hanks where he steps off of the plane in Thailand and is almost blasted over by the heat and humidity?  It was just like that when my group stepped off the temperature controlled airplane and into the Samoan air for the first time.  It was like slamming into a wall of humidity.  To be fair, we did arrive in the rainy season which ups the humidity.  I can testify though that after almost 11 months in country, I can pretty much ignore the heat.  At night, dare I say it, I actually get cold!  It was a long and slow process getting used to the constant heat however.  From teaching in it, to biking in it, to wearing long hot dresses in it, it's always there.  But your body does acclimatize.  And the easiest way to cool off?  Take a long shower under your freezing pipe until your body temp is lowered, then lay spread eagle on your bed with your fan blowing on you and wearing nothing.  It's amazing how fast you'll cool off :)
What it is like being so far from home?
 It's rough.  There's no getting away from it.  However, I want to mention that I don't feel as homesick as I did during my 6 month stint in Japan.  I think it's a combination of the longer timeframe, the acceptance of the whole community, and my fellow volunteers going through the exact same thing.  There are ups and downs in everyone's service, Peace Corps has actually scientifically documented it.  I'm coming up on a timeframe called the mid-service crisis and in Samoa, this usually means getting a Samoan tattoo (undecided if I will haha).  I have made the decision though to take a month off and visit America over Christmas.  I'm beyond psyched to see my family but I know it'll also help me with the distance over my final year of service. 
How is the idea of family there different than in the US? 
So so many things.  First off, you're usually related to half the village with your cousins living around you.  It's a wonderful experience after growing up myself living several states away.  Another difference is the family roles.  There are very specific gender and age defined roles within a family, though you see them being changed more in modern years.  Like for instance mat weaving is an adult-elderly woman's role.  Or building the umu (oven) is for men.  My sisters do ALL of the cooking for the family and this usually involves several hours a day.  My little brothers will help with the cooking more as they grow older but because of their age, currently help run errands, water the cows, and weed.  Another difference is the togetherness of the family.  Things are done as a family unit with decisions being made by the head of house.  The family all lives and sleeps together in the main area so you certainly see a lot of each other.  This was a huge change for me after growing up in my own room as a kid then my own apartment in college.  Everything that you own is also considered family property, not individual property.  This sometimes gets difficult when something is "borrowed" and not returned.  There's no malicious intent, simply a misunderstanding.
And as you've probably read in previous posts, I LOVE MY SAMOAN FAMILY!  ('OU TE ALOFA LO'U 'AIGA SAMOA!!!)

How big are most Samoan families.
Nuclear families are generally the mom, dad, and 3-4 children.  However with families can also swell to huge numbers.  My training village family had 14 kids.  Birth control (an issue I will not touch on here) is not readily available.  Extended family will often live on the same compound or within shouting distance.  My neighbor lives on the same compound as her sister so both of their families are virtually together.  
Read your post about Iron Giant. Do you have access to streaming like Netflix or Amazion? The movie would be great for them to see!
Unfortunately most internet connections in the capitol are barely enough for streaming movies, let alone out in the village.  There's currently a project to get Broadband Internet into all rural Primary Schools for two years free (another issue I won't go in to here, can you say building dependence?) so perhaps I'll be able to stream movies at some point.  I actually did just ask my mom about the movie and she's sending me the DVD in her next package.  I have a DVD player for American DVDs so I'll be able to play it on a TV for them.  I'm excited to do a compare/contrast project with the kids!

How hard is it for an individualist type person to adapt to a collectivist society? 
Peace Corps training REALLY helped with this.  I think if I'd just been thrown in, I would have been blindsided and not only would have been unhappy, but probably would have offended a lot of people that I work with.  In Samoa, doing things for the good of the group or the family is very important.  For instance, I was told to coach the netball team for my school and I said no.  In my mind, I was already at that time coaching the science fair team as well as having a fulltime teaching schedule so why would I do that?  Well this was an instance where I really should have said yes because it was for the good of the team in their eyes.

In America, we pride ourselves on being individuals.  When we apply for university, we are told to include things to make us stick out.  Coming to Samoa, it is difficult to try and change myself to being the same as everyone else.  Uniforms, hair in an exact way, following traditions, etc.  Things don't get shook up very often.  Casual Fridays is definitely not a common practice :)

You get used to it though.  There are times when I feel like a shadow of who I am, but there are also times when I can assert my individualism to the great amusement of my students.  Like wearing wacky earrings to school, or having discussions with my students outside of just teaching them.  You don't lose who you are, you just adjust and tone it down a little. 

Is church really a big deal there?
YES!  I can't emphasize how much.  I personally am an atheist so this was really hard for me to get used to.  The Samoan lives revolved around church and religion.  Morning begins at school with prayer and Bible study, prayers are said before each meal, many families have an evening prayer which is signaled with a conch shell blow across the village.  This is an interesting one and varies between villages.  Some are so strict that you men will patrol the streets during prayer time and ask drivers to pull over and wait for prayers to cease.  And of course there are the church services on Sundays.  I go to a Congregational church here which means I'm there basically from 9-11.  Mormon, 8-12.  Seventh Day Advantist, 9-12.  My friend goes to a Catholic church with her family that starts at 5am!  It varies between churches.  Most have afternoon services as well and some families go to both services.  Pastor's here are at the same rank as village elders and receive huge donations from families for food and housing.  So yes, Church is a HUGE deal here.  How do I deal?  I look at it as a cultural experience.  And I make it extremely clear that afternoons are for lesson planning and I can't make it to afternoon service. 

Have you eaten any strange food in Samoa? 
Well, I guess.  I've eaten octopus here and raw fish which some people think is odd but I've eaten both before in Japan.  The fe'e (octopus) is quite good, I highly recommend it!  Oh and I had stingray once, it was like a really tender white fish.

What types of different fruits or vegetables do they have there? 
So the most common fruits here are papaya, mango, pineapple, guava, and a little Samoan apple.  The native vegetables are taro root and breadfruit (I honestly don't know if it's a fruit or vegetable even though it has fruit in its name).  In grocery stores you can get a hold of bok choy, string beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and other random vegetables.  No lettuce or spinach though.  And no berries like strawberries, blueberries, etc.  Weirdly though, fruits are not commonly served in Samoan families.  I had papaya for awhile but not for probably 6 months.  Whenever I go to town, I'll try to buy some fruit but the imported stuff is so expensive, it gets difficult.

What type of side projects have you guys started or plan on starting? 
We are working as a group for Camp GLOW (Girls Lead Our World).  It's a Peace Corps wide initiative that varies in each country depending on what volunteers wish to do.  Ours is currently planned for December.  We'll be taking 3 Year 8 girls each to a 3 day long conference all about female leadership.  I personally plan to be working on a project with the local SPCA for a rural spay/neuter clinic in my village.  There's a huge wild dog problem so it'd be a great help.

How far are you from the nearest volunteer? 
About 30 minutes by bus if everything goes the way I plan it to.  I say that because sometimes the bus doesn't come!  Usually it's easiest just to meet my fellow volunteers in Apia.  This way we're all guaranteed a ride home and won't get stuck anywhere.

What type of things do you do on the weekend? 
Most weekends I just laze around.  One of my large undertakings on Saturdays are laundry!  Bucket washing takes a long time and I usually don't want to do it during the week.  So by the weekend I have quite a mountain to get through.  Believe me, when I get back to America I'll never complain about doing laundry through a washing machine again.  Another thing I'll do is watch rugby.  Saturday afternoons the Primary school boys will have rugby camps where they'll learn how to play it as well as have games against other villages.  It's fun to watch!  Sundays are a strict no work day.  It's for church and resting.  Playing games is forbidden and in some villages, even swimming is forbidden.  Maybe every 3 weeks or so, I'll head into Apia for the weekend.  It's expensive though so I try not to do it very often.

Is it easy to get everything you need on the Peace Corps allowance?
Yes!  Peace Corps Samoa has a nice allowance.  You can easily get food, internet, phone time, whatever.  And if you save up enough during the year, most volunteers can go to New Zealand for Christmas using Peace Corps allowance money. Now that's not to say that you'll be rolling in wealth.  There will be some months where your bank account will hit zero and you'll have to really limit what you do.  If you tend to go out a lot, then your bank account will usually be very low.  However, if you budget well, then you should have no difficulty getting things that you want.

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