Sunday, October 29, 2006
Well.. I've just returned from Ma'asina round one and I have to say that is was quite an incredible experience. I am staying with a man named Solomona and his wife Ioana as well as their son Osana. We stay in a one room fale pole house with no walls along with the family of Solomona's sister. Also staying at the fale is Togia, who is an 86 year old high chief of the village. My host father, Solomona, is an excellent fisherman who is well known for his spearfishing skills throughout the village. He swims at night in the bay and uses a sling with a spear to catch eel, fish, and enormous (delicious) shellfish. The family doesn't speak much English so I am learning Samoan at a very fast rate due to symbiosis. One night it was pouring rain and I returned to my fale from class. I came across Solomona and he invited me to come swimming, which I promptly agreed to. We sat about waist deep in the middle of the Fagoloa Bay in the pouring rain and stared at the magnificent mountains and water falls surrounding the bay and talked about life for a while. He said to me that when he was a young child he never knew that there was a world outside of Ma'asina and for all he knew, his village was the only place on Earth. I found that so fascinating. He is a very good guy to be friends with. He's only 31 years old and we have alot of good talks and good laughs together. A few days into our village stay we had to leave for on-site training at the places where we will eventually be staying. I traveled all the way across the island to Leulumoega and actually got to see my bedroom and the school I will be teaching at. It is a secondary school that spans from year 6 to 12. I will be teaching computers, music, and art, as well as anything else I can get myself involved in. While I was there I fixed two computers and I soon realized that I could offer alot to this school. My apartment is really cool. I'm allowed to leave whenever I want and bring over whoever I want which typically is a rarity in many Samoan placements. I can leave for the weekend and go surfing or return to Apia for a bit of nightlife and debauchery. Village life is really incredible and I have to admit that I didn't want to come back to Apia. Aparently there was a mild earthquake one night but I slept through it. Earthquakes are not uncommon in Samoa and usually they are nothing more than an enjoyable rumble. It is cyclone season however and the thought is quite scarry. It rained for about 4 days straight when I was in Ma'asina and I hear that there was a cyclone in Tonga and we were feeling the residual effects. The winds were intense and and rain was violent. Some nights I lay in my fale and actually began to examine the possiblity that I will soon experience a cyclone firt hand. It sounds scary and it really is, but nobody here seems to be worried. The other day when driving back from Leulumoega our car was blocked at the top of a mountain due to construction so we hiked back to the village. This walk was incredible and it gave me pleanty of time to talk with Onofia (the man playing guitar in the picture). He is really the coolest guy in the world in so many ways. His name is known all over Samoa and I am really lucky to know him. The food was awesome in the village. Seafood everynight! The family has really grown on me and I have every intention of visiting them often after training. I have also been told that anyone who comes to visit me in Samoa is required to come meet my host family and have dinner/ava with them. This also means you Mom, so prepare for a day in the village.. you'll love it. I spend alot of time in the ocean and this makes me very happy. On Tuesday I am going to embark on a surfing adventure in Savai'i with a volunteer named Kevin who has been here almost two years. Upon returning to Apia our entire team engaged in a wild night of debauchery and we're all hurting this morning. We went to a Halloween party put on by other volunteers at a university and craziness was bestowed upon all. Earlier that day however we put on a party for some Samoan children where they got to experience Halloween for the first time. I helped out with face painting and mask making. I was dressed something like a Euro-trash rocker which was pretty cool in a glam sort of way.
As I may or may not have mentioned, the people here often shout Rasta! to me when I walk by in the streets. I originally thought that this was because of many jam sessions at night when me, my friends, and some of the locals gather and play music. I often play Bob Marley songs and I always figured that was the cause of this, but when I was in Ma'asina I noticed that people shout Rasta! there also even before I had a chance to play. I really don't mind this and it is a nice break from being called Palagi everyday. I asked my friend George, who is a cousin of a family in Ma'asina and he said it is because I have a very laid back attitude and this is a welcome lifestyle around these islands. I have to admit that island life is really really really cool. I remember taking a trip to the Carribean when I was maybe 14. I was privellaged to visit countries like Haiti and Jamaica and I think that doing so had alot to do with me getting it in my head that one day I would like to do something like the Peace Corps. And here I am. On one of a few tiny islands in the middle of a gigantic ocean. I often go walking barefoot in the ocean on my walks and I think about different bodies of water that I've stepped foot in over time. One of them is outside of my temporary cabain up north in Oscoda on the beaches of Lake Huron. I've always loved the beach and it is really nice to have it so close to me at all times. I've written alot of poetry lately and I often sign it under a pen name 'Web-footed Mammal'. These days I feel like I am half monkey half fish, but still 100% Mook. I like what I am becomming. I'm positive about life again whereas I think there was a moment when I was becoming cynical. I am always smiling here and I have learned that positivity is a practice just like anything else and the more you try the better you will be at it. Sometimes I feel like the ocean speaks to me and reminds me that I am just a little fish in an enormous sea. I used to say that those who say it's a small world live in a very small world. In fact, it is HUGE out there. I urge everyone to be bold and discover this first hand because doing so really leads to a great deal of happiness. I've learned that my life's meaning so far is to travel and experience as much of other cultures as I can. This is how we learn about each other as well as ourselves. You'd be suprised what changes will happen in only a relatively short amount of time. I felt this when I was in China and I feel it more than ever here. I like change and I welcome it into my life, but I know that it is also important to hold on to who you are deep inside. Deep inside.. well.. you know me.. I'm just a little fish in a big sea and I'm very happy with that. I'm going to sign off for now and I'll probably write a bit more after my surfing adventure. To all my friends and family back home, I say the same thing that I say to everyone I pass in the street that shouts Rasta! I raise my fist to you and shout 'JAH MON!'
It is beautiful out today so I am going to go adventure by the water. Love to all from a tiny spot in a big ocean :)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
This will perhaps be my last entry for about ten days or so (unless I can squeeze in one more before I leave). This is because on Saturday morning I am traveling to Ma'asina for a village assignment where I will be stationed for a week. Yesterday was truly amazing:
The day began with a half day of language from which afterwards we promptly loaded onto a bus and traveled to the far East side of the island for water saftey classes. They took us out on a boat that sailed into the ocean far enough where Samoa because a giant green lump on the horizon. Snorkeling in the ocean is really awesome and really can only be compared to looking into a tropical aquarium at a Chinese resteraunt. The reef is one of the most beautiful places in the world and truly is magical. I learned all about saftey in the water and how not to be killed by the trecherous creatures of the deep (rule one: avoid the deep.. duh). My heart races every time I see the ocean. It is this enormous force that compells my soul to rip out of my body. I believe that my roomate Uesile has a water proof camera and within time I shall return with some visual stimulation.
I've learned alot in the last few days about Samoa and the history of Polynesian culture. I learned about the Matai system and how politics work around here. I'm very curiously learning more about Samoan music and food and I should have some impressive dishes to whip up when I come home.
As we speak it is pouring rain. I hear sometimes that it has been known not to stop raining for up to three weeks at a time. This is actually quite a blessing because it offers a break from the heat and humidity (and brother, it is HOT). I've grown quite accustom to the heat and I can actually go so far to say that I'm becoming fond of it. It's nice when it rains like this because the waterfalls are now in full effect and they are always quite a sight. I really enjoy spending time with the other trainees as well as the other volunteers. I've become quite fond of several of the volunteers and I hope within time we will all be close friends. They are, of course, what keeps my sanity in check around here.
Lately I've tried to take everything in stride. Following some excellent advice from Kevin, one of our trainers, I've learned that positivity is a practice. This has become my mantra and it seems to be working because a smile has never left my face. Even when I am sad, I am still smiling.. this is of course, part of the practice and perhaps the ultimate lesson I am supposed to learn upon my arrival to these amazing islands.
Monday, October 16, 2006
This actually took me about 10 minutes my first time
Lopi, Kevini, Kilisi, and Koli
There are some really great people in this this we call Peace Corps Samoa. I am not only fortunate to have such an amazing team but we have an immediate bond with the other groups who have been here for a varrying amount of time. I learned alot about my future assignment from a volunteer who I will be 'replacing' when I am done with training. Aparently my village is a really wonderful place with a bit more resources than the other villages in concerns with the school system. I am also going to located next to the islands' School of Fine Arts where there is an impressive display of woodcarving and other art.
Language is coming along great and in due time I feel as if I will be able to pull it off. We're heading back to the beach tomorrow for water safety and snorkleing. I actually got to do a little bit of snorkleing on Saturday and everywhere you look, the bottom of the Pacific looks like an aquarium. This is one happy MookFish!
Oh yeah.. my village is also right next to the office where one of the best tattoo artists on the island can be found. Sorry Mom.. (Gregg, I'll send you a tattoo in the mail.)
Friday, October 13, 2006
This picture was taken outside of my temporary home in Apia. I will be here for another week and afterwards I will be staying in a village called Ma'asina, which I hear is untimely beautiful because of the natural beauty and waterfalls. I will be in Ma'asina for a few weeks and staying with a host family for language purposes and afterwards I will return to Apia for the remainder of training. Following that, I have been placed in an ocean-side village called Leulumoega (lay-oo-loo-mo-ENG-ah) where I will be teaching music, art and computers. I believe I will be staying in a small home with a roomate who is staff at the school. My musical counterpart, Moli (mo-LEE, in Samoan) and I have many ambitions about turning this island into an enormous musical production. She will be staying in Apia which is about 25 minutes east via bus. I actually live close to the ferry and I can travel to the bigger island, Savai'i, at any time I like. I hear that there are about 50 active volunteers on Samoa and the Peace Corps definately has a great reputation around here. People find out that we are in the Peace Corps (they call it Pisicoa) and they are immediately extra friendly to us and sometimes thank us for what we have done in the last 40 years. I have been on fire the last two days and I am definately having a much better time. My face is beginning to hurt from smiling too much.
My language teacher is a native Samoan named Onofia. He is an older gentleman who is very kind and always willing to help. He is instantly becoming a good friend of mine and we will be seeing much of each other in the next few months. I can't explain how awesome it is to be here by the ocean and on a volcano. I feel like I am on the back of a giant mythical animal that has swam into the middle of a vast sea. It truly, truly is magical here. The language is very beautiful and I am learning it quickly thanks to the awesome training progam. I could compare Samoan to a mild church hymn because it is a tonal language; meaning that the tone which you pronounce words in dictates the meaning.
I have big plans for this place. I am doing research on how I might be able to become active in a movement to raise awareness concerning spaying and neutering cats and dogs. There are so many dogs running around that they are almost the pigeons of this land and a little effort goes a long way. I have big ambitions also to start a band with Samoan musicians and collaborating with Moli to turn this into a big production. I will probably disappear soon into the villages because I am not sure how often I will be able to maintain communication but that wont be for another week or so. Once again, I miss all of you back home and I will do everything I can to make you proud. Anyone who can make it out here to see me is in for a wonderful experience.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
More about Samoa. I spent the better part of today in Apia in language training and culture classes. Around noon today we were invited to an 'ava ceremony. 'Ava is the equivalent to kava, which is a drink made from a crushed root that tastes kind of like mild soap water and leaves a pleasent numbness to the mouth and throat. We all sat indian style in a building called a fale (fah-lay) which is more or less a house made of poles. Apia is not to be confused with what we might consider to be a city because it is more like a few villages combined by the ocean-side. There really aren't any big buildings, just a denser population of about 40,000. Today I was given the name Kilisi (key-LEE-see) which is Samoan for Christopher. I am told that I will be going by this name for the rest of my stay in country. The country director, Kim is a really nice woman who is very impressed by the talents of our team. There is also a man named Kevin who is actually alot like myself. These people make me feel better about being here because I have to admit that although I was relatively fearless about leaving, I have become rather terrified by this place. It is the safest place in the universe so this is not the cause of my fear, but the sudden change of life has hit me like a ton of bricks. I miss Tiffany like hell.. God I miss her.. It is so painful being so far away from her. This is the most beautiful place is the world but what is that point if you cant see it with the most beautiful girl in the world.
Samoans are truly incredible people. I am learning the language quickly and I have found that communication is going to be easier than I thought. It is only my first day and I can actually get around this place with only minor complication. Everyone here is tattooed all over in all sorts of fantastic designs. They seem really interested in my tattoos and they all want to know where I got them. The food is terrific and I will have no problem maintaining vegetarianism here. I love the ocean.. everywhere you go you hear a woosh that could settle a crying child. I am already wearing a lavalava (manskirt) and I look damn sexy in it. I think I have officially gave up pants.
A few bus rides around the outskirts of town have proven what the next few years of my life will look like. This place is covered in villages. I am told that in ten days I will be staying for 20 days with a host family is a village called maasina (precious rock) I'm about to be kicked out of the cafe so I will post again soon.
I love all of you back home.. We will be together soon enough.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The vibe here is excellent. Everyone is very excited and it doesn't feel like anybody is exceptionally nervous. Our conference yesterday was long but we were laughing the entire time. All sixteen of us come from different states and backgrounds. I believe that the youngest volunteer is 22, while there are two volunteers in their 50's and another who is 40-something. We went over safety and all that hoopla yesterday while mostly being educated on how not to be eaten by sharks or pickpocketed in Apia. The cool thing about our group is that more than half of us are musicians. Another volunteer, Dylan, brought his guitar and I believe that someone brought a keyboard of some sort. Our futures are very exciting at this point and everyone seems to be on the same page. After our conference we were given debit cards with 140 dollars which we promptly took to a sports bar and dropped a total of something like 350 dollars. Word on the streets is that when we arrive in Samoa tomorrow morning another group of volunteers who has been there for a year has secret plans to kidnap us and get us wasted, like a breaking in.
Today we have a full day of conferencing. Tonight at 10 we board a non-stop flight to Apia, Samoa (pronounced a-PEE-ah, SAH-moa by the way) and we will arrive at 5:45 AM on the sunrise side of the island which is bound to be beautiful. I cant way to see the ocean from a tiny island. In Samoa there are two main islands each of which are only about 20 x 20 miles or so and they are located in the South Pacific. I'm not sure how long it will be until I can write another post but when I do it will surely be about a mile long.
I want to say thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me. Your heartfelt goodbyes did not go unnoticed and I miss all of you very much. I am about to face one of the greatest challenges of my life and without your support I dont know if this could be possible.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Christopher Ardagna, PCV
Private Mail Bag
*there are no numbers in my address and I'm told that you should make a small note somewhere in parenthesis (Western Samoa) so the mail doesn't get sent to American Samoa.
*this will only be my address until mid-December. I'll post any address changes on this blog as soon as I find out.
I will be using (firstname.lastname@example.org) as my primary email.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
My friends are as close to me as my parents and I feel that they have all raised me well. I can draw from each of them a different perspective of life and apply it to my own. I have been so incredibly fortunate to meet people that have this effect on my life. Each of my friends has challenged me to be a better person, in one way or another, and I have done my best to live the life of a person who learns from his mistakes; and I've made many mistakes. My only hope is that those dear to me have been able to draw that same form of learning. I never wore a mask in front of anybody I've met in the last few years. There is no need to act differently in front of different people because pretending to be someone else is lying.
I've been in E-communication with a few people that I will be crossing paths with in Samoa. To me, these strangers have offered validation that what will happen to me next week is real. These are other folk who are unplugging their lives from everything they know to embark on adventure halfway around the world. We get each other excited. At my next stop, Los Angelas, we will meet for the first time; its nice to have a friend.
For anyone who reads my blog and keeps in touch with me over the next 27 months I want to tell you ahead of time that I am extremely grateful for your support. It is safe to assume that my means of communication, for the most part, are going to occur via the internet. Soon I will post an adress where I can be reached in Samoa. I'm looking very forward to writing letters both elecronically and the old fashion way. This is the only information I have so far about how to get ahold of me:
mookfish.blogspot.com (Over time I will upload any and all pictures from my adventures)
I will post any changes.
I went on a road trip with some friends to Savannah, Georgia during the summer that I graduated from highschool. I think this was a good enough dose of adventure to get me through the beginning of college. The trip helped me to develop a personal belief that I still hold onto today:
Home is where the heart is.. inside of you. Understand this and everywhere you go will be home.