Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I hold the mic like Yoda holds the saber

Year 7. These guys kick ass! This class is taught almostly completely in Samoan and has since become one of my greatest challenges and proudest accomplishments. I'm very proud of these kids.
Ryuta and Hoo
Izumi Miyazaki
I sleep with a robot.. so what?

You: Minneapolis - Capetown, South Africa - Buenos Aires - Satiago - Easter Island? Very envious. I hope the trade winds take you to the island of Upolu so you can show me the goldfish at lake Lonoto'o!
i'm going halo tipping, anger, same time next life,
i'll be like mass in time again watching the sunset channel,
breath control of a cricket.
oh right,
they're legs are the beards working out
the gondolee tugs on a grin and a couple of coins dance into his hat,
the sinking in, it's kind of like a checkbook,
but it tastes like an orange, and rhymes with nothing.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Filipo Aukusitino

This is Filipo. He is a pretty cool kid. He lives with Sosefina, one of the teachers, at a compound house near my home. Sosefina left him over here one day and I gave him my markers to play with. I didn’t even tell him to do this but he took them and arranged them by color.
He didn’t understand any English so I got to practice my Samoan a little bit. I told him to name some animals and he’d tell me what color to make them. “O le a le lanu o le maile?”The kid is pretty bright. I liked watching him build things and explore. Speaking of art-related things, in the near future I will have a cool opportunity to talk to an art class in Motua. My friend Bob lives out there and building art relationships would be rad. I have a cat named Hoo now. Big fat SOB. I came home and Izumi looked like she was carrying around an ocelot. Hoo the cat is now the fourth member of our family not counting the two dogs, Simba and Cosmos, who live with the nuns but sleep on our balcony. I was told long ago from former Peace Corps volunteers that the children are a golden ticket into a new culture especially in concerns with language. I’ve been able to infiltrate wonderful beaches and other beautiful attractions via my students and a few kind Samoan words to the elders. Everywhere I go people invite me to their homes for dinner and tell me that I’m family now. For whatever reason I haven’t taken many people up on their wonderful offer but it really is a lot of fun when I do. My students are doing great in my classes. I have been amazed by how fast they learn and even my younger students who don’t speak much English seem to be picking up computer skills quickly. I’m under the impression that our school may be the only school that teaches year 7 and 8 computers. I want to use this as an example for other schools to get children involved with computers early so they can avoid many difficulties in later years. My music program is still a work in progress because I am waiting to hear about funding for instruments however I am very dedicated and I want to see my evil plans unfold. Last weekend me and a few friends were kickin’ it at Palolo Deep with a large bucket of ‘ava and I ran into Izumi and some of her JICA friends. Apparently a number of them are surfers and perhaps next weekend sometime I will be schooled by hot Japanese surfer girls. Jam! I’ve become frustrated with the poor quality sketch books and drawing supplies that I’ve been able to stumble upon so I’ve taken to drawing on my walls. My room is pretty dope and because it is invaded with branches I think of it as my tree house. On a very important and serious note: anyone who sends me glow in the dark stars I will love forever. That is the deal. A few bags of those plastic glowing stars in exchange for a lifetime of love. There are a few small ones left behind from a former volunteer and I think it would be badass to cover my walls with celestial goodness. There is a very bright sunset that strikes my room at night and when twilight hits my room is gonna shine! I say this often but soon I hope to embark on further exploration of the island of Upolu. I’m getting sick of Apia and sometime soon I need to pack my bags and wander off into the beauty. I can’t complain, I’ve been working very hard with various projects and I’m very happy with all that my new home has to offer.

Still having bizarre dreams though.. I’m not sure if they have gotten any more or less intense since my first nights in Samoa. I constantly see random people from the past and sometimes they are in very peculiar situations. I wish I could begin a list of people who have made lucid guest appearances.

On a final note I randomly got a phone call from Sister Fatima. She told me she wants a picture of one of our students to send to New Zealand for a possible sponsorship. The student’s last name was Suluape. “Suluape?” I asked the girl, “You know I’ve been really looking forward to meeting your father..”

- ~ - ~ - ~

Then Hoo runs away. No worries for about 12 hours but then Izumi started looking upset so I went to my yard and looked around for Hoo but could not find him (her?). I had this strange revelation about animal sounds so I just listened to the different animal noises and tried my best to emulate a cat meow; I’ve had a lot of Tiva training. It seems like we humans have a tendency to take for granted how much we use echo location and the like because as I walked around meowing I heard the typical Samoan kissy sounds and psst calls to each other. In Samoa, a high-pitched kissy sound is the equivalent to a whistle or “hey you.” When you think about it, this really doesn’t sound that much stranger than shouting dude whereas around here they say sole!

Haven’t found Hoo, but I’m sure he’s fine. I think his former owner used to live here and I gather that the cat is pretty rugged. The sky is on fire and its beauty could make humble of the hardest hearts. I could only imagine a time when people thought of their island as the entire world because in a way living here feels like outer space; an aquatic, starlit, ethereal otherworld, and I am an alien crash-landed on it’s shore.

Friday, February 16, 2007


A monkey staring at a tree wondering how he can get the fruit; that’s what I feel like when I hang out outside trying it vain to get oranges from my tree (oranges here aren’t really orange btw). I’ve shaken sticks and thrown rocks but the good ones at the top are always so hard to get down. How do monkeys get the fruit? They climb. So climb I did only to realize that a very sticky sap with a pleasant fragrance was oozing from every branch. I quickly became a sticky-dirty mess and I cut myself several times but needless to say I managed to retrieve a pocketfull of fruit. I made my way down and began tearing into my prize like an animal. Enter Izumi, my new roommate. Izumi arrived from Japan about a month ago and for the next two years we will be living together with Ryuta. Granted I didn’t give the best first impression by looking like a savage beast, I kindly offered her an orange with a smile and said that they are very sour. I should have explained this better because I don’t think she knew what sour meant and she just about screamed when she bit into it. “Not good! Not good!” she shouted and I really felt like an ass. Anyway, the girl is really cool and besides an unnatural distaste for things that are sour she is a great personality. I saw the room that she was going to move into and it was super tiny so I offered her my big room and we traded; I don’t really own much and since then I’ve turned that little room into a fairly groovy pad. Izumi, Ryuta and I drank pleanty of shochu last night. I don’t really know what it is but it got me fired up. We made our way over to the temporary home of Sosefina, another teacher, and played guitar on into the night. Living here is turning out to be quite grand. My house is quickly turning into a Japanese house and I don’t mind this one bit. Ryuta and I have become good friends and I really enjoy Izumi’s energy. It’s incredible how important body language is in conversation because even though they both speak English decently much information is conveyed in gestures and tone of voice; somehow we seem to understand each other virtually all of the time. Today is a gloomy day and the mountain behind my house looks like it is wearing a scarf of thin clouds. I’ve successfully begun infiltrating the village via my students. This has opened up access to the ocean and many traditional dinners with various families. I’m sad to say that Peace Corps has lost a wonderful person earlier this week. On Monday those of us who could make it into town gathered to say goodbye to Uesile as he departed back to the United States. We sang Samoan songs loudly as he was taken away in a Peace Corps SUV. I wish him the best for wherever his life takes him. Because it was Monday night there weren’t any buses that run to my village so Sally, who is another volunteer, and I split the cab fare. The driver was a dick and I had to muster all of the Samoan I could to get him to stop trying to pawn his daughters off on me. I didn’t like the way he talked about Sally and I eventually just ignored him until he dropped us off. It made me uncomfortable and it was very late so I walked Sally back to her village. In some villages it is considered sa (sacred/forbidden) to walk around after dark and I realized quickly that Sally’s village was under a strict curfew. Careful not to have any part of a cultural faux pas I maneuvered myself through the back of the village and into a beautiful oceanside view of the stars. I took my time to get back home, it was a very beautiful night. During the week I follow a simple routine. Besides work, which only lasts until 2, I find that I spend a lot of time grazing around my yard like a farm animal. The property that I live on is huge and I am always stumbling upon a delicious new fruit that probably doesn’t have an English name. From the outside I probably look kind of silly walking from tree to tree and staring, but these challenges are the highlight of my afternoon. A monkey wonders ‘how in the hell am I going to get that fruit all the way up at the top?’ The answer is simple: climb. Climbing is what I, as a somewhat evolved ape, do and I have begun a tally of which things I have climbed on. I do so barefoot and my feet are becoming tough and callused. Sometimes I devour my fruit while I’m still in the tree and when Ryuta comes by I make monkey sounds and throw things. Now, I can’t understand much Japanese but sometimes I can decipher what Ryuta and Izumi are talking about based on their tones and actions. When they say ‘Chris’ in Japanese it sounds ‘Krieshe’ and I’m almost positive I heard Ryuta say, ‘yeah that’s Chris, he climbs on things and never wears a shirt.’ No worries. So that’s my life these days, I am very blessed with two wonderful new roommates/friends and I think we are going to jive very well together. From now on when people ask me how I’m feeling these days I simply say, “like a monkey staring at a tree wondering how he’s going to get the fruit at the top.”

Ryuta took this.. it seemed appropriate for this entry.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wes Armstrong

This week, Samoa is losing one of it's finest..

Goodbye, friend.. I wish you a beautiful path wherever life takes you.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chelsea Crunk

It’s been an imaginative week; this is what happens when you live in seclusion in a jungle on a small island. The school days are much like any other job, you have your duties, you greet your co-workers, you gossip in the break room, you flirt with each other, get some work done, then you go home. Back in the states going home used to mean going back into your life outside of work but here going home means returning to the jungle and going pleasantly mad until a new day comes and you have to act at least somewhat sane. I think Ryuta feels it too because I see the same loony glaze come over his face everyday around 3:00 when the sun is hot and the two of us are trapped in our jungle home with no contact with the outside world. Sometimes we climb trees with machetes and laugh maniacally and sometimes we avoid each other all together and he hides in his room while I sit downstairs drawing pictures. To be honest I do really like it here regardless of my delusional fits; the moment school lets out on Friday I am the first in line at the bus stop to either explore the island or get debaucherous in Apia. This usually does enough to last me until Monday morning when I sneak back into the compound and put my best game face on for work. I met Izumi, my soon-to-be roommate next week, a little bit ago when she came through with a few trainers from JICA. She’s a cute little Japanese girl who seems very excited to be here. A few awkward bows and broken bits of English were exchanged and we because new friends, I bet the three of us rock together. So this is life in Leulumoega: apart from the work routine, I get plenty of exercise climbing on things, I read often, draw bizarre pictures, explore the jungle, sneak into the ocean, chase pigs, practice meditation with Ryuta, and basically slip into this otherworldy state of mind that I have never experienced before coming here. There are many delicious things to be found in the trees beyond my house: star fruit, papaya, mango, nonu, and this peculiar fruit that is somewhere between a lemon and a lime. Just the other day the students at school were practicing some sort of song and dance routine at this old church nearby. It was very long and my attention span began to dwindle so I took to wandering the old church. I stumbled upon a dilapidated bell tower with steps missing and handrails that I wouldn’t trust. Carefully I maneuvered up many flights of crude stairs to a wooden platform that narrowly led across a devastatingly high chasm. At the end was a rickety old ladder extending yet another twenty feet or so up to the topmost region of the tower. I came this far and couldn’t turn back so I made my way up the ladder into an old room that probably hadn’t been visited for twenty years. It was covered in spider webs and dust but sure enough right in the middle was an enormous old bell. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I flicked the bell ever so softly which in turn let out a loud roar that the village probably hasn’t heard for eons. The slightest strike of the bell made me shake in it’s presence and it was time to go back the way I came. Later that day I heard two of the teachers talking in Samoan about how they heard the bell ring and it brought a smile to my face: mission accomplished. People are kinda loony in these parts and I think I understand why the Peace Corps sent me here. Anyone in a different state of mind could find room to complain about things but I seem to be jiving well. I’ve had an awful lot of déjà vu and I’ve been told that means you are on the right path. The dreams are as lucid and incredible as ever and I still wake up confused having to trace back important life decisions to remember where I am (I see water.. I think I’m on an island.. oh that’s right, Samoa). I feel fantabulous. The weekend approaches and the wild monkey inside of me is released. I might go to Manono Island this weekend or I might stay in town and debauch. Cheers for now, the sky is on fire and it is going to be a glorious night.

A personal old favorite from the land of the sleeping dragon. This picture really has nothing to do with anything but it makes me happy.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


You know, it is coming close to the end of my twenty-fifth revolution around planet Earth and upon conclusion of my cosmic voyage there are many things I have learned. Besides the obvious (motor skills, origami and laser tag) there is one great piece of wisdom that I’ve gathered: all living things deserve respect. I’ve been in a whirlwind of struggle through various religions and grooming habits but this one important virtue holds true. I thought of this tonight as I watched a mouse struggling for life while being stuck in a morbid glue trap on my kitchen floor. I didn’t put the trap there but I became overwhelmed with the notion that somehow I had a responsibility to do something in this situation. I couldn’t let him suffer so I rolled him up and struck him several times with a frying pan until the paper was flat.. it didn’t take much. I found myself asking the stars what Bhanti would have done in this situation but I decided to look in myself for my own reasons. I looked at the sky for a while and smiled just because I know how. I do feel sad about this event and I do not feel that it is a sign of my own personal weakness for having thought so much about it. In fact, I really enjoy life in every aspect of the gem and out of respect for it I never want to spend my time here getting in the way of anyone’s path. So I came inside and took a long drink of water. Water.. the very essence of life, without it we would not exist. I ate dinner with Ryuta tonight. It was a delicious pasta we tag-teamed with roasted garlic and a zesty sauce. Every time before we eat, Ryuta puts his hands together in front of him and mutters something in Japanese. Afterwards he puts his hands together in the same way and mutters something slightly different. It wasn’t long before I started doing this too every time we eat together and often on my own. I asked him what is saying and he told me that he is a Buddhist and as part of his religion he thanks the food and pays respect to the life that has ended for him to continue living, be it plant or animal. Having experienced only a fraction of Buddhism in my past in concerns with geographic origins (Theravada from Sri Lankan monks) I find myself even luckier to have this unique roommate, whereas I know very little of Japanese Buddhism. So somehow I have survived for almost twenty-five years amidst the myriads of calamities offered by this world and really I feel very good about it. I’ve made some poor choices in the past that unfortunately I have to regret, like the time I held a laser pointer in my right eye for far too long when I was in high school.. yeah.. not too smart. Or perhaps the time I leapt from a balcony trying to land on an old sofa however grossly miscalculating my jump and crashing into a coffee table.. that’s right kids, I’m an elementary teacher now. So either way something feels that I should be alive albeit I have a slight limp now and everything is a bit darker out of my right eye. However of my short list of regrets I continue to strongly regret all the years (teenage mostly) I’ve spent being so negative and apathetic to the world. I used to really hate it here and now days I look back and wonder what was really so bad about being well fed and having access to fresh water let alone trillions of other luxuries that I took advantage of, like good parents. This fish is not afraid to admit the mistakes it has made and really it is very happy be able to continue swimming in the great ocean of life. Like all things, the same force that created this fish will one day swallow it whole and there is nothing one can do about this but raise his glass and make a toast to that force. While cheers are being distributed, cheers to you who taught me long ago to never underestimate the power of positivity. I really cannot thank you enough for pointing at this path and telling me that I should see where it leads, you’ll never know what you’ve done to me. If only those path might cross again. Life here is all coming up roses. There are challenges but they are met with open arms. For now, goodnight moon – I’ll always be your biggest fan.

Ryuta Takeda