Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Living out of a suitcase

Spending the next few days in Apia before our final two weeks of training which will take place back in fair Ma'asina. Apia is fun and there is much more activity but I have to admit that I like village life better. My three day stay at my future home in Leulumoega was very nice. I got to meet with the Pule (which is basically the principal) of Paul IV college where I will be teaching in January. I can't wait to move in and actually unpack my suitcase. I found out that I will be living with two Japanese volunteers from an organization called JICA in a compound house on the outskirts of campus. The house is really nice and it has many rooms just waiting to be turned into perhaps an art studio, a library, a place to work out, a zen room, who knows? I met one of the volunteers already and he seems really cool. There is a thick language barrier but I'm sure that this will only add to the cross-cultural experience that I live in everyday. I've researched a bit about the turtle conservation area that I spoke of and I'm learning that I could help with very minimal tasks like distributing documents containing information about the endangered sea turtles. I suppose this is a start. The cool thing about the conservation area is that it offers a refuge for sea turtles to lay there eggs without being disturbed. One of the greatest problems contributing to the quickly depleting population of sea turtles, at least in this area, is the fact that many light posts have been built close to the ocean. When a mother sea turtle lays her eggs, she times the moment they are born with the patterns of moonlight. When the moon is full and directly over a certain part of the ocean, the well timed eggs will hatch and the baby turtles will instinctively walk towards the sparkling light over the sea. The problem is that all too often the turtles will walk towards the street lights and far away from the sea where they will never survive. I'm also doing as much research as I can about a fabled sea animal known locally as the uila sami (litterally, ocean lightning) that has never been photographed. It is a virtually invisible jellyfish-like creature that comes out at night. It remains invisible until it is approached by a predator or unfortunate passerby where it proceeds to display a marvelous lightning-like flash followed by a sharp sting that renders its victims blind for anywhere from 12 hours to one week. It is not known whether or not this animal even exists but I've read a few accounts of fishermen being stung by it. Either way it is an interesting legend to learn more about. Everything is well, happy, and peaceful on this tiny archepelago on the other side of the planet. I'm meeting all sorts of people from all over the world, many from Australia, New Zealand, and the many various islands of the pacific. Apia is nice for its diversity just like village life is nice for its taste of true Samoan culture. I may or may not post for a while because I am leaving on Saturday for two long weeks in Ma'asina but afterwards I'm sure that this blog will be full of many adventurous tales. Tofa soifua! (goodbye in good health!)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Quiet Sunday

Lavalava Samoa
Lavalava teuteu fa'aSamoa
E sulu le siapo, e ma'eu, e ma'eu le manaia
Ia la'u penina ma la'u pa'aga ua malie o
Sau ia ua ou le toe failoto
O le a seu lo'u va'a e malolo
Lafo ia le taula i fanua ua leva le po
Ia fa'atalaia, ia fa'atalatala
'Aumai se tala mai le ualesi e
E ua fo'i mai lau malaga
Sa e ta'amilo ia Samoa
This song is something like a Samoan version of Aqueous Transmission. It is very pretty and I learned how to play it last week in Ma'asina. Sitivi and I sang this song for a project yesterday and it went really well. In a few hours I am going to be leaving for Leulumoega for a few days where I will be staying in my future home. I'm looking very forward to being done with training so I can begin to experience this wonderful place a little more independantly. Leulumoega is close to a turtle conservation center and I recently learned that I might be able to volunteer some time there. Sea turtles are both beautiful and endangered. I've seen a few of them since I've been here and they really are among the coolest animals I've ever seen and being able to donate some time to help would be an honor. Its a quiet Sunday today and I've spent alot of time by myself going for long walks and reading up on Samoan wildlife. I bought this book the other day that is a field guide to a majority of the animals on land and in the sea all over the Samoan archipelago including inscects, birds, butterflies, lizards, and all of the various sea creatures (hundreds of them). I wish to become well versed in the studies of the creatures here, especially those in the sea. This is for both personal interest and personal safety. The book is really cool because it teaches the Samoan names for the animals and that makes for great conversation with the people in our village. I've even heard about a jellyfish-like creature that has never been photographed and only comes out at night. It is a bit of a local legend but the book tells of reports that people have been stung by it and have gone blind for a matter of time, maybe a few days if they are stung badly. It only comes out at night and is next to invisible except for the moment before it stings when it flashes and array of colors. Because of this nobody has ever photographed it and those who have seen it are probably blinded before they can do anything about it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

more from Ma'asina

Solomona: the fisherman Mook: the fish
Deep thoughts with Tavita

Ma'asina - Round 2

Ioana and I
Honorable talking chief, Togia
Fale sweet fale
Yeah, Fagaloa Bay

Komiti performance

Uesile rockin it up.

Sunday November 5

I am beginning this entry in Ma’asina and later transferring it from notebook to blog. This way I can document all sorts of things from my two week stay in kua. I arrived yesterday around 4 and even though I really like it here, I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to coming back so soon. I’ve been all over the place lately. After 4 days in Savai’i, I only spent one night in Apia before returning to Ma’asina. My hesitation to return was quickly eliminated as I was very warmly greeted by my host family with hugs and new lavalavs. Solomona and I talked for a long time and he said that he considers me his brother. He said that when I was gone a villager asked who that palagi was that plays guitar so well and Solomona replied, “that’s my brother, Kilisi”. These next few weeks will be long but wholesome. Last night Solomona, Ioana, his real brother, and I lowered our inhibitions together while I played guitar. We then drank a very potent batch of ‘ava which promptly knocked me out. I woke up early this morning and listened to the sounds of the ocean. It’s raining now but all is well in Ma’asina.
Jammed a bit with Solomona and his family tonight. Music is a universal language that we all speak. I love to share my music with this place. They seem to enjoy the songs I write. Earlier today I watched Togia, the old high chief who lives with us, whistling while tying his tie in the mirror. You can’t put a price on moments like these.

Monday November 6

There must have been a pig revolution or something this morning because I was awakened by the most terrible squeals I’ve ever heard. This is okay because it happened right at the crack of dawn giving me a great chance to watch the sunrise over the bay. That giant fireball is beautiful when emerging from the sea, turning the whole scene a bright orange. The dreams here are delightfully maddening. They are intense and vivid and I find myself dreaming about people that I haven’t seen in years mixed with people I’ve just met. Sometimes I wake up confused and lost because the dreams are so lucid that I have to convince myself that I’m actually here again. But I am here and today is beautiful and windy. It’s not raining today but even if it does I wont lost my smile.

Tuesday Nov 7

I don’t know if I’ll make it home tonight but I know I can swim under that Samoan moon.

Staring at the ocean will drive you deep into your soul. It makes you think about things you never used to think about however sometimes it makes you think about nothing at all. No music in your head. No concept of time. I didn’t even know what day it was today. I always smell like salt. Even when it rains I stare at the ocean. Sometimes I can see the rain coming in from across the bay so thick that the mountain on the other side disappears. I spend a lot of time with my feet buried deep in the sand. I’m covered with little cuts and bruises from surfing. I’m very awake.. I think. I haven’t been here long but I already feel the change. I love the ocean. Once in a while a huge thing will jump out of the water in the distance and splash so big that it leaves ripples on the surface for a whole minute it seems. A short walk up the hill to the next village reveals a stunning view of the bay. I feel at home in Ma’asina for the time being. I’m practicing kung-fu again and better off for it. Solomona takes me on long walks and tells me legends about the bay and the mountains. There are many sacred places in this village whose name means ‘precious rock’.
After a long day of language I came home to eat a pile of fish with my ‘aiga. I had a few small sunfish and a large parrot fish that was very hearty and delicious. The more language I learn, the more enjoyable “family time” is around here. I am getting better at joking with my family and they have a very good sense of humor. One time I acted like I had never seen a banana before. I asked in Samoan how it works and before they could answer I proceeded to bang myself in the head with it. It was really funny and they caught on quick. Every time I eat a banana they look at me like they’re waiting for me to hit myself with it. Sometimes I do anyway because I like to make them laugh.
Sitivi, another volunteer and fellow kung-fu enthusiast, came to my fale to steal me for a night stroll. We walked to the end of the village and talked economics with one of our trainers for quite a while. On our way back I ran into my host mother (let me remind you, she’s 27) who was on her way to a Komiti meeting. The komiti is a women’s group where various village matters are handled, however currently they are rehearsing for a siva (dance) production. It was really a cool sight. Samoans seem to be naturally gifted with harmony and hearing them sing is really intense. The women sat cross-legged on the floor and sang while performing choreographed hand gestures and claps. I can’t wait to see them in their outfits.
Although it was very dark and starry when we came to the rehearsal, the moon had emerged from the ocean to great us when we got out. It was mostly a full moon, however the top section was flattened off and it truly was a mystical sight ascending between the mountains at the mouth of the bay.

Wednesday Nov 8

As I’ve mentioned, the dreams that I’ve been having lately are among the craziest dreams I’ve ever had. Until tonight I’ve been passing this off as traveler’s excitement about being in a foreign land but something happened last night that needs to be documented.
The moon last night was very intense and magnificent. I sat on the beach and marveled at its beauty for a long while and fell asleep very peacefully when I returned home. However I woke up sometime in the middle of the night with the moon shining in my fale and for some reason I felt absolutely terrified. There was a powerful wind blowing into the house and I felt an overwhelming sensation of creepiness all around me. I passed this off as nothing and after a long period of discomfort and fear I went on to dream about whatever it is that I dream about. All day I had nearly forgotten about this episode but when dinner came, a young man from the village named George joined us and I overheard him saying something in Samoan about the moon. I asked him in English what he was talking about and he told me that he was late for school today because he was up all night experiencing malu’ia. He explained to me that malu’ia is a condition that occurs when you sleep in the moonlight. There is an ancient belief that spirits travel under the moonlight and if you sleep in its light the spirits will grab you and paralyze you until the light passes. Under worse circumstances, like if the moonlight falls on your face, the spirits will actually drag you out into the night and although your body will remain where you were sleeping, your spirit will be dragged into a world of terror. He told me all of this without me ever telling him a word about last night’s incident that I experienced. I talked to the Peace Corps trainers about it, again without mentioning that I experienced this phenomenon, and they told me that there are legends of spirits in the moonlight that will grab you if you are caught sleeping in its path. Faleseu, one of the trainers, told me that he experienced malu’ia many times randomly since he was little and sometimes it is so bad that he cannot move. At times, he said to me, the spirits of the family will protect you from malu’ia and this is part of the old tradition of burying the dead members of the family in front of the fale. It hadn’t previously occurred to me but the fact that I sleep less than 10 feel away from the tomb of the grandmother of the family really is peculiar. She rests under a white slab right in front of the fale.

Saturday November 11

A day of exploration. Today a few other volunteers and I walked along the edge of a hill that connects Ma’asina to the neighboring village of Lona. Here there are marvelous lava formations and a great spot for swimming. Last night a few villagers, my friend Tavita, and myself sang songs on the footsteps of a fale. It was here that I learned more about local legends, most of which involve ghosts and spirits. Apparently there have been several instances of villagers sighting the ghosts of three fallen high chiefs who are known to wander the streets at night from nearby graves. The moon was a blood red upon its arrival over the horizon last night. Needless to say my dreams were as intense as ever. I was instructed by George to inquire about other volunteers’ dreams to see if there were any similarities. I had a dream the first week I was here about a girl who cruelly drowned another child in a river and laughed about it. I woke up terrified and covered in sweat with a strange drone in my ear. The moon was out. I didn’t think much of it but I would later discover that Lopi, another volunteer, woke up terrified one night that week after having dreams about a drowning girl. The odd thing is that when I’m not having these random horrific dreams, the dreams I do have are quite enjoyable and lovely.
I’m looking off into a lavender sky right now and a gentle breeze is helping to settle a very hot day. Sounds of children playing echo in the distance and Togia is making something out of coconut husks and smoking his pipe. Solomona is playing my guitar and singing on the footsteps of our fale. It is a very lovely evening in Ma’asina.

Sunday November 12

Went swimming in the bay along side the hill today. Same place as yesterday but it was high tide. I was with a villager named Sefa who lives next door. Not 3 minutes into the swim a shark appeared about 6 feet away from me. I believe it was a reef shark because it had a dark blue fin with a strange yellow stripe (I’ll verify this later). It was 3-4 feet long, maybe smaller. I’m told that they’re harmless and only curious. Either was it was quite a rush.

Monday November 13

Swam in the bay again. No shark sightings but we did make it to a tiny coral island in the middle of the bay. It was a strange little island with small coconut trees actually growing from the shards of coral. Things got much stranger on the little island. After only being there for a minute or so we heard a faint “meow” coming from the other side. Sure enough, there was a cat living in a small coral dwelling where it must have been seeking shelter for some time. The cat, although haggard looking, did seem to be surviving fine and somehow it found food on the island. We buried a few coconut half-shells to provide dishes to better collect rain water and make things easier for the cast-away. The island reminded me the lemur island in Life of Pi for some reason. From this unique place we witnessed a few small sting ray passing by as well as other various tropical aquatic wonders. We waited on the small island watching the sun set behind the mountains and when the tide went down we were able to walk back to shore in chest high water.
Had a lucid dream last night that was very convincing. I was with my friend Dan from back home and very happy to seem him. When I realized that I was dreaming I became very sad at first because I knew it was only a dream. However upon realizing I was dreaming I entered a lucid state where I had complete freedom to do whatever I want. I woke up in the middle of the night to a hazy moon on the horizon with the top half missing.

Wednesday November 15

Around 11:00 this morning the tide dramatically receded. It then returned to a very high tide however only moments later it pulled out very far again. This sparked an immediate panic for the trainers for obvious reasons: a tsunami. We were instantly huddled into two vans and driven to a high ground where we patiently watched the eerie scene below. The tide receded very far and prompted strange behavior in the bay. This all occurred just a few moments after I received two disposable video cameras in the mail so the whole experience was well documented as a nice intro to a video for Dan and Beth. We received word that an 8.1 earthquake struck Japan and tsunami warnings were springing up in various places like Hawaii. Ultimately we discovered that the result was a series of tiny tsunamis that didn’t come anywhere close to us and caused no damage but the conditions were met for a serious disaster. When we returned to the village we had a late lunch and returned to practice for our fiafia. The men in our group are performing a war dance and somehow I got selected to be the leader. Tomorrow I will video-document this event during practice and maybe steal a few pictures. My family is harvesting their kava crops and I have been learning much about the production of ‘ava. I have also been doing a lot of work around the fale lately. I‘ve been climbing for coconuts and helping to build the fire out of husks and dried palm leaves. I helped Ioana make cocoa Samoa from scratch as well as many other Samoan specialties. I caught two chickens, one with each hand, and made them talk to each other in Samoan which wildly entertained Ioana and the children. Tomorrow is the last day in the village and Friday is a Peace Corps event called All Vol where we will be performing. I will end this entry here because it is getting quite long. I’ll be back to Ma’asina after a week and after another two week excursion I will be finished with training. Sweet dreams and manuia le po!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Adventures in Savai'i

A little dark, but a cool picture from Halloween

Casa de Maka: Papa Sataua, Savai'i
Halloween at Apia Central
Yeah, group 77! Moli, the girl in the white actually went as me for Halloween.. what an honor.
Nothingness of things.
Giving new meaning to Beach Corps.
Koli, Kevini, and Kilisi.
Discussing school matters in Savai'i
Hitch-hiking, a great way to get around in Savai'i.

This week I discovered a brand new passion in life; a passion that follows suit on many other board-related passions from my previous endeavors. This is of course surfing. I spent the last few days in a village called Asau, which is located on the far northwest corner of Savai’i, the larger of the two main islands. Asau is a friendly village where a volunteer from group 73, Kevin, makes his residence with the vice principal of the secondary school. Life on Savai’i is much different than life on Upolu. Things are slower and much more of the natural volcanic beauty of the island can be experienced. For example, a beach we traveled to outside of Asau was laden with black lava rock that remains in ripples from it’s cooling only a matter of a few hundred years ago. Because of the recent volcanic activity, the island has many enjoyable natural phenomena, like massive blowholes and underground caves. At certain points of the beach there are enormous cliffs and arches formed by lava that is eroded from underneath causing a wonderful inlet where water splashes really high.

Surfing was difficult and I’m told that the location I was surfing at was by no means an easy spot for beginners, but after a few bruises and banged knees, I managed to catch a few waves. The feeling is incredible. When you first swim out you feel like the ocean is displeased with you and trying its best to get rid of you. There is much to be said about the timing of a surfer. You lie on your stomach and paddle out to the far reaches of the beach where the waves begin to break. This is where you battle waves and wait for the perfect chance to sneak out past the waves where you can rest and wait for a wave to ride back on. Waves attack in sets of about ten before they offer this chance to pass through. There is however something like a 7/100 chance of a rouge wave that is much bigger than regular waves and much less forgiving. These rouge waves come out of nowhere and from what I’ve been able to experience first hand, they can be very devastating. A proficient surfer knows how to use these waves to his or her advantage, however I was tossed around like a rag doll and forced to spend an unfortunate amount of time underwater while being dashed against the rocks. What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. After all is said and done and you have made it out passed the waves you are left sitting in deep water with a very peaceful view of the island very far away. This is something like a moment of Zen and the feeling has sparked an immediate addiction inside my head. I’m not very good at it yet, but I am destined to become a surfer; and I never give up on anything I am passionate about.

A hard day of surfing calls for a relaxing night of ‘ava. Torn apart from the waves and rocks I found myself sitting on a large stone surface underneath the moonlight with Kevin and a couple of the locals. We sat around and did what guys do: talk about girls, show off scars, and get stupid together. I was asked by a villager named Sami if I was Bob Marley’s brother. On one of the days in Savai’i, me and Kevin embarked on an eight mile bike ride uphill to the neighboring village of Papa Sataua. The best part about riding eight miles uphill is the ride back where you can fly eight miles down hill! In Papa Sataua we met up with Mark, a volunteer from Village Based Development and got to check out his wonderful garden. We walked a total of about miles to and from the beach and hung out in a beach fale and really just kicked it for a while. The ocean is as incredible as ever and I feel wonderful every time I am around it. After seeing Savai’i, I really got the sense that I am on an island in the middle of the ocean. The stars are magnificent at night and the sounds of the waves crashing onto the beach are irreplaceable. This will be my last entry for a while because I will be staying in Ma’asina for a grand total of fourteen days. I am looking very forward to returning to my village and telling them all about my adventures in Savai’i. I have spear fishing and taro plantations to look forward to as well as a great deal of music making with other volunteers and the villagers. Things are well in Samoa. This place is magical and I urge visitors to come experience it for themselves. I understand that it is hard to get up and fly to the other side of the planet but Air New Zealand is a good place to start looking for plane tickets. A ticket from LA can be found as a low as 900-1000 dollars and all will be covered when you get out here. I wont be around for a while, but I have plenty of time to integrate further into this amazing culture. Until then, cheers to all and much love from the pearl of the Pacific!

p.s. Kevin Pieters, I cannot thank you enough for intoducing me to the surf board. If you ever read this, I hope you know how much this last few days meant to me. Cheers, friend.