Good-Byes

4 Saturdays. 4 Sundays. 5 Mondays. 5 Tuesdays. (and so on). That is all that is left of my time in Samoa. I have spent the last 8 months saying how much I can’t wait to leave and come back to America. But when I actually sit down to think about having only 5 weeks left in this place, tears immediately spring to my eyes.

When I thought about the good-byes I would have to say for the Peace Corps, I was only thinking about the good-byes I would have to say when I left America for 2 years. At the time, 2 years seemed like infinity. Now I realize how easy that good-bye was. Yes, 2 years has been a long time to be away, but I have always known that I would see my family and friends in 2 years. There was a date set for our reunion.

Leaving Samoa means that I say good-byes, most of which are forever. I would like to return to Samoa someday, but the Samoa I return to will be different. It is realistic to believe that many people I know in my village will not be here by the time I return.  It is so much harder to say good-bye to people you know you will never see again.

Some days here seem to go on forever. Every Tuesday I wake up thinking it is Friday. The weeks drag on when I’m in the moment, but it seems that I blink and suddenly it’s the weekend again. That’s what has happened to this point. I think that time moves so slowly until I go to make plans, and realize that every weekend from now until December 5th is full. And I realize that my time left in Samoa is ending much more quickly than I thought.

These people have taught me more lessons in humility, patience, perseverance, and patience again than I thought was possible. They have challenged me, frustrated me, angered me, and at times have single-handedly broken my resolve to be here. But they have also supported me, loved me, welcomed me, embraced me and made me a part of their community. I’ve searched unsuccessfully for the right words to describe what this experience, and these people, mean to me.

Simply put, I would not be the same without Samoa. And I hope that the people I have come into contact with have been touched in the same way. Maybe that’s all we can hope for in our lives: to have been touched so deeply by something, that it shapes the way we view the world, the way we live our lives, and the way we conduct ourselves in all things. This is what Samoa has given me, and while I am excited to see what the next chapter of my life brings, it breaks my heart that this time is over. How do I even begin to say good-bye? How I wish I could just sneak away and hop on a plane and call it good. Facing good-byes is so much more difficult than the alternative.

But these next few weeks gives me a chance to share my gratitude for my time in Samoa. I will spend the next 35 days going to bingo, talking with my students, singing at choir, and just doing nothing with my host family. Just like normal. Just like I have done every day for the past 2 years. I will remember the little moments, like walking hand-in-hand with the kids at my house, or getting caught in the rain on the way home from choir. I will remember how everyone still laughs when I win bingo, and the look on my students’ faces when they finally get a concept.

The next few weeks are full of good-bye parties, places where I will be forced to dance and give speeches, all while trying to keep my tears from falling. Luckily, one great thing about Samoans is their ability to laugh even while they are crying. And I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate a bittersweet ending.

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Samoan Tattoo

I got a tattoo! I got a traditional tauvae, or a band around my ankle, with the addition of the pua flower on the outside of my ankle. The pua flower is my favorite flower in Samoa and I wanted it to be a part of my tattoo. There is only one man we are allowed to go to (according to our Peace Corps doctor), but he is the best of the best.

The art of tattooing passes within families. It is almost impossible to become a tattoo artist if you are not in the bloodline of a tattoo family. The family that did my tattoo is one of the families that has been tattooing since almost the beginning of the tattoo tradition in Samoa. They are world-known artists in a family that has been famous for generations. Because they frequently travel to different countries to tattoo, they picked up safety and hygiene from countries like the United States and New Zealand. (So don’t worry! J)

The traditional way of tattooing is done with needles attached to the end of sticks, dipped in ink and tapped with another stick into the body. There are different widths of needles, depending on the design and the tattoo. When the missionaries first landed here in Samoa, they tried to put an end to the traditional way of tattooing. At the time, it was a boar’s tusk attached to sticks, instead of needles. The missionaries were appalled, saying it is unchristian, barbaric, and needed to be stopped. The Samoans argued so passionately that this was something indispensable to their culture that the tradition remains today.

Obviously, I wanted my tattoo to be done the traditional way. They had to do the pua flower by the gun because the traditional way only works for geometric shapes, but the rest of the band was done traditionally by one of the best in the business. The gun hurt a lot more than the traditional way (at least until he did the band on my Achilles tendon. That was the worst!)

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The pua flower took about 20 minutes. I then went back to the main fale, where the man had just begun his lunch. I laughed because only in Samoa do you have to wait to get a tattoo because the artist is eating! The rest of the band took about 45 minutes, so a little over an hour to get the whole thing completed!

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It’s almost a Peace Corps tradition to get a tattoo while in Samoa. Because of the importance of tattoos in the culture, it feels like a perfect remembrance of the Peace Corps service. After he finished, he explained the meaning of the symbols inside of my tattoo: the design on the outside means strength. The design in the middle stands for unity, and the two on either side stand for a spiritual path. If there is anything better for a Peace Corps tattoo, I don’t know what it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the way, I LOVE IT! J

 

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A Fun and Gratifying Experience

A story came up on my facebook recently, a girl congratulating her sister for completing her Peace Corps service. Someone commented and said “what a fun and gratifying experience,” and it took a whole lot of will power NOT to contradict a total stranger on the internet.

 

There are a lot of words I would use to describe the Peace Corps experience, but “fun” is not at the top of the list. And a lot of the time, either is “gratifying.” I know you all see pictures of me in Samoa, and think that it is all just drinking coconuts and sitting on the beach. And I’m not going to lie, that is part of it. But what you might not understand is how much of a release that is. Village and school life is hard to say the least.

 

I think a lot of people think about the Peace Corps and picture Bono surrounded by a bunch of laughing African children and assume that is what life is like for 2 years. I’m sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but…it’s not. The majority of my time is spent in the nitty gritty daily life. And in the future, when someone asks me “how was the Peace Corps?” I can guarantee that “fun” will not be the word I use.

 

Challenging. Messy. Frustrating. Never-ending. But also eye-opening. Heart-breaking. Life-changing. Joyful. Powerful. How is it possible to sum up 2 years of your life in just a few words? The word changes based on the moment in which you ask me.

 

The Peace Corps motto rings true: this truly is the hardest job I will ever love. Because at the end of the day, despite everything I go through, I love it. I know I don’t have a lot of experience in the job world yet, but I have a very hard time believing that anything I do in the rest of my life will be as formative as these 2 years in the Peace Corps. My service has pushed me to my limits, tested me in more ways than I thought would be possible. It has also expanded and changed my perspective of the world. It has opened my eyes to the benefits and difficulties that exist in all cultures and countries, including the United States. When I am back in America, I have no doubt that I will look back on this experience with rose-colored glasses. But even then, when everything I remember is great and wonderful, the word I use to describe it will not be “fun.”

 

“Fun” is for week long vacations. “Fun” is for a weekend away with friends and family. “Fun” is even for those few hours spent talking to friends on a random day. But the Peace Corps is so much more than that. The Peace Corps is about presenting America in a positive way, all the while respecting the local culture and customs. It is about integrating into the daily life while keeping your American identity. You will ask yourself many complex life questions: “who am I?” and “what am I doing here?” And many days, there will be no answers. But there are also those shining moments when everything becomes clear, and you suddenly know with confidence. The Peace Corps is full 2 years of transition that you willingly enter into: a time of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and questioning. Everyone faces these questions throughout their lives, but the Peace Corps makes you face them when you are down and vulnerable, with nothing familiar to turn to. If you can get through that, everything else is a piece of cake.

 

I think the most important question, therefore, to ask is not “how was the Peace Corps?” but “would you choose to do it again?” That, at least, is a one-word answer.

 

Yes.

 

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Talent Quest

In the last week of Term 1, my school held a program called the Talent Quest. We had the students separated into their houses (Red, Yellow, Blue and Green) and had each age group perform certain “talents.” Years 1-3 had to sing a song with English words. Years 4-6 had to pick a country and perform a dance depicting that country.

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But the main event of the day came from Years 7-8. We had picked a theme, “Keep Samoa Clean,” and students in Years 7-8 had to create clothing from different kinds of trash (Styrofoam cups/plates, plastic spoons and forks, old CD’s and DVD’s, bottle tops, pop cans, and empty chip bags). Each house had a different trash item to collect and make clothing out of it. Two students (one girl and one boy) from each house then had to give a speech on what we can do as a community to keep Samoa clean, such as properly dispose of trash or reuse trash to make something completely new.

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This was an awesome day! I was one of the judges of the Talent Quest, with one of my other teachers. We created a rubric for each of the categories, and added up the total points to determine a winner. I love watching my students perform something that they have worked so hard for – I got teary eyed because I am so proud of all of their effort! Parents and community members came, and it was so great to see them supporting the students! It is also a great way to raise awareness for different issues, such as the environment.

I am so lucky to be involved in a school and with a staff of women who create opportunities to include all community members in learning!

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