Renovation Week 1

We made it through the first week of the Great Renovation. The Beard Light and his dad did a ton of work this week but it wasn’t the dramatic kind that makes you gasp when you see the difference. It was all the kind that they gloss over on those HGTV shows.

Now listen: I am not a designer. I have almost no sense of space and design and pulling a room together and all that. We just find stuff we like and we put that stuff in our house and almost nothing goes together. So if you are looking for one of those exciting design blogs, look elsewhere. Our personal style could best be described as “lazy thrift-store eclectic.” But I do want to share this new little journey with y’all because it’s kind of a big deal in our lives right now.

I showed you what our house looked like before we moved out of it and onto a tiny island in my last post. This is what it looks like now that it’s basically a construction zone.

House now

Not so pretty, eh? We are super fortunate (and so thankful!) to have the help of my father in law, who is super handy and knows how to do everything home-improvement-related. He took off from work this week to help us get started.

Week one was dedicated to ripping out carpet throughout the house, painting all the ceilings, beginning the master bath renovation, and painting some rooms. We started with the master & living room.

Here’s the master bedroom before:
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After the carpet was ripped up. You can see pieces of the pad still stapled to the subfloor. Removing those staples was one of my measly contributions to the labor. It is pretty tedious work. After an hour or so you start silently cursing whoever-laid-the-carpet for using so many staples. (Probably totally necessary but I-dun-care-it’s-annoying.)
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And now this is what it looks like with a fresh coat of paint (obvs, we still need to paint the trim [and get those wooden windows white]):

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The paint is called Quiet Moment (by Behr).

It doesn’t really look like that much of a transformation but it took some time to get the carpet, padding, and staples up. The ceiling has also been painted. My father in law has basically been breaking his back every day to do a lot of this work for us (because he is THE BEST).

We also decided it was time to update our tiny little master bath a little bit. When we first moved in, this itsy bitsy space was fire-engine red with forest green tiles and black grout. It was awful. We painted it a buttery yellow color to try to brighten the space, but couldn’t really do anything about the tile at the time. The guys ripped all the tile out this week, and while we were at it we decided to change out the vanity, pull down the huge unframed mirror, and get rid of the very-dated wooden Hollywood lights. Our house was built in 1984 (the back of the mirror has a date stamp of 8/19/1983! I wasn’t even alive then!), and while a lot of things have been updated over the years, the bathrooms and kitchen still have that very 1980s look.

I didn’t get a good before photo of the bathroom, but you can see the awful green tiles in this in-progress shot:

Bathroom before

You can also see the red paint that was there before. Ick.

Hey, lookit these awesome guys working so hard:
Bathroom - rip it up

And here is a close-up of the new tile we got at Floor & Decor. There are several different colors in this same pattern and I kind of want to use it in every room of the house. (Ours is actually called “bamboo” but they don’t have that on the website so I’ve linked to the very similar “linen.”)

M/b tile close up

Bathroom - new tile

There’s still a whole lot left to do in the bathroom but I’m pretty happy about the progress so far.

Finally, the Beard Light took on the biggest paint job of all–our gigantic living room, hallway, entry way, and stair well.

About a year before we moved to AmSam, we painted these spaces a very warm brown that I absolutely loved and insisted on. We were both really happy with it then. But now we are so very over it (and the color brown in general; I think everything I owned for a good ten years was brown. what’s up with that?) So we decided to go with a lighter, more neutral color to bring in some more light. It’s called Gentle Rain and it is one of those wonderfully flat grays without any blue or green undertones. I love it.

Living room before:
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The Beard Light being all cute and painter-y in the hallway:

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Living room after (well… it still needs another coat, but you get the idea):
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We still have so much to do and sometimes it’s really overwhelming. Y’all know that I obsess over things right? I have woken up in the middle of the night this past week completely flipping out over finding the right vanity for our bathroom, or whether I am making the right choice for the paint in the back bedroom (where our new roommate will live), no joke.

Really the bigger problem is that I struggle with spending money–like I have a really hard time. (Like, I feel intense guilt about buying new things when my old things work perfectly fine and some people in the world don’t have things half as nice as my old things and what kind of terrible, wasteful person am I anyway?!?! This is why I just can’t get braces no matter how many high school students comment on my crooked teeth. I feel guilty spending that kind of money on something that is purely cosmetic. Oy.) So even though we saved and planned for all of this, I get a little worked up over it from time to time. The whole experience has been much more stressful than I expected it to be. And also we never anticipated that we’d spend so much of our new American life at Home Depot. Sometimes I like to tell myself that I’m shopping local and I’m supporting the Falcons in a round about way by shopping there, but I know it’s all a lie. Whatevs. I love Home Depot. (I’d love it more if they’d send me some coupons or something, ya know?)

Next week we hope to have the master bath finished and both guest rooms painted. We may even get the new floors in! Eek!

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Home Sweet Home

We did the final inspection on our house yesterday and got the keys back from the renters. It was pretty surreal, standing in that big empty house that looks so little like our old home.

Home

My favorite thing about our house has always been its warmth. Even in the dead of winter the living room is full of light, and I used to love spending my Sundays knitting in an over-stuffed chair by the fireplace, enveloped in the warmth of the fire and the sunlight pouring through the windows.

It was about 30 degrees (-1c) and the heat was off when we met at the house yesterday, so we walked room to room with our (okay, maybe just my) teeth chattering and our hands deep in our not-at-all-warm-enough jackets. Before the inspection, while Wes helped the renters move their last few items out of the house, I stood in the kitchen in front of the sliding glass doors trying desperately to convince myself that the setting sunlight filtering through was enough to warm me. It did not feel much like home. Not like our home anyway.

We’ve been beyond blessed to have the same people renting our house for the last three years; we haven’t had to deal with the headache of finding a new renter from half-way around the world or having the house inspected and cleaned during the few months we’re home in the summers. It’s been much better than it could’ve been–I know that. But other-people-living-in-your-house is very strange. I don’t know that I’d recommend it. (I have a great many opinions/observations on the overall state of our property but realize it would not be prudent to share them. Feel free to applaud my impressive self-control.)

This whole there-and-back-again thing has taught me so much about who I really am–I’ve had opportunities and experiences I never imagined myself having. I’ve learned a lot about what kind of person I am and what I am capable of. And I know now, without question, that I am not a landlord. But Wes is. He’s patient and understanding and fair in a way that I wish everyone in the world could be (including myself). He’s really taken the reigns with the rental from day one so I haven’t had too many opportunities to be my “Um, I don’t know if that’s a good idea ohmygosh reallywhatishappeninginhere STAWPIT” self.

We will spend the next few weeks further destroying the house in order to get it move-in ready by the new year. It’s all very stressful and exciting and expensive. (Yesterday while we were discussing the estimated cost of the new floors, I couldn’t help but feel envious at how easy and inexpensive and practically decision-free this process is in Manu’a.) We have a lot of work to do and I plan on blogging the heck out of it. The painting! The repairs! The flooring! Oh my! Get ready for a bunch of photos that aren’t of malnourished dogs or beach sunsets! This blog is going to a whole new level!

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Letting go | Being here

Evening Swim in Faleasao

Evening Swim in Faleasao

Lately I dream of Manu’a nearly every night. It’s almost always the same dream: Wes and I have just “stopped by” Faleasao for the day. We run into the new WorldTeach volunteers, who are busy unpacking and mostly disinterested in us.

I wake from these dreams with a sense of urgency–my mind racing with little bursts of panicked memory like when you suddenly realize that you have some big deadline tomorrow or that it’s your mom’s birthday and you haven’t gotten her anything. My heart is always racing. I think of all the things I should’ve told them, but didn’t, and now, won’t.

In the dream, and in my waking life, the underlying struggle is the same: I want more than anything to be able to summarize the last three years of my life in Manu’a in a way that is useful and meaningful and honest, but I just don’t know how to do that. I never have the right words, or the right opportunity. Worse, I’m not sure that anybody else cares.

You see, we spent years learning to decipher the weave of the delicate social tapestry that is the fa’asamoa, years trying to pinpoint the mores and the ideologies that drive them, years uncovering the secrets nobody wanted to tell us, the palagi, years figuring out how to live in Manu’a. Samoa was, and in many ways still is, a mystery to me. So much of my energy went in to the myriad ways I might solve the puzzle of Manu’a. It was necessary–how could I help the children there if I made no attempt to understand them?–but it took a lot out of me.

The Beard & sweet Noa

The Beard & sweet Noa

It really hurts me how useless all of this information is to me now, and so I try to share it in my dreams. Three of the most important years of my life, and no way to explain any of it. I dream them up, those new young expats, and try to tell them.

I want them to know the hard stuff, but I also want them to know what to say and to whom to say it, how to ask that question in Samoan, who to speak to or serve first, how to accept a gift, when to sit, who is related to whom, which students learn best using which methods, what material was covered in their English classes over the last three years, how to pronounce a hundred different Samoan homographs, how to keep ants out of your kitchen sponges, the easiest way to tie a lavalava so your thigh isn’t showing, which parents you should never call for discipline, where to find the best sea glass, the names of all the village dogs and how they are related to one another, when to pull weeds, the names of all the coves/beaches, who to call for a ride, which kids you can invite in the house and which ones to watch around your valuables, etc, etc, etc. I want them to tell them everything. They are the only ones who might care.

And yea, okay, another thing: though I am staunchly against service trips as a method of self-discovery, I learned a lot about myself in Samoa (obvs). One of the most shocking things was this: I am really, really uptight. Seriously. I’m pretty sure I had a reputation for it over there. Before AmSam, I had lived a good 27 years of my life thinking I was so laid back and easy going and then BAM! I learn that I’m not. I think the moment I realized this about myself went like this:

Me: “I mean, I guess sometimes I can be really anal about stuff.”
Volunteer: (laughs really hard) “Ya think?”
Me: “oh.”

And so I am aware that maybe it also comes down to this, too: I’m having a hard time giving up control.

It hurts to know that I have to let go. I have to move on. We accepted that we could not live in Manu’a forever, for the sake of our own sanity and for the sake of our relationships back in the States. And now I have to accept that I cannot live in Manu’a in my mind, either. I cannot control what’s going on in my absence. I can’t make people care any more about this one thing or any less about this other thing. It is not my responsibility to mentor expats who are 7,000 miles away and completely unaware of my existence. Whether they are being told the wrong thing (and they probably are. right now.) or they are being (unknowingly) culturally insensitive is not something I can control. Whether they play ultimate with the village children (and let the little ones play, too) is not for me to decide. Whether they share their food with Leafa & To’o is up to them. I couldn’t control these things when I was there and I can’t control them while I’m here. So I absolutely have to let go. But how?

Kamaiki Faleasao

Kamaiki Faleasao

I’ve been trying to remember and focus on the fact that some of the joy of living abroad is found in the sense of accomplishment you feel when you learn to navigate a new culture on your own. (I always worried about how much info to give new Vols arriving on island. I never wanted to rob them of the joy of discovery. I’m sorry if I ever did.)

On the runway in Fiti'uta | 8.04.11

On the runway in Fiti’uta | 8.04.11

Part of what I loved the most about our first year in Manu’a was how little information we had. We had to figure it all by ourselves. When Erin & I arrived on island (a few days before the rest of our group), we got off the plane at the airport with instructions to “ask someone if they’re going to Faleasao.” We were just two twenty-somethings, with maybe three bags between us (our luggage would come later on the boat), arriving on an island we’d never been to before with no idea where our house was or how we were supposed to get there. On top of that, we had been so badly misinformed about the amenities on island that we arrived without any food or any cash (“Don’t worry!” they said, “there’s an ATM at the airport!” They didn’t mention that it was practically abandoned). And you know what? It was exciting.

Samoan Day | 2012

Samoan Day | 2012

We didn’t know who to talk to so we talked to everybody. In the first year, Lionel (a young man in our village) taught Wes how to spear fish. Tino, though he speaks barely a word of English, burst through our front door one night to show us how to make oka–no invitation necessary. Mitch and I wandered down to the middle of the village around 2am once and ended up learning how to do an umu. Our students’ mom, Nina, showed Erin and I how to siva Samoa the evening before she and I were to perform the dance in front of about 300 people. We didn’t rely on the been-there-done-that American on island to show us the way. We had to figure it out on our own. No, better than that, we got to figure it on our own. I’m so grateful for that.

But the next two years were spent un-learning the bad habits we picked up our first year. Our Samoan friends and neighbors were so forgiving of our ignorance (and loud, clumsy American-ness) the first year, but by the second year they wondered why we didn’t speak more Samoan? Why we didn’t know what, to them, was common knowledge. They began to confide in us about the rude things the other Americans were doing or had done in the past, things we had done ourselves just last year before figuring out what was and was not taboo. I started to see just how steep the learning curve is–just how short and inadequate ten months of volunteer service really is.

I’m not saying by any means that I have it all figured out. I think I could spend my life in Manu’a and never have Manu’a figured out. What I am saying is that I have all of this experience, all of this learning and growth and appreciation and, yea, even some all-out cynicism and a million other things, both wonderful and messy, that Samoa poured out all over me, and absolutely no outlet for any of it. I am bursting at the seams.

The whole Manu'a group, with our WT Field Director | 2012

The whole Manu’a group, with our WT Field Director | 2012

There are eleven volunteers in Manu’a this year, an incredibly large number for those tiny islands, and yet that’s only eleven people in the world, out of seven billion, who might (just maybe) care at all about anything I have to say about an island, a village, a community, a culture, that has been my life for three years. Is it so crazy that I want to tell them something? That I want to make it a little easier for them by speeding up the process of realization?

If they start knowing that, despite appearances, major cultural differences do exist and will eat them up inside if they aren’t constantly cognizant of them, maybe they will get more out of their time there. Maybe they will be able to help the children of Manu’a a little bit better than we did.

But I know that these dreams are not really about the teachers who have replaced us at Manu’a High School. They’re not about whoever-Leafa’s-new-neighbor-is. They’re not about lesson plans or Achieve3000 or keeping Lolo & Kele safe. They’re about me and the difficulty I have had answering the question everyone asks:

“So how was it over there?”

In my waking life, I say something like, “Oh… it was great. Samoa is a really complex place… It was hard, but we loved it!”

But in my dreams, standing in our front yard in Faleasao, watching the kids playing by the beach below, hissing the dogs away from the hesitant new Americans, standing face-to-face with these blurry dream versions of our former selves, I can try to tell the truth. And there is always so much more to say.

Rainbow from Ofu Beach

Rainbow from Ofu Beach

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Coming “Home”

What I hope is the hardest part of our journey to the States (leaving Manu’a) is over. We still have a week left on the main island to tie-up loose ends, buy those impulsive souvenirs, and prepare for our repatriation.

I’m thankful that we have these two weeks in Tutuila before we leave for the States to focus on re-entry. Tutuila is a small island, too, but it is far larger and far more developed than Manu’a. In some ways, being here is like being in another country entirely. There are big all-in-one stores, side roads, too many cars, countless restaurants, thousands of people, and a whole lot of noise. The other day we were in Forsgren’s (which is kind of like an old Walmart–how they were before everything got “super”), looking at a huge selection of vitamins, and all I could think was that Tutuila is just like America. Here in Tutu’ila, we can have salad and V8 and hot showers and two-ply toilet paper and internet-at-home. But we still have to pay $9 for a head of iceberg lettuce; we still have to be aware, vigilant even!, of the terrifying feral dogs everywhere. It’s a perfect transitional phase: two weeks on an island that is somehow neither and both American and Samoan.

I have been reading The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti to help me prepare for our transition back (thanks, Alison!). The first chapter addresses the ways in which home, by its very definition, is no longer home at all–and all the disappointment and disillusionment that come with such a realization.

Home [is] the place where you belong and feel safe and secure and where you can accordingly trust your instincts, relax, and be yourself…the place where you feel “at home.”[…] This place you have arrived in can become home again, even as it once was before you went abroad, but in the meantime it will feel very much like a foreign country.

Despite the excitement and joy I feel about returning to Georgia, there is a sense of dread, of uncertainty, clinging to me; it is not unlike the feeling I had when I first came here three years ago. (All that self-doubt and overconfidence swirling around inside–are we really going to do this? what if it sucks? what if i’m just terrible at my job? what if there are spiders?! oh my gosh this is going to be awesome!)

Some of the reverse culture shock can be anticipated–I have experienced it here in Tutu’ila, in NZ on Christmas breaks, and every summer when we’ve been in the States. The book warns that home visits are not really small glimpses into repatriation, though, and I’m trying to prepare for that. Yes, the stores have an amazing selection of vegetables. Yes, the pace of life is much faster. Yes, being on time is important. All of those things are understood and processed easily enough. What I’m more afraid of are the larger distinctions between this culture in which I’ve become so enmeshed, and the culture in which I spent the first 27 years of my life. I’m afraid of the materialism and the waste. I’m afraid of the pervasive technology. I’m afraid of the go go go, the not having time to talk, the not knowing the neighbors, the oh-so-direct communication, the complaining, the excess, the emphasis on perfection, the stranger danger, etc.

Storti makes a distinction between people who have enjoyed a typical ex-pat lifestyle abroad (company car, household help, tight-knit community of expats) and international volunteers or service-oriented expats, who are more likely (by necessity) to become immersed in the local community and culture. I think we fall somewhere in the middle as far as comforts go–we did have a TV after all. But we have made every effort over the years to become as involved in the community as we could. We have worked hard toward a deeper relationship with our neighbors and students, a deeper understanding of the fa’asamoa. I never stopped to consider that one day I’d have to stop diving deeper and swim back up to the surface. It seems so abrupt, like I finally figured out how to live here and now we’re leaving.

Needless to say, for these volunteers the foreign culture becomes home in a much more profound way than it does for the typical expatriate, who normally lives much more on the periphery of the local culture. And the readjustment to their real home, therefore, is likewise much more intense.

This book lists a few of the particular challenges that returnees face, including the shock of abundance and excess materials, the unappreciative attitudes, and the quick pace of life. (All things I’m worried about!) and ways to adjust more smoothly back to your home culture. He gives a particular word of warning for those who, like us, have become more involved in their host community/culture:

You will probably want to give yourself more time to readjust than typical expatriates, and you should also take special care not to be too hard on your compatriots or your home country. After all, you used to like these people and this place, so you can probably learn to do so again, if you’re patient. And patience, God knows, is the one thing you surely must have learned when you were overseas.

He couldn’t be more right about that last part. Just a quick example: in order for the local government to complete my returning travel arrangements and exit clearances, we were given an exit form to take to every gov’t office in Tutu’ila and have signed. It’s basically just a form saying we don’t owe any money. So, our friend let us borrow her truck and we spent about 5 hours one morning running all over this island to get our signatures (hospital, tax office, water, electric, phone, development bank, police station, etc etc etc). We finally bring our completed exit form in to the personnel office (so incredibly stoked that we were able to get it done in one day!) and just as the woman is finishing everything up for us, she turns to The Beard and asks “Where’s yours?” The gave ME a form, but not my spouse. So we had to do it all again. (This is all very funny now, just days later, but at the time it was not funny at all. Not at all.)

So yea, we’ve got a bit more patience than we had before. But I’d like to ask our friends and family back home to be patient with us, too. In addition to the weird reverse culture shock adjustment stuff, we will be going through a lot of other changes. Jet lag, career changes, moving house, etc.

We will be home next week. To be honest I’m already a little overwhelmed by the requests for face-to-face time. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had actual hang-out plans with friends in the last year, and usually those are made very last-minute. Now we’re struggling to schedule weekends in July and August and I’m just so amazed that you guys already know what you are going to be doing then. I still feel hesitant about telling people the date of our return flight, just in case, ya know, the plane doesn’t come.

So, please, have patience with us. We want to see you, but it may not be right away. Just give us a few days to adjust. We want to get to know you guys again, to rekindle all those awesome friendships, to admire your Dominion skills, to hear about your new job, to meet your new spouse and/or kids, to check out your new place, to break more than a few loaves of bread with you. We really do. Forgive us when and if we are weird or awkwardly quiet or overwhelmed. And please, if we talk too much about Manu’a, tell us to stop.

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Last Day in Faleasao, again

Ha! I totally should’ve known that the boat wouldn’t be here today. Of course! So we get to spend one more beautiful day in the village; we should be leaving tomorrow morning though.

Last week I found a pack of water balloons that I’d forgotten about, and there was still 1/2 a bag of candy in my fridge from graduation, so this is how we chose to say goodbye to the village kids:

Waterballoon Fight!

Faleasao water balloon fight!

Faleasao water balloon fight!

Running for cover

Running for cover

Water balloon fight

Water balloon fight!

Aiga + Lagi

Man I'll miss these two

Man I’ll miss these two

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Tofa Soifua, Manu’atele

Tonight is the last night we will spend in our house in Faleasao. Our bags are packed. The boat is (supposedly) coming tomorrow. Oh gosh are you guys crying? You should be. It’s real sad.

We turned in our classroom keys this morning and then spent the rest of the day trying to enjoy our last day in Faleasao. We went over to To’a with Jackie and Sasha (and the dogs, of course); it was a beautiful, sunny day—a perfect last day on the island. Then we came home and finished a few chores around the house before heading over to another of my favorite spots in the village. We’ve said our goodbyes and given away almost all of our possessions. There is nothing left to do now but sleep.

Tomorrow we will haul our bags out the front door and say goodbye to the house that has been our home for two years. We’ll walk down to the wharf where we’ll be surrounded by the community that took us in three years ago. The wharf will be bustling with the regular commotion of a visit from the MV Sili—barrels of diesel and pallets of goods will be unloaded, and all of the passengers will rush on board to claim their seats. It will be a normal day–business as usual–for everyone but us. And then we’ll throw our bags on the boat and look back out at the island one last time, watching it as it slips away on the horizon, until it’s a small mound of green atop the endless blue, until it’s finally no longer visible. Until it’s gone.

If I close my eyes I can see every house in the village, name every person who lives in each one. I can hear my neighbor’s laughter filtering in through my windows, the sound of children running by, the excited bark of the dogs at every moving shadow. I can smell the umu, the salt water, the reef. I have been practicing this retention–attempting to recall at will the memory of these sensations. I’ve been preparing for a life without them.

I do not have the words to express what I feel when I think of leaving this place, this community, these people. The only solace to be had is in the belief that we have changed each other for the better.

So thank you, Manu’a. You have been a fine teacher, a generous host, and a dear friend. It hurts me so to leave you, but I will hold each and every face, every memory, every detail, in my heart forever; I am sure of it.

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Desk Threat: or, What a Mice Surprise!

Today as I was rummaging around in my top desk drawer (which I really only use to store packets of oatmeal, confiscated earrings, and batteries), I noticed that my last oatmeal was eaten open. Ah, the oh-so-recognizable sign of a rodent.

“Dangit. A mouse was in my desk!”

My students, completely nonplussed, suggested I check to make sure it wasn’t still in there. Before I could respond I noticed that the small plastic container of pushpins I keep in the drawer was completely empty. I picked it up and marveled at the idea that a mouse had eaten through the plastic and then meticulously carried each pushpin to wherever-it-made-its-nest. And I encouraged my students to join me in bewilderment:

“Why aren’t you guys freaking out about this?! It took my metal pushpins! This is really weird!! Look! These things are just metal and plastic! They’re pointy! That’s terrible nest material! Hello? Don’t you guys think this is weird?”

Shrug shrug shrug until finally one girl screamed with me “Oh my gosh Miss that is so weird! I’m freaking out now!” and I was temporarily appeased.

Then, when I returned to my desk and opened the drawer again, I noticed that several of the papers I’d placed in it yesterday were eaten up. And then I saw the pushpins! They were deep in the back corner, forming some sort of weird nest. I started pulling half-eaten strips of paper out, oh so carefully, until suddenly a half foot of fur came flying out of the drawer.

I’m no stranger to rodents. I’ve seen my fair share of scurrying mice and rats. I’ve found their hoards of scrap garbage in the corners of my kitchen, underneath my stove. But I’ve never seen a mouse fly out of a desk drawer. I screamed. Like, a lot. I screamed and jumped and then laughed hysterically as the furball scampered into the closet a few feet from my desk.

It was a pretty entertaining site for my students. When we’d all stopped laughing, they were all about me cleaning out my desk. And when I started pulling out each sheet of paper (copies of finals I’d placed in my top drawer for safe keeping–all of which are now full of little rat-tooth holes), I saw something moving. Some little eraser-sized, pink, squealing, see-through thing. And then I really freaked out.

It was a baby mouse! After I got over the shock of seeing this weird fetus-outside-of-the-womb creature, I scooped it up to show my students. They were also grossed out at first but then we were all ohhing and ahhing over it’s teeny-tiny, cutesy-wootsy-ness. (I also took it over to The Beard’s freshmen science class for a minute.)

Desk Threat

Unfortunately, Mama isn’t coming back so I don’t think Baby Mouse will make it. I tried to put it near Mama’s hide out in the closet but so far she’s still MIA. Eh. Nature and what not. All of my students want me to throw it into the jungle-bush-area beside the school (it’s a mouse, after all, bane of my existence and such), but I can’t bring myself to do it.

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Memorial Day Weekend in Ofu

A few weeks? months? ago, we loosely “planned” a trip to Ofu with our friend Alison (a previous WT field director who now works at a university on the main island). Since air and sea transportation have been particularly unreliable lately, we didn’t really cement anything for this weekend. We just sort of held it in the back of our minds that we might have a nice weekend trip if the plane started flying anytime soon. Then Alison found out on Thursday that she had a seat on Friday’s flight. She got to our island around lunch time and then we spent an hour or two calling around to get a boat (alia) over to Ofu.

Sun setting behind Ofu-Olosega

Sun setting behind Ofu-Olosega

The Beard got in touch with a guy in Ofu who could pick us up in Ta’u around 3. We left just as the sun was beginning to sink behind the islands. It was the first late evening trip we’ve taken between the islands and it was beautiful. The sea was incredibly rough and we sloshed our way across the ocean for a little over an hour, but it was worth it. (Plus I took a motion sickness pill so I didn’t feel like I was going to die every time we hit a swell.) There was one point, though, when we had to steer hard into the crest of a wave and I caught a glimpse shared between the two Samoan guys working the boat that seemed to suggest “that was a close one” or something to that end. It was a rough ride for sure, but still not the worst I’ve experienced (like that one time the Beard had to help bail water from the alia?).

Cpt. Fau and his catch

Cpt. Fau and his catch

The owner of the boat took us on a short fishing detour after a flock of hungry birds–we only caught one fish, a skipjack, which he gave us as a gift after we got to the wharf. It was already pretty dark by the time we arrived in Ofu, the last little bit of sunlight lingering just long enough for us to climb out of the alia. Beautiful and still and perfect.

The weather hasn’t been great–windy and cold (it’s currently 82 degrees F) with intermittent rain and rough seas–but the company is wonderful. We are staying at Vaoto Lodge with Alison and Karla (another former WorldTeacher-turned-contract-teacher who lives alone on the tiny island of Olosega). Alison has been a great friend to us over the years; she is moving back to the US this year, too, after four years in Tutuila. It’s already been a great trip, just the four of us reflecting on our experiences here and sharing a little about what we will and will not miss.

This is our last trip to Ofu-Olosega (at least for a few years, I’m sure) so we’re trying to soak it all in. I’m sure I’ll have more photos and words in the next day or so. Until then, enjoy:

Holding our mealofa skipjack

Holding our mealofa skipjack

Gotta have that shot of the peaks.

Gotta have that shot of the peaks.

The Beard reeling in a line

The Beard reeling in a line

The mighty Pacific

The mighty Pacific

Sunset

Sunset

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Feisty Incoming-Fresh(wo)man Tells It Like It Is

Feisty Incoming-Fresh(wo)man Tells It Like It Is

This is a paragraph taken from a placement exam essay written by an eighth grade student. ASCC is the local college.

I can’t even tell you how happy this makes me (and a little disappointed that I won’t have the pleasure of teaching this girl next year in freshman English).

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The Not-So-Simple Present and Teenage Dreams

The Not-So-Simple Present and Teenage Dreams

I’ve been doing a lot of grammar drills and practice with my mainstream (lower-level) sophomores lately. A lot of these kids are at a pretty distinct academic disadvantage because their English skills are very low. One of the larger points of confusion for most of them is the conjugation of verbs in different tenses. Over the past month or so, we’ve done every worksheet that has ever been created, watched every cutesy video lesson, and played every possible game. Still, when I ask them what they are doing right now they say “I am listen!” and “We listened!” (The one solid thing they seem to have learned about verbs in elementary school is that they get -ed endings. Any verb. Any tense. Just add -ed and you’re set!) We only have two weeks left in the semester (and they’ll have a new English teacher next year. tear, tear, tear), so now we are just drilling drilling drilling.

Earlier this week I asked them to come up with a list of ten verbs. Then I asked them to conjugate each verb in present simple. Once they had a little cheat-sheet written out, they were asked to write a story. They were to use each of their ten verbs at least once, in present simple, and to try to use third person singular as often as possible.

This is not groundbreaking super-fun-time stuff. It was just an assignment they could do independently to help practice using these verbs in their writing. But also, I really love reading their stories. They are sophomores (15-16 years) but they can be as sweet and tender-hearted as elementary students in their journals. Of course, they can also be surprisingly candid and alarmingly violent in their private writing as well. At any rate, their creative writing responses are always good times.

Below is the text of the assignment pictured above. This is a perfect example of something a teenage boy might turn in for this kind of assignment in American Samoa–so tender and then so shocking.

Once up on a time that one night I had a dream. I dream about my self from the future. That one day I am a father and I have 6 children and one baby that crys a lot at night. But my children are old enough to run and jump and even know how to kiss. My older drauther know how to drive the car and also she nows how to swim. But at night we cook are food and we eat together. we laugh together. When my family is asleep someone hold me to not go to my wife that is the room waiting for me to come. Then she came out there two men hold me and one is going up to my wife. He wanted to do something bad to my wife and I was hold down by to men and the man shoot my wife and wake up it was just the dream. And I say to my self I will permit my self that I love my girl friends.

Here is another student’s submission:

Right now I sit inside the English class, and I dream about my Girlfriend. We walk on the beech and she hold my hand. I do not permit her to smoke cigarette or drink beer. We play hide and seek together and play with the sand. She alway’s laugh at me, and she told me that I look like a clown. I drive her at home and we saw her mother is cry because Her Father is dead. And her little sister is swimming inside the swimming pool. I jump inside the car and she kiss at my chick.

And, finally, another:

Everyday I run at the mountain and I saw my girl is laughing. My girl kiss on my lips because my uncle Joe permit me to kiss a girl. Everyday I dream in class and I cry everyday in the class. I hold Ms. Rakers hand today in her class and Joe was very jealousy. Every day I jump up in the sky. (Joe is the IEP teacher who co-teaches this class with me; Ms. Rakers is the other English teacher at MHS.)

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