Friday, May 30, 2008

Poutasi Learning Center

This has been an exciting week in the village of Poutasi. On Monday we had the Grand Opening of the Poutasi Learning Center. Sometimes I get frustrated with the traditional Samoan ceremonies that go on and on and on, but this time I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is a project that the village told me that they wanted when I first got here in August of last year. It took nine months to do what I probably could have done in about one month in the States, but that’s okay. That’s just how it goes in Samoa.

Some of you will remember when I sent an email last fall telling you that we had received a donation of some used computers from the Mormon Church in Samoa. On behalf of the village I requested $2,500US from the New Zealand High Commission to help remodel a small storage room in the church hall into a computer center. We got the grant which was used for lumber, electrical work, a fan, and a printer/copier. People in the village donated labor and materials as well. Friends from the States donated a computer (Thank you Carol!) and a monitor (Thank you Dana!), a laptop (Thank you Kim!), and 20 books (Thank you everyone!). There are shelves for a small library, especially reference books.

We’re in a school break right now, but when school resumes on June 9th we’ll have an after school homework center. We’ll start with two nights a week when kids can come to the church hall and get help with their homework. We are blessed to have several teachers living in the village, and they will rotate as volunteers to help.

The computer center will be for everyone one in the village to use. Those adults or young people who know how to use computers can come and use it, and I’ll teach basic computer lessons to those who want to learn. Computer classes are taught in some of the schools, but no one in the village has a computer in their home. There will be small fees ($.50US/hour for students and $1.00US/hour for adults) for computer lessons and printing/copies ($.25US/page). This money will (hopefully) pay for the electricity, supplies, and a small maintenance fund. It’s not connected to a phone line for internet right now, although we could do that in the future.

At the Grand Opening of course everyone was dressed in their best and there were leis for the dignitaries. There were speeches and a ribbon cutting. Then we had an ava ceremony with the chiefs of the village, and food, which no Samoan celebration would be complete without. After the food, there was a presentation of gifts to the honored guests. Besides reps from the NZ High Commission, the Director of Peace Corps Samoa was there, and reps from the government ministry that works with Peace Corps. The village presented each with fine woven mats and roast suckling pigs in baskets woven from coconut fronds. After that there was music and Samoan dancing. This took about three hours, then three other Peace Corps volunteers joined me and we did face painting and crafts with the children of the village. There are about 60 primary school age children in the village, and I think they were all there! It was a lot of fun.

Then I walked home and took a nap – Samoan style.

Thanks again for all of your support – whether it’s a donation for the village, a care package, an email, or just your positive thoughts beamed in my direction. Poutasi is a lovely village with picture postcard views of the beautiful Pacific, whose kind and gentle people have made me feel welcome, but it’s not easy sometimes. Nobody said it would be easy, but it’s a good feeling to have accomplished this tangible thing that will hopefully continue long after I’m gone from Samoa.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bum Bye

Pacific time . . . . You may think that Samoa is in a time zone just like all those distributed around the world, but you would be wrong. Yes, technically, if you are measuring such temporal necessities, our clocks are set one hour earlier than Hawai’i, and we are just miles from the International Dateline. But the reality is that Samoa (and this applies to most of the Pacific Islands), is in its own time zone called, “Whenever.”

Here’s how things work here:

Last week I visited the primary school in the neighboring village where Poutasi kids go to school. I told the principal that I would like to help at the school and he asked me to come back on Monday at 11:30. I saw him in the village on Thursday last week and we talked about it again. So yesterday I walked the two miles to the school on a very hot day, and he wasn’t there.

We received about $2,000US from the New Zealand High Commission to buy a printer/copier and do some minor remodeling needed for our small village computer center/homework center. Last Friday the electrician was supposed to come give an estimate for the minor electrical work we need, and I still haven’t seen or heard from him.

Speaking of the computer center, my contact at the NZ Commission told me the funding committee would be meeting the first week in March. Well, they didn’t meet, but told me they would meet the following week. They didn’t of course, but were supposed to meet the next week. Suffice to say, that they finally met in April.

Two weeks ago we scheduled a committee meeting to talk about some projects here in the village. Two people of six on the committee showed up, and one of them came 45 minutes after the appointed starting time

I could go on and on.

Sometimes one visits other countries where the concept of time is similar, but usually you’re on vacation, and it’s charmingly refreshing. Of course with my inherited penchant for efficiency from my German forefathers, and my American ways of doing things, neither “charming” nor “refreshing” are words that have come to mind when it happens to me here in Samoa. That said, I’ve become much more patient and understanding. I never actually expect things to happen when they say they will, and so occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised.

I thought that living in Hawai’i would prepare me somewhat for living in Wheneverland. Life moves at a slower pace there too, compared to the mainland. But I will never again complain about living on Hawaiian time. I’m sure it will seem positively punctual in comparison. However, a phrase from the pidgin language of Hawai’i serves well here too – “bum bye.” When the missionaries came to Hawai’i they taught the Hawaiians many traditional hymns. One of the hymns was “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” which loosely explained, means that we’ll get to heaven someday – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday – bye and bye. So it became “bum bye” in pidgin, and means I’ll get around to it one of these days.

So, I sign off from Samoa for today with high hopes for getting things done tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever . . . bum bye.