Saturday, December 31, 2011

Back to reality

The blogging stopped for a few days but the fun sure didn't! Sadly, my time in Australia has come to an end and it is about time to head back to reality. If only I could bottle up the beautiful Sydney sun and pack a few cases of passionfruit yogurt, peaches, milk, flat whites, and frozen yogurt.

Happy 2012 blog readers! Expect more stories and many pictures in the next few days. Stay safe and have fun!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in the sun

Manuia le Kerisimasi, blog readers! I hope that you all have a wonderful day and that it is spent with all the people you love and care about. No matter if you spend it with family or friends, do not take it for granted - some people will be spending their holiday's working or on the other side of the world away from those people. I'm living proof!

I did have a lovely [in the words of the Aussies} Christmas. I was able to Skype my entire family on my Dad's side which was absolutely perfect and so much fun! Nothing like a little video love to cheer you up. Following that, Abby and I went on a run up a really steep hill, then we ran down a hill and discovered an incredible view of the skyline, bridge, and opera house. We then ran back up the hill and down the other hill. Following all the hill running, we spent our afternoon walking around Bondi - the beach, the town, etc. We (of course) snuck in some delicious frozen yoghurt and tried to stay out of the very hot sun. We get enough sun in AmSam so I am trying to stick in the shade.

The rest of the day was spent helping Amie cook, bake, and prep for the Christmas dinner that we had at her flat. We dined on a pumpkin/potato mash, delicious ham, pasta salad, steamed veggies, and many other tasty dishes. Not at all what I'm used to eating on Christmas, but it hit the spot. The glasses of red wine helped too!

I will be spending the next few days in Newcastle - beaching, wine touring, eating, and relaxing.

Once again, Merry Christmas, and stay warm and cozy! Much alofa.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Christmas Eve?

It is really hard for me to believe that it is Christmas tomorrow (Christmas Eve for you blog readers in the U.S.). To me, Christmas is waking up freezing cold at 6 a.m. with the rest of my family to look at our stockings, eat breakfast, and then open presents. This year, my Christmas will be spent in a new country, with new friends, and in a new temperature. I'm an ocean and thousands of miles away from my family, so I guess it's kind of a good thing that it doesn't really feel like Christmas because then I'd be really sad. I'm already bummed knowing that my entire family will be together without me, so I will do my best to make sure that I am full of high spirits (and food). 

Here are my highlights from day three of Sydney:

- Figuring out the bus system with Abby. We managed to get downtown Sydney (my friend Amie lives in Rose Bay, which is a suburb) and back all on our own!
- Seeing the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Bridge
- Walking around the city and stopping in shop after shop after shop
- Trying on clothes [it had been a while!]
- Sipping on a flat white [fancy coffee] and eating a chocolate mud cupcake and then being handed a free cupcake an hour later
- Walking around a big grocery store
- Walking around a gigantic mall [I forgot those existed!!]
- I failed to mention yesterday that I've eaten fresh peaches and nectarines here...oh my delicious!

Today was an interesting day for me. I felt extremely overwhelmed, kind of panic-y, and jumbled. Those all sound like really bad ways to feel, so let me explain them a little. I am in a huge city, surrounded by millions of people, lots of traffic, and many things to look at. Walking around the shopping mall was a little stressful because I didn't know how to soak it all in. I love going shopping but I was so overwhelmed with all the things I could buy! I am obviously feeling this way because 1) I don't shop in AmSam because there's nothing to shop for. 2) There are no malls, big buildings, or places in AmSam where I am surrounded by thousands of people at one time. 3) Cars drive 25mph on our island...they drive a lot faster here. The list could go on and on, but what I'm trying to say is that I guess I'm experiencing a little culture shock! Do not worry though, these feelings are not stopping me from wanting to explore! 

One thing I do love about this city is the endless amount of cafes, chocolatiers, and coffee shops there are. Every other shop or building is one of these three things. The city smells like coffee and delicious foods and this is so terrible for the budget backpacker because I want to try everything! Food is crazy expensive in this city (Sydney has been rated as being one of the most priciest cities in the world). An average meal is $15. The currency rate is about the same for an Aus dollar/USD, so you're not even getting a deal. 

For now, I will wish you a Merry Christmas Eve! Enjoy the time with your family and friends and stay warm if it's cold where you are!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sydney turns sunny

Highlights from day two in Sydney:

- Waking up feeling refreshed, not sweaty, and ready to explore!
- Mango Peach yoghurt with toasted muesli. Enough said.
- Seeing the iconic, and most well-known beach in Australia: Bondi Beach. Turns out it's pronounced Bond-eye not Bond-ee.
- Walking from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach, a coastal trek that took around two hours.
- Frozen yoghurt with dark chocolate chips, strawberries, and raspberries. The girl who served it was from ROCKFORD, IL. How bizarre is that? It's a small world.
- Blowdrying and straightening my hair. [I know, I know, I sound like such a girl. When you throw your hair up into a ponytail every day for almost 6 months, you'd want to style your hair too!]
- Dinner at a tapas bar and seeing the Sydney night life

It's Christmas Eve in Sydney, which is very hard to believe. If you're not done Christmas shopping yet, you better get back out there and quit reading my blog! Don't forget to buy peppermint ice cream!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sydney, oh Sydney

Highlights from day one in Sydney, Australia:

- Lots of eating: passionfruit yogurt (loved it in NZ, still lovin' it now), Tim Tams (of course), a delicious eggplant, wild mushroom, capsicum (red pepper), onion, and mozzarella sandwich- all on fresh, grainy, amazing bread, REAL MILK, veggie pizza: pineapple, wild mushroom, tomato, whole olives, capsicum, onion, and a whole lot of real, mouthwatering cheese, and last but not least, a slice of pavlova. [As you can see, it's been a good food day.]
- Taking a shower with hot water for the first time in 5.5 months. It was probably the best shower of my life.
- Being cold. It's freezing here! The Aussies are walking around in jeans and tank tops, and I've got jeans and a long sleeve on and my toes are like ice blocks. I must say, it is so refreshing to walk around and not have sweat pouring down your face. My face hasn't been this dry in forever. 
- Being around other palagi people. It's nice to not have everyone stare at you as you walk down the street. 
- Taking a nap and using lots of covers. Best feeling ever.

Today was a good day. After a night in Western Samoa, and almost a 6 hour flight this morning (where we were served nothing - not even a drop of water or a bite of an airline pretzel...rude), it felt refreshing to be in a city, surrounded by thousands of other people, big buildings, and fresh air that just feels so darn good in your lungs. I'm liking this place.

Bedtime for me. Jet lag plus lots of food for dinner plus cold air = a very sleepy Quinn.

G'day mate!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today is the day!

My Christmas adventure begins today! After spending the day at the American Samoa Community College having Mid-Service Orientation with WorldTeach, Abby and I will be heading to the airport to jet off to Western Samoa for the night. We arrive at 7-ish p.m. and will need to be at the airport by 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. We are staying with a Peace Corps volunteer in Apia tonight and the international airport is 45 minutes away...guess that means we'll be getting up at 4 because our flight to Sydney leaves at 7 a.m.
To all of my faithful blog readers, I thank you for always keeping up-to-date with my oh so interesting life here in American Samoa. Have a wonderful, exciting, and relaxing holidays and make sure to eat all the delicious food that you can stuff in. [And by that I mean Christmas cookies.]
Fa soifua and Manuia le Kerisimasi! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Have you got a smile on your face?

I am so happy. I think if I were to describe myself in one word, I would pick happy. I love to smile. I would be completely okay if I even had to smile while I sleep! A senior walked into my class today and I smiled at him, and he asked me, “Why are you so happy? Why are you smiling so much?” I responded, “I’m always happy and I love to smile!” I got the cheeky, “It’s because you’re seeing me, isn’t it?” “Well, of course!” Either way, having a smile on my face definitely makes me feel good.
Last week, I was not happy. I was feeling just about every negative emotion a person can feel. At times I was angry, other times I was sad, most of the time I was homesick, but I was also annoyed, frustrated, irritated, and unhappy. I think I hit the low point of my year in American Samoa. Every little thing bugged me. If a student was rowdy or a class wouldn’t do what I asked, it brought me down even further. I just was not in my normal state of mind and did not feel like myself. I don’t want to really talk about what got me down because it’s over and done with! This was a new week, and I’m back to the same old me. HAPPY QUINN!
Why am I so happy? Well, exams are over. Semester one is over. Tomorrow is our Christmas Program at school and a dance after that! I wonder if it will be like junior high dances? Will there be slow songs? Tomorrow night is our faculty/staff Christmas party and well to jump the gun: AUSTRALIA IS ONE DAY CLOSER!
Australia…a place with things like fresh milk (not the boxed stuff that tastes like those little coffee creamers on the table of your favorite mom and pop diner), yogurt, delicious salads and fresh fruits and vegetables! It is also a place where I will be able to walk and eat at the same time…in public! How exciting is that?! I’ve mentioned before that food is respected here. You sit when you eat. This is so hard.
Australia is also a place with big buildings, a whole lot of people, and fast cars. While I’m excited to see a city again, I’m a bit nervous about the stimulation of Sydney. Sure I see people here, but the entire population of American Samoa is probably about the size of Sycamore (or maybe a little more). That is not a lot of people. I’m also nervous about fast cars. When I’m walking and a car speeds by me at more than 30mph, it’s kind of frightening. I am going to have to look both ways a billion times.
When you are homesick and upset about every little thing (even though you are trying so hard not to be), you just have to focus on the future. What got me through the week was thinking about Australia. I’ve got a smile back on my face, I’m almost done grading my finals, and I’m about to go eat some Oreos. Life can’t get any better.
Fa soifua and manuia le weekend!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Miss, do you have a dollar for me?"

Here are a few Samoan songs for you to enjoy as you read this post: 

I could listen to this song on repeat all day long. I just love it so much.

A classic Samoan song

One of my students told me to show this to anyone who wanted to know what life is like in Samoa. This pretty much sums it up. [This video was filmed in Western Samoa...that beautiful beach with the island in the background? Yeah, I've been there. That's Lalomanu...aka paradise, clearly.]

I hear the following phrases multiple times every day (even from students I don't even have or know):
“Miss, do you have a dollar for me?”
“Miss, do you have a quarter for me?”  [I get the sad puppy eyes along with it.]
“Miss, do you have bus fare for me?”
“Miss, do you have a phone?”
“Miss” [x10,000,000]
It's like I owe them or something!
In AmSam...
...they don’t say suckers. Instead they say lollipops.
...they don’t say toilet paper. Instead they say paper toilet. [Funny, right?]
...people of all ages love doing the Electric Slide. My students like to listen to the song in class. Funny.
...they love the song “Sexual Healing” more than the average person.
...tough, hardcore, mess-with-me-and-I-mess-with-you-boys will pick “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift instead of a scary rap song.
...going anywhere without a plate of sandwiches, a bag of McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and cases of soda is not okay. Sad.’s normal to see someone weed whacking their lawns (not many lawn mowers here) in slippers, shorts, and a t-shirt. I cringe and hope that they still have toes by the time they finish.
...they share EVERYTHING. Cell phones, pens, backpacks, notebooks, homework (grr), and even food. Let’s talk about their sharing of food. Someone walks into my classroom with a bag of tuna sandwiches for a party they are having in another class (yes, when you have a party in your class, you bring tuna sandwiches. Of course!), that student is SWARMED. Everyone wants a sandwich. If one person gets a sandwich, everyone needs to take a bite out of it. If someone has a cookie or even a tiny little piece of candy and someone asks for some, they easily give it up and share it with them. Sometimes, they don’t want to share. I’ve had students literally stuff half a sandwich in their mouth in less than 5 seconds so they don’t have to share. I’ve also had students come into my room with food and hide behind my bookshelf so no one else knows they have it. They can eat it in peace (unless someone comes in the room, they get afraid, and shove it all in their mouths.) It is so very entertaining.
...hitting, slapping, punching and the whole violence thing is normal. Fights are always happening at school. It’s just what they do. They fight village vs. village. If one village comes into another village’s turf, FIGHT. (This happened on Friday. My student explained it to me. “Someone came into our turf, Unkah Bunkah*, so we fought them.”) Even if you try to explain to them that violence is not the answer, it’s just what they are used to and they won't listen to you. Fighting makes them proud. Their scars (yes, some of them have scars) are important to them. When I tell them that they shouldn’t fight, they just say that they need to fight. Anyways, the whole point of this is that I’ve learned to accept it, unfortunately. There were about 8 students in my room before school the other day. Out of nowhere they were all out of my room in under 3 seconds. I ran after them because I was so confused…it was just a fight and they wanted to watch. Good grief. It's like they have an extra sense in their minds that someone is about to punch somebody else...if only they had an extra sense to turn in their homework on time!
* Unkah Bunkah is the code name for the village Amanave (but only the west side of the village...). They also go by ATL.
*Tuala is the code name for the village Vailoatai. They like to shout TUALA all the time.
*The Tap Boys are from the village of Taputimu.
*The Snow Boys are from the village of Aoloau. Aoloau is also known as Alaska (ha) because it's a village in the mountains and it gets "cold" there. HA.
...these are all the code names I can think of at the moment...there are more...
In other news, final exams are this week! This means that I have almost finished my first semester as a high school teacher. Wowza. It has also been 5 months since I left home sweet Sycamore. Crazy. In a week and two days, I'll be on my way to Apia...and then to SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA the next day. Christmas break can't come fast enough!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa, Family, Friends, and other Blog Readers,
I am writing this letter to give you my classroom Christmas wish list. I am (in no means) begging for the items on this list, but instead I am politely wishing for these things that can be helpful and useful for my lessons and when doing activities with my students.
Now that I am a teacher, I understand what it’s like to not have any funding for your class. Almost everything you need to purchase must come from the money out of your pocket. It is very difficult to do this, especially because supplies are limited on island. I have learned how to be creative with the supplies that I do have, which has been very helpful so far!
I now present to you, my classroom Christmas wish list! If you have any of these things laying around in your house or office and they aren’t being put to use, my classroom would love to have them!
-          Paperback copies of the book, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
o   I have decided to read this book with my proficient classes and I am really excited about it! It is an excellent book and perfect for their reading levels. Reading a book from photo copies is boring, so I would love to have a class set (around 25 copies). The movie for the book comes out near the end of March and if it comes here (please, please, please!), I would like to take my classes to see it…they can then write both a book review and a movie review!
-          Office supplies that are just sort of hanging around in your junk drawers. Have some extra white out, scissors, note cards, pencils, post-it’s, pens, highlighters, or anything else you can find? Send them my way!
-          Markers and colored pencils
-          Hand Sanitizer (unfortunately the bathrooms at school don’t have toilet paper or soap…this means that my classroom is a little germier than I would like.)
-          Stickers
-          Scratch paper, construction paper, greeting cards you aren’t using
-          Magazines (for my students to read and to cut up for projects), junior high/high school level books and novels
-          Basically anything you think would be useful in a high school classroom!
If you are able to send something, I can’t thank you enough. I will be so appreciative of whatever you can send, even if it’s a sheet of stickers! If you are unable to send something, that is completely fine! This is not a list of things I need, instead, it is a list of things I could use but can do without if I have too. Please do not feel forced to send anything and do not go out of your way and spend a lot of money on these objects. My classroom is open and accepting of used items (my students will never know the difference!).
If you do decide to send something, please send it in a flat rate box (available at the USPS). By sending it flat rate, I will get it faster, and the weight of the package doesn’t matter: whatever you can fit in the box will all send for the same price. Also, please remember to write AIRMAIL on the outside of the box (or else it might get sent on the boat and that could take a month or two…eep!)
My address is:
Quinn Bolander
c/o WorldTeach
P.O. Box 5411
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799

Thank you for reading and keeping up with my blog. It is comforting and motivating to know that so many people care about my time here and your support is much appreciated. I am so lucky to be able to spend a year of my life in such a wonderful and beautiful place. If only I could fly all of you here to see what life in AmSam is really like.

Fa’afetai tele lava (Thank you very much)!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The frozen turkeys and the Tutuila Trio visit Manu'a

It is December 1st. I’m sure it feels like December to all of you. The winter chill is slipping under your covers at night. The tip of your nose turns pink when you walk outside. Your snow boots are creeping closer to the front of your closet. You might even be stocking up on hot chocolate mix and soup. I, on the other hand, am experiencing none of those things (besides the fact that I made my own chicken noodle soup the other night). To me, December 1st is a balmy, humid, roasty-toasty kind of day. It's also quite rainy and wet. I’ve got my slippers (flip flops) on, a skirt, a t-shirt, and my hair up because it’s just too hot to wear it down. To me, it is still July, and it will continue to still feel like July for the next 6 months. I’m not complaining or anything, I’m just stating the fact that it does not feel like December and that it is extremely hard for me to believe that Christmas is literally right around the corner!

Thanksgiving came and went and my holiday was spent island hopping throughout the outer islands of American Samoa. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving was our last day of school. Barely anyone turned in their homework that was due. All my classes were chaotic. More than half of my students were missing in my last class. I, for sure, was ready for a few days off of school! On Wednesday, Abby, Amber, Allison (last year’s WT Field Director) and I were up at 3:45 a.m. for the Turkey Run at the high school! We got to school around 4:30 and the race actually started at 5 like it was supposed too! I am guessing that around 30 people either ran or walked the 4.3 (approximately) mile long race. Running through the streets of Leone when it was still pitch black and somewhat cool was exciting. Actually, just being around other runners was exciting! I stuck with a palagi man and woman for the first mile or so, then dropped the woman (yeah!) and stayed with the man for the rest of the race. I ended up finishing in 4th place and was the first woman in! I had a lot of fun, and came home with a frozen turkey as my prize.

I think that a turkey might be the coolest thing I've ever gotten from a race! Also notice the fancy ribbon race bibs that we had to wear!

Shortly after the race, Abby and I rushed to finish our last minute packing for our trip to Manu’a (aka the name for the outer islands). We both wanted to bring our frozen turkeys, so we threw them in a bag and took the bus to the grocery store to stock up on some Thanksgiving staples, and then met Khoa at the airport. An hour or so later, we had our tickets, checked in, and got on the plane. We had a flub with the turkey’s and had to rush to find a cooler bag to carry them in, but in the end, we were on the plane and ready to go! Shortly after the plane took off, steam started pouring out of the air conditioning vents. Only in AmSam, right?

It was kinda spooky!

25 minutes later, we landed on the island of Ta’u (pronounced Taa-ooo). Ta’u is the home to Courtney, Erin, Wes, Cat, and Mitch, our WT friends who are teaching out there. Courtney met us at the airport and it was so good to see her after being apart for almost 4 months! We hopped in the back of a truck and drove along the coast back to the village of Ta’u, where she and Erin live. When I say that I live in the middle of the ocean, I really mean it, but when I say that Ta’u is a remote island that feels like its own little world, I mean that even more. Ta’u is absolutely beautiful. It is rugged, tropical, lush, mountainous, and beach-y.

Shortly after dropping off our bags (and sticking those turkeys in the freezer!), we were off for our first adventure: a hike to Second Beach. What an adventure it turned out to be. This is not a hike for the weak. What’s funny is that it’s not even a hike where you have to climb up a mountain. Instead, you have to climb up and over huge, massive, slippery rocks…again and again and again and again. I was doing alright until I lost my grip on a really slippery rock and fell in between two other big rocks. It was one of those times where the fall feels like slow motion and you know it’s going to hurt like heck. I ended up slamming both feet into yet another rock, and my right ankle crashed into another rock. Eeeeaaahhh. For a few short seconds, I thought I had broken my ankle. It hurt SO BAD. I was a bloody mess but I hobbled over those darn rocks and kept going. In the hour or so that it took us to get to the beach, I ended up falling three times. All three times I hit my same bad ankle. By the time I got to the beach, I really hated life. After I took a few deep breaths and looked around, I realized that I was still in paradise and that I was lucky that I 1) had not broken my ankle or leg and 2) had not hit my head on a rock when I fell. Ta’u Hike from Hell for the win! To quickly sum up the way back, Courtney stuck with me as I hobbled back over the rocks again. We left as the tide was coming in, and pretty soon, the tide was really picking up. We had to walk through the water on our way to the beach, but on the way back, walking in the water would have gotten us sucked out into the ocean. No good. We had a few scary moments about not being able to safely get over some massive boulders, but after squeezing through a tiny hole, one more fall (leaving me with a bruised and scratched arm and armpit- this hike was really good to me, as you can see), we made it back to flat land. What an adventurous start to my weekend! We ended our hike with a much needed swim in the nearby wharf.

The view from Second Beach. If you stepped anywhere near those trees, your entire body was swarmed with namu (mosquitoes)

Looking the other way at Second Beach. You can't see the deadly rocks in this picture but you can see the islands of Ofu and Olosega!

Erin, Courtney, Myself, and Abby at Second Beach

Thanksgiving was a fun day. We spent it in Faleaso, the village and home to the three other teachers on the island. We stuffed our faces with turkey (Wes cooked it up for us and it was delicious!), stuffing, green bean casserole, cheesy veggies, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbread, and cucumbers. We ate like kings and queens! We even had brownies, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pudding for dessert. We spent the rest of the day hiking, reading magazines, relaxing, and enjoying our time together.

Hooray for Turkey!


This was our centerpiece on the table! A pineapple, green peppers, starfruit, and a koko pod. Tropical and classy, right?

All of the Thanksgiving fixin's. It didn't feel like Thanksgiving for any of us...probably because were were sweating!

There were puppies at Cat, Wes, and Mitch's house. This one was the cute one.

I found a creature shell on the beach in front of Wes, Cat, and Mitch's house. It's some sort of lobster. I thought it looked cool.

We hiked to this little cove on Thanksgiving. We went swimming and soaked in the view. 

Courtney, Myself, and Abby after our hike and swim

On Friday and Saturday, I was lucky enough to visit Ofu (Oh-foo) and Olosega (Oh-loh-sen-gah), two other islands that make up Manu’a. 9 of the WT volunteers, and 4 Samoan men piled on a tiny fishing boat and crossed the water. It takes a little over an hour to get to Ofu from Ta’u. The Samoans fished as we cruised and they were reeling in massive Yellowfin and Skipjack Tuna. The fish have to be sasa’d (hit) once you catch them or else they flap around and are loud and annoying. The man steering the boat let me sasa one of the fish. I took the big stick and hit it (be proud of me Dad and Connor!). I was TERRIBLE at it. It took forever for me to kill the stupid thing and it wouldn’t stop flopping. I finally got it and I couldn’t stop laughing. ONLY IN AMERICAN SAMOA. Later on, the Samoans filleted one of the fish and passed it out to everyone. I took a bite of raw fish straight out of the ocean. I felt like Gollum gnawing on fish from the Forbidden Pool.

The tiny fishing boat that we all squeezed on to.

My feet hung out with some smelly fish on the way over. P-U!

A bird swarm = a heck of a lot of fish!

Sasaing the fish. I am hitting it's back. Hitting in the back will not kill it. I am terrible at this.

Approaching the island of Olosega

Ofu on the left, Olosega on the right

Pulling into the Ofu wharf and catching the sunset!

Highlights from our trip to Ofu included staying at Erin S. and Jessica's house (the two volunteers that teach at Olosega Elementary School), jumping off the bridge that connects Ofu and Olosega (it was such an adrenaline rush!), snorkeling and lounging on one of the top beaches in the world (literally…it’s made the list!), eating some of the fish that the Samoans caught on the boat (once again, thanks Wes for filleting and cooking it!), enjoying the serene beauty and peacefulness of the small village, and hanging out with friends that I had not seen in a very long time!

Swimming, wading, and enjoying the cool night in Ofu
Yum, dinner.

The bridge that connects the beautiful islands of Ofu and Olosega.

Abby and I on the bridge. We have many exciting adventures together!

Just about to jump off the bridge. I'll admit that I was having a crazy adrenaline rush...the water was pretty far down!

Mid jump!

Made it! The current was pretty strong so it took a while to get back to the white sandy beach! : )

This is the beach on Ofu that has gotten a lot of attention on beach lists. It was kind of cloudy but it was still paradise in every way!

The snorkeling was INSANE. I'm not very good at underwater photography and I don't think this picture looks too exciting but the coral was HUGE and beautiful and every color you could think of!

My view from the water. Yup, paradise.

We took the same fishing boat back to Ta’u on Saturday afternoon and spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, watching movies, eating, and finding ways to entertain ourselves. It was in fact Sunday, and just like on Tutuila, Sunday is the day of relaxation and church. We ended the day with cinnamon bread from the one place on the island that bakes bread. Delicious.

Here is a "bell," aka an oxygen tank used in the village of Ta'u.

The original plan was to fly home on Sunday, but I live in American Samoa. Of course the flight was cancelled. Khoa, Abby, and I were put on stand by to fly back on Monday. Thankfully, we made that flight. I did have to miss a day of school (which surprisingly bummed me out!) but hey, I got stuck on a tropical island in the middle of the ocean. Seki a!

The airplane view of Ofu (left) and Olosega (right).

The WT volunteers that live on Ta’u and Ofu deserve a lot of credit for spending their year in Manu’a. The islands are remote, quiet, barely civilized, and even more so in the middle of the ocean. I am happy that I was able to visit them! Besides these obvious differences, here are a few more things that make Manu’a a whole new world: everything is expensive in Manu’a. The stores are the size of a bedroom. Seriously. Small jars of peanut butter are $6+. A small box of pasta is $3. A bag of Cheetos is $6. Cereal is almost $8. A can of tuna is $2-2.50. I would have a very difficult time with limited food options. I don’t know if I could do it! Manu’a is home to twice as many mosquitoes and ants. You have to wear bug spray 24/7. They will swarm you the minute you step outside. Gross. While there, I got to try some new things: starfruit (surprisingly delicious), the Samoan koko (not quite sure about the spelling - see a picture of it from our Thanksgiving centerpiece), and koko Samoa (the Samoan drink that is made from the koko pod).

All in all, I had a wonderful weekend. While I came home with some bumps, bruises, and a little sunburn, I am so happy that I went. Re-uniting with my friends was a great way to spend Thanksgiving and I can’t wait to see them again in just a few short weeks.

Can I just end this post with a little bit of bragging….I WILL BE IN AUSTRALIA IN 3 WEEKS.  

Keep warm, friends and family!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

Is it really almost Thanksgiving? For me, it still feels like July. Actually, today feels kind of August-y because we've got a cool breeze coming through. While all of you are snuggled up in blankets, or turning on the heat, I'll still be here sweating and sweating and sweating.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Surely they involve a lot of food, family, friends, and other cheerful things. My plans are about the same although I'm still not sure how they will turn out. I'm going with the "island flow" and just waiting to see what happens. 5 months ago, I would not be able to wait until the last minute to make a decision, but living in a place where time just isn't as important will quickly change you as well.

My week has already had an interesting start. I walked to school in the rain yesterday and upon my arrival, found out that we would be having an assembly from 8:30-10:30. The closer it crept to 8:30, the more it poured. By the time I walked down to the gym, it was a torrential downpour. It's so funny to watch the Leone students run from cover to cover when it's raining. They run in waves and splash as they go. The assembly turned out to be a fashion show put on by the Home-Ec Department. It was entertaining and fun and had AmSam written all over it. Following the assembly, the Vice President sent everyone home because all the students were wet. Seriously. I came to school for a fashion show. Only in AmSam. I spent the rest of the day running with the running club, drinking coffee, watching a movie, and relaxing. Perfect Monday if you ask me!

Today is not rainy (at least, not yet) and it is technically our Friday! The English Department has been invited to a Thanksgiving lunch put on by the Home-Ec classes. I'll be stuffing my face (no pun intended). It's also movie day for my classes because really, there's no way that I'll be able to do any work with them.

Tomorrow is the Turkey Run! It starts at 5 a.m. and is a little under 4.5 miles long. While I'm in no real racing shape, I'm excited to run it. I'm actually running it for the junior class as the advisor so I've got almost 200 teenagers counting on me to get them some points for the class competition. I'll do my best.

Tomorrow is also the day I may (or may not) be traveling to the outer island of Ta'u. Ta'u is not a hop, skip, and a jump from Tutuila. It's 60 miles east of my island and very remote. Abby, Khoa, and I have had our names on a list to fly out there for almost 2 months now. Due to some issues with the airport, we have still not bought our tickets, mainly because we are still not 100% sure that there is even a flight leaving tomorrow. Hopefully by the end of today, we will know if we will be spending Thanksgiving with our WorldTeach friends that live out there. If we do end up going, there's also a chance that we will get to visit Ofu and Olosega, two other islands that are quite close to Ta'u. Ofu is the island that is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (hooray!). I guess we will see what happens!

Either way, I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Enjoy your time with family and friends and make sure to take a nap!

Friday, November 18, 2011


These are the four boys that come to running club almost every day. This is us after the sweatiest run ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A whale's tail and other island-y news

This past Friday was Veteran’s Day. We didn’t have school, so while I was exhilarated (vocab word, yeah!) to have a day off, I had a busy day planned. Abby, Amber, and I spent the morning at the stadium watching the Veteran’s Day memorial. People spoke (including the governor of the island), our amazing, AMAZING swing choir performed, the Faga’itua HS Swing Choir performed, and the schools with JROTC programs stood on the field and paraded around at the finish.

While most of the ceremony was in Samoan, hearing the swing choir perform the Star Spangled Banner really made it all worth it. Being miles and miles away from the USA, it was nice to hear a song, in English, that I know and love. Hearing Samoans sing is truly a take-your-breath-away kind of thing and I get to hear my students sing every day…lucky me!

The swing choir massaged each other before they warmed up. First they massaged each others backs (a few crept down to the butt was really funny), then they karate chopped each other's backs, then they massaged their own heads, and their throats. It was...interesting.

As soon as the JROTC students got onto the football field, a torrential downpour started and didn’t really stop for the entire time (about an hour) that they stood there. I felt so bad for them! It was cold rain and being in their uniforms, standing, for such a long time must have been so uncomfortable. But, they did it and they looked great!

Leone High School JROTC cadets/officers/etc...pre-rain. They look so dapper in their uniforms!

 Swing choir and the JROTC parade on the track

 Check out those puddles!

 An 'aiga bus ended the parade. All the buses are decorated in some way, or they are painted really wild colors. I love it.

In other news, the one and only president Obama was here today. Not really sure why or what he did while here, but he was here. You would think he might take a day and take a tour of the island on an ‘aiga bus…I mean, come on, it’s the best thing to do!
I tried guava for the first time this afternoon. It was delicious! My afternoon snack is always fruit. Besides guava, I also ate an orange and some mango. Gotta love life on an island.
Now for the best story ever! On the run with the running club yesterday, we decided to head over toward the ocean. Right as the water came into view, I said to the two boys, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we saw whales right now?” The water was a perfect shade of blue, it was calm, and the sun was shining. One boy commented that he has seen whales here, but he mainly sees dolphins. The other one commented that he has never seen a whale before! I commented that the only whales I have seen were in Western Samoa and I only saw their spouts. [This conversation probably took less than a minute.] An ‘aiga bus went by and right after, I looked up and HOLY SMOKES, WHALES! I am not even kidding. There were two (what I assume were humpback) whales right near the coast, probably swimming right along the reef break. All three of us freaked out. I yelled. They yelled. We were amazed…how crazy is it to say “Oh, I wish we could see whales!” and BOOM, there they are. It was bizarre. The whales slowly swam away, but they came up out of the water so we saw their backs as their spouts shot water up in the air. One whale even flipped his tail. I cannot even tell you how exciting it was! The whole run back to school we kept saying to each other, “WE JUST SAW WHALES!!!” What a life, what a life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

OMGood Island Hits

Talofa blog readers! I hope you all are enjoying your weekend. I am certainly enjoying mine. So far I've spent the weekend at a Veteran's Day ceremony, a football game, the grocery store, McDonald's (for coffee!), Rosie's (for the ever-so-delicious grilled wahoo sandwich), the gas station (ice cream...), Utulei Beach, Sliding Rock, and my house. It's been a pretty eventful weekend and it's not even Sunday yet!
I thought I would share some songs that always seem to get stuck in my head. Some are songs that are always played on the buses. Others are songs that my students like to play on their cell phones nonstop which means that I can't stop humming them all day...enjoy!

The first time I heard this song, I thought it was terrible. Now I love it and the Samoans do too!
This is a bus song. It's a bit calmer and perfect for a ride in the rain.
This is probably one of my favorite Samoan songs only because the boys LOVE to sing along. It's just about the cutest thing ever. I recently became BFF's with a freshman and he rapped this for me the other day. Aaaadoooraaableee.
Another classic Samoan tune that I could listen to on repeat. Perfect island song.
And speaking of good music, I hope you all have given the new Coldplay album a listen. It's absolutely fantastic in every way possible. Whenever I play it in my classroom, I always get "Can you change the song, Miss?" "Ooo Miss, change." Sigh.
And speaking of one more thing, I would say that I get called Miss at least, AT LEAST anywhere from 30-50 times per class period. PER CLASS PERIOD. "Miss, Miss, MISS!" The worst is when I'm clearly helping or talking to a student and "misses" pop up from all around the room. Now I just say it and repeat it right back just as many times to whoever said it. One of my classes has caught onto my little game and now they say it 10x more. Sigh, laugh, and sigh again. Only in AmSam.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

MTV's, tsunami drills, and plants hitting me in the face

Friday marks the four month mark since I moved to AmSam and we also don’t have school because of Veteran’s Day. This has been one crazy week so I am excited for an extra day off!
Today was an island-wide tsunami evacuation drill. A “fake” earthquake was to hit the island at exactly 10:00. At 10:00, our bell started going off. [Let me take a moment here to explain our bell, which isn’t a bell at all. Our bell is an oxygen tank. Yep. People beat on it with a stick to signal when class ends, when class starts, and when a tsunami is coming. Bells do not exist on this island. Everyone beats on the oxygen tanks in their villages. I find it hilarious, but I’m so used to it now that I don’t even realize how totally random it is.] Anyways, 4 minutes prior to the oxygen tank ringing, it starts pouring. Rain or shine, this drill was happening. For the next 30 minutes, we stood outside in the cold rain trying to keep the students together and calm. I had a raincoat, but that didn’t help my feet much when I was wading through ankle and shin deep nasty water. Ew. As soon as we had everyone outside and somewhat organized by classrooms, the actual tsunami warning system went off. UGH. You should all know by now how much I hate tornados. They are my biggest fear and hearing a tornado siren is enough to make me want to lose it. The tsunami sirens are almost as bad. It’s a really creepy beeping sound with a voice that says something in Samoan. After we had everyone piled out on the football practice field, we all just stood there in the rain and mud. What fun. We then had a 15 minute assembly and since everyone was soaking wet, the principal sent everyone home. It was 11:00. I spent the rest of the day grading papers and enjoying the peace and quiet!
Let’s back up a bit. On Halloween, we had a MTV Showdown at school. Samoans call music video’s MTV’s (funny, right?). Each class had to perform a skit, a MTV, and the advisors had to do their own mini MTV. Everyone wore black, too. It was quite the assembly and entertaining in so many ways. The junior class had the best skit by far, and even though I’m biased because I have almost all of them, it was hands down hilarious. I made a video of it, and by myself and with my students, I’ve probably watched the 9 minute video about 20 times. It gets me every time. I wish so bad that the internet was fast enough on this island for me to upload it so you could see it! They did a great job with the skit and MTV, and two of our junior advisors did a dance to the Pussycat Dolls (I snuck my way out of it. I was not about to be a Pussycat Doll in front of the entire school…ha). Later that night, we had trick or treaters! For the first time in my life, I was able to answer the door to more than one or two trick or treaters. It was so fun! The kids and high schoolers that showed up at our house all sang us a song: half in English, half in Samoan. It was cute. We passed out candy and sat on our front porch with a candle because the power went out. Spooky!
Another weird angle picture, but with two of my sweetest students. This was MTV Showdown Day. 

This is either the freshmen or sophomore class performing their MTV. Theirs was pretty good! Almost everyone used Beyonce songs (they just love her here) and some crazy intense rap songs.

Our varsity football team has made a comeback! We whooped Kananafou (Kah-nah-nah-foh) High School's Samoan butts last Friday. The view from the stands will never get old.

Sweaty, extremely happy, and cheesin' football players. Four of them are in my classes.

Here are some more AmSam randoms for you:
-          I’ve got a race coming up! There is a “Turkey Run” on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I’ll be running it for the junior class. I’m not sure what kind of race shape I’m in, but I’ll do my best to win a turkey (literally).
-          Someone threw a plant at me today and it hit me in the face/head. I’m pretty sure it was an accident and that the student didn’t actually mean to hit me but I had leaves and dirt all over my head, forehead, and neck throughout the whole drill. HA. I think it’s hilarious. I don’t even know who threw it, but either way: only in AmSam.
The following song is a classic Samoan tune that I’ve come to love. It’s about a Samoan couple who are forced to have a long distance relationship when the woman goes to New Zealand to pick apples (at least I think that’s what it’s about. I know it is about apple picking at least. It’s called Tauga apu and apu means apple.) The juniors used it at the end of their skit and it was PERFECT. I thought I’d share it with you all:

Now that I’m slowly catching up on my internet life, I’ll continue to enjoy this beautiful, cool night with a cup of peppermint tea and some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that I baked earlier.
Somebody eat some chili, a caramel apple, and some sweet potatoes for me! I send you all my alofa and hope that you aren’t too cold in all that snow that seems to be hitting home. Remember…I’ve got an extra mattress for anyone that wants to take a few days vacation on a tropical island. I promise you coconuts, bananas, sun, and plenty of fun!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I'm baaaack!

Long time no blog! I’ve got about 5 million things to catch you all up on and I’m a little overwhelmed with my “must blog about this” list. I will first explain why I haven’t posted anything in over a week. Last Friday night (as in a week ago), around 11:30, I was fast asleep when a totally random, scary, crazy loud thunderstorm popped up out of nowhere. I thought my heart was gonna fly out of my chest. For the next 15-20 minutes, we had on and off thunder and lightning (which was striking extremely close to our house). I kept falling asleep between each thunder crash and every time I woke up, I would be clenching my pillow and my body was dripping with sweat. It had been a while since I had heard a storm. The point of this story is that 1) thunder and lightning is pretty rare here. It rains all the freakin’ time but we never have an actual storm 2) the lightning fried the internet modem…hence the reason why I haven’t been around. Either way, I’m glad I got to experience a thunderstorm in American Samoa. As frightening as it was, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.  We have had several more thunderclaps since then but I haven’t seen any more lightning. As long as I’m talking about the weather, I might as well add that the rainy season has definitely arrived. Holy Rain. Sometimes it will pour all day long. Other days it will rain on and off and produce the most steamy, awful humidity that I have ever felt. All I hear anymore is, “Miss. It’s so hot.” “Miss. Relax.” (When they say relax, they literally want to just relax because it’s so hot.) I don’t blame them. Teaching in humidity is extremely hard. My face and body is turning into a river with all this sweat. I can’t even wear my hair down anymore. Too HOT!
Alright, now let’s bump back to Spirit Week again. Wednesday was Prom Day. Students came to school in prom dresses, suits/tuxes, and make-up. A lot of my students asked me why I wasn’t wearing a prom dress. I told them that it wasn’t the first thing I thought to pack when I moved here. Ha. It was quite a sight to see and it made me really excited for the junior and senior proms that will be held later on this year!
3rd period prom beauties
Thursday was Jersey Day. I wore a shirt that said “Minnesota.” I got the same comment all day, “Miss, that’s not a jersey.” “I know.” It was funny. A few people had Bears gear on. One person had a Cubs shirt. A lot had on Polamalu and Manu Samoa jerseys. Manu Samoa is the Western Samoa rugby team.  Polamalu is on the Steelers and everyone in AmSam is his number one fan. Friday was Rainbow Day. This was the day I looked forward too, mainly because I just love wearing lots of color! Spirit Week was a lot of fun, but it was also very chaotic in the classroom: everybody was all over the place and all sorts of crazyness went on.
I feel like I'm always posting pictures of these boys (maybe because they like to take 5 million pictures of themselves). This was Rainbow Day!
In my proficient classes, we finished up a poetry unit. I taught them five types of poetry: acrostic, mono-rhyme, diamante, nonet, and shape. They then had to write their own poetry book using each of the poems. The books turned out really nice. Some decorated them with pictures, others drew Samoan designs, one was even bedazzled in sequins. Abby started reading them before me and soon found several poems that appeared in many people’s books. Plagiarism. Darn it. This put a damper on me because now I need the internet to check all the poems to make sure they didn’t get all of them from the internet. As of right now, I’m about halfway through the books. I’ve only found about 5 or 6 people that have taken poems from the internet (some of which I’m really disappointed because they are some of my smartest students.) The rest of the books are wonderful in every way. They have made me laugh and they have surprised me. I have some really talented and creative writers!
Last weekend was Tisa’s Tattoo Festival. It’s an annual event that happens on the east side at Tisa’s Bar (I’ve visited several times for a much needed afternoon drink). Abby and I as well as several other friends made our way over there on Saturday. We were on a bus that was so packed that Abby was sitting on my lap. I couldn’t stop laughing because life here is so surprising. One minute you’re sitting on a bus packed with Samoans, and the next minute you’re being attacked by a pack of dogs. Cool. Anyways, we ended up staying at the festival for most of the day and night. Several tattoo artists from the island were giving tattoos by gun, and one, Wilson, was giving tattoos by the traditional tap tattoo. He is one of 8 people in the entire world that knows the true and traditional art of the tap tattoo. It is an important part of the Samoan culture and according to history, Samoans were the ones who invented the tatau. With the tap tattoo, women will get their entire thighs tattooed and men will get tattooed from the waist down to their knees. The tattoo will literally cover every (and I mean every) inch of skin within that area. According to a Samoan we met (and not to be gross or anything) but they even “spread the buttcheeks” to ink them as well. Hardcore tattooing. The entire process was mesmerizing and looked ridiculously painful. It involves a stick with a piece of bone on the end. The bone is dipped in some sort of ink, and is then placed on the skin. From there, the artist will tap another stick on top of the bone stick and create a tattoo. It’s difficult to explain. Maybe these pictures will help you understand. All in all, I could have watched this all day long. The tattoos are breathtakingly beautiful and I wish so bad that I could be brave enough to get one. I just don’t think I’d do well with the pain. Eep.
The actual artist is the one on the left. The other two are stretching the skin for the tattoo. EEOWW. The guy getting the tattoo looks like he's taking a nap.

Up close shot of the actual tattooing. Check out that piece of bone. Whew.

 This is a picture of the traditional malu, the tattoo that is given to women. It is performed by the tapping method. In this photo, the girl was performing a siva, which means "dance." I spoke to a 15 year old girl who had recently gotten her malu and she said that it took about three hours. I asked her if she cried and she told me that her mother is very hard on her so crying would have shown that she was weak. All the power to ya. I'd sure cry.

In other news, running club is still running! The numbers are low, but it makes life a little easier when I don’t have to keep track of 16 teenagers all running down the street. Sometimes (like today), two of my regular boys will come and we can actually run at the pace I normally run. I like this. We don’t have much conversation during the run because the sun is so hot that I can even feel it roasting inside my ears (that’s how intense it is.) Today we raced the last 100 meters of our run. I won. HA! I’ve still got some sort of endurance in this crazy weather. I’ve even convinced the two boys to run track (which I will hopefully be coaching!)
Saturday and Sunday nights are turning into adventure nights for Abby and I. We have decided to embrace the pitch black darkness of Malaeloa (My-lay-low-ah), the village behind us and go for night walks around 7:30. I bring along a flashlight and we walk. People always say hi to us or ask us for our phone numbers or ask us where we live. It’s fun. This island is also swarming with toads so we are constantly yelping and gasping at all the bellied up, squished, and hopping things. I’ve never seen so many dead toads in my life. They make this island STINK. P-U!
Here’s a random AmSam funny for you: the letters b and p are the same here. While this is not part of the language or grammatically correct, it’s just become a “norm.” Students will write p instead of b in their journals, on their homework, and on the chalkboard. I’ve learned to embrace it although it’s quite funny when words like “porn” pop up on their work when they clearly meant born. It’s funny to point this out to them. “Oye!” They’ll say and then fix it. Makes me laugh.
Today (Saturday) was a good day. Embracing the rain is something I am learning to do. I throw on my raincoat (I still really need to buy an umbrella…) and start walking. Abby and I spent the morning at the village soccer games. Abby is on the Leone team. After waiting for almost 3 hours, the team Leone was supposed to play ended up not having a team at all. We got a ride home from a friend and spent the entire 20 minute ride getting drenched in the back of her truck. Good times. Following that, we headed over to the new “fast food” joint in Leone. It just opened on Thursday and it’s the only place around here to get food to go. It’s owned by the family of a student who goes to our high school. He’s quickly become Abby and I’s really good friend. Following a French fry break, Abby and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the village of Vailoa. A while ago, we made friends with the family of one of Abby’s students. The family has 13 children all of which are under the age of 14. Whew. We took 7 of the kids and played Frisbee, went swimming in the ocean, and visited their new baby pig. The family even invited us to spend the night. It was a heartwarming day and like always, made me fall a little bit more in love with this beautiful island.
Stay tuned for a post about the MTV Showdown we had at school this past week, our football team's win against Kananafou HS (50-8, baby! Have I mentioned that LHS went from losing every game to winning all the time now? We even beat the only undefeated team on the island. OKA!), and other islandic shenanigans. Malo and fa soifua!