Saturday, October 17, 2009

Leaving for Manunu!

Much to my disappointment, I will NOT be blogging for the next four weeks. I will be be departing for a village in Manunu (located up in the mountains) to resume further training. Naturally, I will not have internet access and as such I will resume blogging mid-November, when I return to the city for two weeks.

Medical Separation 10/15/2009

A female PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) experienced a seizure while aboard the boat to our scuba dive. I remember the incident quite vividly so much to the extent that I wish I could expel it from my memory.

As we were making our way over to the reef, Amanda, who was just a few feet away from me on the bow, fell back onto the boat. Her sunglasses flew off and I immediately looked into her eyes - it was as if she had just seen ghost. While violently convulsing, all the surrounding people screamed out, "Help!" Her eyes glared into the bright sky and I couldn't help but stare into her eyes and think that this beautiful sky was perhaps the last image her mortal body would see. Fortunately, after some time, Amanda was able to come out of the seizure unscathed. However, the memory of her eyes seared into my brain and to this day I wish I could forget it.

Unfortunately, this past Monday she experienced another seizure. As she also experienced a condition similar to the stomach flu the first week in Samoa, this became grounds for a medical separation. Due to her untreatable ongoing medical condition and as well as the liability this imposes on the Peace Corps, Amanda will be returning to the US indefinitely to obtain a diagnosis.

Tsunami Aftermath

I've attached some photos of the Tsunami wreckage 2 weeks after the disaster. While a lot has been cleaned up, the lack of resources and labor has dramatically slowed down the recovery process. Also, if you look closely at the landscape you can see the water level at the time of the Tsunami by the brown colored soil.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"If you don't know what it is don't touch it": A Day of Marine Safety (Party II)

The Scuba Dive

It's ironic that as a Miami native, who has traveled to all sorts of tropical lands, I have never gone scuba diving. While the 23 of us boarded a resort boat, Shilo II, and made our way to the reef, I confidently considered how easy this scuba diving experience would be given my extensive experience in and around ocean waters. However, the discrepancy between what I imagined and what actually transpired proved to be quite great. Clad in a bathing suit, board shorts, scuba fins, and a face mask, I plopped into the warm Pacific, placed the tube piece into my mouth and took my first breath. If you would have seen me from the boat you would have seen a thrashing seal-like pale thing coughing up sea water while helplessly trying to stay afloat, breath, and juggle with cumbersome scuba gear. Moreover, I consumed so much salt water that the stomach pains I had at the time had been cured by the end of the day. In fact, for those of you who have never taken liberal gulps of salt water, it's akin to chugging a bottle of soy sauce. While I am compelled to continue writing about the incredible amount of salt water I consumed that day, I unfortunately lack the creative ability to think of metaphors that adequately depict this experience.

"If you don't know what it is don't touch it" : A Day of Marine Safety

Our Bus

This past Monday, our training day was devoted entirely to learn, hands-on, about marine safety. From 8 AM to 6:30 PM we visited two beach resorts and the southeastern coast of Upolu - the very place that was hit by the September 29th Tsunami. In fact, what was originally planned to be an 8.5-hour trip to select locations around Upolu ended up as a 10.5 hour road trip around the entire island.

We hired some locals to take us around in one of Samoa's popular public buses for the day. The bus amazingly appeared to come out of some 8-year old's imagination. In fact, if an 18th century whaling vessel bus ever existed - this would be it. Its interior is entirely comprised of wood and its glassless windows have a peculiar resemblance to those small round windows that appear along the side of old ships. I'm also quite certain that the same child that designed the bus's exterior also had some input on the bus's mechanical makeup: the bus produced more pollution than an EPA violating plutonium-producing energy plant. Moreover, the convenient absence of shock absorbers proved to be quite trying after hours of traveling around the pot-holed streets of Samoa.

As a way of detering speeding, the government of Samoa placed speed bumps all over the island. So what should have been a 4 hour drive actually took us 6 hours, and it certainly didn't help that our bus maxes out at a speed of 35 mph. Also, it is worth mentioning that our bus driver thought that a 9-song playlist would be adequate for our 6-hour ride. However, the bus driver liked only 4 out of the 9 songs and as a result he replayed those 4 particular songs throughout the ride. The bus driver especially enjoyed a Samoan rap song, which he played relentlessly. By the end of the 10-hour bus ride I dizzily stumbled off the bus feeling beaten after having endured the hard wooden seats; the thrashing about in our shock absorber-less bus; and the mind-numbing vibrations emanating from the massive subwoofer that lay next to my feet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Health Watch

While some people have a natural distate for detailed and intimate descriptions of bodily ailments, I'd like to warn those of you with this particular sensitivity to avoid a new segment I'm launching on this blog entitled, "Health Watch." In light of my current medical "situation" I thought it would be entertaining and education, but mostly entertaining to document and track any and all of my travel-related ilnesses. In case it was not clear - I do get quite graphic.

Health Watch - A Welcoming Malady
It has been two days since I first experienced severe abdominal pain. On October 9th around 5:00 AM I awoke to strong stomach pains. As the pain was not completely incapacitating I continued with my day thinking nothing of it. It wasn't until the following day did I see the manifestation of this pain - after both breakfast and dinner my stool was runny and watery. In fact, it had the same sensation as if one were urinating but from a different exit cavity. Let's just say there was an explosion of sorts. Also, it certainly didn't help that for my second bathroom "experience" of the day I was about 3/4 of a mile from the nearest bathroom. As I uncomfortably scurried my way over to the hotel, a popular MAD TV skit came to mind of a truck driver and his daughter. While on the road, the daughter turns to her father and explains her urgent need to defecate, "Daddy..." she says, "'s prairie doggin'!" As I thought about this, I tried to laugh but I only managed to produce a cringed smile as I tried to hold everything in. Soon I began to sweat quite profusely as I dragged my feet across the dirty road as heat and humidity pounded my poor helpless soul. Fortunately, for me and my accompanying peers, my soul made it in time.

Currently on my third of day of stomach pains, I am still experiencing severe cramping. In fact, the cramping has intensified but with greater frequency. However, I did manage to get my hands on some Pepto-Bismol an hour ago. For those of you whom have forgotten the taste of Pepto-Bismol, it tastes like bubble gum that was first liquified and later mixed with plastic and plutonium. With that, I shall end today's blog and later write about the outcome of this particular episode. Until then, I hope to eat without having to think about what it might look or feel like on its way out.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In order to better understand our first day in Samoa, for your convenience, I've created a timeline of events that occurred that day:

5:30 AM Arrival into Samoa
6:30 AM Arrival to Pasefika Inn
10:00 AM Practice for the Ava Ceremony
10:30 AM Ava Ceremony
11:30 AM Lunch
1:30 PM Unplanned Tsunami Evacuation
3:30 PM Language Lesson
5:00 PM Dinner
8:00 PM Sleep

The two most memorable events of our first day in Samoa were the Tea Ceremony and the Tsunami evacuation. While the Ava Ceremony was, by nature, comical, the Tsunami warning and evacuation had quite a different tone. Nevertheless, after a 10.5 hour flight from L.A. into Samoa, these events that would have otherwise appeared more or less dull were, in total, quite overwhelming given our jet-lagged state of mind.

The Ava Ceremony
I am unfamiliar with the origins of the Ava Ceremony and its actual purpose even though I have tried to gather some information from native Samoans. To my knowledge, it is used to welcome special guests and to commence Matai (Samoan chief) meetings. Other than that, I was simply told to memorize a phrase that I would be asked to perform during the ceremony:

"Lau Ava Lea le Atua, Soifua" (This is your Ava God, good health!)

Apparently, and I'd like to stress my surprise, around 50 people attended the Ava Ceremony in which everyone would sit on mats in a large circle. This consisted of about 50% Peace Corps trainees and 50% Samoans and Peace Corps staff and volunteers. Although sleep deprived and disoriented, we were all expected speak...nay...perform our first Samoan words in front of a crowd of 50 people.

After about 30 minutes of hearing speeches, in which the Samoan speaking people present would intermittently laugh at the inside jokes we were helplessly unable to understand. One of the Peace Corps volunteer leaders, known as "Benji," clad only in a lava lava (a traditional male Samoan skirt) ran within the circle carrying large dangerous sticks and placed them around the circle. Later, Benji and another volunteer served Ava tea one by one to each person in the circle, who would then have to perform said phrase.

I was finally served the Ava tea, and as I held the ava-filled coconut cup in my hand, my entire arm shook violently as I said something along the lines of, "loo ava...ava...le delicious tea, soifua." Meanwhile, I poured some of the tea onto the mat (as it was part of the ritual) but as as my hand shook beyond my control, a more than significant amount of tea ended up on the mat. In fact, of all the people around me, I was the only person who had a standing puddle on their mat.

I'd like to interject here with a little known fact of Samoan culture- Samoans value humor and thus use it a lot. During the ceremony, a significant numbe of PC (Peace Corps) trainees butchered the short phrase. As expected, the Samoans laughed quite violently given the circumstances as esach nervous PC trainee butchered the phrase.

Tsunami Warning

Early in the day, Samoan officials recieved reports of an 8.5 magnitude earthquake near the island Vanuatu. As such, all surrounding islands recieved a Tsunami warning and proceeded to take the necessary steps to avoid the tragedy Samoans experienced last week.

45 minutes into my impromptu nap during lunchtime (After the grueling ceremony,) Jeanin, our TEFL trainer burst into our rom screaming, "Tsunami, tsunami warning! leave your room immediately...NOW!" In own swift Bruce Lee movement, I jumped out of bed, my book bag containing my passport, and left behind my computer and 1000 dollar camcorder. Indeed, I need to work to improve the assessment of my valuables in a timely fashion. Not to mention, in that instant, the Tsunami warning sirens went off thus providing the soundtrack to the latest Micheal Bay action my head. About 15 PCTs packed into the back of a tight Toyota pick-up truck while the rest of us (about 7) packed into an air-conditioned PC SUV.

During that time, I was given the rare but thrilling opportunity to "struggle and succeed in a time of great pressure" (a scenario common to all hero action genres.) I thrust the back dor open as the car's main cabin was already full. Unfortunately, the back seat was held up by a hook to which I successfully managed to pull the last minute. In retrospect, fortunately for all of us, the Tsunami warning was merely a scare and nothing more.