January’s Microadventures

“Wow, this month seems never ending,” I thought to myself (I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually said it out loud. Isolation can do that to you) as I waddled home with a heavy box filled with a couple of kilograms of frozen chicken under the scorching midday sun, sidestepping pig poop on my two-minute walk home. As begins my adventure teaching English in Samoa…

Let me back track.

On New Years Day, 365 days after I submitted my application to Peace Corps Samoa, I was miserable and I was sick. I was struck by my first (and, hopefully, ONLY) mosquito-borne illness: Dengue Fever. It was mild, thank God, and overall, is characterized by flu-like symptoms. There has been an outbreak this year (almost half of my group has had it) to a point where the government and Ministry of Health has been adamant about pushing awareness to Sāmoans. And rightly so. It sucked. It lasted for 10 days, too. I don’t want to go through it again and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. I opted not to take the 6 hour commute into the capital and instead rested and was constantly in touch with my personal medical advisor (aka my mom).

The funniest thing of it all, though, was that a few days after New Years, I was able to give a speech in Samoan to my family’s church congregation about something or other (it was written out for me in advance). Thankfully, they didn’t make me dance.

Giving a speech while still sick with Dengue means you won’t remember much afterwards.

Towards the end of it, I was finally feeling up to traveling, so I went to our training village to visit my initial host family for the weekend. It was great to see them in their normal, non-Peace Corps role. My love and appreciation for them grew tenfold while I was there and I hope to go visit again during my break in April ISA!

Floating all my worries away at the waterfall.

When I got back to my village, my family took me to Afu Aau Waterfall and Falealupo, a village on the westernmost point of Savai’i (and the country) that is only accessible by a 9 km dirt road. Falealupo is tied to a lot of Samoan myths and legends — and is especially known to be the location of the gateway to the underworld– and it was so beautiful to see in person and hear some of the legends. I’m especially enthralled by Nafanua, the Toa Tama’ita’i (Warrior Princess) of Samoan lore.

My niece runs around at the beach in Falealupo pretending to be Nafanua.

After some more time back at my permanent site, I was excited for a weekend spent with some of my close girlfriends before we had to meet up with our whole group for a week-long training. I realized this was the first time I had seen a couple of them in nearly a month! We spent the weekend at a beautiful beach on Savai’i, caught up, and played endless amounts of Monopoly Deal.

The sun came out on our last day!

As for the training, I hadn’t seen the majority of my group mates since we swore in over a month before. My site is quite a trek aways, so I only ventured out twice during the seven weeks, and it was great to see everyone. I didn’t realize how much energy socializing would take out of me after being solo out so far away for that time, but I was genuinely happy to hear about everyone’s villages and Samoan lives — even if I didn’t show it.

(I’m sure you’re all still wondering about the frozen chicken, and I’m getting close!)

So the training was more of a Hail Mary prep as to what’s expected of us during our first three months in school. Our principals were invited one day to ensure everyone is on the same page. I came out of the training quite excited for the school year to start the following Monday.

By this point, my emotions (anxiety) have been snowballing all month long leading up to the culmination point: Jan. 29th. The First Day of School.

After a quick walk from my house, avoiding the pig excrement, I was the first to arrive Monday morning. I still have loads to do before my library/classroom is set up, so I got to work. After a couple of teachers and students showed up, they offered to help. We were able to move around some tables and move out some desks and chairs that I didn’t need, and we were also able to install some new linoleum (or “carpet” as Sāmoans call it). It already looks so much better! (I’m on my own episode of “Fixer Upper”!) I still have to finish organizing the books and add some paint, but my “dungeon” is slowly feeling less dungeon-y. Since the focus of the first week of school is less on academics and more on cleaning, it was great to have the help and not feel stressed about lesson plans.

A few of my helpers on the first day of school.

After the students were dismissed and my principal and fellow teachers gave some long welcome back speeches, a man from our School Committee shows up with a few boxes of frozen chicken, which, come to find out, is for the staff. But what are we to do? We don’t have a knife to split it up! Oh, no problem, we’ll use THE FLOOR

So I watched, helplessly, as a couple of teachers started breaking apart the frozen chicken into semi-equal parts using the floor that AT LEAST was just swept by the students that morning. I do have to give them props on ingenuity.

Frozen chicken in hand, this 1st day is one for the books!

Chicken in hand, this will be a year for the books!

That is how I found myself gifted with a couple of kgs of frozen chicken on my first day of school in Samoa. This school year is already one for the books!

(Let’s just say my host family will be eating a lot of delicious chicken this week while I go vegetarian for awhile.)

Here’s to hoping that February is filled with memories like these!

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