When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

My first year as a teacher is over. The end of my time in American Samoa is rapidly approaching. We leave Manu’a any day now, sail to Tutuila, and wait for our flight Friday night. I land in Chicago Sunday morning. In less than a week I will be home. I can’t wait to see my family, spend time with my friends, play with my dog, and enjoy the wide selection of fruits and vegetables found in every supermarket. But leaving is hard. This has been one of the best years of my life. I got to live the dream. I spent a year teaching amazing students while living in a tiny village of welcoming families on a gorgeous and remote tropical island. I formed what I hope will be lifelong friendships, snorkeled on pristine reefs, hiked the height peak of American Samoa, visited the only US National Park south of the equator, and proved to myself that I can do what I set my mind to. I learned that I can teach on my own and that I may even be kind of good at it. I tried new things and traveled to some amazing places. It can’t get much better. I know that someday the experience must end. There are others adventures to be had. But I feel like my work here has just begun. Leaving won’t be easy. I wanted to write more about the week of graduation festivities, but looking at the pictures of my final moments with my kids makes me cry. Every goodbye leaves me fighting back tears. A few of the village kids have gotten clingy since realizing our departure is nearing. One in particular just keeps repeating “I’ll really miss you Miss Jackie” and giving me giant hugs several times a day. How do I say goodbye, possibly forever? I want to ensure he gets the education he deserves, along with every other child on this island. I want all my kids to get the education they need to achieve their dreams. I want them to always have someone who believes in them and pushes them to continue learning. So to the future teachers at Manu’a High School, take good care of my kids. So many teachers have come and gone, but they all still care so much. And to my students, keep working hard and never give up. You all have so much potential. And to the people in Manu’a, thank you for becoming my second family and making me feel welcomed and loved while so far from home. I will miss this place more than anything. I hope to be back. Maybe as teacher. Maybe just to visit. But no matter where life takes me, I will always carry a bit of Manu’a with me. This island and its people are in my heart forever. As my crazy juniors once sang, “If you are a Sega, we’ll never let you go. Treat you like a family, you’ll never be alone”.

Once a Sega, always a Sega!

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I’m Sorry Mother Nature

Despite the fact that I am 310 days into my Samoan adventure and have only 26 more until my flight touches down in Chicago, yesterday proved that there are still cultural experiences to be had. I left school with a headache and headed home for some R&R. After a nap I went outside to get some fresh air, walk the beach, collect sea glass, and watch the sunset. I ended up with a raw sea creature in my stomach.

Tides are crazy and I make no claims to being able to understand or predict them. But what I do know is that every few weeks low tide gets really low and the entire reef is exposed. Yesterday was one of those days. This meant it was prime hunting time for alili, a muscle like animal that lives in a shell. I’ve seen people from the village out on the reef many times, both at day and at night, picking up the strange shell creatures, but knew nothing about their name, taste, or preparation. As I walked onto the beach for my casual sunset sea glass stroll I heard “Jackie! Sau!” being shouted from the reef. I looked out to see Rosie and Leafa waving me out to the edge of the reef right before the drop off to the waves. I strolled across the coral (I know, I know, it takes a gazillion years to grow and should be protected. I always feel bad walking on it. But if islanders have done it for thousands of years, one palagi girl can’t do too much additional damage, right? Just in case, I’m sorry Mother Nature!). Rosie gave me a quick run down- She showed me an alili, said they hide in the reef, and sent me searching. I proceeded to stroll along the reef peeking in every crack and crevice for the rumored alili, and before I knew it found a decent sized one that I retrieved with very little work. It all seemed easy enough and I continued on my merry way, plucking alili from the reef. Then I spotted a large one in a hole in the coral. I tried to pull it out, but the critter was in a hole smaller than it’s shell. Problem. I looked to Leafa stumped, and she revealed the use of the short metal poles they had been carrying. She handed it to me and told me “Be a strong Samoan women and get the alili for us”. I tried to pry it from the hole, but saw no way to get it out without causing too much damage to the coral. After all, I already felt bad about walking on it. A good laugh was had at the funny palagi girl, the pole was taken back, and Leafa proceeded to smash the coral and rock and retrieve the shell. I observed and have the technique down for next time. I was instructed to grab a softball-sized rock, a task not even the palagi gorl can fail at, as we returned to shore. I assumed the alili would be cooked or prepared in some way. Boy was I wrong. Rosie, Leafa, and I sat on rocks in the shallow water and I watched as the softball sized rock was used to smash open the shell, the guts were ripped out, and the animal was rinsed in the salt water. The first one was handed to me with directions to “Just eat the whole thing, but not the hard part”. So what did I do? I took strange shell thing, used my teeth to rip off the ‘hard part’, popped the rest in my mouth, chewed the slimy crunchy thing up, and swallowed him. What does a strange shelled sea creature taste like you may ask? To be honest, its tastes like I imagine a snail rinsed in salt water would taste like. For those of you unfamiliar with the taste of snails, I am told it’s like mussels. Firm and crunchy with a hint of slime. It’s not that I disliked alili, but I wouldn’t say I liked it either. For the next hour or so I walked around feeling like I had just swallowed a sea snail and had it hanging out in my stomach. But hey, at this point in the journey, what’s one more strange thing in my stomach?

Samoan Day

Friday was Samoan Day at Manu’a High School. The students practiced for nearly 2 months to prepare performances for the big day. Classes were cancelled and the community was invited to campus to witness the events. Each class took turns performing songs, dances, and traditional attire. Despite the fact that I was required to siva in front of the audience for the junior class (I’m one of their advisors), it was a great day and it was nice to see the students so proud to showcase their culture. I put a lot of pictures up on Facebook, but for those of you haven’t seen them I uploaded a few here as well.

My junior boys
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Freshman class performance
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Charlie in his traditional attire for the junior class
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Hope in her traditional attire for the junior class
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My junior girls
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Junior performance
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Dancing for the junior class
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Senior class performance
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The junior class. They are crazy, but some of my favorites as well :)
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The super sweet freshmen
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If Samoan Day wasn’t exhausting enough, there was a siva in Faleasao Friday night to raise money for the women’s group at church. Despite plans to leave early, Sasha and I ended up staying until the end. This was a smaller siva than the last, which meant slightly less awkward dances with students who wouldn’t remember it in the morning. We spent most of our time with the little kids who made us boats out of empty soda cans and taught us some new dance moves. As we were walking away we heard our names being yelled. We turned around toe see some of the women coming with 2 leftover cakes and a case of soda for us as a Mother’s Day gift. We now have enough delicious vanilla cake to last us until we leave Samoa, and we aren’t even really mothers!

In only 25 days my seniors will be high school graduates and moving on to the next stages of their lives. And in 34 days I will be in Chicago. I’m still not sure how I feel about that. I can’t wait to be home with family and friends, but I sure will miss this place…

samoa <3

Teacher Appreciation Week

Last week schools across American Samoa celebrated teacher appreciation week. A large event was planned in Tutuila to bring the teachers and staff from all of the public school together, but since Tutuila schools missed over a week of classes due to the pink eye epidemic (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/04/pink-eye-american-samoa_n_5093987.html) the event was cancelled. Manu’a, however, did not cancel school, and planned our own celebrations.

The festivities kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a special church service in Fitiuta for staff of all 3 schools (Faleasao Elementary, Fitiuta Elementary, Manu’a High School) and the community. Teacher and staff from all 3 schools were honored with performances, ulas, and platters of snacks.

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Monday-Thursday each class at the high school took turns bringing in food for our faculty and staff. I received more food every day than I could eat, plenty of soda, and handmade ulas. This was what our meals looked like most days:

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On Friday the staff from all 3 schools got together in the high school gym to finish off the week. The morning was spent doing zumba and playing field day games (balloon toss, wheelbarrow freeze, relay races, etc.). We had one more Samoan BBQ before everyone boarded busses back home. We spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing before a house warming party at Jason and Diana’s new place. I was too busy having fun to take pictures, but you get the idea :)

 

There didn’t seem to be any reason to have the fun stop Friday, so I spent half of Saturday at To’a and the other half playing with the kids. I got them all sugared up with an entire bag of marshmallows, blew a bunch of bubbles and played a few games before sending them back to their parents with what remained of their sugar high. The kids borrowed my waterproof/shockproof camera and took some photos of the fun. 

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And to finish off the post, a picture looking back at Faleasao on my walk to school today. The color of the water here will never stop amazing me. 

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And a little bragging. I was awarded Teacher of the Month for April and May, which means a fancy certificate, more food, and school supplies. Yippee!!

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If You Give a Kid a Marshmallow

If you give the adorable village children each a marshmallow they will ask for another. Once you give them another they will ask if they can come inside for a drink of water. Once you let them inside for a drink they will ask to clean your house. After they have done the dishes and swept the floor they will ask to climb trees until it rains and they are called home.

But seriously, I may have gotten the children hooked on marshmallows. Oops. Many of them had never had marshmallows until they caught me making s’mores over our leaf pile a few months back. I can’t wait to see their faces when they get Peeps this weekend thanks to my parent :)

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dishes

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Thursday the boat came with goodies (specifically cheese and mail!). Special blog shout out to my amazing best friend Jessica for the care package of Spinzels, one of my favorite snacks. And the kids will love the Fun-Dip! You are the best! And the letters from the rest of your family were so cute! Love you all!

Spinzels

Friday night was the senior class siva which was held in the gym at the high school. It was conducted very similarly to the Faleasao siva, with each student doing a dance to raise money and plenty of opportunities for everyone else in attendance to dance as well. School dances in Samoa are very different from school dances in America; they are community events complete with each student’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Everyone had a great time and about $3,200 was raised for the students’ gradation expenses.

Chris Rejoyce

dancing

electric slide

girls

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Moe

queen

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siva boys

Siva Loto

Siva OJ

Sunday was Palm Sunday so a special island-wide church service was held at the church here in Faleasao. Mikaela, the cutest baby ever, was my official photographer. She got a few pictures of the service before discovering she could reverse the camera and take her own photo.

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As I’m sure you all know, last night was the blood moon lunar eclipse. Manu’a had a front row seat and it was amazing. The eclipse was spectacular, and incase that wasn’t enough, we used the school telescope to get a better look at not only the moon but at Mars, Saturn and 4 of its moons, and a few star clusters. The whole thing was breathtaking. The sky here is something I will never get sick of. On any given night I can walk out my front door, lay down on the beach under the clearly visible Milky Way and count shooting stars. Photographing the moon without a tripod to keep the camera still proved rather difficult but I got a few cool pictures of the eclipse as it progressed.

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The time I realized I might actually *almost* like dancing

As you may recall from my earlier posts, the start of the school year was delayed when the Department of Health shut down the public schools due to unsanitary conditions. To make up for the missed days the school year was extended slightly and some holidays were cut. One of these cuts was 2 days of spring break. Students took quarter 3 midterms Monday and Tuesday, and Spring Break was Wednesday-Sunday. To celebrate the end of the 3rd quarter the Faleasao teachers gathered to eat Samoas in Samoa as the sunset. One more thing I can check off the bucket list. 

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Alex and Peter, WorldTeachers in Tutuila, were able to get on the Wednesday flight (only the second flight after Inter Island temporarily shut down) and came to visit Manu’a. As soon as they arrived we hurried them to the wharf in Ta’u where we boarded a boat to Ofu. We spent a few glorious days at the Vaoto Lodge and showed them our favorite Ofu/Olosega attractions before taking boats back to Ta’u on Friday. Since we did basically the same thing as our last trip to Ofu I won’t go into detail, but I’ve included a few photos. 

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While there were still 2.5 days of break remaining when we left Ofu on Friday morning, we had a very important reason to go home early. The Faleasao Siva was scheduled for Friday night, and Sasha and I did not want to miss out since Faleasao Sivas are known to be the best. ‘Siva’ is the Samoan word for ‘dance’. Sivas are typically held as fundraisers for the village and church.  The Siva was held in the fale (a structure similar to a gazebo) at Trish and Tautua’s house (our principal and her husband). From what I understand, each family is called upon to dance several times. Matais (village chiefs) go first, Aumaga (men below the matai) go second, and the rest of the family goes third. Every time a new person goes up to dance in the middle of the fale for their family villagers who enjoy their dancing go up and throw money. The matai pick this money up and total it. While the goal is ultimately to raise money for the village, it is also a contest to see which family can earn the most money for the village through their dancing. Mixed in with the family dances are songs for the entire village. The boys/men invite the girls/women up for a dance and lead you into the fale. This was my favorite part. A few young men asked me to dance as did a handful of my students. Only in Samoa is it acceptable for teachers to spend their Friday night dancing with their drunk high school students at the principal’s house. The siva lasted from about 8pm-11pm, raised about $32,700, and is on my list of top 10 Samoan experiences. 

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The rest of the weekend was filled with trips to the beach during the day and spear fishing at night. A special note to my mom- I finally got you your prefect seashell while we were in the wharf Saturday night. I will be burying it in the yard soon to get the animal out so it is smell-free by June!

Monday begins fourth quarter, which will most likely be my last at Manu’a High School. I can’t believe how fast the year has gone by. In only 74 days my seniors will be high school graduates and in 83 days I will be landing in Chicago.  But for now, it’s back to work. Classes start tomorrow and I have yet to do my lesson plans. 

Why I am in Samoa

As I’m sure you have all figured out by now, I am in love with American Samoa. Especially Manu’a. This little spec of land in the middle of the South Pacific has become my home away from home and the people I have met have become my extended family. I love the views, adventures, and food. The village kids never fail to make me smile and on most days my students leave me wondering why I ever doubted if I should accept a placement as a high school teacher. I mostly post about these moments. But it’s not all laughs and gorgeous sunsets. Some days I seriously question why I am here. The students act out, refuse to do what I ask, come to school unprepared, complain endlessly, and blow off meetings/practices. Beyond the students, the education system leaves me scratching my head and wondering how anything ever gets done. I have an entire closet full of textbooks that my students can’t read because the government refuses to acknowledge the severe need for ESL classes,  which means my students can’t read the grade-level textbooks we are supplied with. I have no class sets of novels so students have to read 3 students to a book. Tape is a coveted resource and my stapler has to be un-jammed after every staple. There are enough iPads for every student sitting virtually unused in the office and Macs and SmartBoards getting ruined from humidity in un air-conditioned classrooms, but the travel budget for school events, like Science Fair and Speech Fest, are being cut which means fewer, and sometimes no students from Manu’a are able to participate in the territory-wide competitions. But those are all country wide problems and are not something a palagi girl from Chicago can change in one year.

Yes, these things all suck but there is no reason to dwell on things I can’t change. TIS. I try to focus my energy on my students, who I hope I can impact. But some days there doesn’t seem to be much hope there either. When my freshmen leave my classroom I almost always feel like maybe my presence here is making a difference. When the juniors leave my room I often wonder why I even bother trying to teach through the chaos and disdain for learning. I’ve tried the stern approach and raised my voice. I’ve tried the softer ‘I care about you and your future’ approach. I’ve tried sitting at my desk and waiting for them to get it under control themselves. Nothing seems to work. My juniors just don’t care. They tell me English is boring. They tell me class is no fun even when I plan activities or games. They yell, hit each other, refuse to do work, don’t turn anything in, and then get mad when their grades suffer. I send students to the office, behavior improves for a day or two, and then it’s back to the same problems again. It’s this class that often makes me wonder if I have really made a difference for any of my students. Last week was one of my most challenging. With mid-terms coming up I’m worried about the multiple students failing the class for dumb reasons like cheating, missing school for weeks at a time, and losing all their work. If someone had offered to take over that class last week I would have accepted in a heartbeat. Some days (they are rare, but do happen) I can’t imagine why I would ever give the little twerps up.

Every afternoon I run from Faleasao, over the mountain, and halfway through Ta’u. I stop at the village hall, sit on the pier to take in sunset, and then turn around and run back. As I got to the hall today I came across one of my junior students and a friend. I have had a particularly hard time with this student. She is one of the loudest complainers in the bunch, requests to just relax more than anyone else, and gets mad every time I make her use her brain for more than flirting and Facebook. I can’t come close to counting the number of times she has murmured things under her breath or thrown her work on the floor in protest. To be honest, I didn’t peg her as a student who really wanted anything to do with me outside of school. But deep down I have always known there was more than a dislike for school. She has been passed around between families since her parents shipped her off to Manu’a and seems to crave structure and consistency. Lately every time I see her in the village I get a big smile and a wave. Today she stopped me to talk as I ran by, gave me her bottle of water on a hot Samoan afternoon, and offered to head back towards Faleasao (the opposite direction of her house) if I didn’t want to go alone (you know, because of the ghosts…). She has even taken to asking me more than any other student if I can be her teacher again next year. For the first time this semester I really felt like she was trying in class this week and she even yelled at the other students to behave when I stopped teaching because they were not ready and listening. When they didn’t respond and I continued to sit and wait out the bad behavior she begged me to teach just her the lesson. Something in this girl has switched. Somehow, I have finally started to get through to her. And that is why I am in Samoa. When everything seems like a waste of time, it only takes one student to make me fall in love with my job all over again and never want to leave paradise. I can’t change the system, and I can’t make all my students love to learn, but if I can take one student and help her realize that she has the potential to do great things I’ll call my year here a success. And the whole ‘I live on a remote tropical island with 365 beach days a year’ thing is a nice perk too…

 

And I leave you with some pictures from the last few weeks. Manuia le Aso Sa!

I woke up from a nap to find this monkey watching me from above :)
I woke up from a nap to find this monkey watching me from above :)
bubbles with the kiddos
bubbles with the kiddos
bubbles with the kiddos
bubbles with the kiddos
They sure do love to take selfies...
They sure do love to take selfies…
They sure do love to take selfies...
They sure do love to take selfies…
They sure do love to take selfies...
They sure do love to take selfies…
A rainbow over Faleasao
A rainbow over Faleasao
Another sunset in paradise
Another sunset in paradise
Swimming with Avi and Nainoa
Swimming with Avi and Nainoa
One of my favorite places to run to on a nice day
One of my favorite places to run to on a nice day
A delicious trigger fish dinner thanks to Matt
A delicious trigger fish dinner thanks to Matt
I got a belated Valentine from Nainoa after a run. He wanted a hug even though I was sweaty, but very seriously asked "What did you do to get so much tired on you?" After I explained he banned me from running that far anymore.
I got a belated Valentine from Nainoa after a run. He wanted a hug even though I was sweaty, but very seriously asked “What did you do to get so much tired on you?” After I explained he banned me from running that far anymore.
TipTop - a game played by leaping over a rope of rubberbands that gets raised higher and higher every round. You can't touch the 'rope' with anything but your legs and feet.
TipTop – a game played by leaping over a rope of rubberbands that gets raised higher and higher every round. You can’t touch the ‘rope’ with anything but your legs and feet.
TipTop - a game played by leaping over a rope of rubberbands that gets raised higher and higher every round. You can't touch the 'rope' with anything but your legs and feet.
TipTop – a game played by leaping over a rope of rubberbands that gets raised higher and higher every round. You can’t touch the ‘rope’ with anything but your legs and feet.

If someone tells you to jump off a bridge, do you do it?

I spent the weekend in Ofu, and this time it was on purpose.

My first trip to Ofu and Olosega was an accident. We took the MV Sili from Tutuila to Ta’u after Christmas break, but due to rough seas that would prevent the boat from getting into the Faleasao wharf, we made a pit stop in Ofu for the night to wait for calmer seas.

This time the trip was intentional. We have actually tried to get to Ofu every long weekend this school year, but it hadn’t worked out until now. Usually there wasn’t enough gas on island for the trip to be possible or the weather was not cooperating. It figures that there is good weather and gas the weekend I am sick. But I’m glad I went because this is what was waiting for me:

1. Unique transportation – We took a fun ride on an alia boat and got to see some amazing views of Manu’a.

Leaving Ta’u
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Ofu is to the left of his head and Olosega is to the right
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Landing in Olosega
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The alia boat
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2. The Vaoto Lodge – The 4 of us shared a room and Ben, the man currently running the lodge, cooked amazing food for us. There was bread. And cheese. And broccoli. And lettuce.

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3.Runway Shenanigans – There is currently no air service to Ofu, so the runway is used only as a road.

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4.Great Views – When I post pictures of sunset from our house Ofu and Olosega are always in the distance. From the lodge we could see Faleasao and the high school. It was cool to get a different perspective of home.

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The furthest island you can see is Ta’u
Ta'u

5.Ofu Beach – ranked as one of the top 10 undiscovered beaches in the world. And I understand why. It’s gorgeous. And the snorkeling was amazing. Sadly, our mermaid photo shoot pictures won’t upload, so use your imagination…

Ofu 1

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6. And finally, the answer to the bridge question – Of course! The bridge that connects Ofu and Olosega is great for jumping from! I’m proud to say all 4 WorldTeach Manu’a volunteers successfully made the jump :)

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Siva Samoa

Yesterday I sang and danced in front of several hundred people.

It all started after my evening run a few weeks ago. On my way back home a few of the women from the village called me down to the beach to go for a quick swim to cool off. They told me I needed to be at church when I heard the bell ring the following day for practice, but didn’t elaborate much. Our neighbor/landlord/principal was kind enough to fill me in with the details – practice was for the upcoming island-wide church showdown, and while optional, I felt a little pressure to participate from both Samoans and the veteran palagi teachers. From what I was told, performing in a church event is like a rite of passage for WorldTeach Manu’a volunteers. And it’s not like singing and dancing could be any harder than spear fishing in the dark or stranger than eating sea worm sperm, right? I decided to give it a try, which it turns out that decision meant spending 2-3 hours every afternoon for the following 2 weeks at the church rehearsing our songs, dances, and skits with the rest of the village. I ended up in the center of the second row with only a girl from the elementary school in front of me, so the pressure to remember the moves for our dances was high. My students seemed to enjoy getting to be the ‘teachers’ and were always moving me into the proper position and gave me some extra dance lessons during breaks at school. Over the course of the many hours spent practicing I heard only 3 things in English:
1. Thank you for coming
2. Come again tomorrow
3. Sing like this is your last performance and then you die

Sunday was the big day, and I’d say it was a success. The Faleasao performance lasted nearly an hour and consisted of 7 songs, 3 dances, and 2 skits. While I knew most of the words, I didn’t have them all totally memorized (luckily I can fake all those vowel filled words fairly well) and I made a few mistakes in the dancing. I didn’t fall over or anything though so I’m happy. One student told me this morning that I looked like a real Samoan when I danced. Another told me I was funny to watch. So my performance was somewhere between laughable and authentic Polynesian. Regardless of my true dancing and singing abilities, it was actually really fun to participate in the program. I got to know people from our village better and see my students in a very different atmosphere. I’m asking around for pictures or a video, which if I can get I’ll upload later. It was an exhausting few weeks of preparing, but I’m glad to have done it. I think our next cultural experience will be playing Saturday Bingo; I just need to review my numbers :)

For now, I leave you with a picture of some of our song lyrics and the kitten one of my students caught for me today after lunch. I’m regifting it to Sasha.

lyrics

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