Thursday was sessions all day, but they were actually really interesting. In the morning we had a visit from the SOFIAS – Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa. Fa’afafines are the third gender in American Samoa. The word Fa’afafine translates to English as ‘the way of the woman’. I’m sure you can figure out a lot just from the translation. Fa’afafines are widely accepted in American Samoa and other Polynesian islands have a very similar third gender acceptance as well. The Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa holds a pageant every year to crown a new Miss Sofia who is the ambassador to the program. Roberta, the current Miss Sophia, was one of the morning’s speakers along with several other women from the group.
After the Fa’afafine session we transitioned into our final Samoan language class. We did a quick review before getting ready to attend an ava ceremony. An ava ceremony is Samoa’s ancient form of worshipping their gods and a traditional way to welcome guests to the island and village while conveying gratitude to God. Current and previous students from the American Samoa Community College Samona Studies Institute Students Association for Fa’asamoa conducted an ava ceremony to welcome us to the island and express gratitude to us as teachers. The ceremony is traditionally held in a fale (open walled house), but ours was done in the classroom because there isn’t an available fale on campus. The ceremony consists of several speeches by the men who are conducting the ceremony. The entire ceremony is conducted in Samoan, so it was hard to understand the vast majority of what was being said but we knew what we needed to say and when. Near the end of the ceremony the ava distributor serves everyone ava one by one. When your name is called you clap twice and the ava cup (half of a coconut) is brought to you. You spill a small amount on the floor, give a quick speech thanking God, say ‘soifua’ (good health) and the rest will respond ‘manuia’ (cheers), then drink the half coconut of ava. It has a very interesting taste that I can’t really describe. I don’t think there is anything in the states to compare it to. When you finish drinking the ava distributor will take the cup back, rinse it in a bowl, and then repeat the process with the next individual. The ceremony was closed with a final speech by the Matai (chief). Afterwards we did a Samoan siva (traditional dance) with the Samoan students who had conducted the ceremony. The whole ceremony was beautiful and such a special experience. It’s not every day you are welcomed into a new culture with a traditional ceremony. Simply amazing.
We had a few more sessions in the afternoon and then headed to the park across the street. A few of us played some ultimate frisbee. I know I’ve said I before, but it’s the simple moments that I love. The park was full of adorable Samoan kids, some brand new puppies, and the sun was setting over the mountains. Perfect background for playing some ultimate with my awesome fellow WTers.
Friday we had a few sessions here at VoTech and took a quick trip to the Jean B Hayden Museum in Pago Pago to learn more about the island’s history and culture. We also got a call from the sew shop that our WorldTeach uniforms (puletasis and aloha shirts) were ready. We picked them up after our last session and they are great. I dropped off fabric to get a white puletasi made for church and a purple one to show my Manu’a HS pride. I think Chicago needs to adopt a more Polynesian clothing style. After the sew shop we got an early dinner. Four of us went to Family Mart and got what we have dubbed ‘pork buns’. It is a big delicious roll filled with pork and something green. I’m not sure what all is in it but it is delicious, freshly made, and cheap. The pork bun, a bag of local banana chips, and guava juice was $4.75.
Friday night marked 2 weeks in American Samoa! The Tutuila volunteers move into housing next Saturday the 3rd and DoE orientation starts on August 5th. We will be staying with the Tutuila volunteers until after DoE orientation. After that we start waiting for a plane or a boat to take us to Ta’u, hopefully before school starts on August 12th but we were told not to count on being there by then. TIS
Saturday we had two standard sessions in the morning and were released at 11 to get lunch and enjoy the afternoon. We went to Steven & Sons (the bush store down the street) and grabbed lunch. I had rice and a green been, cabbage, corn, and corned beef combo. I also bought a big homemade cookie and a drink and still only spent $4.75. Eating local is very affordable here but imported foods can get expensive. We ate in the park and met an adorable puppy that adopted us. He was tiny and likely only a few weeks old. Unfortunately our field director said we couldn’t keep him at the school so we tried to leave him in the park. He ended up following us down the street a long way before finding someone new to ‘adopt’. There are so many strays here and they have really poor health. Some dogs live more like pets do in the US but it isn’t common. There is no vet on island which doesn’t surprise me based on the health of many of the dogs. You definitely can’t pet most of them. They are covered in fleas and open wounds. There is no rabies on island but Dr. Mike at LBJ warned us about their bites and all the lovely germs that will ensure the bite gets infected. We haven’t had much of a problem with them yet. We’ve been chased by a few but you simply yell ‘halu’ and if you can grab a small rock throw it in their direction. If nothing is available an invisible rock will also due. Long story short, this brand new puppy was still so clean that we decided he was good to pet and cuddle. I miss puppy love.
Next we caught a bus to Fagatele Bay, which is a National Marine Sanctuary. It was about one mile to get from the main road to the beginning of the hike. We started off through a large plantation which led us to a family’s home. They ask $5 per person and have you sign a log that can be turned into the proper marine authorities to track who is visiting the sanctuary. After checking in with the family we walked another mile or so through the jungle down some steep hills before reaching the shore. There is supposedly good snorkeling but the water was too rough for us to get out too far. We spent a few hours soaking in the South Pacific and taking in the scenery before making the long hike back up hill trough the jungle, saying our thanks to the plantation owners, and walking back to the main road. We caught a bus back to VoTech and spent the night relaxing. Practicum teaching starts Monday so I started lesson planning. There is no way to make copies unless you do it by hand and we won’t have a projector/overhead in our rooms so it’s back to the basics. We’ll see how I do without all the resources and other perks of teaching in Batavia.