Thursday, August 6, 2015

8. Hideaway, While You Still Can

We boarded a bus bound for the other side of the island, away from this small town capital, the closest to so-called civilization (no disrespect intended) for us over the next two years. My lingering cold left me groggy, as did drinking beer last night in the initial festive air that also lingered. We took a dirt road through dense flora that hid a nearby village. Arriving at the Hideaway Hotel, we saw a compound by an isolated beach. We paired off with our assigned roommates and unpacked in small thatched-roof structures, a single room to each. A more basic living was already apparent.
On November 24th, language and culture lessons began at 8:00 am. Tea was served at 10:00 a.m., with the usual snack of large crackers and butter. More lessons, lunch at noon, then more lessons. Cindy, Mary‑Margaret, Pat and I were in the same group for language. Pat, in her 60s, was having some difficulty. Older people often have difficulty learning a second language, she’d said. I felt for her, not having a background or gift for foreign languages myself. Years before, I’d asked my brother Tommy what culture was. Knowing five languages, he looked at me almost pitifully. Now, I had really begun to know, and this was no textbook example. I was fulfilled: on an adventure, learning, and soon to serve.
On Wednesday afternoon, we had a full group session where we addressed areas of common concern. Afterward, we walked way down the beach—a mile or more—to where the river entered the ocean. The crashing surf sounded the coral reef, about a mile out. Scents of salt, sea, moisture, flowers and other plants, some unfamiliar, made for a permeating experience. From mountains and tall palms to sea shells and sand grains, in reds, blues, and greens, and hues in between, it was beautiful.
In the fale, the structure with posts supporting a thatched roof, we had evening lotu, singing Christian prayers that were part and parcel with these people. It was now part of our daily routine, too. In this melodic Polynesian language, the singing was an objectively beautiful sound, regardless of not understanding lyrics. All twenty-nine PCVs (of thirty, one was already lost due to health problems) and two of our trainers sat on the floor, singing and praying. The fale was fitting for this activity, without walls between nature and us, as if lacking a barrier between Man and Maker.
After dinner, John S. and I went to our little fale to put in an extra hour studying language. We went to Cindy’s and Mary‑Margaret’s fale and drank a beer, listening to their American music tapes for an hour until heading for the beach. There, we listened to James Taylor songs while sitting in a small, beached tourist boat, talking, viewing the stars, and listening to the surf brake. Ah, yes—breaks are important, especially with music from home. By mid‑night, having caught up in my journal and anticipating an early rise, it was time to read some of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Galapagos” before I slept.

Thanksgiving Day began with more language lessons. For Sikoti (Scott), Palauni (Brian), Atamu (Adam), and me, it was with trainer Siauane, who was difficult to understand. We were, however, becoming used to the Samoan names assigned to us. For some, our name was Samoan‑ized because there was no direct translation, hence still familiar, e.g., for me, “Kevini,” which lacked imagination but I didn’t much mind.
I developed a fever of 102.5 F and manava tata, which sounds much better than the English word--diarrhea. I received aspirin and advice from Meko, the contract Peace Corps medical officer whose nativity is Papua New Guinea. After dinner, I slept until hearing John and Cindy approach my fale to check on me. Unbeknownst to them, I woke. As they entered, I feigned a toss’n turn sleep, mumbling, eyes closed, in apparent delirium. They came bedside slowly and observed. John then gently put his hand on my arm. “Kevin . . . Kevin,” he whispered. My faint mumbling grew louder and clearer, becoming “Aunty Em, Aunty Em, Aunty Em ...”. Then I sat up and shouted, “Toto! Toto!”, and we all burst out laughing. They called me a few choice words, but I enjoyed earning them. I felt up for a walk, which took us to some PCVs playing guitars and hanging out in a common area.
On November 28th, feeling somewhat better, I joined the others for more language study in small groups. Later, we regrouped for fiafia practice, which was fun. A fiafia is a meeting of two sides at opposite ends of a fale in an entertainment format of singing, clapping, orating, chanting, teasing, and dancing, village vs. the guests of the village. There was much repartee and jest, and of course the usual words of respect exchanged. Afterward, we volunteers played the Samoan national card game that we’d learned, suipi, properly slamming down each card played.
The next day, we were assigned tasks to perform back in Apia, the only large town and the nation’s commercial center of about 35,000 people. In groups of three or four, we got on the standard wood-framed buses with wooden bench seats, for the first time un-chaperoned. Above the bus driver’s head, a picture of Jesus Christ was prominently pasted. A medley of decorations adorned the dashboard and all around. Polynesian music pounded out through large, mounted speakers as we crossed the mid-island mountains.
We arrived and wandered to find and purchase the items on the list with the money the training staff had provided. Samoans here spoke much more rapidly than in language class—no surprise, right? I recognized one word in twenty. And we were supposed to achieve something through this language? Well, we were determined to do so.
For some items, we went to the produce market where farmers and families brought their wares and lounged on pandandus mats until someone looked interested. It has been called the New Market ever since relocated by the government years ago. Below a huge corrugated aluminum roof, there were no walls and no stalls, except those created with boxes and blankets. A few vendors stood and smiled, gently suggesting a purchase. A few recognized words were all it took for us to make our first exchange, politely smiling, and we walked away, pleased with ourselves. At a few encounters, we did not at all understand what they were saying, so we said goodbye, too embarrassed or frustrated to keep trying. Other times, not only was the item not on our list, but we did not recognize the item as coming from anything—like the ground, the sea, or the air. A few vendors did speak English to us.
The fish market nearby was beside the water. We headed for it to find a jellyfish. My flip-flop got caught on the uneven ground and a strap broke, so I took them off. At tables, people cut and cleaned a plethora of various fish and sea creatures, but no jellyfish. Our queries proved fruitless. One thing I did discover, though, was that the floor had a disgusting way of making bare feet slippery.
Our final task was to find out what was playing at the 8:00 p.m. movie. We wandered among blocks of stores, but could not find the movie theater—the only real one on the island. We then tried to ask people what was playing there. We got friendly smiles and curious stares followed by shrugs. One person doggedly tried to direct us there, but he seemed to not understand that we only needed to know what movie was playing that night; either that or we could not understand that he did in fact understand us, but he didn’t know what was playing and was suggesting that we go find out for ourselves—a mystery, playing before our very eyes. We sensed our linguistic handicap. It was interesting, frustrating and funny, and I was glad to be with others on this first true test of cross‑cultural communication in Samoan.
We went back to the dirt-lot bus depot with our bags and looked for the bus, careful to find the exact spelling because many syllables were phonetically and visually similar. One vowel off and we could end up being overnight guests in a remote village, incommunicado. When we found it, we finally relaxed for the trip home (did I say home?). All groups came back, and we took turns discussing our experience in terms of language, culture, and impressions, what worked and what did not.
That evening, Mary‑Margaret pierced ears for John S., Jim, and me. She held a cold Sam Miguel beer bottle next to the ear for a minute as thermal anesthesia, cleaned it with alcohol, and then pierced it with a sewing needle. So those sewing kits they’d handed out had come in handy. Our early evening swim in the salty ocean was good for our ears.

On November 30th, we left the Hideaway Hotel for Tausaga village. We arrived and went directly to church. The entire congregation harmonized in their sonorous language. We were handed sheets with the lyrics and translations, and tried to join in. Even if we had beautiful voices, we probably sounded drunk to them, ill-timed and mispronounced. Fortunately, they drowned us out, mostly.
Afterward, it was to’ona’i time. We sat in the fale by the lake, cross‑legged and waiting to be served by the young people of the village. Pigs, chickens, roosters and kids ran loose. We realized that they were starting with a kava ceremony, which was disappointing because we were hungry. Also, for me and a few others, the cross‑legged sitting position on the floor, for extended periods of time, was painful. We couldn’t extend our legs frontwards because that would be insulting to whomever the legs pointed toward. Who started these meanings and traditions anyway? Surely, there was nothing inherently insulting about extending your feet out while sitting.
They called out the names of the most respected guests, one at a time, to receive a half‑coconut shell cup of kava, and then it was out turn. If we were Samoan, they would either know each of our names or find out for the calling. However, we were many PCV palagi, making it impracticable for that, so for some, they made up names. They called out “Adam” for me. I laughed a little, and said, “Ava lea le Atua,” while pouring out a symbolic portion onto the floor for God, as we were trained to do. I drained the cup and said, “Ia, manuia,” (to your health), then the group responded with, “Soifua,” (live), or vice versa. Next, they called out PCV Mark as “Eve”, and everyone laughed louder. Then Jim was “Aspirin.” Meanwhile, the kava was slightly numbing of body and appetite.
Finally, after going through the whole group, and following more oration exchanges, the food came. First served was PCV Scott because he was our acting chief, necessarily selected because us palagi’s have no chiefly titles bestowed upon us. I sat beside Scott. We quietly complained to each other about needing to stretch our legs out. I never would have guessed how painful it would be to just sit cross-legged for a period of time. Standing would be impolite, and politeness was one of the paramount values of this culture. One luxurious loop hole we discovered was that if there was one of those woven grass mats on the floor in front of us, if we had to, we could pull it over and stretch our legs out underneath it without offending anyone.
Women brought food out on large banana leaves and placed it before each of us on the mats we sat on. They sat before us while we ate, using woven hand fans to keep the flies from landing on the food. The dessert, provided by the Peace Corps and formally presented earlier, was half-melted ice cream. Later on we kicked the soccer ball around coconut trees on the lawn.
It was dark when I went down to the beach alone and walked. It was beautiful, but a bit eerie. I watched out for the wild dogs that I’d been warned about, especially because (hey, it could happen) they could run me into the ocean to be eaten by sharks. I saw too many shadows, on land and in the ocean, so I looked up at the multitude of stars, sat on the sand, and thought positive about things like my family, old and new friends, and, oh yeah, God.

After language lessons on December first, we had an afternoon community meeting, including a demonstration on how to take a shower at an outside pipe, village style, by trainer Apulu, a very funny orator chief. I also got a chance to play pool--a national rarity--with Tile, a young male Samoan trainer.
Back at the beach, I updated my journal and watched the sun set. John S. sat nearby on a rock, writing, too. He was shirtless and wore a wrap-around lava lava, and with his whiffle haircut and eyeglasses, it called to mind Gandhi and his mission of peace and freedom. I was dressed similarly, and felt akin to a monk, writing silently in a natural setting, especially when the bell rang, calling us in for lotu, the evening reading and singing of prayers.

December 2nd I recorded as “just another day in paradise”. This morning, I was tired despite having slept well.
Damn the cheap pen—it was difficult to writing with them. Often, it was the little difficulties that grated upon us.
We learned possessive pronouns this morning—not difficult, but necessary to memorize and keep straight. I also learned dirty words and phrases, and not just for fun. It was important to know if one was being verbally abused or not, especially as a teacher where classroom decorum and respect had to be maintained—a lesson a good friend of mine would learn the hard way.
Tea was at 10:00 a.m. As usual, the entire PCV training group went out under the fale with the scented breeze blowing and the waves moving mere yards away. More language training followed. Lunch featured hamburgers that tasted like odd meatloaf because their meat was home grown and not ground fine. Dessert was faux Jell-O that smelled of dirty socks, as if made with stagnant water.
Fiafia practice was moved to the afternoon so that we could have the evening free for studying or relaxation. Emmor of Washington and I were “volunteered” to imitate or demonstrate the part of the fiafia where men sort of jump around and yelp to the sides and rear of the featured woman dancer, to support her, which looked pretty cool. After seeing how it was supposed to be, they had a good laugh seeing us try, too vigorously. My lava lava, normally tied or tucked into itself around the waist like a towel, came undone and fell part way off. I held firm the right side with my left hand, while in a panic chasing the loose left side with my right hand, spinning and revealing a cheek. They applauded. I maintained that I had underwear on, but some dispute this (and yes, for you cheeky bastards, thong underwear would explain the discrepancy but no it wasn’t so). An elderly Samoan woman trainer, Koke, the epitome of correct culture, cut off the merriment and admonished Emmor and me for acting like monkeys. Although we had enjoyed hamming it up a bit, we were making sincere attempts. Nevertheless, she was right, and we were all subdued, for the very real subtleties of the dance and movement and the seriousness of purpose had momentarily escaped us.

As of December 4th, training had continued, but today we received Newsweek Magazines, a courtesy monthly subscription every PCV devoured. I got a chance to read it by the water, in the room, and all over, cover to cover, right down to the copyright language, the Newsweek staff listing, and the advertisement details; it was due to our isolation, which worsened with the weeks trudging along. At least, I got to snorkel by the reef earlier.
In my progress review later that day, Jackie, the head trainer who was a PCV in Western Samoa many years before, told me I was doing well in language study and would be moved to a quicker group, which was encouraging. In an announcement some PCVs were warned about PDAs, public displays of affection. A cautionary note was also sounded about drinking beer. I guess we had to pay attention even when relaxing. At the end of the day we had fiafia practice again.
On the last day at the Hideaway Hotel, before going to spend the weekend with the volunteers we were to replace, we finished training in the afternoon and then went down to the river to play stickball. In the evening, we finally had our fiafia with the Hideaway Hotel employees as our opposites, which was fun to see performed by the people we got to know and was satisfying to put into practice. A party followed at John and Mark’s fale, then the fale of a trainer, Silau, with plenty of dancing and laughing. Many strolled to the beach from there. I joined for a little while then returned to my fale to brush up on a refrigeration text that I’d brought with me. I went back out later, but I shouldn’t have, as I ended up with only three hours sleep.     
As we left the hotel, the friendly staff that we had bonded with saw us off. We waved from the bus. The engine started and I started an adaptation of a classic 1960s American song – “Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na. Hey, ay, ay ... To fa (Samoan for ‘good bye’)”. Over and over we sang, until well out of sight. We then listened to a cassette tape of Pink Floyd going back to Apia, appropriate for the course over the mountains, dark green and shapely in the cool white mists, and rife with unique flora. The banyan trees looked surreal; instead of a single trunk, thick vines looked like roots that couldn’t wait to sink themselves into the moist soil.

The Peace Corps office was across from the market, and that was where we met about half of the current PCVs from around the islands. We were to stay the weekend with them to gain their living and work perspective. First, most of us went to play softball at TTI, the Technical Training Institute where I would be teaching. I arrived with Andrew and he took me on a tour of the school and the refrigeration shop. I was very excited and apprehensive; I couldn’t wait to start teaching, yet I could. We played the Australian volunteers and won. Next we lost to the Japanese volunteers. I was glad to meet many of them and share a beer from the keg that was delivered from the local brewery.
We left TTI for a barbeque at a volunteer’s flat nearby. I took advantage of another keg when it wasn’t looking, lol (“lol” didn’t even exist back then—neither did texting . . . lol). Well, my feet were steady but my mind was brimming with sentiment. At one point in a conversation with a current PCV and Scott, a fellow trainee from North Dakota, I ventured that nobody cared about justice as much as I because I was so passionate about it, and I said it seriously, as if a challenge. I still cringe, recalling that.
Suddenly, two young Samoan men began fighting outside in the front yard. The unlucky one got punched, hit with the back edge of a bush knife and kicked in the head. This was not a place where a police car might luckily be in the neighborhood. They have no such fleet. Nevertheless, some people broke up the contenders.
We left for Andrew’s place, a government “flat”—a slab house. There were no basements in Samoa that I had ever seen. The corrugated aluminum roof kept out the rain, the screens kept out the flies and mosquitoes, and the louvered glass windows allowed the air to circulate into the house to dry things out, if possible, and let out the heat.
On the morning of December 8th I rose with sun-blistered cheeks, something easily acquired on a softball field by a fair skinned person twelve degrees south of the equator. Andrew and I caught a bus to Apia then walked to the Apia Yacht Club, which consisted of small parcel of land with an unpainted two-room structure made of unfinished cinder block. There were few chairs, no amenities, and no staff. It looked more like a garage mid-constriction. The shed nearby contained twenty or so wind surfers, sailfish, and a couple of small Catamaran. I helped Andrew carry out the Cat that he was minding for a foreign couple who had left it behind for him to sell. We set the mast and sails. He took me out for a short ride along the coast, inside the coral reef. The distant perspective on the water, reef, and mountains deepened the colors.
That evening, Andrew and I walked to a small building near the National Hospital. We met there a few other PCVs with their trainees. We felt a bit like pets as the PCVs would meet in the street, introduce their guest, then discuss them. As we entered the “theatre,” we paid a few coins into the cardboard collection box. Inside there was a sea of brown skinned folk rendered uniform by their common attire. Many were older children. A white bed sheet hung in the front of the room. Apparently it was the “screen,” another of many things in this country to put in quotation marks. The projector was started then stopped for correction. After a few minutes, it started up. Then shut down. But nobody seemed to find quality control unduly lacking. After about ten times, the locals’ patience was thinner, but not thin. They had time—Samoan time—for Samoan things and palagi (white people) things.
During the movie, the Samoans laughed and reacted at what seemed the most inappropriate times, like when partial nudity was shown or someone was physically hurt. And when we reacted emotionally to a scene, they often remained silent. Movies were probably one of the major exposures to the West that they received, which could be very misleading and a bad influence. Do you know how many dogs I’ve heard were named “Rambo” in this country? Neither do I, I lost count.

We were to depart for a remote village the next day, to be immersed most deeply into the culture, so I went to sleep early; it was no time to play.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

7. Injuries to Avoid

On November 21st, we had our work-site visits. Andrew and I hopped on his off-road motorcycle for the Western Samoa Technical Institute, or “T.I.” as it was informally called. It which was situated two miles from Apia center (it later became the Samoa Polytechnic, and then part of the National University of Samoa). The tropical airflow and changing scents and sights were invigorating. Andrew introduced me to the principal there, a Samoan man probably in his fifties, who welcomed me. I also met an educational consultant, a man from India, who had arrived via work in London, New Zealand, and Tonga. He seemed to have wise eyes, and from our conversation, it seemed to me that in his perception of the world, he had developed a coherent philosophy. (I would come to appreciate his non-judgmental compassion for me when I suffered some difficult times later).
Back at the hotel, our group had a session to gauge our progress and handle any issues, problems, or questions. Volunteers raised issues particular to their assignments. Before the end of the day, we had a medical orientation. Common problems and other information were described. For instance, male PCVs tended to lose weight while female PCVs tended to gain weight. A poisoning issue involved trainer Apulu demonstrating with a live “Crown of Thorns.”  It looked like a starfish from the planet Mars, red and crusty with spikes that can poison you if you step on them, sometimes fatally. He showed us how to flip it over to have the underside mouth placed over the wound so the animal would suck out the poison for you--certainly the preferred method for the person whose friend accidentally sits on one.
The training staff handed out one copy each of a large paperback book called “Where There Is No Doctor -a Village Health Care Handbook.” The cover photograph is of villagers crossing a waist-deep river in the wilderness, carrying a person on a stretcher covered with a raised, thin sheet. Inside the book, I saw depictions and descriptions of everything wretched that can happen to one’s insides and outsides.
The book was supposed to be empowering, not encouraging.
There was the National Hospital in Apia, where at least basic care was available, but at remote locations, you could only find a few basic medical stations with a nurse or “nurse like person.” 

November 22nd marked the assassination that had stunned the world. Because the Peace Corps began under John F. Kennedy’s administration, we were acutely aware of this date even while abroad. We acknowledged it while still gathered for the morning briefing following breakfast. The rest of the day was for R&R.
A few of us left for Palolo Deep, a deep area inside the coral reef that surrounds most of the island. Cindy, Mary Margaret, John S., John W., Mark, and I waded out to a pile of rocks about 100 yards off shore where we used a twenty-foot thatched roof hut as a base for swimming, sunning, lounging, and picnicking. While snorkeling, we saw many tropical fish flashing their amazing array of colors among the penetrating beams of sunlight. But my mind drifted toward sharks.
Everyone has a phobia. For me, since the movie “Jaws,” it’s sharks! Finding out that they had filmed it offshore of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts didn’t help, even though great whites didn’t hunt in these waters. Ironically, I am less scared of them now, perhaps because the Jaws effect wore off and because I’ve lived long enough to feel I wouldn’t be terribly short changed if gobbled up. I used to think that if I lived to 33, the age Jesus died, then I could ask for no more. I think the worst part of it all is that it is beyond one’s control, once in the water, and you can’t see it coming. Contrast that with doing 100 m.p.h. on a motorcycle or parachuting or free rock climbing, where I’ve calculated visible risks—not as scary (parachuting was quite frightening at first).
Sharks occasionally get through the spaces in the coral reef here, especially at high tide. We were told that here in 1972, an 18-foot Tiger Shark bit off the top half of a PCV. Apparently, while spear fishing, the line holding his captured fish had snapped Rather than drag it along with his hand, he looped it around his neck. A Tiger Shark caught the unintended bait and reeled in the volunteer. It was said that a woman with him, perhaps his girlfriend, witnessed it.
Speaking of animals eating other animals, that evening, we devoured a baked pig and an imported turkey complemented by multiple dishes at a Thanksgiving dinner. This treat was at the Peace Corps Country Director’s semi-western style house, which was on the oceanfront and beautifully set. Most countries that Peace Corps serves have an office led by a Country Director and two to four Associate Country Directors with a small staff. Some Associate directors and staff are host country nationals. The food was wonderful, and we got to play volleyball on the well-tended lawn. In speaking with Andrew, he advised me to live with another volunteer if I had any need for privacy or time for myself, as a traditional Samoan family would usually not fully understand the need.

The next step in training was to take us deeper into Samoa, deeper into the culture. The nervous excitement was palpable among us as we headed for the Hideaway. On November 21st, we had our work-site visits. Andrew and I hopped on his off-road motorcycle for the Western Samoa Technical Institute, or “T.I.” as it was informally called. It which was situated two miles from Apia center (it later became the Samoa Polytechnic, and then part of the National University of Samoa). The tropical airflow and changing scents and sights were invigorating. Andrew introduced me to the principal there, a Samoan man probably in his fifties, who welcomed me. I also met an educational consultant, a man from India, who had arrived via work in London, New Zealand, and Tonga. He seemed to have wise eyes, and from our conversation, it seemed to me that in his perception of the world, he had developed a coherent philosophy. (I would come to appreciate his non-judgmental compassion for me when I suffered some difficult times later).
Back at the hotel, our group had a session to gauge our progress and handle any issues, problems, or questions. Volunteers raised issues particular to their assignments. Before the end of the day, we had a medical orientation. Common problems and other information were described. For instance, male PCVs tended to lose weight while female PCVs tended to gain weight. A poisoning issue involved trainer Apulu demonstrating with a live “Crown of Thorns.”  It looked like a starfish from the planet Mars, red and crusty with spikes that can poison you if you step on them, sometimes fatally. He showed us how to flip it over to have the underside mouth placed over the wound so the animal would suck out the poison for you--certainly the preferred method for the person whose friend accidentally sits on one.
The training staff handed out one copy each of a large paperback book called “Where There Is No Doctor -a Village Health Care Handbook.” The cover photograph is of villagers crossing a waist-deep river in the wilderness, carrying a person on a stretcher covered with a raised, thin sheet. Inside the book, I saw depictions and descriptions of everything wretched that can happen to one’s insides and outsides.
The book was supposed to be empowering, not encouraging.
There was the National Hospital in Apia, where at least basic care was available, but at remote locations, you could only find a few basic medical stations with a nurse or “nurse like person.” 

November 22nd marked the assassination that had stunned the world. Because the Peace Corps began under John F. Kennedy’s administration, we were acutely aware of this date even while abroad. We acknowledged it while still gathered for the morning briefing following breakfast. The rest of the day was for R&R.
A few of us left for Palolo Deep, a deep area inside the coral reef that surrounds most of the island. Cindy, Mary Margaret, John S., John W., Mark, and I waded out to a pile of rocks about 100 yards off shore where we used a twenty-foot thatched roof hut as a base for swimming, sunning, lounging, and picnicking. While snorkeling, we saw many tropical fish flashing their amazing array of colors among the penetrating beams of sunlight. But my mind drifted toward sharks.
Everyone has a phobia. For me, since the movie “Jaws,” it’s sharks! Finding out that they had filmed it offshore of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts didn’t help, even though great whites didn’t hunt in these waters. Ironically, I am less scared of them now, perhaps because the Jaws effect wore off and because I’ve lived long enough to feel I wouldn’t be terribly short changed if gobbled up. I used to think that if I lived to 33, the age Jesus died, then I could ask for no more. I think the worst part of it all is that it is beyond one’s control, once in the water, and you can’t see it coming. Contrast that with doing 100 m.p.h. on a motorcycle or parachuting or free rock climbing, where I’ve calculated visible risks—not as scary (parachuting was quite frightening at first).
Sharks occasionally get through the spaces in the coral reef here, especially at high tide. We were told that here in 1972, an 18-foot Tiger Shark bit off the top half of a PCV. Apparently, while spear fishing, the line holding his captured fish had snapped Rather than drag it along with his hand, he looped it around his neck. A Tiger Shark caught the unintended bait and reeled in the volunteer. It was said that a woman with him, perhaps his girlfriend, witnessed it.
Speaking of animals eating other animals, that evening, we devoured a baked pig and an imported turkey complemented by multiple dishes at a Thanksgiving dinner. This treat was at the Peace Corps Country Director’s semi-western style house, which was on the oceanfront and beautifully set. Most countries that Peace Corps serves have an office led by a Country Director and two to four Associate Country Directors with a small staff. Some Associate directors and staff are host country nationals. The food was wonderful, and we got to play volleyball on the well-tended lawn. In speaking with Andrew, he advised me to live with another volunteer if I had any need for privacy or time for myself, as a traditional Samoan family would usually not fully understand the need.

Our time at the Tusitala Hotel ended on November 23rd. The next step would take us deeper into Samoa, deeper into the culture. The nervous excitement was palpable among us as we headed for the Hideaway.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

NEW SERIES . . .

Peace in Polynesia, War in D.C.

About my inter-cultural experience in the U.S. Peace Corps and intra-cultural experience as a white student at a historically black law school. (See numbered entries to the left.)



(write the Peace Corps posts starting on Peace Corps week, and the Howard Law posts during national Black History Month? Ah, integrate them ...)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

CHUM, CHAMP, AND CHUMP

Some will say Osama bin Laden at the bottom of the ocean is now appropriately closer to hell; others will say he will simply ascend farther to heaven. Some will wonder what his gunshot wounds look like; others will wonder if the sailors chummed the water before sliding his body into it. United we survivors stand over his body, but we need not gloat. We should be dignified—not for his death, but for our life.

We need not provide those visual proofs that would serve as anti-American propaganda and disserve “us”—the U.S. and those who would rather spend billions on helping people instead of on thwarting terrorist. Let us have faith that we discriminately terminated the one who through false interpretation of a genuine faith so indiscriminately murdered Americans and others. Maybe someday, like October 24th, United Nations Day, we can release “doctored” photos, i.e., real photos but with gauze-pad graphics pasted over the gruesome head wound. For now, let us keep to ourselves the last mortal views of him as the rightful antidote to the horrific public views of death on 911.

Some say they would have personally pulled the trigger to kill Osama bin Laden, but would they have all really done so when the situation was not theoretical but real, requiring an instantaneous decision? Once, a government officer asked me if, under certain hypothetical circumstances, I would kill a person upon a superior’s order. My impulse was to say yes, but I wonder. As with most hypotheticals, the most common correct answer is “it depends.” With bin Laden, I hesitate because of the “human being” part of the apt phrase “evil human being.” However, in theory, at least, I would pull the trigger to end the life of someone who not only admitted the mass murder but also had never expressed remorse and continued to manifest intent to do it again.

Bin Laden sealed his own fate, in the end. The Abbottabad takedown was not an arrest by local police implying constitutional rights, so it did not violate U.S. law per se. It was a military operation. Did it violate international law? Well, it depends. Even in domestic law circumstances can permit justified homicide, e.g., self-defense by the victim, capital punishment by the state, both of which are analogous here. Seal Team Six members were properly committed to killing this terrorist under circumstances that before and during the action allowed no room for error or benefit of the doubt. Guns, not a white flag, greeted the Seals. Ultimately, the onus was on bin Laden to quit being a combatant quickly and clearly. He did not do so, so the killing was apparently legal.

Bin Laden is no chum to humanity; rather, he sank laden with sin. Obama is no chimp, Marilyn Davenport; rather he is one of a number of heroic champs. And yes, Robert Dinero, Trump with all his dinero acted like a chump recently. Now let’s get back to the business of being good Americans.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

THE DEEPER TRUTH OF RADIATION – Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Fukushima

Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic b...Image via Wikipedia
Radiation: sending out rays; to shine; to glow.
It gives life on Earth via the sun or destroys life via bombs and contamination. Less than two years ago Samoa suffered a tsunami. It survived and its people will flourish despite the setback from being on the verge of removal from the United Nation’s list of least developed nations. When I taught refrigeration at the technical institute in Samoa’s capital, Apia, we Peace Corps volunteers had a tradition of playing softball on the campus grounds against Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). We even played on the anniversary of VJ Day, the U.S. day of victory over Japan in World War II, but the game was in good fun and friendship, and we mixed the teams for a second game. Our American-Japanese friendships extended into other areas from work to parties to tennis tournaments and cultural demonstrations. For instance, I tutored my friend, Tatsuya Kanda of Osaka, in English and he taught me a little karate.

Several years ago I breakfasted, tȇte-ὰ-tȇte, with a former U.S. Senator, discussing our respective writing projects and backgrounds. The conversation turned to his career and to history. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not justified, he said. Over the years, the issue has been debated extensively, whether or not the bombing helped end World War II sooner and saved more lives on both sides than it lost. To be clear, I am not entering that debate here. Additionally, he said it was a horrendous blow to humanity. And who could disagree? I could, at least insofar as a certain point I had. And it was this: the extreme human horror and radical devastation from those two detonated bombs made all subsequent nuclear-capable countries fear military escalation to an unprecedented degree. Consequently, it pre-empted a greater evil for the future of all humanity.

So far, anyway—we came very close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis when President John F. Kennedy’s top generals recommended the nuclear bombing of Cuba because the Soviet Union had placed nuclear weapons on the island. My breakfast companion sat back and, looking thoughtful, agreed that whether or not that bombing was justified, it likely served a greater good for all humanity in holding back any number of fingers from the nuclear button in later conflicts. I still feel the truth in this, and beyond the Mutually Assured Destruction of the U.S. vs. Soviets or other countries; it is applicable to all nuclear-capable nations. But that’s me, looking for sunshine because darkness is too easily found.

And so, my proposal: take the nuclear waste from Japan’s stricken reactors and bury it within U.S. soil. First, they don’t have the room. Second, we do, with isolated salt mines and the like. It would be a literal and symbolic healing gesture that goes beyond friendship between the two nations to honor all life. From inflicting radiation in southern Japan—passing through their consciousness, bodies, and souls for decades—we could remove radiation from northern Japan. Sure, it’s poetic, romantic, and maybe even ridiculously radiant of love and white doves, but it is redemptive and meaningful. Perhaps President Kennedy, who was injured when a Japanese destroyer ran down his patrol boat during WWII, would agree.

Even if it is an expense for U.S. in a difficult economy—

Everything I touch

with tenderness, alas,

pricks like a bramble.

(Kobayashi Issa, 1763 – 1828)

—we should nevertheless reach out a welcome hand—

Sick and feverish

Glimpse of cherry blossoms

Still Shivering

(Akutagawa, Ryunosuke, 1892 – 1927)

Moreover, we will all be safer and healthier worldwide by taking action on nuclear waste. American just needs the political will to lead the way, beginning with recycling and developing the long-planned U.S. repository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When Cupid Misses the Mark

Image via Wikipedia


Post Valentine’s Depression can arise from unmet expectations, so I recommend being kind to those you love, and to those you don’t--and laughing at someone else’s folly, like mine. If I can have disastrous experiences like this and still find love, anyone can.

Not long out of high school, one circle of friends played matchmaker and paired me with a young lady from another circle of friends, so I only knew her tangentially. Let’s call her, say, Suzanne. After all, that’s her name. Real names have not been changed to protect the innocent because she was innocent but needed not protection—except one, which she provided the moment things got dirty, but not the way you might think.

Suzanne lived in a neat white house in a good section of town. She dressed well and knew well how to apply makeup and adorn herself with the right touch of jewelry. She had tight blond curls, with frosting. And her father was a Boston cop, if I remember my apprehension correctly (the jokes had preceded the date—"better treat her well, Kevin, or her father will shoot you," etc.). Oh, did I mention I had a car? Well, if I did, I retract that statement, because I did not. In fact, that fact was a logistical barrier to asking her out, something the shy side of me appreciated then. However, our mutual friends soon negotiated that obstacle for the Romeo-and-Juliet they sought to fashion—alas, that joint appellation was not to be.

She picked me up that evening with her father’s prized Cadillac Seville, shiny and white. She offered to have me drive. I thought he might get upset, but she insisted that it would be fine. I sat my tush behind the wheel, determined not to speed or crash and risk the wrath of her father, and away we went to the South Shore Plaza Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre in Braintree.



I was, however, daring enough to procure a six-pack of Miller beer for us, which was my first mistake. She didn’t drink. Not that she was a goody-two-shoe; her two shoes were quite good, but she could stand on her own two feet and make a conscious choice. I decided not to mention how I’d once hung from the top of that drive-in movie screen (at 14 y.o., skipping school with friends, climbing up the back of the screen with big rocks to toss onto the small frozen pond behind like target practice; I hung over the front edge of the screen on a dare--well, I dared myself, actually).

We parked far from the concession stand bathrooms. That was my second mistake. I sipped beer as we sat in the car, immersed in the movie. When I realized that I was opening my fourth bottle, I became self-conscious. I wasn’t just out-pacing her; she’d abstained. Worse, beer goes right through me, and I’d already needed to go to the bathroom when we arrived but hadn’t wanted to risk missing the start of the movie. Now the end of the movie seemed imminent. So I waited. And Waited. And the plot developed, as did the internal pressure. And the movie seemed about to end, until another twist, while I wiggled, and finally I had to excuse myself, my face surely red from embarrassment and holding back the flow. I played it casual, said I’d be right back and would just hop over to the adjacent woods, as if it were a matter of convenience, not desperation.

In the semi-darkness, I paused at the ranch-style fence bordering the drive-in theater lot. Although far enough away, I was still within view of the car. Eager to make a better impression, I smoothly hopped over the fence with an eye toward a tree-target further in—but I landed in a swamp.

I struggled for balance but my feet slid in the muck, and my body moved away from the bank. I sank up to my waist. The cold was shocking. I gasped and tried to catch my balance, so I wouldn't sink further. Thin branches hanging down snapped in my hands, and promising vines broke their promise. I tried for traction on the uneven bottom without losing my shoes to the muck’s suction. With plodding as careful as walking a tight rope over gators, I managed to step, lean, pull, and pray my way to the slick bank where I clawed my way up. I thought I saw a pollywog leap off my body.

What just happened? How? Why? Now what? I stood, shivering, comprehending in stages, dripping water and algae and God knew what from my torso to my toes. I shook and wiped off what I could and then my heart dropped at the thought of the plush velour Cadillac seats. After doing my business, I squared my shoulders, wiped a bit of scum off them, and stepped over the fence. As I made my way, the squish-squish-squish sound of my shoes drew stares from other movie-goers. I reached the passenger side door and opened it. My, was she shocked—good thing we weren't watching Creature From the Black Lagoon, because I think we would have lost her.

Yes, I explained. Yes, I wondered what in the world was she wondering. Yes that included, Who is this loser? Why did they fix me up with this guy who drinks yellow beer and now smells like crushed frog? Did this kid just piss his pants and find a swamp to blame it on? I told her I couldn't get in because I’d ruin the seats. I actually volunteered to take off my pants—joking of course; OK, I was only half-joking, because I didn't have a solution for the murky mess that I’d gotten myself into.

She took off her white cardigan sweater, spread it on the passenger seat, and kindly insisted that I sit on it. That was not the way I’d envisioned her sweater coming off, I confess, but what could I do? I lowered myself. She drove me home. She kept her window down.

If you have someone to love on Valentine’s Day—whether romantically or not, in today’s greeting card-expanded definition— be happy you do; otherwise, get out there and take a chance on love, but keep it clean. 

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Blog, Slog

Who said "there's no going home"? Apparently, I will be. The PR push is on for local book signings, starting with the Barnes&Noble book store in Braintree. The Forum article doesn't specify when, but we'll hear soon, so wish me luck, cyber-friends and all.
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Jan. 5, 2011: Frustration, grrr . . . The publisher had to change the price and book cover’s UPC code, so that delay plus time for changes to migrate to Ingram and B&N databases means re-submitting to the B&N buyer for approval, so the book signings are on hold. Why, if I had any hair . . . picture Larry of the Three Stooges pulling his out ;)  Otherwise, Happy New Year!
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Jan. 25, 2011 - Back on track, but might take few more weeks (sigh, tapping foot, wishing had authorial clout . . .)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best Books 2010 Awards, USA Book News

I found out Tuesday that my novel, South Pacific Survivor: In Samoa, is an Award-Winning Finalist in the Multicultural Fiction category of the Best Books 2010 Awards, sponsored by USA Book News.
Didn't win 1st place, but I am happy. See? -->   :)

Also, one year ago Tuesday, a tsunami destroyed land and lives in Samoa, where Survivor Samoa and Survivor Heroes vs. Villains were filmed. Hundreds were made homeless, many killed. Season 20 had just completed filming when it hit. Survivor used the now-closed Ili’ili Resort for Ponderosa, the pre- and post-game holding area for contestants. Its owner said the show’s use of it saved lives because it wasn’t occupied when the tsunami hit. A Survivor-themed resort is being planned for that location.

For donation information, visit http://www.apiasamoa.ws/
Soifua!