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.

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