Monday, July 26, 2010

Unforgettable ...

My list of unforgettable Samoan moments:

Watching the fire dancers

Watching the fire dancers set a table on fire

Watching the fire dancers stand frozen staring at the table they set on fire

Watching a tourist walk up and throw the table in the swimming pool

Meet Eti ...

This is Eti ...

A couple weeks ago he took us up here ...

Around here ...

And through here ...

So we could see this ...

Lake Lanoto'o

I got to feed wild goldfish on Saturday! The hike to Lake Lanoto'o was slippery and steep but passed through some amazing greenery and flowers. The lake was created after a volcano erupted and eventually the crater filled with water. Germans introduced the small fish to the lake and they've been spreading like crazy ever since. My friend and I had the lake to ourselves while our guide did some work on the land above.

Our guide has been helping uncover the remains of small huts that a German doctor built and lived in during his time in Samoa. He found the foundations as well as a few remaining day-to-day items like old wine bottles and a teapot. The doctor's grandchildren have been visiting from Germany and want to place a headstone marker there. A bit tricky since it's an hour walk up steep and slippery terrain and no one else lives nearby, but our guide is determined it will get done somehow. He had amazing stories about the doctor who lived there a century ago and was finally driven out by New Zealand planes around WWII.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Trouble in Paradise ...

The man kicked the fence angrily, his face grimacing with the effort, and the arm that held the baby coming back towards the street. I wondered what the fence had done to deserve his rage until I saw him begin to strike it, over and over, and I knew. Something was hidden by the fence -- something soft, something human.

I called out to my coworkers. Our truck pulled up further and we could see a woman, her full weight bending in the fence around her, her assailant ready to strike again. We didn't want to believe what we were seeing. His leg came up and he pushed it hard into her stomach. She doubled over and slid down the fence toward the ground.

"Help her! Do something!"

The words came out of my mouth, but my body was frozen. L.i. urged our driver forward further, rolled down her window and immediately began to try diffuse the situation in Samoan, simultaneously asking the woman on the sidewalk if she was all right. He looked right at us, still holding the baby, then turned with a look toward the woman and punched again. This time there was blood and she was down on the ground. B. jumped out of the driver's seat and ran to her. L.i. was out of the truck trying to reason him, doing anything to stall him and get him to hand over the baby. She fired a string of Samoan at him ... who knows what she said. Insults? Reprimands? Pleadings? I had sat in shock watching the commotion until my body finally caught up with my brain and my hands scrambled furiously inside my bag for my cell phone. I dialed the police.

"We're sorry, but the number you're trying to reach is busy now. We're sorry, but the ..."

I hung up and silently cursed the robotic voice and lack of a dispatching system.

I stood near L.i. half-frozen, unable to say or understand anything in Samoan. My fingers were still fumbling with the keypad. A few people started walking toward us from across the street and E. was cradling the woman's head, keeping it off the concrete. The man grabbed a rock and started back toward the woman. L.i. came toward him. A taxi pulled up and the man, dropped the rock and began climbing in. He hesitated. L.i. was staring at him.

"Hello? Hello?"

I finally got another voice on the other end of the line.

"L.i. I've got the police, talk to them," I said pushing the phone toward her, sure that her Samoan would get us further and faster than my English.

She looked at me confused, told me to talk to them and continued to stare at the man climbing in the taxi with the baby.

"Hello? Yes. We've just witnessed an assault."


Are you kidding me?

A crowd was starting to gather and the man and the baby disappeared inside the taxi which quickly drove off. I memorized the license plate number and couldn't believe that the taxi driver, who could clearly see the woman lying bleeding on the street, hadn't held him back.

"Let's get her to the hospital," L.i. said.

B. and some other men hosited the half-conscious woman into the track while E. and I gathered her scattered belongings off the pavement. We climbed in the bed of the truck. E's eyes were wide with panic. My mind raced through every bit of domestic violence research I'd completed in Samoa. I was anxious to get to the hospital. But partway there, we turned around and L.i. reluctantly agreed to take the woman to her family's house instead.

E. and I walked in a daze back to the office after L.i. and B. went to track down the assailant's employer. She had been staring for a reason. She recognized him from a local bakery. She and the police would be waiting for him when he got back to work. It didn't take long before he was booked in jail, the baby safely with grandparents. Committing public assault with four employees from the Attorney General's Office as eye-witnesses is a sure way to get caught.

In the meantime, E. and I couldn't get the image of his fist sinking into her head out of our own. Months of work with domestic violence victims, and weeks of research on specific protocal for domestic violence reporting, did little to help cushion the experience. I felt helpless. What good was trying to stop violence against women if it didn't help me stop violence against women? I had just sat there. By the time my fingers had found the number for a limited police force, the punch had already been thrown.

My first reaction was to call home. It calmed my nerves to hear a comforting voice on the other end of the line. But it was awful to realize that while coming home might offer me some personal comfort, it wouldn't help. It wouldn't offer an escape from the violence. Millions of American women are being battered in their own homes the same way a Samoan woman was beat in the street today. So I'll keep working. Even if I can't actually stop anything. At least she knows we tried.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I have Internet access again, so let's get to it, shall we? The last two weeks have been full of cultural experiences -- some planned, and some not-so-much.

Let's begin with THE GOOD ...

Manono Island is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, made even more beautiful by its lovely people.

You can walk around the entire island in about two hours. Kids follow you shouting "Malo!" and "Buh-bye!" and begging you to take their picture so they can see themselves on your digital camera. By far, the coolest part of my trip so far.

THE BAD ....

Dogs here are crazy. They hold the island hostage after dark and I fall asleep to howling and snarling as they attack each other in the streets. They're also really fond of biting tourists. Check out my coworker's awesome battle wound.

One night I took a taxi back home to avoid being attacked in the dark streets only to be greeted at the back door by a couple of dogs. They were not as happy as me that I was home and began growling and barking at me. Terrified, I started shouting "Halu! (stop) Halu! Halu!!" Home-away-from-home-Dad heard me through the window and came and rescued me, laughing at both my accent and the fact I was only two feet from the door when they cornered me.

And THE UGLY ....

Nothing sexier than mosquito bites on pale legs. I must be unusually yummy to the blood-sucking insects because more than one well-meaning Samoan woman has implied that I have a skin disease or asked what happened, half-expecting to hear that I was attacked with a knife.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No escape ...

It follows me. Everywhere.

By about the third time I had tripped out of the van and fallen on my face, Luke caught onto the fact that I'm clumsy.

"You're just like Bella!" he exclaimed.

"Excuse me?"

"You know ... Bella from Twilight? She's such a clutz."

And the only movie showing last night on the island's sole movie theatre (where, by the way, they have to turn off the air conditioning half way through the movie because electricity is a luxury)? Eclipse.

Sigh ... Thank you Stephanie Meyer for my new Samoan nickname and for infiltrating the world. Like fast food and celebrity gossip, you are some of the best our culture has to export abroad.

Benefits ...

Government attorneys aren't paid very much. But this is the view from the back entrance ...

Independence Day

I celebrated July 4th at an Australian club (and when I say club, I mean a tiki hut with a bar surrounded by tables with candles) with an Aussie and a Kiwi.

Palagis, as foreigners are called here, are few in number.

Most are here as aid workers or tourists and most are very young. I have yet to meet anyone who is older than 30 and not a doctor, medical staff, or a political science major.

I came for an authentic international experience, so I panicked a little Saturday night when I realized I was sitting in an Australian club drinking Sprite with two of the few non-Samoans on the island. But the few Samoan friends I've made so far at work had plans that didn't include watching out for a foreign girl's safety in seedy bars while binge drinking. Besides, hanging out with Australians totally counts as an international experience, right?

Introductions ...

An elderly grandmother ordered me in broken English to stand next to her at the luggage terminal. At 5:30 a.m. the airport was buzzing to a soundtrack of live music provided by performers in matching tropical shirts and lava lavas. I stood next to my new friend and followed her direction in taking my luggage off the conveyor belt and making my way through customs.

I must have looked like I had never travelled before. Funny, considering how comfortable I feel in airports. Not that you would have known from the way I bungled security when leaving Salt Lake. There's something about kissing your husband goodbye for the last time before a five-week absence that makes you forget to take off your belt or put your sweatshirt in the right bin and look back instead of forward and almost trip over the mat.

But anways ...

So Luke puts my luggage in their family van and I'm hurled across the coast line at sunrise. It's now 6:30 a.m. and the island is already very much awake. Kids are walking in crisp polo shirts and colored lava lavas on their way to private church schools and adults are waiting on the side of the road to cram into yellow and red buses and taxis. There are colors everywhere. The houses, the flowers, the sunrise, the clouds, the ocean reflecting all of it.

Luke points out traditional villages with fales (thatched-roof homes with no walls) separated by the Samoan version of suburbs. Small roadside stands selling beer, cell phone credits, and packaged foods crammed into jungle along with small single-level European homes.

Yellow signs, some of the only signs on the roads declaring "NO to rape and indecent acts" are attached to the string of telephone and electric poles that follow the coast line. I instantly wonder if they are a product of the government agency I'm here to volunteer with.

Within a half hour we've passed the LDS temple and a chapel or two and my amazement gives way to a feeling of familiarity. Even in Samoa with their open buildings and lush vegetation, there's a "look" to LDS chapels that feels like home.

The van pulls up to the house I'll be staying in for the next five weeks and a few men look up from cooking that's already been under way for an hour in stone ovens under a thatched structure. I'm welcomed in by warm friends and shown into the house. So this is Samoa. Everything around me reminds of a mixture of South America, the states, and pictures I've seen of the Pacific in travel magazines. Chickens and dogs run loose in the yard. There are pigs in the back. A modest kitchen boasts running, but not heated, water. The house is basically a huge screened porch divided into rooms. Curtains hang in a continuous wall of fabric eye-level and down and room is a different color. I'm staying in the pink room -- Princess Pink complete with an old Tinkerbell poster taped to the wall. More later on my adventures on trying to sleep.

P.S. My access to the Internet is not always constant so I have a feeling some days there will be multiple posts I've had waiting to put up, and other days that I won't be able to connect. You, of course, are under no obligation to read them all at once when that happens. =)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Absent ...

I've been gone from cyberworld for awhile. One day I might find the words to explain where I've been in quality and quantity since January. But for now, that doesn't matter. Cyberworld, meet the other side of the world ....

Talofa from Samoa.

More coming.