we're heading back to the village for our 3 week stay – so this will be my last update until then. Just keep in mind that even though we may return in 3 weeks, you may not hear from me for 3.5 weeks because I have to type up all my journal entries from the village and that takes time (that's why I was 'late' posting this week). But never fear, I will always be in contact when I can. And after this 3 week stay, may life becomes a lot less structured which will be great! Anyways, love ya – talk to you in December and have a Happy Thanksgiving! L8r.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
All Vol (Written 11/18/05)
We had our first major meeting today and ironically enough it was called All Vol by most of the volunteers. I knew everything here would revolve around Tennessee, but I didn't expect them to flat out steal one of our terms. Anyway, today was the annual All Volunteer Conference for PC Samoa. All Vol is basically an opportunity for a majority of the volunteers in PC Samoa to get together and be updated on the status of various things throughout the agency. It is one of the few times where all of the volunteers are together and can talk to each other – the only problem is that its not mandatory, so not all the volunteers were there. While we met a lot of people during our FiaFia that was within a week of us being here and for some people that was the last time we saw their face, so in a way it was a good refresher course for me on trying to learn as many of the current PCVs as possible. This was also an opportunity to see the wide range of ages that are currently serving in PC Samoa – we've got as young as 21 all the way to as old as 65 (I think), quite a dynamic when you see most of them together in one room. Anyways, the conference started off with Kim (our Country Director) giving a State of the Post address. Its kinda like the President's state of the Union address except its more focused on what PC Samoa has done in the past year in regards to accomplishments and what improvements still have to be made. She did tell us that in March 2006 PC will be celebrating its 45th anniversary and in March 2007 PC Samoa will be celebrating its 40th anniversary – so we definitely came at the right time for a lot of partying and positive energy. After the State of the Post address we got a security briefing from Fono about some of the dangers that lurk within paradise. He broke some of the statistics down in days and we found out that in Samoa, no crimes took place against PC Volunteers on Monday but there were a heck of a lot that took place on Friday – so the best day to walk around alone at night in Samoa is Monday! He also told us that for 2004 and part of 2005, Savaii had 0 crimes reported from Volunteers serving there. So that means one of two things, Savaii's either an extremely safe island or all the Savaii criminals come over to Upolu because there's more people/targets there – who knows. We also had the Regional Safety and Security Director from Washington in for our conference – so she gave us an update on how the security in Samoa compares to the other islands in our region and for the most part Samoa was in the middle of many of the crime categories. After that we held elections for the new members for VAC (Volunteer Action Committee) which is like the student council for PC. It was a tough race with only 4 candidates to choose for 4 positions – I really gritted my teeth trying to decide who to vote for. At that time we also had the staff appreciation – and even though we're only in training, we understand how much hard work goes into not only maintaining the current group of volunteers on the two islands but also getting ready for the next batch of volunteers that are coming in 5 months and in a year. They work really hard and just like in the states, its easy to take that kind of dedication for granted. After that, we had a year in review slideshow that showed pics of all the current volunteers in service right now. While we were only on it in a group picture sense, Bob made the slideshow because of his wild and crazy dancing during the FiaFia. So you can easily see that Bob made an impression on PC Samoa from the very beginning – he's an interesting dude. It was a cool slide show because it showed that even though we're going to be separated on two islands there will be plenty of time to hang out together and make friends with people outside our own group. As much as I love group 75, two years of just hanging out with the same 13 people does not sound like personal growth. After the slide show, Teuila (our Peace Corps Medical Officer) went over some medical statistics from 2004 and 2005 – from what we heard from other volunteers before at one point PC Samoa was on the top of the list for number of volunteers contracting STDs – fortunately that number has dropped a lot and today it was not even mentioned that Samoa has a lot of volunteers with STDs (in comparison to other islands within the region). She also talked about Avian Flu and what PC Samoa has planned in case there is a pandemic outbreak. PC Samoa has a very limited supply of Tamiflu which is the only medicine that has somewhat worked against the Avian Flu. If there's an outbreak in a neighboring country, all the volunteers will be consolidated (like they do during a cyclone) and wait for further instructions. If there is an outbreak within Samoa, all the volunteers will be evacuated until the problem is dealt with – since there's no dependable cure for Avian Flu right now, evacuation could be our only option if it were to break out here in Samoa – let's hope not. Then we had a diversity activity dealing with stereotypes, specifically stereotypes that we as outsiders in this cultural off-handedly make about Samoans without thinking about it (you know, forgetting that they are even there sometimes) and we talked about how we would feel as Samoans if we heard an American (let alone a PC Volunteer) basically bash our own culture in front of our face. Just like in America, you have to be aware of who's around you when you say something negative about a certain culture or type of people (if you feel you have to say anything at all). Next was a section called Open Spaces where there were little workshops opened up across the conference area that dealt with specific items that PC Volunteers may be interested in learning more about. Off the top of my head, I know there were workshops that dealt with Suipi (Sweep E) which is a Samoan Card game, Mu (Moo) which is a Samoan checkers game, How to make Ava (the drink that you have at Ava ceremonies), places to find funding for projects and one or two more but I can't remember them all. It was a good way to learn more about specific aspects of the Samoan culture while in the presence of Americans who can explain it to you in full English. Especially for the Ava ceremony, since we still have a limited understanding of the vocabulary but the Ava ceremony is a big part of the Fa'a Samoa and its good to have some kind of understanding about not only how to make Ava but also what you should say when you're drinking Ava. Next up was Volunteer appreciation and in the past this meant giving out awards to certain volunteers for an excellent job of volunteering – well that didn't sit to well with a few volunteers, so instead of giving out awards the staff created a skit that showcased what its like to be a volunteer in another country. In their skit, Samoa was the one sending volunteers to America to help out with improving the family unit of America which is always so busy and sometimes not as closely connected as a Samoan family unit. It was extremely funny to watch (I have pictures) and at the end all of the PC Samoa staff danced and a good time was had by all. The last event of the day was a competition between the groups in service (71, 72,73,74 and 75) in a rousing game of PC Samoa Jeopardy. We played it just like a regular game of Jeopardy only this time (obviously) all the categories dealt with PC related subjects. Some of the questions we did not know simply because we're still trainees and do not have all the information (nor experience) that the current volunteers have. So we were definitely playing behind the 8 ball from the very beginning and then when we got our first answer wrong and lost 500 points,, I thought we were going to be in last place the entire time. Fortunately, our group may not know a lot but we know a few important things and were able to go from last place to a tie for 3rd place with Group 73 (they are the other currently serving Capacity Building Group). The final jeopardy question dealt with an event that occurred while we (group 75) was still in the states: In Sept 2005, PC made an unprecedented move by sending Crisis Corps, which is a temporary PC for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, to a domestic incident (Hurricane Katrina). While we didn't win at least we proved that we're still capable and did not come in last place which is all that really matters! After that, the conference was over and we all went on our merry little ways to the four corners of Apia because tomorrow we have a Thanksgiving lunch to go to with all the volunteers before we head off to the village for our 3 week stay. The All Vol conference was a blast and like I said it was good to see the volunteers that I have not really had a chance to meet and interact with yet. Some of the volunteers come to only one or two 'major' functions like this per year so getting to see them is a real treat because we probably won't see all the volunteers together like this again until the next batch of volunteers come in. Tomorrow we get to celebrate Thanksgiving a week early with the PC Volunteers at the US Embassy Compound here in Samoa. I know, it should be a fancy shindig since we're having it at the US Embassy Compound – who knows if we'll meet any important people while we're there. After that, at around 5pm