It all started on Wednesday when I went to a bible study for the church that I go to here. We had some new people that joined us, they were an American family here doing some mission/evangelism work. I was wearing one of my Camp Ozark's shirts that night and the father (Ray) asked where the camp was. Then I said in Arkansas and he told me that the family used to live in Arkansas for a bit before moving to Minnesota. Then I asked where do they live in Minnesota and he told me they lived in a suburb of Minneapolis/St Paul – just like where my dad and Josh's mom live! These people don't even come from the island and we already had connections – it was very surreal.
But the big moment came on Friday when I met a Peace Corps volunteer who actually served in Samoa, her name is Mary Harper and she was here with her husband Denis. We have been emailing each other for a few weeks now – she found my blog and contacted me to get some info on what was happening in the country. She served here with Peace Corps Samoa Group 15! 60 groups ago = 30 years! This was her first time back to Samoa in 30 years. While emailing back and forth, I found out that we both have masters degrees in Library Science (my degree is called Information Science, but they're similar) so that was a nice connection before she even got here. So I met them at their hotel on Friday night and we set and chatted for a bit. During this chat I learned 3 very interesting things:
1) They will be here for exactly 2 weeks, leaving on Mary's birthday. What day is that you might ask? It's July 24 – OUR birthday. Mary and I have the exact same birthday, 38 years apart but that just blew my mind!
2) Our Technical trainer is named Kevin and his wife (who is Samoan by birth, but is Caucasian) Tialofa. Mary actually served with Tialofa's parents (they were Peace Corps volunteers, which I did not know) and remembered Tialofa from when she was just a baby. She's definitely not a baby anymore. I think someone said that her parents are in country right now – so hopefully they will get to meet at some point.
3) The story of PC Samoa Group 1: Not even the current country director had heard this story before Mary arrived. It seems that when the first set of trainees/volunteers arrived in country, it was a huge event and there were a lot of Samoans there as well as Peace Corps staff. Some Samoan of importance then gave a message, in Samoan, which basically said 'Take these volunteers into your heart, take these volunteers into your home and welcome them with open arms'. So the Samoans who were there literally grabbed the volunteers and took them all to their villages and homes. The Peace Corps was shocked by this because it was totally unexpected, and they had to get on the radio and told the people that if they had a Peace Corps volunteer to please return them. It took a week to get all the volunteers back.
So those three things just blew my mind – and that just goes to further prove that this is the island of LOST. Mary's husband, Denis, is also in charge of a non-profit educational technology company that uses students as change agents for technology (meaning students teach the teachers about technology, students teach the students and students keep the technology infrastructures working) which is a very interesting concept. He's also working on a creating a 21st century school in the African country of Liberia and told me that if I were interested in doing something like that or helping, to give him a call once I was done in Samoa. So in the course of one night, I got an awesome history lesson and a job offer – not a bad night. But wait…there's more. Mary and Denis attended an educational technology conference right before coming to Samoa, so they brought to Samoa a whole bag(s) of goodies. They brought mouse pads, little trinkets to give to the students, t-shirts but I got excited when I saw the educational software they brought – you just can't have enough of that in a computer lab. There was just tons of it, mainly demos, but even if some of them only partially work it could give the kids a new avenue to learn through and that's what counts. They also brought a beach chair for me and some coffee for Julya (since she's from Washington, I had to ask them to bring something Washington-like and that meant Starbucks coffee) plus some other goodies I can give to other volunteers, so they definitely shared the wealth on this trip.
We went to dinner at Bistro Tatau, which was close to their hotel and talked a little bit more and shared some awesome stories. This was where I found out that they were going to Savaii next week and they would be going to Falealupo which has some very nice fales but is very much out of the way in terms of transportation. So I said to myself 'Man, I wish I could help them but I don't know a lot about that area. I should tell them to get in contact with Maka (Group 74) [a volunteer who leaves out in that area]' but as far as I knew, he was out in his village and I had no way to contact him. After the dinner, we went to the movies to see 'Click'. Mary had also gone to a lot of movies during her service here and she said the movie theater we had now was a lot nicer then the one she used back when she served. It was fun just hearing the comparisons between now and 30 years ago – makes me appreciate that the culture has changed, even though sometimes it doesn't feel like it. So when we sat down to watch the movie, who sat down right next to me? Maka (Group 74)! He was in town with a friend of his from the college he went to in the US. I was like 'You've got to be kidding me.' So we watched the movie, which was good – it was like "It's a wonderful life" with a remote – and after the movie I told Maka that Mary and Denis were trying to get out to Falealupo. We headed to McDonald's (only my second trip in there) to sit down and chat for a bit. There we learned that Rochelle (the friend of Maka's) had a professor at UC Davis that served with Mary during her time here. That completely shocked Maka and myself – two totally random people meeting out of the blue and they have some kind of connection. Sound familiar? Sound like a show on ABC?
So Maka helped them out on the Savaii part of their trip and offered his Samoan speaking services to help Mary find her old Samoan family out at Saleaaumua (which is where Josh just moved to last month), so we'll see how that works out. I knew I was suppose to come to Samoa but if I needed any further proof that I'm exactly where I'm suppose to be – I got it Friday night. I'm glad that I was able to help Mary get reconnected with what's going on and hopefully make her trip with her husband a little more relaxing. L8r.