MJ Live

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mid Service Conference (Written 1/28/07)

This past weekend we had our Mid Service Conference, which basically means all of our group gets together and we reflect on how far we've come in our first year and start preparing for the end of our Peace Corps tour this year. Our conference took place at the Satuiatua Beach Fales on Savaii and that meant more long distance traveling. I got up at around 6am on Friday to turn on the computers in the lab because I wasn't going to be there and at least I know that when I leave a majority of the computers work. So once that was done, I made sure I was forgetting anything and then caught the 7:15am bus into town. Now, they are working on the bridge (called the Alamagoto Bridge) which directly connects Moamoa to Apia – so the bus now has to take a 10 minute detour around that bridge (it's very much a pain in the butt, but it's not the only bridge that's being repaired right now – I guess it has to do with preparing for the South Pacific Games) and thus I got into town at around 7:45am and we were suppose to leave from the Peace Corps office at 8am. Thus, I had to hop into a cab and book it to the office…I made it just in time. Now, fortunately the only person missing from our group was Ryan (there were some close calls while I was out of the country) – who should be coming back on the Wednesday flight this week, so it was our first chance to really get to hang out with each other since….training. Yup, training was the last time the entire group was together (John, Bryan, Ryan, Sara and Charles missed our early service conference). It was definitely a strange feeling having the family back together after so long of doing our separate things. We left the Peace Corps office at about 8:30am (Island time folks, island time) and headed to the wharf to try and catch the 10am ferry. We got there with time to spare but we went on the little boat instead of the big boat – the difference being that on our ride to Savaii we actually got to stay inside the van and that was probably the smoothest ride I ever had going over to Savaii. The shocks on the van counteracted the waves so I was nauseas at all. We got over to Savaii at around 11:30am and then headed to the beach fales, along the way we picked up Julya and got to the place at about 1pm. So on the first day of our conference, we put in over 4 hours of travel time! That's just crazy.

On the first day of the conference, we had our medical, security, language and  administration sessions. In the medical session, we basically talked about how we feel right now about our service, how it's going and where we are on the volunteer life cycle. Now the best part about this session was the fact that Teuila (our medical officer) said that our group was abnormal because for the most part we are pretty satisfied with where we are. Only one person has gotten a Samoan Tattoo (nobody else has the itch right now) and no one is suffering from depression. We're a pretty strong/cool group like that – we just roll with the punches. The security session basically was just a review of the emergency action plan and talked about what happened when we went to the standfast phase when the tropical depression came near us last week. The administration session covered what we needed to know about our plane ticket home at the end of our service – we have two options: we can either get cash and pay for the ticket ourselves or have Peace Corps pay for the ticket directly. Now you may be asking yourself "why not have Peace Corps pay for the ticket, duh!" Well some people decide not to go home directly after their service (and I'm not one of them folks, so you can breath – homeward bound baby!) and some choose to bump their ticket up to business class in order to get a higher weight limit on the flight home (which I will probably do, plus how many times am I going to get the opportunity to have a legit reason for getting business class). Finally, our language session was us giving suggestions to the trainers on how they can improve the language classes during training. Fortunately, we didn't cover any language topics like we did during our Early Service Conference because really at this points folks either know the language well or they don't. No need to beat a dead horse and we're glad they didn't. All of these sessions took about an hour to do total, so we had the rest of the afternoon to just play around on the beach and relax. Dinner was an interesting experience because we got to order individual plates (and the non-Samoan food here is suppose to be very good) and we placed our order at about 2pm, dinner was scheduled for 7pm. Well 7pm rolled around and there was no food and people were getting a bit grouchy (including me, free food should not be late!) and it got to the point where we went to the dining area and just hoped they would be forced to feed us. At around 8pm we finally got some oka (fish in coconut cream) which was our appetizer, but then there was a 20min delay before the first main meal came out. This was my first time having a real meal at this beach fale (even though we stayed here during our Savaii trip, I didn't really have dinner – I was just to tired) and we found out that they are not really built to handle such a large amount of folks all at once because the food was kind of slow coming out. Eventually everyone got served and was a happy camper!

On Day 2 (Saturday) we had sessions with Esera, our Assistant Peace Corps Director (i.e. our direct boss). Now the great thing about Esera is his time management skills – we covered the topic of extending (staying for a third year) and giving an overview of our thoughts on our current assignment in about 15mins (the schedule said we would be in sessions till 2pm). So we start at 8:30am and got done at 8:45am with the entire day to enjoy the beach – that was awesome and Esera got major brownie points from us. But did I stay and enjoy the beach for the day? Nope – instead John and I went with Esera to Maka's (Group 74) village to help with some new computers he received over the holidays. Now Maka works under the Village Based Development side of  Peace Corps, so he doesn't directly work with technology but he wanted to start a computer lab for the school in his village. He is currently in the process of sticking operating systems on the computers (and unlike me, he has a more manageable number for one person – about 6 computers). John was there to help him install/configure the Ubuntu operating system and I was there to help him with the Windows installation and just to answer his general PC questions. Maka told me that before he got these computers, he knew nothing about taking parts out and moving them around but in a few weeks he's come a long way – it's always nice to hear when people get over their 'fear' of computer hardware. So we helped him for the better part of the afternoon and then invited him to spend the night at our fale (we reserved the whole place for the weekend and had an empty fale anyway). So Maka came with us, we had lunch back at the beach fales and then I took a well deserved nap. After the nap, though, it was time to finally get into the ocean and see what the underwater life was like. I asked Bryan if I could borrow his underwater camera and for the first time I was able to take pictures underwater – no pinching photos from other folks! It's definitely more difficult to take pictures underwater because you have to deal with your goggles and the underwater current but I thought I took some nice ones. Now I've taken photos on land, underwater and underground – the only place left is space…the final frontier. After a nice swim, showered and then dinner. This time we had a Samoan dinner which meant pig, chicken and chop suey and for dessert, ice cream! It was dang good.

On Sunday, we left from the fales at about 8:30am and headed back for the 10am wharf ride. We dropped Julya back at her place and arrived just in time to catch the 10am boat, which is the big boat on this side. So no riding in the car this time and the waves were pretty bad on this trip – the horizon was going up and down a lot. When we got back to Upolu, it began to pour down rain – I was so glad we were taking the van back into town and I didn't have to worry about getting a bus…that's the first time that's happened during my time here. Esera – earning his title as the most awesome APCD ever – arranged for the van to drop each of us at our sites so we didn't have to spend money on a taxi (since no buses run on Sunday) and now here I sit, well rested and kind of ready for the first real day of teaching classes tomorrow. The only bad part is that somehow I have caught a head cold or flu and I'm feeling very drowsy and stuffed up right now. So I may not be in the winter conditions, but I've got winter symptoms! L8r.

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