Friday, December 21, 2007

The demise of my sanity, Mum & Dad do Samoa and a German we'll call Gunther....

I know that I always start off my updates with “it has been so long since I last wrote” but this time it really has been. Given the marked lack of correspondence with my loved ones far and wide it seems (or one would hope) that everyone has been just as busy as I and that this will be the excuse given for the dearth of love being reciprocated over the last 2 months. Nonetheless I am reopening the channels of love and am eagerly awaiting your fervid thoughts and emotions to come flooding through the gates of Microsoft Outlook!

Following my return to the land that time forgot, I was thrust into a vat of demands that has not, even to this day, thinned at all. As Matt’s leisure time increased whilst waiting for the perfect job to surface, mine correspondingly decreased as I waved goodbye to the well structured communications plan and timeline that I had formulated to make way for the ever increasing and purely irrational demands of the almighty General Manager. Whilst I could quite easily sit here and write about how my experience in Samoa will make me a stronger person, permanently increase my levels of patience and endow me with an ability to enter any new situation free from assumptions I am beyond positive thinking and have entered a realm where I realize that making excuses is simply no longer feasible.

This man with whom I am working is really just a bad person and no one - volunteer, well paid or otherwise should have to put up with such abuse when the global employment market is by no means satiated. Mr Almighty calling me stupid and having now progressed to dumb, lecturing me on my lack of communications knowledge (apparently 3 years at uni and 4 years in the field simply don’t stack up to his superior natural abilities) and his unwavering demands for me to maintain a western work ethic in an organization where he permits actual Corporation related work from 2pm-3pm and sleeping or mastering of the skills of spider solitaire for the remainder of the day is simply unacceptable in any social or cultural context. I am sure that I am shaming many of you with my bitter and twisted take on my situation but I have simply come to the end of my tether. I was willing to compromise to the nth degree when taking on this position, I was given hours worth of lectures about culturally adapting and I halved my expectations and halved them again when entering into this role but I feel somewhere along the way this balance of giving and taking was turned on its head and all of a sudden my charitable tap had been turned on full throttle and the recollection tanks remained empty. I’ve had enough, I’ve run out and I cannot give anymore.

So with three months left of living in this ‘wanna-be paradise’ I am counting down the days (eighty to be exact). If it weren’t for my amazing counterpart, Titi, for whom I hold grave fears following my imminent departure, I would be on the next plane ready to settle back into a world where I can quite easily just leave a situation if it is implorable (I must emphasize not difficult but implorable). Whilst my hatred for Samoa and its people has never been stronger and is quite unlikely to subside (for the only positive thing I can site about this country is that due to global warming it won’t be around in a few hundred years time) I must admit that the last two months have brought with them two highlights which I have wholeheartedly turned to as I clinch for some positive memory to take from this chapter of my life (armchair politicians, label me a racist but not before you’ve lived and worked here yourselves, for I shall no longer criticize when the grass appears greener as it may in fact be a vile shade of baby poo brown).

I mentioned some time ago that I had joined Tautai Outrigger Club, an outrigger (va’a) canoe club. The club, rowing and the two guys that run it have been my saving grace from total insanity over the past two months. Saj and Hot Josh (as we have affectionately named him) have extended the list of decent Samoan people that I know from four to six. I have worked mainly with Saj to get a social paddling crew happening each Wednesday afternoon and as such we now usually have three boats of 6 volunteers mixed in with some junior Samoan paddlers. It has been fantastic to finally have access to Samoa’s best asset, the surrounding waters. Previously, it had been simply painful to be surrounded by the Pacific but only be able to use it after driving 40 minutes to the closest beach, now we get to paddle out onto the water and glide along looking back onto the land that provides me with so much animosity.

We’ve seen some really beautiful sunsets and moonrises and I’ve gradually seen my corned-beef-induced tuck-shop arms begin to subside. The Samoan Outrigger Canoe Association organized a regatta a few weeks ago aimed at getting all of the va’a clubs together to help strengthen the sport. The regatta was held over two days and was indeed a lot of fun. Despite a huge storm coming through on the Saturday afternoon our team ‘Va’a Off’ (Me, Matt, Andrew, Jess, Max and a bevy of interchangeable and equally muscular, fat-free steerers) managed to secure a silver medal in the 250m sprint. We were absolutely exhausted at the end of the day but went to the celebratory after party where we were presented with our certificate and prize of a disposable camera J much to the delight of those that preferred their alcohol induced actions be disposed of along with the coveted prize. This regatta somewhat cemented our friendships with Saj and Hot Josh and subsequently we’ve had some great times together. Bring on New Years Eve with the paddling boys, where Matt is organizing the Urunga Gift Abroad (Louise Joyce, please inform Matt of the technical aspects bearing in mind the limited resources here in Samoa).

November ended with a bit of a bang or so we had proposed. Tina, one of the newer volunteers has quickly become a permanent fixture in Matt’s & my life. We didn’t invite her, she just joined us a little like you end up with 21 tourists at the end of a tour rather than 19. This is not to say she is stingy. She is rather a blessing in disguises, a breath of fresh air in what had become a somewhat stagnant social circle. Kate, Matt & I have had an absolute blast with her and her counterparts since they arrived in October but most mentionable is perhaps ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’. Said event was the product of a night out to celebrate the opening of our dear friend Chubs/Charlene/Shazza’s new restaurant whereby Tina decided we should do something completely spontaneous…like jump onto a plane to Hong Kong! I said “Dim Sim… that’s Deeemmm Seeem!” proclaimed Tina in a voice resonant of Eddie Murphy circa Delirious. Whilst it took some time to explain that there is barely one flight a day between Samoa and Australia and thus it was likely to take us a week to arrive at the front door of an authentic Chinese restaurant, Tina was not discouraged. Bring forth ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’ - held the following Thursday. Whilst we had best intentions to spontaneously wag work, jump in the car and let it drive us to an undisclosed destination it was decidedly less spontaneous but still a great success. The next ‘Big Spontaneous Wednesday’ is coming to you so watch out.

Just about the only thing that I have seen occur on time here in Samoa is the wet season. As the fist day of December brought with it a truckload of work and not surprisingly a questionably coincidental demise in my sanity and an almighty breakdown, it also heralded the wet season. Cyclones started looming in the region, down pours bringing more water than Australia has seen in the past decade began occurring hourly and excuses of flooding, wet washing and water-borne diseases replaced ‘fa lave lave’ (the Samoan excuse) for not showing up at work. Whilst I had heard horror stories of living in the tropics during the wet season it came as a welcome relief for someone who has done little without sweating during the last nine months. The nighttime downpours cool off the persistently hot surroundings and the stubborn dust that has decided to share its home with us can marginally be washed away.

The wet season has also been embraced by my parents who appear to have the weather gods on their side. Mum and Dad arrived in Samoa nine days ago and as most of you will have gathered, to an incredibly needy daughter. It was an unbelievable relief to be able to hold conversations with people where the topics were not contrived, not fraught with the constrictions of cultural sensitivity and plainly, just simple. Matt, having just finished a short contract with the International Weightlifting Federation and me having come to a time of absolutely necessary annual leave, joined Mum and Dad during their ten day stay here. We have been blessed with the weather which has cooled down hugely whilst my parents have been here. Each day it has rained but only to cool off the muggy atmosphere and give way to clear blue skies. Whilst the Lonely Planet advises strongly against traveling during cyclone season, it couldn’t have been better timing for my parents and us.

The time with Mum and Dad was spent visiting all of the physically beautiful parts of Samoa. We basically repeated the itinerary that we had for Matt’s family earlier in the year but this time, stayed at different (more secure) places in the knowledge that we would be subjected to cyclonic activity. Mother Nature didn’t disappoint when three days into the holiday an earthquake of 6.4 on the Richter scale shook our 1970’s fibro mansion for almost a full minute. The next night Dad was certain that Satan was thrusting lightning bolts directly into the roof of our accommodation and the following night we all held our breath as the Daihatsu Rocky chugged along on 2 cylinders through a rain storm that reduced visibility to around 30cm (on land). Weather moods aside, we did get to see some great sites that even Matt & I in our 9 months here hadn’t yet seen.

After a few days on the Upolu South Coast we traveled to Savaii where we went swimming with turtles, jumped into a crystal clear waterfall and visited blowholes that shot coconuts 50 metres into the air. Mum and Dad have become either less aware of their senses or more adventurous during their pervading maturity. Mum took on a spot of animal spotting claiming that she saw a wombat, hyena, an otter, baby alligators and most recently a penguin. Albeit unbelievable, Ken (Matt’s Dad) did also claim to have spotted a hippo in the harbour when he was here so perhaps you become more attuned with our animal friends as you become less conscious of what your children are up to, or rather is it the sign of one too many cocktails on the rocks? Nevertheless Mum and Dad were indeed blessed with daily visits from a sandy coloured turtle and perhaps the noisiest cat in the world whilst staying at Lusia’s Lagoon in Savaii. It was not jut this talent for spotting rare animals and their obvious ability to channel Mother Nature’s kind heart that impressed Matt and I but also Mum and Dad’s sense of adventure. It took very little encouragement to have both parents leaping from the 2 metre high wharf into the ocean such that soon Matt was setting-up for family adventure shots. Whilst the images capture all the surprise and delight of a tropical postcard it doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination for one to espouse a dramatic tale from the expressions displayed on the parents’ faces.

All was not fun and games in paradise (in the loosest form of the term, we are still speaking of Samoa) however. After Matt loaned his fishing rod to a very persistent German tourist, a horror story worthy of ‘Today Tonight’ segment slowly emerged. Gunther as he will hence forth be referred, who claimed to be a professional kayaker, managed to flip a kayak on the reef and lose Matt’s 2-month-old fishing rod in the depths of the well enclosed, calm and peaceful lagoon. Gunther professed a semi-serious apology to Matt who explained that hell hath no fury like the women who-just-gifted-said-fishing-rod scorned, and would require at least some effort of recovery. Gunther headed out on a search mission the next morning. Much to Matt’s alarm (and my marginal concern – he was after all a self-proclaimed professional kayaker), Gunther did not return to shore following a sudden stormy outburst from Mother Nature. Matt (AKA Mitch Buchanan), the owner of the resort and a bevy of other people wanton of drama soon joined in a search for Gunther who unwisely returned an hour post storm to report that he had simply been snorkeling on the far side of the reef. After a Becks and a lie down, Matt conceded that the fishing rod was simply not worth the worry he had been put through during the search for Gunther and he would just have to forgo the most loved activity of his life. Gunther agreed and offered no compensation.

So now I come to a sad close. Mum and Dad depart tomorrow and I have been pining for home for at least the last 12 hours. Matt is sick of my whinging and I thus released it upon all of you. On the bright side Andy and Laura join us in just less than 2 weeks. They are intending to stay until May but I am under no circumstances changing my March 11th ticket back to reality so who knows what the next few months will bring. Neverthless, Samoa will not know what has hit it with the heavily bearded duo (that is, Andy & Matt – not Laura) taking to beach road. Will the hour of power still be known as such or for Laura and I will it just become sour? Kim and Bel will be joining us for some fire twirling action in late January followed by Midi and Neill to take on the Samoan surf once again. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting some love from Nic and Wade but if not I know Nic will make up for it with a nice re-orientation to high heels, metal furniture and glassware upon my return. I should thank you all for listening and reaching this point in my diatribe if you have. Manuia lou Kerisimasi – I miss you all more than ever.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A reminder of the good life

The last month has been pretty busy and the usual rollercoaster of emotions that comes packaged with the coconut tree and coral cuts when you arrive in Samoa has been in action again. The time between the end of SPG and now has seen both of us somewhat remedy our festering island fever by taking a trip off island. While Matt’s trip was all about 60 hours of traveling, a mid-west American wedding and lots of TV, mine was in aid of a much needed educational experience and mental health retreat that focused around Westfield, paved footpaths and hot showers.

In planning my trip I held very high hopes for the benefits that would be bestowed upon my project on my imminent return to Samoa. However, like many things in Samoa, a stubborn barrier to entry has surfaced namely in the form of a large islander baring a warrior tattoo. I worked very hard to have one of the senior EPC staff members attend the Public Relations Institute of Australia National Convention with me in Sydney but alas – it seems the bright lights, $2 shops and single men of my motherland provided a much more enticing experience than that on offer at the convention. Whilst the topics raised in the program were enough to get me thinking about new strategies we could implement here at EPC, not even the free food could convince my colleague to attend a full day of activities.

It was difficult to hide my disappointment in the fact that my colleague deemed it unnecessary to attend the convention which cost EPC $1500 in attendance just for her! The disappointment was only curbed slightly by the humour (bordering on fear) that she did bring to the trip. Upon arrival at Sydney airport she promptly took off to immigration and pushed to the front of the line all the time calling out to me “Which line do I go in?”. After we were let through we headed to the baggage claim where she left her laptop sitting in the middle of the walkway obviously oblivious to the signs and announcements proclaiming that any unattended baggage would be considered suspicious and those guilty of such a crime would be prosecuted. When it became obvious that my colleagues second suitcase (for a 3 day stay) had not arrived with us we lined up to report the mishap. As I tried to explain how to fill out the claim form my colleague proceeded to tell everyone around us that she hoped her bags hadn’t ended up in Iraq!!! So now that I have returned from my trip she is insisting that I take full responsibility for compiling the contact report (after all she had very little contact with the actual assignment) and I am left without my senior staff member support to be able to implement any of the strategies that I learnt!

All is not lost however. Despite almost being run over three times within my first two hours back in civilization, losing a brand new hair slide and parting with an unnamed amount of money to a homeless man when I felt overly generous at 3am Saturday morning, I had such a great trip home! I look down at my perfectly manicured toenails and believe that the stress that I will go through now that I’m back on island was all worth it. My visit home reassured me that what I have been missing is not due to a glance back through rose-coloured glasses but that I am completely justified in missing the things that I am homesick for because they are all simply brilliant!! My friends, paved footpaths and gutters, high heels, hot showers and safety after dark. Commercial convenience, confirmed appointments and bars without plastic garden furniture. I had been feeling somewhat less polished than the people and places surrounding me since stepping off the plane but it wasn’t until I asked “What’s a Martini Club (the band at MadBall)?” that I realized that I was in need of some serious monthly media injections. Thus, this is a plea…. send me some magazines, DVD’s burnt with Aussie programming, updates on what’s happening and for goodness sakes next time I come home encourage me to keep my mouth shut until I have surpassed an obligatory 3 month quarantine period of being back in civilization!

Prior to me setting sail for home we had had a pretty hectic month. The house at Vaivase-Uta had to some extent turned into a drop in centre as AYAD’s repugnant to let go of the dream (?!) all began to stay “for just a few nights”. Whilst these guests were welcome, both their standards of cleanliness and strays picked up on the Apia seawall were not. It was a testing time for all and Kate, Matt & I breathed a collective sigh of relief when we closed the door on the last of our guests. That said we still seem to be getting an occasional knock at the door from strays with broken hearts. I think we’ve all learnt some valuable lessons here a) the rules for houseguests were developed for a reason and should have been enforced, b) I should cease to be generous and henceforth allow Matt & Kate to make decisions about who is allowed past the sacred front door and c) never trust a time parameter given to you in Samoa.

The phase that I entered a few months ago whereby I embraced the notion of living a healthy lifestyle has long since subsided. My efforts to exercise were surpassed by humidity levels exceeding 85%, my efforts to eat healthily disintegrated along with my bank account and the enthusiasm to put some effort into my appearance blanched as my Samoan colleagues started to mention that I looked ‘fat’ despite my best efforts. I suppose the combination of these factors has led me to take up the sport of Va’a (outrigger canoeing) where I can pass off sitting in a boat and observing the sunset as a feasible contribution to a healthy lifestyle. I got my organizing cap on about a month ago and have started a social paddling group with one of the guys I met through SPG Vaa. It is really a lot of fun. We head out each Wednesday evening and it is truly beautiful to be finally using the water that encompasses Samoa. We will compete in our first regatta in a month’s time so watch out for the breaking news.

Well that is about it for the moment. Christmas the pig is still doing well. She has grown quite a bit. Her increasing strength is showing through her fervent desire to dig trenches in the backyard. When she ran away a few weeks ago it took both Matt and our friend Shay to tackle her to the ground and get her in the car to bring her home. The fact that she had been rubbed with oil and resonated of a smell very similar to rosemary and garlic was somewhat alarming but she’s pretty happy in the rolls-royce of pens that Matt & Shay subsequently built and I’m holding out hope that she will make it to her namesake day without further distress.

Nothing has changed here since before my visit except that maybe now I’m seeing it through brighter eyes knowing the end is nearing and I have to make the most of my time left. Daily, I amazed at the differences between myself and the Samoans. For instance I brought back presents (all food) for the people I work with and not one person said thank you, offered to share the choccies with me and then proceeded to ask where the rest of their presents were. There was also an interesting government directive in the paper a few days ago telling the Samoan people that as the tsunami/cyclone season is upon us we should all be fasting from 12midnight to 12noon as a sacrifice to God so that (I quote) “He sends the cyclones to destroy Niue not Samoa”. I suppose there is nothing like getting straight to the point.

Mum and Dad visit in 6 weeks time then the Busabout crew arrive 6 weeks after that. I have a drunken promise sealed with a hug from Nic and Wade that they will set foot on the island and am holding out hope that the Hadley’s will revisit so the next 5 months are bound to speed past. Can’t wairt to hear from you and don’t forget to send me media injections!! (PO Box 2133 Apia Samoa) xxxxx

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living the Dream

It has been too long since I updated you all on what has been happening in the insistently hot and sunny Samoa! For the last six months it seems everyone has been talking about the South Pacific Games and then in a flurry of taro, afros and Polynesian drumbeats the event came and went without a hint of the drama everyone had been waiting for.

Matt & I were put through a crash course in brand new parenting habits in the lead up to the games. Whilst Matt’s physical work hours suddenly leapt from 8 to 15 per day, our nights were filled with an increasingly frustrating Nokia ring tone which competes on the scale of annoyingness with, I can only imagine, la cucaracha, green-sleeves or a teething child. Our bodies were completely thrown out of whack due to the influx of Pacific athletes and officials who found it absolutely necessary to call in the middle of the night and tell Matt they needed to blow their nose (or so it would seem). Thank goodness this lasted only during the lead up to the games and interestingly coincided with me throwing the phone across the room and threatening to sleep in the spare bed if it wasn’t switched off at the end of the day. Luckily, Matt soon came to realize that if he turned off his phone, my phone and the house phone we were basically unreachable (except for the CB radio, which I conveniently locked in the car) and the Samoan’s were forced to make decisions on their own. Low and behold, they rose to the challenge and everything ran smoothly throughout the event.

The entire games actually went really well. The threat of an impending food and water shortage never came to fruition, the clubs stayed open past midnight and best of all, everyone was happy with the transport system! Matt got two amazing job offers from the games; firstly to coordinate the transport at the Cook Islands mini games in 2009 and secondly to coordinate the transport for the XIVth South Pacific Games in New Caledonia in 2011. For me, it was perfect timing for a break from EPC. I relished in interviewing people and writing about anything other than electricity! I volunteered as the Media Liaison Officer for Netball and Va’a (outrigger canoeing) which meant I wrote stories and distributed them to the regional media thus ensuring all of the SPG sports were covered. If you want to check out my stories see
here for netball and here for vaa. Unfortunately, in typical Samoan style they provided me with a camera for which the batteries ran out during the first netball game so I had to use my own camera for the rest of the event. As such it got wet when I was photographing Va’a and no longer works. I went to claim it on insurance but there was a $500 excess!!! I’m quite upset as now I won’t be able to send photos home to everyone L

On the upside I am coming to Sydney in a few weeks time! I have been approved to attend a Public Relations Institute of Australia Conference in Sydney which will be awesome. I am really excited as it covers training on crisis communications as well as holistic communications for government corporations, so not only will it give me some great training ideas to bring back to Samoa but I get a trip home to civilization!!!! I am so excited to see everyone but I’m sure I will miss many of you given I’m only home for a week. I am also hoping that this short trip home will help me to get over my recently acquired island fever. I am really glad that I have an end to look forward to with this assignment. Although there is so really good times overall Samoa just isn’t for me. I know now that I will never choose to live in a place with a population of less than a million people or ever work in development again. I’ve been way too disillusioned now that I see where all of the aid money here actually goes.

Last week our poor little pig was attacked by dogs! We have been letting her out to run around because she is really tame now but last week she got too adventurous and ran out onto the road where some dogs saw visions of a spit roast and set in for a feast! Luckily Commando Kate came out and got amidst the beasts and pulled them apart but not before little Christmas got perforated. Now before anyone feels it apt to write to me about stuffing her with rosemary and thyme bear in mind that I’ve heard it all already. The last week has seen me crushing antibiotics and stuffing it into various types of vegetables, cream and bread in an attempt to get her feeling better. The cream trick seems to work and she is back to her cheeky self minus a few chunks of pork.

Last week saw Matt jump on a plane, absolutely exhausted after SPG and head to Iowa. I have no idea where this is but it is in America somewhere and Matt headed over for his friend Miguel’s wedding. I haven’t spoken to him a great deal since he’s been there as he tells me that pre-paid sim cards are not sold in America!! I find this really hard to believe and assume it is just Matt not having investigated the issue! Anyhow, the end of Matt’s job has also freed up some of my time which I have gladly filled with catching up with friends. Last week Luke, Debbie and I went to see Scribe in concert!! This was amazing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it cost us about $5 Aussie and I spent around $130 Aussie to see him (plus many others) 3 years ago. Secondly, it was the first live concert I have been to since the Big Day Out 2006. Thirdly, it was the highlight of Samoa for me so far (this may be a slight exaggeration built upon the island fever from which I’m currently suffering). Irrespective, I had a fantastic time. It was awesome to feel a bit at home again. It is difficult to describe but I guess being surrounded by people wearing the same clothes as me (albeit they teenagers), dancing like noone cares and not having to look over my shoulder for the gossip mongers made me feel so at ease. It was fantastic.

So there I leave it…. Unfortunately I am still finding it difficult to make my day to day life sound exciting but I will try to get into some interesting situations moving forward so that you all have something to laugh at from your lovely desks back home! I miss you all and hope to see you during my visit home (14-21 Oct).

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Christmas in July

A close call with gangrene, a tangible and sustainable piece of work, a family visit and a momentary lapse of remembering my middle name brings me into my fifth month in Samoa.

Christmas in July
A lack of Westfields, a stressful day at work and excessive heat didn’t deter me from squealing like a 3-year old being gifted her first cabbage patch doll when I walked into my backyard and saw the little piglet that Matt had bought me!! Christmas, as she was so aptly named, lost her mind when I ran around her pen screaming like a banshee possessed. It was all in the name of excitement but perhaps not the best introduction to her new family. It took a few weeks, but our piglet is now as happy as…well… a pig in mud. She is talking to us every time we come near her, lets us hand feed her and literally goes weak at the knees when we scratch her. It is so amazing watching her grow and become used to us. Kate described us three (her, Matt & I) as proud parents who get excited over the child’s every action, we now bore the populace of Apia with stories about how amazing our pig is while they look at us with bemused expressions no doubt wondering how they could silence the pig on a midnight mission of robbery. In coming weeks watch for exciting news about the Pig Weigh in Competition. We are currently setting up an offshore account to house the millions we expect to take in this global betting ring. Official rules and details will be distributed shortly.

Christmas in July extended further than the acquisition of a pig so named. It really was like the holiday season with the influx of visiting friends and relatives. In the first few weeks we caught up with Matt’s cousin Neill and his girlfriend Midi. Matt & Neill’s blatant attack on a bottle of rum was heard far and wide with the lack of volume control on Matt’s voice box becoming ever so obvious. It was great to see people from home however and we hope that they’ll be visiting again before our year is out. The next to join us was Rob, Kate’s Dad. He has now been here for almost a month, an established part of the household that will be sorely missed come Thursday. Amanda Joyce descended the plane in a cloud of alcohol fumes and the need for a good break. It took her a few days but when she worked out how to sit still and do nothing, she embraced the Samoan lifestyle wholeheartedly! A week later when Louise, Bernadette & Ken Joyce joined us, the Vaivase Uta Hotel was at maximum capacity. It also dawned the start of a fantastic two weeks of family holiday!

In preparation for the visitors Matt took it upon himself to construct questionably the most innovative BBQ of all time. Acquiring a 44 gallon drum from his boss then the skills and tools from various parties around Samoa, Matt was able to slice the drum in two, build legs, a removable tray and cook up a BBQ of epic proportions. On its first night in use, it was aptly coined the ‘Ab-acue’ in honour of its versatility and Matt’s vision to expand the product’s functionality moving forward. A proposal has since been drafted and submitted to Demtel who have said in it’s current state, a mere set of free steak knives would not be enough to compliment such an apparatus but a Terry Tuff Ten Thousand is a more appropriate ‘free’ gift (apparently there is a surplus of said Terry Tuff’s after the purchase of only one in the Ballina region circa 1998).

The ab-acue did come in handy when we set up the Joyces for 4 nights at Vavau. After spending the equivalent of Samoa’s 1978 GDP on alcohol at Aggie Grey’s it was nice for the family to relax in paradise sans swim-up bar. Matt & I visited the Joyces most nights then joined them on Thursday afternoon to start our short break. Friday morning saw all 6 of us pack into the 6 seater CRV (the front seat was a bench) and head to Savaii. We traveled along the South Coast taking in the sights as Ken progressively got more sick and my knees became more bruised (I was sitting in the middle of the bench seat). We stopped at a resort for lunch where Matt took to a spot fishing and caught a pretty big trevally. It was quite hilarious watching Matt and his Dad bring in the fish – Matt is the image of his father! By this stage Ken was rapidly descending into the oblivion that is the Samoan Flu. By the time we drove onto the ferry for Savaii he was well imbedded in the disease and to make matters worse we were stuck in the hull, next to engine with no way out. The cars were so jam-packed into the ferry that people (albeit they Samoans) couldn’t walk between the cars. It was decided that as a matter of saving my knees and keeping us entertained Amanda would be relegated to the boot and I would jump into the back seat. This in itself was quite the mission. With the boot full of beer, backpacks and fishing gear poor Amanda had to contort herself like a Chinese gymnast whilst the rest of the female contingent fought back tears of laughter. When I was comfortably in my new seat and Amanda was…well… poked, prodded and squashed into the boot we were able to start the card games. This entertained us for about ten minutes until I felt it necessary to crack out a bit of Whitney Housten. My voice has often been described as that of an angel, my singing and performing prowess regaled by many across the globe, this performance was perhaps my piece de resistance. It even brought a tear to the eye of Ken who was by this stage, fighting the black plague in the front seat. It was agreed by all that I could not possibly better the performance and should stop while I was ahead and the conversation turned to names. Louise asked me what my middle name was to which I promptly replied Elizabeth. Matt looked at me in amazement as I suddenly retracted the statement because my middle name is in fact Suzanne. It was one of those unbelievable moments where my mouth literally opened and expelled sounds without any direction from my brain. It goes without saying that the laughter was suddenly directed towards me and the brilliance of my previous performance cast off like a dirty hanky. This is still an occurrence that I’m struggling to explain and something that I am sure not to live down given Louise Joyce’s insistence on referring to me as Liz thereon in.

Savaii was an adventure for everyone for a number of reasons. Firstly Matt & I had not been here before either so it was a journey of discovery. Secondly, Ken was knocking on deaths door so it was a sleepless journey for Bernadette. Thirdly, Louise had spent 5 days without her magic credit card, decent wine and within close proximity to the male members of her family and as such it was a journey of will power. When we arrived at Jane’s Fales we were met by the most friendly of hosts and an incredible stretch of grass. I know a stretch of grass isn’t usually something to become excited by but bear in mind that I’m living on a small island and I also get excited when they have lettuce in the supermarket. This grass was a bit like treading on sponges, it was soft and springy and the type of stuff you imagine a little wonderland of fairies and gnomes to live in (if those types of things don’t scare you). Moving right along…. We met up with Kate and Rob and headed straight for Le Lagoto the closest resort with alcohol. We all needed a stiff drink after the day that was. As we traipsed in like weary travelers dressed in our lava lavas and bare feet we were met with looks of disdain from the rich American tourists. The glares were soon forgotten as we polished off our respective tropical cocktails and Rob entertained us all with his various ‘photograph’ faces.

A gale-force wind awoke us on Saturday morning which was quite disappointing but it did inspire us to do a bit of sightseeing rather than just relaxing at the beach which is all too easy to do here. We piled into the car once more and headed for the lava fields. These fields were quite amazing. They are the result of a volcanic eruption some 50 or so years ago where the villages along the coast were virtually wiped out. What makes the lava fields so spectacular is the remaining church that the lava flowed around and through rather than destroying. It is absolutely beautiful and with the trees and plant growing around and on it, it reminded me of Ankor in Cambodia. The pictures show this place better than I can describe it but it was really incredible to see something like this in Samoa as I had no idea there was variation from the beaches and jungle that I had become accustomed to. Although the lava fields were amazing, the highlight of the visit to Savaii was swimming with turtles. We visited a village where 20 or so turtles live in a lagoon and are accustomed to human visit. We were able to don the snorkels and masks and head on in. Swimming with these amazing creatures was awesome. They were so gentle, friendly and gazed at you with a look of wisdom. I was the only one of our party that hadn’t been swimming with turtles before so it was a pretty special experience for me and one I can’t wait to share with my family.

Monday afternoon saw us return to Upolu where we were hosting Hash. The afternoon was quite rushed and a storm the size of Cyclone Tracey was brewing between tour guides Matt & Lauren making the whole proceedings both tense and difficult. Louise took control of the kitchen and set Amanda on a mission which earned her the new name of Food Processor Joyce. Mum Joyce had to be sat down with a stiff bourbon after the Samoan ATM fell asleep and withdrew money from her account without actually giving it to her and Ken was relegated to testing the keg and collecting fire wood for the public launch of the ab-acue. When we thought all was coming together nicely and the storm somewhat receding, about 25 medical students turned up to join in Hash. Now Hash is of course a very social running club and each week there about 25 regular participants and 5 or so visitors from other Hash clubs or friends of Hash members but an additional 25 ring ins meant that the night had a totally different vibe and blew the cost through the roof. These med students were quite unbelievable. Not only did they make no effort to mingle but as soon as the food was brought out they attacked it like and angry swarm of seagulls leaving little food for the actual Hash members. It was so disappointing. I actually saw one guy go for thirds when Hash members hadn’t even eaten. I managed to get a sausage but only because Amanda Joyce donated it to me from her own hand. The lack of food I received turned into a blessing in disguise for all those who attended Cocktails On The Rocks later that night. Due to the copious amounts of alcohol necessary to alleviate the anger and frustration these med students had caused I found it necessary to somewhat continue my tribute to Whitney Housten from the trip to Savaii. I took over control of the music and the let the dance floor have it with all of my pent up energy.

It seems however that painting the town red was not the best remedy for the coral cut on my leg. When I awoke Tuesday morning I had a swollen leg which was so painful that I could barely walk. As the day continued my leg started to turn black and the cut slowly turned into a hole. It was touch and go for a while there (I know I make a joke of it but it was pretty serious) but after begging the chemist for some drugs and quadrupling the dosage she gave me I am all shiny and new. The scar is only minimal but the whole experience has taught me not to take infections in this climate lightly.

That brings me to the sad good bye. Thursday morning was pretty horrible as we had become so used to having the family around. Saying good bye in front driveway was a teary affair as we won’t be seeing everyone again until at least March next year. We had such a great time together and for me, it was awesome to get to know Matt’s family better given it was only the fourth time we’d met! So now I’m back at work and the fun is over however, I have managed to complete a tangible piece of work by redesigning the EPC website ( It is now much more useful and informative and something that I will leave behind as a testament of my time here. I’m also entering dangerous ground with the GM who more impossible than ever to get a hold of so I have started releasing things into the public arena without his approval. I’m just waiting to be chased down with razor blades and lose my ears.

Its only 25 days until the South Pacific Games during which time there is sure to be a lack of food and water with the influx of an estimated 20,000 people to Samoa! Matt’s work has begun to ramp up but he has new additions to his team almost daily. I will be the media officer for both Va’a (outrigger canoeing) and Netball so on top of my normal work I imagine that I’ll be pretty busy during this time. I’m missing everyone at home a lot so keep the emails coming!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I'm in an Abusive Relationship with Samoa

When I agreed to attend the rugby match where Manu Samoa played NZ All Black Juniors I had no idea that I too would require a set of rugby essentials. Enormous shoulders, protective armour and a passionate desire to score. As Matt & I made our way through the crowd it became apparent that there was no guarantee that I would come out of the experience with a boyfriend or all limbs. After watching the group in front of us walk/squeeze through the turnstiles then pass their tickets back through the fence via a guard to their waiting friends, Matt & I realized that the decision to pre-purchase tickets, or rather a ticket each, was a bit daft. Through a combination of questions (on our part) and grunts, points & directive pushes from the officials we found our seats. But alas, we were informed that there were actually no seats left! Given the popularity of the event this was unsurprising, though we had purchased tickets E17 and E18 2 weeks prior for the tidy sum of $50 each (to put this into perspective $50 could buy 17 beers, 7 fish burgers or 3 weeks worth of electricity)! We were told to sit on the steps and I flatly refused which meant Matt had to don his ‘I mean business face’, puff out his chest (which he assures me is already huge) and protest to the Samoan mama ushering us around. Luckily at this moment 2 people got up from their seats, most likely to purchase more mutton flap sandwiches, and I pulled a swift move and slid into them. Score! The unprecedented play & exemplary display of teamwork from the Matt/Lauren combo had paid off.

After an interesting first half where Samoa made a number of mistakes but did manage to get some points on the board, we were entertained by some drunk dancers and ‘streakers’ (thank goodness no clothes were removed) at half time. As I returned from the bathroom I was walking down the afore mentioned steps and the Samoan lady in front of me decided it was a great place to sit…. so did…. on my foot. This was the start of my physical battle with Samoa. After grabbing hold of my leg with both hands, leaning back 45 degrees for leverage and pulling as hard as I could, I retrieved my foot from under the mammoth of Samoan flesh. I was left with a limp but luckily numbness to dull the pain. We sat through the remainder of the rugby match and left, sorely disappointed by Manu Samoa who appeared to be playing some combination of lacrosse, synchronized swimming and pin the tail on the donkey as opposed to rugby.

My next mission was waitressing at the SAF Annual Fashion Show. This is a fundraiser for AIDs that one of the other volunteers works for. As if walking around with a broken toe wasn’t enough, I was forced to act as the link between 200 Samoan people and their food. Having worked as a waitress in Malta I thought that I was somewhat prepared for this challenge – I had largely overestimated my skill level. About 2 hours into the night after I had fulfilled a multitude of fussy requests, learnt to interpret the various hand and facial gestures that indicated the need for another drink and reported a known criminal to the Transnational Crime Unit, I started to clear entrees from the tables. Most people had finished their mains and as such I thought it safe to remove near-empty platters from the centre of tables. As I reached across a table of girls in their 20’s I felt myself come unstuck. I was knocked to the side at the sound of a whip breaking the sound barrier, then felt a burning/stinging sensation on my arm. In disbelief I look down at the customer who was threatingly telling me, “I’m not finished yet!”. I had been bitch-slapped by a Samoan girl for coming between her and her food! Quickly, I retreated. Four hours later, nursing my bruised arm, broken toe and disorientated brain on my way to pick up Matt I started to laugh - I had been bitch-slapped for the first time in my life for doing a job at an event that I wasn’t getting paid for so to benefit the country that I am also not getting paid to work for!

Arriving at Cocktails on the Rocks, Matt and our mates and were good and jolly, seemingly having tried to outdo each other in some sort of drinking contest. Much to my disappointment they hit the dance floor while I stood to the side waiting for this bout of energy to be worn down from Matt so I could go home to bed. Being a spectator for drunken dancing is more dangerous than participating. People assume you are not having fun because you aren’t acting like some crazed grasshopper, piggybacking a wasp. As I stood quietly watching my boyfriend bounce of the walls, a well-meaning (or so I like to think) liquored up Samoan man decided this of me. It was only after slamming his hip into my left buttock and rendering me unable to walk that he realized that before his help, I actually was happy and the face that I was now pulling, in fact depicted unhappiness. The old adage that things happen in threes was my only comfort as I lay in bed bruised & battered that night. Samoa V Lauren. Samoa 1, Lauren nil.

New rules for houseguests….
Kate had an acquaintance come to visit us this week. Let’s say it was interesting and we now have a set of rules for all potential or future houseguests;
Do not expect your host or their flatmate’s to pay for everything you do – the host is a volunteer and does not in fact get paid a wage.
Please wear deodorant.
Please refrain from complaining about the country and way of life that you are visiting.
Please refrain from insulting your hosts friends and family.
Please refrain from negatively criticizing the host and their friend’s volunteer positions.
Please refrain from using the bath towels outdoors, for instance at muddy reserves or sandy beaches.
Do not use up the host household’s monthly pre-paid internet hours.
Do not arrange cava parties without informing the host or the household.
Please do not expect that the host is your tour guide (unless previously arranged), a tourism fale is located in town for your convenience.
Please wear deodorant (this is important).

I’ve been getting progressively busier at work over the past few weeks so decided to move offices. I now have my own office with a view of the harbour. It’s great as I can control the air con, gaze at the Pacific Ocean and shut the door for a bit of quiet work time! We also got new uniforms - Wednesday’s are blue days and Fridays are red days. It is actually nice to wear a uniform and not have to worry about what to wear each day. It also means saving my own clothes from wearing out a bit. Some of the clothes I brought over already have holes in them due to the poor water quality and need to wash so frequently. When I was issued with my uniform it fit perfectly except for at the hips, they ballooned out like some sort of tea-pot cover (the uniform, not my hips). I found this a bit strange and assumed the tailor had read the incorrect measurement. When I went to visit her and have it adjusted the conversation went as follows;
“Malo ou lelai palangi, Lauren” (hello pretty white girl Lauren)
“Malo, my uniform is a bit big, can you please adjust it for me?”
“Oh, eee, put it on……….. no this is ok I think. You will get fat like Samoa girl by December, you should keep like this.”
I couldn’t help laughing, surely if the remainder of the uniform was my normal size and I ballooned out to ‘fit’ the hips of the uniform I actually wouldn’t be able to balance (fit through doors or take up only one seat at the movies)! I am just praying that the seamstress isn’t some type of psychic that has predicted my downfall.

So here I sit having given up on my bout of yogalates and fitness… (perhaps the seamstress was on the mark). I’m too sore. The pain has come as a result of doing the yoga class run by the fairy frog prince who I have since found out is Argentinian. It somehow injured my back and I had some difficulty walking and sleeping for a few days after. I had intended to start running again this week but after agreeing to an outing with Marcus and Ant on Sunday all physical activity has been abolished until further notice.

Many of you would recall ‘the worst day of my life’ last year on Koh Wai, Thailand. The day when the snake fell out of the coconut tree onto my towel, I found a mouse under my pillow and I had a fight with Matt, all before sunset followed by the quick onset of self inflicted delirium then a scary closeness to death the next day. Sunday, was worse than this.

After a nice civilized morning where I finished watching all of my Grey’s Anatomy dvds (if anyone had the remainder of season 3 plus season 4 please send them via Marty!), cleaned the house then settled into the hammock for an afternoon of reading, Marcus called. I wish I had never called him back. We were invited to join Mac, Ant, Fab & Ann to walk up a mountain and visit a natural lake with gold fish living in it. I thought this would be pretty cool and had read about it in the trusty Lonely Planet so we agreed to go along.

Upon arrival it became apparent that I had just agreed to something I would regret. We parked in a field that was the home to a bull then had to traipse through a creek bordered by 50cm high grass, climb through a barbed wire fence then commence the ‘walk’. My new shoes were already saturated by the time I had to step into a puddle of mud and sink up to my knees in red sludge. A few more metres and I was literally stuck. Matt had to grab me under the arms and yank me out. This is where the short breathes started. As we walked further I was scratched, muddied up and sweaty. Ten more minutes and I had lost sight of the boys. As the terrain became steeper I was forced to start grabbing onto spiky, itchy bushes for stability. The onset of chaffing. Hyperventilation. Poor Matt. I was suddenly living my worst nightmare. For the past few weeks every time I’m a bit homesick or negative about Samoa, I tell myself that I really am only a few short months away from Westfield heaven, sealed roads and a concrete jungle. However, NOTHING could remedy my mood as I stood in the middle of the real jungle. I’m not entirely sure how, but Matt managed to calm me down and convince me to go on (I think there was some promise of re-setting my comfort zone levels or feeling a sense of achievement). 1 hour later and I was laying on my back, in the mud, mosquitoes in my ears, a leech on my leg, crying that I wanted to go home (and I meant to Australia, Sydney, the city). My legs were shaking, I was forcing myself not to throw up and I was thinking “people go on Survivor and do this to win millions of dollars, why the hell am I doing it by choice?” We never made it to the lake. The 3 hour round trip ended in me swearing and swearing that the most stupid decision I had ever made was indeed not, to have that last Bacardi, lime and soda that led me to delirium on Koh Wai but actually to continue on this glorified bush-bash after my first meltdown 2 hours previously. Rather than redefining my comfort zone this trek made me crave home more than ever. Wilderness is no longer my friend; I cannot even see the beauty in it now. Or perhaps it’s that fact that I still have mud in my eye, I just cannot see.

I think Matt & I may go away for the weekend. Matt’s family is visiting in about 6 weeks and we want to check out some places to take them. I can’t wait to leave the fish bowl that is Apia and head to a secluded beach for a few days. I’m sure I’ll have some great photos to share!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

There's always room for improvement

This week has been a massive improvement on last! I’ve gone on a bit of a health kick starting with the elimination of alcohol. I’ve realized that it is all too easy to turn to the friendly green bottle and allow him to transport you into a happy place all for the price of a headache and a flabby physique. Unfortunately I’ve made the difficult decision of entering into a trial separation; I’m sure that after some time apart we can once again be friends. Monday saw me launch into the week at a cracking pace. After coming to the realization that I was living in a fish bowl akin to high school I had developed a somewhat disturbing bout of anger that needed to be dissipated. Consequently I pounded the pavement at Hash and left Matt & Kate in my wake. After burning off the wretched feeling I made a vow to myself that I would a) not talk about other people because what goes around comes around, and b) I would go by the motto of one of the other Hasher’s proud t-shirt “You’re living in a third world country, lower your standards”. Completely exhausted I fell into a restful slumber and awoke the next day to a bright light.

Yay! Finally I got 5 minutes to sit with the EPC General Manager who finally approved some of the documents I had sitting in his in-tray. Despite the press releases having distinctly declined in relevance, the advertising space now having been sold and the communications plan being deemed too ‘thick’ to read (all 15 pages of bullet points) I got the much sought after signature I needed, sneakily made adjustments to the releases and set them loose on the media. Low and behold the next day my release appeared partly butchered and partly pasted in the national newspaper. It was when the little proud butterflies started and I realized that my work isn’t go to waste, even if its been made to look like the work of a 4 year old armed with a pack of crayons and too much time on his hands.

After work, I continued on my health kick and walked a couple of km’s to Health Attack for my yoga class. I have decided that if I’m participating in this alternatively glamorous class then I can trick my brain into thinking that I’m really attending class at Bondi Icebergs and I resemble that lithe child-like woman clothed in white lycra who can turn herself inside out. As the teacher calmly led the class I felt myself descend into the happy realm of my imagination and at the end of the class I floated out convinced that I would be able to stop into the 24 hour Coles on the way home to pick up some broccoli and a bbq chook. Whilst my bubble was quickly burst as I walked past the oil drum on top of which were some mamoe (mutton flaps) steadily turning to charcoal, the relaxed feeling didn’t disappear and I went home to a happy household and the news that Matt had been employed and his package included a car.

We are so excited about having access to a vehicle and being able to dictate our own exploring! Matt has been employed as a Transport Officer for the South Pacific Games and will basically coordinate all aspects of transport operations for the 5000 athletes and predicted 15000 spectators that will descend upon Samoa in August. It is going to be a very challenging job but knowing Matt he’ll land on his feet and get it done albeit in Samoa time. Matt starts work next week so I’ll soon be sans househusband and will sadly have to start cooking again.

Yesterday began less positively than the rest of the week as I was rounded up by Karin’s dogs when I went to drop something off at her place. On approach I thought that someone would come out of the house and rescue me but as I got closer and the bared teeth became apparent I realized that I was alone. It is amazing though while I sharply barked out “halu” (go away), I didn’t dissolve into a puddle of girly muck but remained calm and the dogs couldn’t sense any fear. Luckily someone came out of the house and rescued me just as the teeth were getting dangerously close to my skin. The whole event made me realize that I quite easily could have been mauled into an unrecognizable state but taking the Samoan ‘don’t worry be happy’ attitude saved me (plus the fact that the owner came and called the dogs off). Anyway I think it is indicative of how I should approach survival in general here. I just need to go with the flow.

As I’m on the path to mind and body transformation I felt that 2 yoga classes in the one week wasn’t over doing it and as such I ran to the gym again last night, keen to replicate my happy place from Monday night. To my surprise however, I found a French man floating around like a fairy frog proclaiming 20 years worth of experience in the yoga industry and was I ready to breeeeeeeeathe deeeeeeeply? The class was a nightmare and I came out feeling tenser than when I went in. Tom the fairy frog quickly learnt my name and made it his mission to humiliate me in front of the rest of the class. As he yelled at me to breeeeeeeaathe into the stretch I found myself light headed and nauseated by his body odour. Concerned that this man was actually an alien imposting a yoga teacher and the result would be more damage than good, I calmly explained that no, I couldn’t breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeathe into the stretch any further. This only sparked more targeting of me and smirks from the other yoga participants. I left with my tail between my legs and went home to do some therapeutic housework convinced that I would not be attending any future fairy frog classes.

So here I am, it’s Friday and a big weekend lies ahead. Tomorrow I will be watching Samoa V Fiji in the rugby then I am volunteering at the Samoan Fashion Awards Fundraiser for HIV. This should raise some interesting stories which I’ll be sure to share with you all next week! I may meet up with my friend in the green bottle tonight, I think sporadic meeting is the best way to approach him taking over my life….

Friday, May 18, 2007


This week I was all about anti-Samoa. If I could have wished for one thing it would have been to have a Westfield shipped in and a day of shopping on someone elses (credit) cards. I don’t know why I was in such a terrible mood all week but it was like I was waking up in the morning and a grey cloud was following me around all day. I just couldn’t snap out of it. Had I found a genie in a lamp my one wish would have been to ship in a Westfield and let me loose amongst the capitalist glory. How I would have come out glowing, decked out head to toe in soft flowing fabrics sans any hint of fluoro, Hawaiian print or shapeless design. My hair would have been cut, permanently straightened and upon exiting the salon I would be clutching a bag of hair goodies that would tame the matted Dianna Ross-esque style that has taken permanent residence on my skull. Toenails pedicured, finger nails manicured and heels on my shoes that would be made from anything but rubber. A handbag containing perfume not aeroguard and hand sanitizer. Make-up, not sunscreen and antiseptic cream. Broadband internet, not 46kps dial up. A bar with clean furniture as opposed to plastic garden furniture and vodka not brewed from pig skin or something of the like in someone’s backyard. As such go the lyrics if I were to run through the Swiss mountains singing these are a few of my favourite things. It’s amazing that maybe I took off on this journey over 12 months ago in search of something that was missing from my everyday life and now finally here I am (locked into staying nonetheless) and I realize that all I really want is all of the crap that I ‘wasted’ my money on back home. There is no in-depth soul searching necessary. It’s all about relishing in the commercialism that so many, but no I, love to hate!

Luckily, as it turned out I wasn’t the only anti-Samoa AYAD last week. Quite a few of us seem to be going through similar withdrawals (albeit mine the more superficial). When Kate & I arrived home from work on Tuesday evening Matt put 2 bottles of red wine and a family size packet of twisties in front of us and said “Go for it…. You two are like a bitchy pair of magazines with legs”. We ended up having a fanstatic night and went we awoke the next morning the cloud had somewhat dissipated. Interestingly, the improvement in our mood also coincided with the eviction of Alex our original flatmate. At face value Alex was fine but as you got to know him it quickly became apparent that he had the social skills of a door knob and with him, like the usual annoying freebies you get in Easter Showbags came a teenage boy stench. How this man had no idea that the reason our house had no cockroaches or spiders wasn’t because we were lucky but because his smell was acting a deterrent is beyond me. When I left for work on Wednesday Matt took to the mega task of bleach-bombing the master bedroom. Kate had stated that there was indeed, nothing other than some magic chemical from Germany that she swears by (possibly arsnic) that would eradicate the stench from the master bedroom in which Alex had resided. Matt however, the superman that he is, managed to do so, in the process he also wore of a layer of skin and endowed himself with new finger prints due to chemical burns to the fingers. Nevertheless I can comfortably say that the result was well worth the work, a happy girlfriend.

Inspired by Matt’s incredible feat, Kate & I took to de-alexefying the remainder of the house. I arose at 10am on Thursday (yes, another public holiday) and did not stop cleaning until 6.30pm in the evening. The entire house is now stench, dust, grime, mould and Alex – free!!!! We are so much happier. Last night as we sat down to a family dinner I could not stop saying over and over “I love our new house”! Kate & I can’t get over how much better we feel living in a clean premises and not having to face the moody “my life is so hard” Alex on a daily basis. I could rant forever about how awful it was to have someone like him around all of the time but I’ll save you the drama. Please though dear friends, don’t be offended when I say that for the past 24 hours Ajax has taken a solid first place standing in my heart.

This week has been quite eventful for the nation of Samoa. The Head of State passed away, he was 95. The significance of this for me was getting another 2 public holidays. My Mum said to me “How does the government afford to pay everyone for all of these public holidays?” (since I’ve arrived I have not worked one full week due to holidays for Mother’s day, Easter, the rugby team winning 1 game in the international 7’s tournament, now the death of the Head of State and I suspect the next will be for when the prime minister sneezed a few days ago). The answer to my Mum’s questions is they don’t, richer nations do.
I know that I have mentioned this previously but pre-departure training was very much about acting in a culturally sensitive manner and accepting differences then acting accordingly. This week I was ready to run through the main street of Apia with a bulldozer and put a lock on government bank accounts to prevent access to any further foreign aid. I am sure that in many cases, foreign aid projects are functioning to almost their full potential but it is very difficult to see even when you are part of an aid program. I resigned to the fact that Samoan society (which is obviously government driven) has become incredibly complacent. It is a society that is aid dependent and quite happy to remain so. There is absolutely no capitalist drive here whatsoever. In stark contrast to many parts of Asia where if a gap in the market becomes available 15,000 entrepreneurial people will suddenly fill it, here you could literally hand over a shop full of saleable items and no one would do anything with it. People go to work and literally sleep under their desks because they know that there are no consequences – this isn’t due to impenetrable IR laws but due more to the fact that those who set the laws are doing exactly the same thing. There are many Samoans who are very highly educated and have ambition and resources to progress the nation into a greater state of development but they seem resolve to the fact that this attitude of laziness is unlikely to change and thus they cannot work without support. As a result they get off the island as soon as possible.
I am very opposed to idealism and by no means think that Samoa should be turned into a booming, capitalist nation. I do however think that the reliance they currently have on foreign aid is regressive. The opportunity for development is definitely here, the drive to do so is the factor missing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Out of ten I give my last week 9.5

Out of ten I give my last week 9.5…. the 0.5 short of perfect was due to missing my Aussie friends & family on my birthday…

After what feels like months of counting down, Matt has finally arrived! At 1.30am last Wednesday morning I literally knocked him off his feet as I flung myself at him in the airport. He stumbled around like a drunken bum trying to regain balance and when he did, he had the sense to compliment me on my pulitasi (woo-hoo)! I had booked a night for us at Aggie Grey’s resort hoping to ease Matt into the climate but it was almost unnecessary… mother-nature finally answered my prayers and has delivered a bout of winter! The temperature has significantly dropped since the night Matt arrived. We have even been blessed with a few days of constant rain – I’m loving it!

Whilst the Australia Day function at the High Commission resulted in significant loss of brain function and money due to 2-up, it did also result in an acquisition of some very important contacts. Namely Louise Main, an influential local who is originally from Manono. Manono is a tiny island between Upolu and Savaii, the main Samoan islands. Louise was kind enough to arrange a short trip for Matt & I to Manono to stay with her family. I didn’t know what to expect but assumed we would be staying in basic fales and fending for ourselves…. I was gladly proven wrong.

After introducing Matt to Apia and picking up a gift for the family - a box of chicken parts, we jumped on a bus and headed up to Manono-Uta. From here we swiftly got ripped off $20 paying for the boat trip over the Manono-Tai but it was well worth it. On arrival we were met by Vero – the most gorgeous little Samoan housewife! For the next 2 days Vero and her family took amazing care of Matt & I. We were shown into out 2-storey fale which was just about the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. It was constantly cleaned, filled with food and decorated with fresh flowers – Matt & I felt like the most privelaged people around.

After exploring Manono for about 5 minutes it soon became clear that Matt was a novelty. Lots of the kids pointed and stared while the random one burst into tears at the sight of him! It was my first experience of a village and I simply hadn’t realized how much of a novelty a palangi (white person) would be. Even though I am foreign I don’t draw much attention given my dark skin and hair but Matt stuck out like a sore thumb. It took about and hour and I think the coconut gossip line had done its trick and we were well known on the island. Soon kids were running up asking to have their photos taken and chasing us as we explored the island.

Manono takes about an hour to walk around and is pretty much the epitome of a tropical island. As Matt and I wandered and breathed in the tropical air it seems that our brains became somewhat devolved. When my legs had started to ache, the mosquitoes started to emerge and my throat became parched I realized that we had been walking for much longer than anticipated. One look at each other is all it took to realize that we were lost…as the only palangis….on a tiny island…with only one path. It suddenly became apparent that we had walked straight past our fale. Although Matt made me promise I would not divulge such details I find it hysterical that I was with a tour guide when this happened. We all know that I am clearly dysfunctional when it comes to directions (cue: the Caen/Cannes incident) but there is simply no excuse for someone who has an ingrained map of Europe in his brain to get lost on a circular island with his damsel in distress. After a tantrum (from me), fair amount of back tracking and astute observation we found our home.

We were served curry that night and I was 100% certain that we were ingesting salmonella, toe jam or simply cat posing as chicken since I had watched this box of chicken be trampled upon the whole way from Apia to Manono-Uta, thankfully however neither of us got sick so either we’ve both got stomachs of steel or the food was safe! Breadfruit cooked in coconut cream was also served & it was delicious. Breadfruit is a fruit that grows in abundance in Samoa and amazingly it tastes like buttered bread – I’m also pretty certain that it is just as cholesterol and fat free as buttered bread. Falling asleep with a full belly, the breeze running through the fale and the ocean splashing beneath me reassured me that I had made the right decision to volunteer in Samoa for a year.

After another day and night of relaxtion and paradise we made our way home so that I could introduce Matt to his new home. Matt & Samoa are basically like long lost twins. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle so it was no surprise that Matt walked into the house at Vaivase-Uta, sighed and said “It’s great to be home”.

Birthday celebrations had begun earlier that day when Matt gave me an incredible necklace that he had carved from a log of wood. I will post a picture ASAP. The celebrations continued into the night and well into the next day with a night out on the town in Apia then a Barbie-Cue. I felt so incredibly spoilt by all of my new friends who ensured that I was surrounded by smiles and showered with pressies. I had such a great time. The Barbie-Cue was a big hit and attended by many celebrities but the guest star of the night was Wicky Wong. Unfortunately due to conservation of the vocal chords he could not be convinced to give a musical performance but did however pose for some photos in Wicky’s unique phat way.

The only downfall of the party was when Kate (Slumber Party Barbie), Matt (Fafafini Karbie) & I (Rockstar Barbie) rose the next morning to find that Alex (Power Pole Ken) had evacuated the building and left the other 3 housemates to clean the entire thing. Needless to say there was wrath amongst the remaining housemates and Alex has since been evicted from the house and voted off the island (really he leaves on Tuesday & after the poor clean up performance I must say he is pretty lucky to escape revenge). Speaking of revenge, there will be many a story to follow up given the Male BBQ (aka Shae) left a little surprise under the bathroom sink for the clean up team. The uncooked offal attached to his BBQ costume was neatly packaged, well brewed and highly toxic under the bathroom sink. Luckily Matt was happy to demonstrate his manliness and dispose of the rank mess. A warning has been issued and revenge will be sweet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Samoa Contiki Tour

I turn on my computer this morning hoping for some love but alas….. there was none! I miss everyone back home so much. Friday night drinks, slurpees, fashion (I read all about Alex Perry’s Terrigal skirt from fashion week today), magazines, TV and news…. Reading the news online is so different to flicking on the TV or radio and hearing it all on the hour every hour.

So I haven’t updated everyone for awhile but I am well. I’ve been really busy and I had no idea entering into this position that it was going to be quite so demanding. The last month has been an incredibly steep learning curve. At times I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster at that point where you reach the top of a loop and your body is completely unnaturally flipped upside down. I am LOVING the research aspect of this position and also the strategic thinking that it requires. Resourcefulness cannot be underestimated here. I would actually suggest that resourcefulness and flexibility would be the key elements required for working in a developing country. I am very fortunate to have great resources to work with.

The last 2 weekends my new very dear friends Antony and Marcus have taken me on a Contiki tour of Samoa. Ant is an IT guy for SamoaTel but he has just started this job after working at Aqua Samoa as a diver dan for the last few years. Marcus is a flying high pilot with Polynesian Airlines. I feel very lucky to have fallen into their circle as I’ve been able to experience a side of Samoa that I’m sure some of the other AYADs are still to see. The first Contiki tour consisted of packing Kate, Alex & I into a truck and heading to Piula Cave Pools. This pool is in a theological college and runs through a mountain out to the ocean. It is absolutely stunning and almost as blue as the Blue Grotto in Malta. After jumping off the rocks and having a bombing competition (which Ant clearly won) we swam up to the back of the cave where the only light coming in is from the water. It was amazing and refreshing but so strange to be swimming in fresh water – I just kept sinking!

From here we drove up a mountain to a stunning view of Apia and the Bay Village. Whilst the boys for some reason became obsessed with electricity and inspecting the power poles, Kate & I took in the incredible view. Since we’d watched 6 episodes of Lost the night before we were both awaiting the emergence of Sawyer – to our bitter disappointment we were just loaded back into the car with our trusty tour guides and taken to our next destination. When we reached Lalomanu Ant went and chatted to one of his many relatives and we were permitted free entry to the beach where the remainder of the day was spent relaxing with a trusty Vailima in hand.

The funniest thing about staying home and watching Team America on Sunday night was that recently I’ve realised that this movie is actually based on real people. Sure it plays on the blatant stereotypes of George Bush and his team of merry men but I’m pretty sure that I met the real Team America this week at EPC. They were well disguised as a group of ADB (Asian Development Bank) consultants who intend to save the world. They walk in here with their idealistic policies and projects, massive salaries and expectations through the roof and seem absolutely blind to the fact that just across the road there are people earning 50 cents an hour and eating one meal a day because that is all they can afford. I’ve stared at them dumbfounded as they’ve demanded a glass of water or 50 photocopies of their document and just want to kick them in the ovaries everytime they boss Ina (the general manager’s secretary) around, like she is their personal slave. It is amazing that these people become consultants because they are purportedly the best in their field yet have no respect let alone cultural understanding that will enable them to put their practices in place. The whole ‘save the world’ concept is interesting. I had met a few people along the way in my preparations for Samoa that thought I was coming here to ‘help’ the Samoan people. Admittedly I am in a position that is helping EPC progress, particularly on an international level but as far as making a noticeable difference I think my capacity extends to acting as a sounding board for my counterparts frustrations. I find it difficult to sympathise with consultants whose projects don’t seem to work when they haven’t contextulised the situation at all. I’m positive that if someone walked into their life and said “Now listen to me sonny, you are doing this all the wrong way. You are supposed to hold your fork in your right hand and your knife in your left hand. No arguments, this is how it will be done.” that their response would be bugger off. No one wants to be told that what they are doing is wrong and it must be fixed. One can only expect resistance to change with this type of approach. So in answer to my Canadian neighbour who inquired about the squealing and hysterical laughter she heard on Sunday night I must say that although watching puppets enact a sex scene was humorous the realization that the film was non-fiction was even funnier.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Assumptions of a Trpoical Island

Assumption #1: it’s all sweet like a coconut
Bears are big, they hibernate due to extreme weather conditions, they love food & particularly the males, are scary. Samoan’s also love food, are consequently big making them scary and as a result of extreme weather conditions take on a form of hibernation. I know this because I, am acclimatizing. Despite too much physical activity and a rested minimum 8 hours sleep per night I seem to have developed a form of narcolepsy. I want to sleep ALL OF THE TIME and if I am not asleep I am thinking about sleeping. I remember the weather in Malta having the same effect but there I quenched my thirst for a rest & lazed around as much as possible. This whole AYAD placement actually requires me to work—who would have thought? A tropical island & a demanding job, sans palm tree & coconut cocktail! I can safely conclude that the first general assumption surrounding my 2007 placement has been proven wrong.

Assumption #2: The Martin Hadley Theory
There was one person who had more creative assumptions. That working in a developing country would involve sharing a ‘hut’ with livestock, reverting to traditional methods of cooking and most prominently, contracting every infectious disease under the sun. As I sit at my computer in my modest ’hut’, the circa 1972 ceiling fan rotating above I think “Thank god I’ve proven him wrong”…. Or have I?

I was woken from my afternoon nap (see previous paragraph) on Saturday to the sound of a 24 year old male dashing up the hallway wildly waving his hands around his body. A traditional Samoan dance? Similar and thwart with as much history, but no. It was my flat mate Alex attempting to rid himself of the gecko that had just checked into his shorts. Even sitting at the table is a dangerous activity.

Never before have I been able to visit the zoo from my own balcony (except when I was living with Morts). As I eat my breakfast I observe road-runners, parrots, geckos, lizards, chickens, millions of crazy ants & many a wild dog roaming my garden. This does provide for classic entertainment—I never realized how frustrating it is for ants to have their work interrupted!
Whilst the livestock living arrangements, I have been able to adapt to, preventing myself from catching an infectious disease shall be proven overtime.

We all know how easy it is to contract dengue fever thanks to our friend Lyndon’s short trip to Samoa, but to be 2 weeks into your stay and having spent more time in the hospital than in your new home sets an all time record. Unfortunately, Clair, one of the girls in my intake and the new holder of this record has been struck down with a stomach virus, the flu and dengue fever all at the same time! All I can do to prevent myself from succumbing to the same grief is continue to go through a tube of aeroguard tropical strength per week (the current rate of use).

So perhaps The Hadley Theory has some truth to it. His insistence of me sitting under a palm tree for the next 12 months however has been safely proven unlikely after another AYAD was squarely hit on the head by a bread fruit (imagine a ‘Day of the Triffids’ orange) whilst walking to the bus stop. Unless I can have a helmet made to match my pulitasi I’ll be selecting my locations of relaxation quite carefully.

Assumption #3: Lauren will get fat
Only time will tell whether this assumption will come to fruition however, measures have been taken to prevent this from happening. Despite taking to wearing a lava-lava (moo-moo style sarong) around the house I have joined a running club. Hash is an international running club consisting of around 35% expats and 65% Samoans that runs different courses every Monday. This week was hosted at my house by Alex & myself.

Exercising in Samoa is quite rare due to the heat and the wild dogs but Hash sets a run on a different part of the island each week & follows it up with a keg of Vailima (basically Toohey’s New) and a BBQ (meat unidentified). The run this week was a serious bush bash complete with river crossings, pigs and machette wielding Samoans. It was actually a lot of fun & nice to do some physical activity!

I was subsequently initiated and given a Hash name of Ryder. Samoa beat Fiji in the rugby 7’s last week and I made the poor choice of wearing black & white (Fiji colours) to Hash however did prove my athletic prowess, finishing amongst the first runners thus was named after the Fijian pocket rocket, Ryder.

Assumption #4: Nightlife will consist of the mosquito slapping dance around a fire
Moving in with Alex has been great. He’s been living here for 9 months so knows his way around & has many Samoan friends. Alex has been great in introducing me to people & showing me around. Consequently Samoa witnessed ‘Lauren’s first night out’ on Friday.

We started with drinks at Vaivase-Uta (home) then moved onto Bad Billy’s in Apia. I didn’t really have any expectations given the various ranges on nightlife I’ve experienced over the past 12 months but I have to say Samoa did not disappoint! No sooner had I descended from the taxi and I had a lei around my neck and long neck in my hand! Unable to finish the long neck I was presented with a jug of some fantastic tropical cocktail then one of our group appeared with a case of beer (you can buy a case in a nightclub!).

Kate (one of the other AYADs) & I were very well looked after. We were instructed to tell any men that hassled us that our new Samoan friends were in fact our brothers—had we needed to resort to this I’m not sure how it would have worked for Kate given she’s fair & blonde. We cut up the dance floor until the doors closed at midnight then continued the party at my place. I think the following photos tell the story for themselves!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An Eatser with no chocolate

It is the strangest concept that when living on a tropical island everything slows down but still, I find myself short of time. A contradiction one may say.

Easter came and went with minimal fuss. I had a similar experience last year with regards to Christmas. When you miss out on the commercial frivolity, superfluous celebratory signage and token gift giving you tend to forget the holiday season. Here in Samoa, the papers were filled with tributes to Jesus and plenty of preaching. I’m quickly learning that Samoa is similar to Malta in more ways than size. There are certainly some obvious contradictions. Whilst people go out on Friday and Saturday night and drink themselves into a stupor, dip into a bit of adultery and flirt with a fa’afine they also go to church 3 times on a Sunday and repent their sins.

I’ve noticed some further contradictions….

Whilst the climate is conducive to growing just about anything, and very quickly, rather than maximizing their use of fruit and vegetables in cooking, Samoan people tend to eat a lot of deep fried foods. A typical example is the predominance of green bananas in cooking (these are not un-ripened bananas but a green variety). Admittedly they are not the most flavoursome of fruits but when Samoan’s deep fry them they take on more of a styrofoamic quality than anything else. I’ve resolved that the majority of food that I eat out of home is going to be oil flavoured. Funnily enough we were consuming some ‘oil’ flavoured chips a few weeks ago only to read the ingredients which stated “banana chips, oil, fats, traces of ash”. Interesting that they were actually taro chips and top score for admitting to inedible goods existing in the product.

Pre-departure training warned us of many of the difficulties we were bound to face living and working in a developing nation. It was quite scary that after being warned of all the diseases we were susceptible to, one of the AYADs contracted 3 of them within her first week. However, we were also told that most of the clothes that we were used to wearing would not be acceptable in Samoa. Enter the concept of the fa’afini. Fa’afinis described in western terms, are men who dress as women and sleep with men. In Samoa though, it is a) illegal for a man to dress as a women and b) illegal to partake in homosexual activity. Fa’afinis are considered a category unto themselves thus exempt from these laws. Further, fa’afinis seem to have acquired their dress sense from trawling the websites of Club Troppo, Rooty Hill RSL and DCM’s. Minimalist would be an understatement. So in addition to being a blatant contradiction to the statement of the law fa’afinis also surpass the boundaries of societal and cultural norms. Clothing deemed inappropriate for a westerner in Samoa is thought acceptable for a fa’afine to wear (the clothes simply transfer over, so my size would then be worn by a 150kg fa’afini – see exhibit A).

It is all proving for a very interesting time though. I am really enjoying myself. Work is very busy and doesn’t look like it will let up. I’m already looking at my work plan and thinking ‘How on earth will I get this done in 12 months’ and I’m still looking at it from an Aussie perspective. As far as time parameters go I think it is safest to multiply deadlines by 3 and divide actual time spent on a task by 3. I had my first run-in with the General Manager at work the other day (for a closer impression of what it was actually like, check out my blog). I basically spent 8 hours writing a cabinet submission and then was asked to re-write it (just type out what the GM wanted) because I was stupid – very interesting!

Matt arrives in 13 days & I can’t wait. I’m really excited about showing him around Samoa and setting up our home together. It will be awesome to finally have a conversation that doesn’t consist of a quick hi, I miss you, hope you’re well, I’m running out of cred……

Still keeping myself busy on weekends playing sport, going out partying with the other AYADs and my new Samoan friends then burning out my brain learning Samoan on weekday mornings and re-teaching myself all of the theory that I learnt at uni so as to use it in practice!

I love hearing from you all so please keep the emails coming & posting notes on my site!!!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Life of Lauren

Some of you may or may not know what has been going on in my life recently so if you do, you may want to skip this first paragraph…. After leaving Malta in October I traveled a little bit more of Europe, took in some remote parts of France & Italy then onto to Haggis-land. I met some really great people during this time and saw some incredible parts of France & Italy that I had missed first time around. On my way home to Australia I stopped into Thailand & Cambodia for 5 ½ weeks. I had a really relaxing time & it was a nice segue back into the Aussie climate but certainly not nearly as enjoyable as Europe. I traveled with a group of people during this time & although it was nice to have companionship I learnt that the group thing doesn’t work for me. Pleasing more than one person is too difficult!
When I was in Malta I applied for the Australian Youth Ambassador program. This is an AusAid initiative where young Australians apply for positions in their field and are placed in developing countries in the Asia Pacific Region. I applied for a position as a Media, Communications & PR Trainer with the Electric Power Corporation (EPC), Samoa. Despite my lack of confidence, my application was successful. Thus after 8 months in Europe, a month and a bit in Asia and a 3 month stint back home I am sitting on the balcony of my modest Samoan bungalow writing to you all!

The lead up to departing for Samoa was intense. 5 vaccines, 3 trips to the doctor, 2 courses of antibiotics, a numb arm, a week of do’s and don’ts as an Australian Youth Ambassador plus a bag full of treatments for any ailment you could imagine & I was supposedly ready for departure! In the end, my time back in Australia felt like an extension of my time overseas. I had just settled back into the swing of things & it was time to leave again – this said, not a moment too soon! My feet were incredibly itchy (not just from the tinea I contracted from Morts) and living the daily grind was a little like caging a kitten – despite the restriction, the mind & body are constantly trying to escape!

Now, one week into my new adventure & I’m feeling more at ease. The past week has consisted of orientation. I’ve learnt how to husk a coconut & extract the cream. Been pulled on stage to dance up a storm Samoan style. Slept in a fale (hut) literally on the beach at Lalomanu and been introduced to the people I will be working with. Yesterday I picked up my pulitasi – the traditional Samoan dress. I would never wear anything like it in Australia but it is perfect for the heat and lifestyle here. It is basically a long straight skirt and straight top with off the shoulder sleeves. You could choose whichever elai (traditional pattern) you wanted and mine is bright mustard yellow with a brown geometric print. I know it sounds gross but it is really flattering – I’ll send a photo soon!