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.