Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Running with turkeys! (I'm a little behind in updating.)'s been so long without a post, and I am so far behind. I don't want to end up with the world's longest blog post, so I am going to post a couple of the next few days. First of all, let me start by saying that I'M IN AUSTRALIA! (More on that later.)

Let's do a bulleted list of what's happened since the Field Trip Day.

1) The week of Thanksgiving was just insanity. On Monday, we went to school, only to be informed that the Home Ec class was putting on a "fashion show" for the whole school, starting right away and lasting until 10:30. This did not actually phase me one bit. To steal a phrase from the wonderful Catherine Queen, current WorldTeach volunteer in Manu'a, T.I.S. (This is Samoa.) Of COURSE we are having a fashion show instead of 1st and 2nd period. You mean all school don't do this? (Actually, I think I need to revamp Cat's phrase a little, and change it to T.I.L (This is Leone). Because this whole island is crazy, but Leone is the craziest of all, Lord love it.

Anyway, here are a picture from the fashion show, which feature such categories as "swimwear" and "reggae wear."

The thing about the fashion show was, it was in the gym. And the gym is not attached to the rest of the school. And it was pouring down rain that morning. Which mean all the students got SOAKED walking to the gym. And what happens when all the students get wet? Send 'em home!

Yeah, after the fashion show, we got the rest of the school day off. (T.I.L.)

I do find amusement in watching all the kids try not to get wet as they run to the gym. I even took pictures!

Anyway. Tuesday of that week was pretty normal, but Wednesday! Wednesday was the 28th Annual Leone Turkey Run! Allow me to explain:

Every year, the day before Thanksgiving, Leone High School sponsers a 4.5 mile run through the villages of Leone, Sogi, Vailoa, Taputimu, and Puapua on the West Side of the island. The winners in each category get a free turkey for Thanksgiving. Well, Abby and Quinn and I were determined to get a turkey, and we roped Alison into coming with us.

After arriving at the school at 4:30 for a 5:00 am start time (which, by the way, is way earlier than I am able to interact with ANYbody like a civilized human being), we were off! Quinn and Abby of course took off ahead of everybody else. It was a pretty good turnout, I think there were about 150 people or so there, lots from the village, and even some palagis from Pago area.

Here's Quinn and Abby before the race (WAY too chipper for that early, with the prospect of a 4 mile run ahead of them):

And here I am, a little over half way done with the race, near Sliding Rock (I guess when the view is that awesome, the whole running at 5 am thing doesn't seem THAT bad).

Anyway, as it turns out, Quinn and Abby got 1st and 2nd place in the class advisor category, and I got 2nd place in my category! Woo! Turkeys for all! (And turkeys on the island are about $30, so this was actually quite a prize.) Here we three are in our moment of victory:

Anyway, since T.I.L., that was it for us for the day. School's over! Abby and Quinn took their turkeys out to the Outer Island, where they went for Thanksgiving (never to be seen again, or at least trapped out there for a day or two extra), and I gave mine to our landlords, the Purcells, so they could put it in the umu (Samoan underground oven), and take it up to the Gurrs house, where I was going with them for Thanksgiving.

So, Thanksgiving. It was awesome. I went with the Purcells the whole way up the west coast, basically to the literal end of the road, to the village of Malota, where the Gurrs live. They have their own beach, and it was amazing. We went with all the Purcells grandkids, which were pretty amusing. It's so beautiful up the West Side. Everyone is always "The East Side is so beautiful," mainly because it's much more easily accesible, but I say WEST SIDE for the win! Here are some pics from Thanksgiving.


So, Friday that week was just me hanging out in town with Amanda, Julie, Jillian, Katherine and Lisa, which was fun. And Saturday was our playoff game against Tafuna, which we lost, and it was sad, so I will not be speaking further on THAT.

Anyway, there's Thanksgiving week for you! Slowly but surely catching up!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shaking my thang for my students...

Two posts in a week! It's insanity!

I realized I never posted about the rest of Spirit Week or the Halloween Showdown, so allow me to write briefly (for me) on that. I left you on Tuesday of Spirit Week, so let us pick up with Wednesday, which was Prom Day. Which meant that the guys and girls got all gussied up and came to school in prom-like attire. And some of the girls went all out. Case in point:

And some of the boys:

The boy all in black is actually not one of my students...he is just Abby, Quinn and I's biggest fan, for reasons unbeknownst to any of us. He get really SUPER excited to see us, and always in our rooms. I enjoy him immensely.

I should also mention that it was pouring down rain, which made it all a hot mess.
Thursday was Jersey Day, which was great fun. In my first period class, every single on the kids wore a jersey, so I took a picture. If you’ll recall from previous blogs, first period is the devil class, full of misbehaving students that have somehow wormed their way into my hearts regardless.

Friday was multicolor/rainbow day, aka in the States as Gay Pride day. Although the Samoans do not automatically make the association between rainbows and Pride, so it was pretty much just me that was amused by the whole thing. I went all out, as did a bunch of my students.

Friday was also supposed to be the MTV Showdown, featuring “music videos” and skits from each class, but it was moved to Monday because there was a family funeral in the house next to the gym. Because Samoa is awesome, they postponed the MTV Showdown out of respect for the funeral.

Then. It was Monday. Halloween, and the day of the MTV Showdown. Did I mention that the faculty advisors for each class also had to perform? Oh, yes. And guess who was one of the teachers selected to represent the sophomore class? Yours truly. So, after the kids got done shaking it to Beyonce and doing their skits that had to feature Michael Myers, Jacob Black and Nicki Minaj (that was insane), the teacher had to get up on stage and shake their groove thang to…the Pussycat Dolls.

So, picture the scene. A gym full of teenagers, and me, strutting my stuff with two other advisors to the dulcet tones of a mash up of “Dontcha” and “Buttons”. My solo dance was to Dontcha, so there I am, dancing completely inappropriately in front of my students, to lyrics that include, “ Dontcha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me” and “Loosen up my buttons, baby.”

The thing is, despite their somewhat conservative nature, Samoans are pretty much the most sexually outrageous people ever. So, teachers doing a sexy dance for their students? The students freaking love it. My big moment was when I had to literally loosen up my buttons, take of my (outer) shirt, and throw into the audience, stripper style. The kids went wild. It was so hilarious. And so inappropriate. And since we all know I pretty much have the dirtiest mind ever, I fit right in here. I am not even going to lie to you. I thought the whole thing was great fun.

And I would just like to mention: which advisors got first place? My group! Apparently, we were a big hit. And I wasn’t even the most outrageous one in my group. One of the fa’afafines (google it) I was dancing with literally stripped down to this crazy negligee, and the other one freaking dislocated her shoulder, she was dancing so hard. It was chaos.

Here are some pics from Showdown day. And no, none of them are of me doing my thang. Those are classified.

The thing about Samoan assemblies/pep rallies, is that they are absolutely impossible to describe unless you’ve actually experienced one first hand. Because when you try to describe what happens at these things to people in the States, where every school event is so prim and proper, it doesn’t seem like what happens here could actually be real. Seriously, if a teacher in the United States ever said half the things the teachers here say to the student, that teacher would be fired so fast. And the things the students say are just as outrageous. For instance, the days following my triumph with the Pussycat Dolls, multitudes of teenage Samoan boys were high fiving me and saying things like, “Miss AMBER! I didn’t know you could shake it like that,” and “Miss Amber, I could watch you dance like that all day long.” I was kind of like a Rock Star for a few days.

Pretty much what I’ve decided is that after teaching at Leone, I’ll never been able to teach in the United States. I’d forget I wasn’t in Samoa, say something inappropriate to someone, and be fired and charged with sexual harassment.

As one of my coworkers told me the first week I was here: “There’s no such thing as sexual harassment in American Samoa.”

Which: if it were really serious, they would do something about it. But in general, that is totally true.

This is probably why I fit in here so well.

Disclaimer: If you are not my friend or family, and are just some random person who stumbled upon this blog, you probably think I am some sort of pervert or sexual deviant. I swear, that’s not really true. Or maybe just a little bit true.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Obviously, my children have been replaced with pod people.

It’s been a crazy couple of days.

Have you noticed that most of my blogs start out like that? Obviously, my life/Samoa is just insane in general.

Yesterday was amazing; I took my kids on a field trip to the National Park of American Samoa in Vatia. (Of course. Once a Park Ranger, always a Park Ranger.)

This sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but it absolutely was not. The principal at Leone made me jump through all sorts of hoops to get this thing approved. So for weeks, I have been in contact with Park Rangers here in American Samoa, and they have come to the school and everything, trying to get this field trip approved. It’s been a hellacious process.

There were a couple of issues. First and foremost, I was told I needed three teachers as chaperones. I enlisted Abby, and we also got one of the truancy officers, Louis (who is cute, but that is neither here nor there.) So: teacher chaperones, done.

Then I was told that three teachers weren’t enough, because my kids are all Mainstream (read: the “bad” kids.) In all actuality, while I do have many, many of the kids that are suspended kind of regularly, I also have a lot of kids who aren’t considered smart just because they can’t speak English that well. And Mainstream kids are often overlooked, and never get to go on things like field trips. Which I find colossally unfair. Just because they aren’t super geniuses doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to have a quality education. Sorry, ranting. Moving on…so, since my kids are Mainstream, I was told I needed to get four parental chaperones in addition to the teachers. So: I got four parents to come.

THEN, I was told that we needed a special bus to go to Vatia, because the village of Vatia is on the back end of the island, and you have to go over this thrilling/scary as hell mountain pass to get there. Apparently, the Vatia school bus has, like, superpowers or something, and it can make it over the mountain without blowing up on the way up or losing control on the way down. So, this was a bit of an issue, because they don’t really have any spare school buses in American Samoa, so you have to get the bus when it’s not busy dropping off elementary kids. That was a crazy challenge, and as of Monday at 3pm, I STILL didn’t know if we got the bus or not, so I had to tell all my kids to come prepared for both school and the field trip. FINALLY, I got our school secretary, Rita, to call the school bus people. Rita is super aggressive and kind of scary and totally awesome, and if you want something done at Leone, she is the one to talk to. She gets on the phone and ten minutes later I have my bus. Yay!

So, fast forward to Tuesday morning, Field Trip Day.

First thing is, the principal apparently forgot that Abby was coming, and there for a second, it looked like maybe she wasn’t going to be able to. But that crisis passes, and the bus got to the school. That’s when things went to Hell in a hand basket.

As it turns out, the Principal was super paranoid about this whole thing, because the last time Leone took a major field trip, some kids went swimming and two kids drowned. That was seven years ago, and mine was the first major field trip since. The other major problem was that the principal basically doesn’t trust me to be capable enough to handle my kids out in the world. I don’t know if it’s because I am young, or because I am not Samoan (Samoans kids do tend to listen to other Samoans better than they listen to palagis.) But it is super irritating and totally unjustified. I literally have class rosters that make seasoned Samoan teachers flinch when they read them, and I have been handling those kids just fine. So, there should be enough faith that I can handle these kids on a field trip. But no. In front of a school bus full of kids waiting to leave for the field trip, and right in front of the office full of my coworkers, the principal starts telling me that I shouldn’t be able to go, that I wasn’t going to be able to handle my kids, and that these were bad kids and I didn’t “know them.”

That’s went I kind of lost my temper.

I kind of let loose about how he didn’t trust me and he didn’t think I was a competent teacher, and that yes, I DO know these kids, because unlike him, I see them every single day, and I totally trust them. And then it turned into this whole “I’ll go back to the States” if anything happens on the field trip. And all of this stupid, stupid argument happened in front of all my kids. It’s was so awful. BUT, eventually, we were allowed to go, and let me just say: my little devil children? SO. WELL. BEHAVED. Like, it wasn't even them, but some sort of pod people that looked like them. I’m feeling pretty good as a teacher, because I’m pretty sure that my kids heard my argument on their behalf, and it would appear they really don’t want me to get fired because they were so good. It was amazing.

We left the school and headed across the island. We had to switch to two smaller buses in Tafuna, I guess so that we could make it up the mountain. Then we picked up the Park Rangers in Utulei, and headed over the mountain to Vatia. Going over that mountain was pretty intimidating, because the bus had to completely floor it to get up it, and I was pretty sure the engine was going to explode. And then coming down the other side, there are all these hairpin, switchback turns, and we were kind of flying around them at an alarming speed. My kids, of course, thought it was great gun, and accompanied the turns with exaggerated leans and “WOOOO” noises, like they were on a roller-coaster. A roller coaster that clings to the side of a volcanic peak that shoots 4000 feet up from the ocean.

Anyway. There’s a point on the road called Afono Pass. It’s at the top of the mountain, and from this point, you get a birds eye view of pretty much the entire island. It’s amazing. We stopped the bus at the pass, and the kids got out to take a look. Most of them had never been up there before.

Let me just say: Every headache, every argument, every minute of stress was completely worth it at that moment. Because the look in their eyes as they took in the beauty of their island from 3000 feet up? I’d fight with every school administrator in American Samoa to see that look.

Here’s what they saw:

While in the National Park, we did a small hike to Pola Island, and the Park Rangers led us. It was great, and the kids had the best time. Afterwards, there was a lot of them saying, “Seki a” (which means awesome). And today in class, a lot of them told me I was the only teacher to ever care enough to take them somewhere like that and that I was the best teacher they ever had. I’m sure that’s not true, but it sure did make me feel all warm and gooey inside.

Some pics from the trip:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deranged Clowns and Classroom Burglers...

So, I got to school on Monday, and Quinn informed me that someone had broken into her room. I went to my room, and sure enough, someone had come in through the window and out through the door (it locks from the inside). What did they steal from Quinn? Hand sanitizer. What did they steal from me?

Hand sanitizer.

Yeah. Obviously, the world's most germophobic thieves busted into our rooms this weekend. Here's a pic of my room, since I realized I haven't shown one.

Anyway, they stole a few other things too, like a box of markers and a random picture of one of my students. They left the dollar in my drawer, and they left my telephone alone. They left Quinn's brand new Mac computer, but stole her construction paper. Random.

Anyway. Another interesting thing that happened already this week is that I had my first, actual, honest to goodness, no holds barred fight in my classroom. It was between one of my favorite students and one of my least favorite. My favorite said something about the other's village, and that's all it took, it was on. I was disappointed in my fave, but mostly I was just irritated because it interrupted my class. I referred them both and they are both suspended. Good times, good times.

Also yesterday (it was a day for the record books), I went to the boys futsol (indoor soccer) game and while checking out the Samoan National Team playing at the beach across the road, a stray ball came flying from the high school game I was supposed to be watching and nailed me right in the face. (No comments about balls nailing in my face, believe me, I heard them already. Mostly from my Vice Principal. lol) Anyway, my lip is a little swollen, but it doesn't look too bad. Mostly it was just fodder for the Samoans to laugh at me (they love stuff like that.)

Coach Abby (did I mention Abby is the Futsol coach) and her team:

So, this week is Spirit Week at ol' Leone High School. Yesterday was Ghost Day. I dressed all in white (as you would, to be a ghost), and all my students told me I looked like I was going to church. Apparently Samoan ghosts wear black. Whatevs.

These are ghosts:

Personally, I think they look like deranged clowns. Or members of KISS. But that may just be me.

Today was Hippie Day. Most of my students had no idea what a hippie was. I told a lot of the boys that their usual hairstyle (afro to the max) would suffice for hippie day. Some of them took my advice and looked straight up 70s Soul. It was awesome. One of my students took Hippie Day a little too literally and showed up high to class. I didn't turn tthe student in, but really, student? Don't smoke in school. You might get caught. Oy.

Anyway, stay tuned for the rest of Spirit Week: Wednesday Prom Day, Thursday Jersey Day, and Friday Multicolor Day.

Also: One of my students wore this to class. Because I am sometimes not the best role model, I thought it was super funny, and took a picture instead of making him take it off. I should have tried to take it, so I could wear it and maybe stop all the "Miss, do you have stapler?" and "Miss, do you have a marker?" and"Miss, do you have minutes on your phone?" and "Miss, do you have a patridge in a pear tree?" Just a thought.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I effing love this place.

I'm too freaking stoked to write a real blog, because my (yes, I claim ownership of them now)Leone Lions Varsity football team just beat the previously undefeated Faga'itua Vikings. So, I'll just post some pics to highlight the evening. Pretty much all the pics are of my boys. And by "my boys," I mean my students. I've become attached, in case you couldn't tell.

(The last picture is of Peni and Paisano, two of my senior boys. I love them, but this picture made me have awful visions of what my life would be like if I had them both in the same class. Peni's in Earth and Space and Paisano's in Marine Science. Thank God. lol.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sometimes football games get called for brawling...

I <3 Leone. My village.

Sorry for the blogging delay…those of you who know that I have kept a journal for the last 18 years also know that I write in that journal approximately four times a year. So I don’t have the best track record with journaling of any kind.

And then once I don’t blog for a little while, it becomes kind of a chore because I have so much to catch up on…I guess I should just write a little every day and then it wouldn’t be a problem.

Anyway. I left off with the Explosion in a Cafeteria (anyone get the literary reference?) That Thursday, September 29, was Tsunami Remembrance Day in the Samoas, in memory of the lives lost in the 2009 tsunami that hit the Samoan Islands. We had an assembly that day in school, and it was sad, and then we got an early dismissal. My kids’ stories remind me a lot of the survivor stories I heard after the Alabama tornadoes last April. Only it was a wall of water instead of a wall of wind.

Last weekend I went with Amanda to Tisa’s Barefoot Bar. It’s a pretty cool beach bar over on the East Side on the island (WEST SIDE 4 LIFE!), and we saw a shark, which was super cool. Although it did put a damper on our swimming plans, for obvious reasons. I like Tisa’s, but it’s a bit touristy for my taste, and the drinks are super expensive. So I doubt I will be going there on a regular basis. But it was fun for the day. Here is Tisa's:

Monday and Thursday of the past week, our field director came in and observed two of our classes, and then gave us feedback. My classes were fine, but I did feel like most of my feedback was negative, which kind of sucks. I think it’s really hard for our field director to accurately judge our teaching and our kids by watching two hours of teaching. I know my kids really well by now, and I know what works for them and what doesn’t, and so it kind of sucks to be judged on two random classes. That’s not to say that I don’t have room for improvement, because I totally do. I definitely have things I need to work on. I guess the reason I have such a bad taste in my mouth about the observations is that I know how difficult my classes were in the beginning, and I know how far my kids and I have come in the last two months. So while I see marked improvement, an outside observer wouldn’t know the starting point was much worse than now.

Anyway. The good news is, I really feel comfortable with my students now, and I feel like I’m coming into my own as a teacher.

Some of my classes put on skits last week, and they were really hilarious. They were about how you would survive if you landed on Mars, and they were predictably riddled with guest appearances from Aliens and Martian royalty. But they did mention finding the water at the polar ice caps and bringing oxygen with them since the atmosphere on Mars is pretty rough, so I was happy. I’ve included some pics of the skits.

Friday was the football game, Leone versus the Samaona Sharks. The Sharks beat us at the beginning of the year, so we had something to prove…apparently so much to prove that the JV game erupted into a massive 100 person brawl and was called during the third quarter. They cancelled the Varsity game, too, and said both teams would get a loss. Which was really not fair, since neither Varsity squad was even near the field when the brawl broke out. (Plus, all my boys are Varsity, and I wanted to see them play!)

After the “game”, my (Samoan) friend Danielle picked up Amanda and Julie from Pava’ai’i and I rode with the Samoana WorldTeachers , and we all met at the market downtown, which is totally sweet on the first Friday of the month. It was really crowded, and I saw a couple of my students (of course, I can’t go anywhere without seeing a couple of them. Lol.) We had some delicious food and then Danielle, Lisa, Lisa’s BF Rufus, and I went to the bar to sing some karaoke. It was awesome. Samoans a) take their karaoke very seriously, b) pretty much all have amazing voices and c) love them some tragic love songs. Add those three components together and you have a pretty excellent time. A pretty excellent time involving a lot of Celine Dion, song by females and males alike.

Saturday was kind of a bummer. My roommates tend to do stuff together, without me, and they went off to Western Samoa for the weekend, so I got kind of lonely on Saturday. Mostly because I had nothing to do. Then I find out, after the fact, that they rescheduled the Varsity Leone/Samoana game for Saturday afternoon. And we beat the pants (fins?) off the Samoama Sharks. Woo! But I was seriously bummed no one told me the game was rescheduled, because I would have totally gone and supported my boys. And my football habit.

Sunday was completely amazing. It was White Sunday, which is Children’s Day in Samoa, and is a really big deal. The children basically take over the church service, and it is awesome. I especially enjoyed the little boy (about three) who had enough of being onstage and just wandered down the aisle in his spiffy white suit, wearing only one shoe. And I enjoyed the roughly 8 year old that got completely into the dance, and was showing a lot of hip action. Very sassy.

After the service, Drew (my aforementioned field director, who I actually do quite like despite earlier complaints about observations), and I went to have afternoon meal, or to’onai, at a lady named Tui’s house in Leone. She works for the Department of Education, and also goes to my church. The meal was delicious Samoan food (lots of coconut stuff and lots of meat), and the company was great. Afterward, Tui took us on a drive up the west coast of the island, which was awesome because I had never been past Leone. And the West Side is MY side, so I felt that is was necessary to see it all. Plus, a lot of my kids live up the west side, and I wanted to see their villages.

Well. Let me just say, the East Side might be beautiful, but it ain’t got nothin’ on the West Side. It’s SO pretty. I can’t believe I let three months pass before ventured past Leone. One of the problems is that there bus service past Leone is a little shady, but I’m not going to let that deter me anymore. We went up past the village of Amanave, home of many of my students, who for some reason refer to it as Unkabunka. Look, I have stopped trying to explain the minds of my students. I just go with it. We drove the whole way up to the village of Poloa, which is almost the end of the road, literally and figuratively. The road past Amanave gets super scary and sea-cliff hugging. It’s really not so much a road as a death defying adventure ride.

The West Side was so beautiful, but also really sad, because it was the most devastated by the tsunami in 2009, and many people still don’t have homes. They live in the tents FEMA provided for them. We went the whole way to Poloa Elementary, which I’ve included a picture of here. It was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Luckily, the teachers got the students safely up the hill in the nick of time.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were learning about human impact on the ocean, I asked my juniors and seniors to write an essay about why it can be bad if too many people live near the ocean. I wanted them to give me answers that talked about pollution and depletion of marine resources. Instead, I got answers like this:

“People living by the coast is bad because the tsunami will come and everyone will be running and you will try to help them but you can’t.”

It wasn’t until this Sunday and my trip up the west coast that I truly understood that answer.