My village is one that other Peace Corps Volunteers can be jealous of — the absolute definition of what people mean when they jokingly refer to serving in the South Pacific as the “Beach Corps”. I live about 300 meters away from one of the most beautiful beaches in Samoa (with an adjacent coral reef preserve), and my village is home to three resorts, a nightclub, and a large store a short 45-minute walk inland where I can get canned food, rice, cleaning supplies, etc. I have somewhere to play bingo practically every day, I am only rarely awakened by chickens or barking dogs, and I spend plenty of time with my host family, at church, and getting to know everyone around the village. I can even easily take day trips to Apia to see a movie, use the Internet, and eat Indian food.
My biggest fear about the five weeks between swearing-in and the beginning of the school year was figuring out how I would be able to battle boredom without television and internet, but it has turned out to be a complete nonfactor. Especially if I have something I am procrastinating (i.e. hand-washing my laundry, writing a blog post, or reading about Pacific archaeology), I always feel like I have something to do. Additionally, I love exploring my district — I can always go to the beach, hike to the part of the river where I can swim, or walk along the coast and look for archaeology.
I don’t have many problems with my new home, either. My house is surrounded by rocks and sand, so growing pineapples seems to be a dream deferred, my tap water is often green, and I am isolated enough that nobody can hear me scream for help — I found this out when I was trapped in the school bathroom while stealing a roll of toilet paper… I had to climb through a hole I kicked open at the bottom of the door because there was no door handle. At the moment, however, the rats in my house are the only ineradicable problem I’m facing.
Did you know that rats would consume a tube of toothpaste, tube and all? How about the rubber that makes sure your refrigerator is closed, bars of soap, a bingo dabber, mosquito wire, electrical wiring, or fungus cream (for tropical rashes of a specific kind)? It sure stunned me, too. At the moment, the aforementioned rats outnumber me in my home, and although I have successfully slain many with glass bottles, bags filled with broken glass, rat poison, and a broom handle, the war is far from over. I spend much of my days simultaneously cleaning up after their messes and plotting against them — How could I possibly seal up my house to prevent them from entering at will? How much poison would I need to exterminate them all? Could I get a cat capable of rodent-proofing my home? Sadly, keeping the rats out is likely a pointless endeavor, killing all of the rats is probably impossible because the bush/swamp that surrounds the school provides infinite numbers of them, and I can’t have a cat until I eradicate the wild dogs living at the school.
I actually had a kitten for three weeks; he was very small, black, and I named him Herman Cain. Herman Cain and I spent many hours together, and he was the first real pet I have ever had. I was raising him to be a rat killer, but I had no idea how to train him not to be afraid of absolutely everything — cockroaches, loud noises, the sun, etc. — so he never came even remotely close to killing any rats. I often scolded Herman Cain for his incompetence, inability to feed himself, and not using his litter box. Inevitably, he was viciously murdered and half-eaten by dogs, and I was saddened.
Fortuitously, I can go to a place like this when I am blue and get a cold soda:
I also have the luxury of an amazing host family. My new Samoan mom teaches with me at the primary school, and my youngest sister is actually named after a PCV they hosted 16 years ago. Spending the past month with them, including the entire holiday season, has been invaluable for my village integration, and I can’t thank them enough for all of the great Samoan food. The primary school vice principal (currently the deputy principal) and the pastor of the church nearest my house have shown me amazingly gracious hospitality, as well. Samoans may truly be the most generous people I have ever met.
Otherwise, I’ve been about as healthy as you’d expect. I’m no stranger to giardia or tropical fungal infections, I’m lucky to be one of the few PCVs on my island not to have contracted a serious mosquito-borne illness (Dengue, Chikungunya, or Zika), and this is the first time in my life that I’ve been concerned about losing too much weight. Ultimately, though, how could I not feel great while living in paradise? I swim most days, I walk to my host family’s house in the next village every day, and I’ve finally gotten used to the insanely hot and humid weather. Basically, when it’s hot and sunny I sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze from the ocean, I either sleep or do chores when it rains, and I play volleyball or swim when the sun starts to go down before eating a late dinner with my family.
I’ve finally gotten accustomed to the incredibly slow pace of life here — if you’ve never been to the South Pacific, it could even be difficult to even comprehend how slowly time can move — and now I’m just relaxing and soaking up every last minute. “Samoan time”, as locals call it, essentially means that you can never be late to anything. As you may imagine, I’ve taken to this South Pacific mindset quite handily, and I would say that village life isn’t all too shabby.
Craig (Leti) Shapiro