Our plane ride to Samoa was a bit shaky and very late at night (why are most flights after midnight?). Thankfully we landed without any problems and we first arrived on the island of Upolo and took a late night shuttle to the capital, Apia, where we stayed a few nights. Except for the City/Town being significantly different from the outlying countryside, the city/town isn't much to write home about, so I won't. However, we did visit two great places while we were there though: the Bahai Temple and Loto Tamaufai (I'm not even going to bother with pronunciations this time around....have fun trying to figure out how to say these names.....the language was pretty difficult to pick up at first. They place their emphasis on different syllables and then I learned that they only use 9 consonants but still all 5 vowels.) Loto Tamaufai is the island's only Special Ed school.
We were surprised to learn that there was a Bahai Temple on this small island nation but the ruler in 1950-something was the first ruler to declare himself a Bahai, so I assume that's what spurred the decision to build a temple here in the 1970's. The temple was nice and the gardens beautiful.
Our time at the school was one of the more meaningful experiences we've had so far. We spoke with the principal for a little bit, then some students and a teacher. We learned they are facing many of the same issues as us back in the States, except with smaller numbers of students but even less funding. Some of the issues are parent involvement (or lack thereof really), lack of resources (books, doors, library shelves, etc.), lack of awareness from the public, lack of desire from the public (also a cultural issue) to help, lack of a curriculum for Special Ed students, and a lack of a school infrastructure for Special Ed students. 1991 was the year that the government first recognized Special Education as a necessary component for the overall Education of the children of the Nation. WE're not that far ahead in the States ourselves. The I.D.E.A. Act was enacted in 1973 I believe. But the principal at Loto Tamaufai was a wonderful and strong lady who just wanted to educate. Any and all who walked through her doors wanting learn, she would accept. She had two students over the age of 25. One was 30.
She told us there were a lot of Special Needs kids just being left at home ignored or worse because of the shame the parents feel. The teacher told me that the parents used to think that giving birth to a baby with defects was a curse from God or the local minister. The lack of parent involvement is quite a hurdle for them to overcome.
The lack of resources and the culture of schooling are the two other immense obstacles they face. The principal commented on the culture aspect. The school used to be a daycare center. She's trying to erase that word from the lexicon and make people think it's a school and a place for education for the students instead of a place for parents to drop off their kids for the day.
That's what I meant by culture of schooling. We have it in the States, and they have it here for the regular ed kids it seems but not for the special needs kids, yet. In our country, our parents know from day one that their child, despite any special needs, is still going to attend school. The principal was a great lady with ambitious plans and ideas. I hope she can accomplish what she sets out to do.
As another note, the kids were just great. So similar to our kids in the Bronx. We could tell who the problem kids were, who the "good" ones were, etc. The similarities were striking and we'll send them some of the photos we took when we get home. It's amazing: the more things change; the more they stay the same. We thought Special ed would be markedly different on the other side of the world, but it was surprisingly similar in many ways.
Later that night, we went to Roko's for our 4-month anniversary. Hey, any excuse is a good excuse to go out for a decent meal. The dinner was lovely; the food was delicious; we ate by candle-light, or more accurately, by lantern-light. But what really marked the dinner, and I'm sure Laurie will agree, was our long conversation with our waiter, Iose, who was from a village in Samoa, but had studied Tourism at the University in Apia.
Our conversation began in the typical, cordial way between tourists and locals who speak English well, but I noted his demeanor changed quite drastically after he got to know us a bit better. After we told him we were teachers and had just visited the school earlier that day, he completely opened up. His posture changed; his tone of voice changed; but mostly, his eyes changed: they became warmer and more alive. He began to tell us about his village and its culture, how they "kept" their animals & the relationship they had with them. The pigs, chickens, and dogs are free to go where they please and always return at meal times like clockwork. He was surprised to hear we have to pick up our dogs' poop. Another aspect of the culture he told us about, and which I surely noticed from the residential architecture, was the issue of privacy. There is none. The residential structures don't have walls per se. There are doorways and window sills minus the windows (except in the more modern homes being built now). Many homes have flaps one can roll down when it rains. The lack of windows can likely be attributed to the HOT weather (we're about 13 degrees south of the Equator) as well as the village culture based on sharing and the security one feels and gains from being a part of the community. Iose told us, much like in the Fijian village, that if someone needs sugar or a banana, they can just ask a neighbor as the neighbor knows the favor will surely be returned when necessary.
After a few days, we left Apia and headed out to LaloManu, also thought of as "one of the most perfect beaches in the world," at least by us anyway. And did we ever take advantage of it....And might I add without getting burnt....too badly that is.
We met an Aussie couple who had rented a car and we drove to a waterfall with them (Susan and Ian, if your reading this, Thank you!!), but it had gone dry. I did manage to get 24 mosquito bites on my back though (Laurie counted the next morning.) Though we did get to Sopo'aga falls with them on our way back and it was gorgeous. Should be one of the photos included here. With regards to the 'squiter bites, we've noticed that if you don't scratch them, they go away pretty quickly. Maybe even in an hour or two. Of course, sometimes, we just have to scratch the hell out of 'em. The rest of our time at LaluManu was marked by beautiful sunsets, fierce gin rummy games, and way too much fried food. (M, you'd be in heaven here; Samoans love their fried chicken, and it's tasty....just makes you so sleepy with the sun and all.....No wonder they are on "Samoa Time.")
At LaluManu we actually participated in a FiaFia, which is a historical cultural dance/show where the men and women play their different roles and this is when the fire dance is done. Laurie chose, much to my dismay, the two seats directly in the front. (I even leaned in to her to say if there was any audience participation, we were the prime candidates; she shook her head and said, there's no audience participation in these dances....) So obviously, in a few moments after the first part of the show was done, the MC got up and said, this is the part when we ask some of our brave members in the front row of the audience to come up and try some of the moves.....So, since it's Samoa, the men go first, and obviously one of the dancers came towards me and how could I refuse? So I get up there, feeling a fool, but Laurie told me I had a huge smile on my face so it looked like I was having fun. We did a few moves slowly and as i think about how to describe them, it was almost a cowboy themed kind of dance. There was a running in place kind of move, a saluting kind of gesture, then a lassoing sort of spinning move and then more running in place. So we did that and I was like, "okay, that was fun. Now for the girls," but the guy who brought me up there looked at me and now says to me, "faster!"
Thinking to myself, "Faster? Oh, why faster? Uh-oh, there goes the music, yep, it's faster...." That was fun; faster wasn't so bad.
To myself, "Again? But that was pretty fast last time.....geez, they sure can play their music even faster, at least this has to be the last time...."
Run in place, salute, lasso....ok, I can't really keep up now.....
"NO WAY!! Yes way!! The music is going even faster!! How can they even play the music faster?? Just do it, who cares....Weeeee!!!!"
Run in place, salute, lasso.....oh thank god that was actually the last time.....I was ready to sign autographs but my legs were shaking from the moves so I had to refuse any would-be fans....haha.
Then it was finally the girls' turn, and I knew Laurie secretly wanted to try because she had been practicing a bit in the fale since we had already seen one or two shows in the last few days since we had been to Samoa. When she got up there, and yes, she did, (I pretty much made sure of it in my own special way....) she was the best one who "volunteered." Of course, she didn't know what she was doing, but she caught on pretty quick and was the best one up there. Unfortunately (or maybe not), we didn't bring our camera with us to this FiaFia since we had seen a couple already. There was also a little kid, couldn't have been older than 10, who was doing the fire dance and was incredibly fluid for someone so young. When he gets older, he'll be very skilled at it. They touch the fire stick to their tongues and hold it for way too long. We were cringing, seeing these little kids burning their mouths and tongues like that.
We next went to Virgin Cove which was beautiful and the food was delicious, but this entry has been so long, I'll spare you any more boring details. We didn't do much but read and eat great food (yes, I eat fish now!!). We even got up for a sunrise which we got a few shots of.