After arriving in Samoa almost four months ago, the volunteers of Group 83 finally started the school year. The first three days have been full of reviewing material from last year, getting to know new names, and the general excitement of a new school year with new teachers and new faces in the classroom. Just kidding.
In Samoa, the first days of school are used for cleaning the school, using children for slave labor. I arrived Monday morning at 8 am to find thirty or so students picking up all the “rubbish” from the lava rocks surrounding the school building. “Rubbish” includes leaves, grass, candy wrappers, and generally anything else that are not rocks. After the lava rocks were picked clean, the students were shepherded over to the large malaeta’alo (playing field) in front of the school, which had just been mowed. They lined up, facing away from the field, and proceeded to rake the lawn with their hands, proceeding backwards in a scraggly line across the field. Meanwhile, the teachers argued about whether I should have to help with the sweeping and weeding. The year 7/8 teacher, Isaako, asked me, “E te le masani salu le vao? (You’re not used to sweeping the grass?” When I replied that I was not, he smiled and said, “Ia, lelei. Fa’amasani.” (Yeah, good. Get used to it.) The other teachers told me that since I am a palagi I am not required to help. When I refused to malolo (rest) until they did, they immediately took the opportunity to have tea. Later, the students picked over the lava rocks for another hour until it was time for the teachers to have lunch (chicken chop suey and taro). One exhausting day at school over.
The next morning, I woke up and in a desperate attempt to not have to sweep the yard again, decided to step on a bee. With my foot swollen and pulsating, I popped a Benadryl and hobbled off to school where it was time to clean the classrooms. Mostly, this consisted of the teachers instructing the students about what to do, while we hung out in the teachers’ room drinking our morning tea. The library got organized, all of the things from last year’s classes were ripped down – and that was about it. Lunch comprised fried chicken, barbequed sausage and some palusami (young taro leaves cooked with coconut cream). At the lunch table, my teachers gossiped about how at Dave’s school, there is no food. They next insisted that I text Dave and tell him to leave his school and come to my school for lunch. When I found out that his school was not over yet, they decided to wrap up all the leftovers and make my host brother carry them home for me. Before school dismissal, the students gathered in the assembly classroom and were instructed on how many fala (woven mats) to bring next week.
Today, Dave’s school actually started some lessons, but mine had another day of cleaning. I got to school and was instructed to sit down for tea with the principal. After she was finished, she told me to sit and drink more tea with the other teachers. The students had fun raking the rest of the lawn and starting gigantic fires. After we had our tea, it was time for the students to eat. We sat on the porch and watched. And FINALLY school supplies were handed out. The year 8 students formed a bucket line to bring piles of notebooks out, while the girls in year 7 sorted them into piles. Pile-making was inhibited by TJ, my principal’s grandson, who ran around knocking the piles down and climbing up on top proclaiming himself king of the mountain. He did all this while wearing no pants. He had lost those earlier in the day when he walked up to me, ripped them off, and announced loudly, “OU TE FIA TIO” (essentially, I have to take a shit). Then he ran off, presumably in search of a bathroom. Finally, it was time for lunch (talo, fa’i, and palusami), and then home for some well-deserved (?) malolo.
We would start classes tomorrow – but there is a district-wide meeting with the School Review Officer (SRO), so we all get the day off.