Friday, November 2, 2012

Spirit Week Day 5: Samoan Attire & Assembly

Happy Friday all! Here is the last day of Spirit Week at FES. Here is a video of the kids' performance at the assembly. Also, there is another picture of us wearing our traditional Samoan attire and a pic of my 7th graders doing their performance during the assembly. (Girls wear puletasi's and the boys wear an i'e.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Spirit Week Day 4: Sports Day

Here is photo of my classroom dressed up for Sports Day.
 Fun fact: The jersey I'm wearing in this photo I actually wore in my own 4th grade picture back in 1998. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!


I hope everyone is having a safe and happy Halloween both near and far. This has been quite the week. Less than one week until the presidential election, and with Hurricane Sandy destroying the Northeast, I really do wish I were back in Michigan to witness/ support the craziness.

Today is Halloween and we certainly celebrated it here at FES. My students showed up with masks, face make-up and everything in between.

The airplane that flies from the main island to here a few times a week is broke, so we haven't had much contact with the mainland for about a week now. A boat is coming Saturday and should bring gas/supplies/mail to our island. Because of this, some of the students who were supposed to have their costumes shipped here from Tutuila, weren't able to get them in time. Also, the adults don't really have much candy to hand out. Luckily, Mama Jude sent me some yummy candy from the States in her most recent care package, so the kids will get lucky when they get to my house.

School today was a joke. We started the day with an assembly and every class stood up and showed off their costumes, then they did a random dance. I dressed up as a black cat (I'm sure those who knew me during childhood aren't surprised.) I had matching costumes with two other teachers- Neta and Faiupu.  Here is a picture of us!
Neta (L), Faiupu (C)

Needless to say, it was a big mistake because we were then called out during the assembly and forced to do a impromptu dance. This dance turned into a weird hip hop sword fight with our tails. The kids loved it. 

After the assembly, the kids came back to my classroom, along with my 7th graders to do some fun Halloween-themed activities. At 11am, the bell rang for lunch (45 minutes early). The kids ate and then we did trick or treating around the school. 

Here are some photos I snapped around my classroom.

May, Vinny, and Lagi (7th grade) helping with a poster, and Joe (4th grade) looking tough.

Meke (3rd grade) working on a Halloween word search.

Cina (4th grade), Peau (4th grade), and Lawrence (3rd grade) making their own masks!
Because there was a candy shortage on island, I decided to make chocolate cupcakes for the whole school-- from scratch. It was a 2 day ordeal, but in the end, I enjoyed them (65 in total!) and so did the kids/staff.  After trick or treating, PE started around noon and the kids have literally been outside playing for the past 2 hours. I, however, have been inside lesson planning for tomorrow, which means I will have a very early night!

Tonight will be spent at church, some voli (volleyball), and then a second round of trick or treating. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it. :-) Fai fai le mu! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This past weekend I spent my nights Palolo fishing. Palolo is a  worm that only comes once a year sometime in October. It hatches  according to the moon’s schedule. I think it’s 7-8 days after the first full moon in October or something like that. Either way, what happens is around midnight you go about 2-3 miles into the national park and sit on the shore of the ocean. Around 12:30 two brave souls wander into the water with a flashlight and net. They start shining the flashlight and using the net to try to catch Palolo. The first night, they go in just to see if the Palolo has arrived yet. Friday night there wasn’t any Palolo, so we made a trip for pretty much no reason, but there was something wonderful about sitting on the beach after midnight, listening to the waves roll in and not being able to see even 6 inches in front of you.

The following night (Saturday), we left around the same time and got to the ocean. There were a lot of people there, almost like a beach party. People brought their families, snacks, and flashlights. The Dad’s were in the water looking for Palolo, the Mom’s were on the beach guarding the snacks, and the kids were running up and down the beach playing. Around 1 in the morning, I heard about 3 different men yell, “PALOLO!!!!!” As soon as I heard that, the kids stopped playing and the Mom’s jumped into action grabbing the nets and coolers. The kids became efficient helpers, running back and forth between their fathers in the water and their mothers on the beach. They were in charge of carrying buckets of Palolo back and forth. It was insane. I was in the water with a net, about shoulder deep in the water trying to catch as many swimming worms as I could find. They were everywhere. You could see the excitement in everyone’s eyes. I was excited for them, but at the same time I really had no idea what to expect. After about 3ish hours of fishing, we went home. I was safely tucked in my own bed at 4am, realizing I had to be awake in 3 hours for church. Sunday morning church was exhausting and everyone looked like they rather would have been sleeping.

Sunday night we were at it again. Same old routine, going out to the middle of no where to hop in the ocean for hours on end to catch worms. Seems kind of crazy when I write it down. Around 2:30, I got cold so I came and sat on the beach with Neta. It was the first time since the first night that I actually took the time to watch the others. Here was my adopted family all working together to catch worms. But they were working together, every single one of them. A couple were holding lights, a few were holding nets, and one was running back and forth to deliver the Palolo to Neta who would pick through it to weed out garbage. It was amazing. They were fishing by moon light… but not just them, the entire village was there. The sense of camaraderie was truly amazing. It made me realize how much I will miss these people come less than 8 months from now.

Anyways, if you want to look up what Palolo is, check it out on Wikipedia. I tried some and I really didn’t like the taste. Here is a picture of me and Madelyn around 3 in the morning after I just got out of the ocean. Until next time. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hail to Manu'a!

Nothing like a mixture of nostalgia for my old life and love for my new one. Here are my kids prepping for the pep assembly. We had to create a cheer so I just took "The Victors" and switched up the words. For reference: Manu'a is our island and Fitiuta is our village.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yard Work

Talofa lava!

Today we have a school assembly for remembering the victims that died in the Tsunami in 2009. The tsunami only hit Tutuila, so everyone on Manu’a at the time was fine, but a lot of people have family over there, so everyone pretty much knows at least one person who died because of it.  Each of the classes had to put together either a song, poem, or skit. My class will be singing Amazing Grace, they’re the cutest.

Yesterday was a really cool day. I was done with prep work at the school by 3:30, so I came home and I found Logoleo and Asila doing yard work at my house. When people here cut the grass, they use a weed whacker; there aren’t any lawn movers. Imagine cutting your ENTIRE lawn with a weed whacker. Then, when they are finished whacking, they literally sweep the pieces of grass that have been cut into a pile. This is super labor intensive, but everyone does it. It usually takes 2 days to do someone’s yard. Needless to say, as soon as I came home from school I went out to help. I was sweeping the grass into a pile so that it could be burned. In my backyard, I have a pretty thick forest; there are coconut trees, bread fruit trees, papaya trees, and cotton trees. When Leo and I got tired we would wander into the back yard’s forest and go hunting for fruit. We climbed coconut trees to cut coconuts down with a machete. We cut down cotton to make pillows. We even cut down some coconut leaves because he said he needed to make something. When we were done, we came back to the house, sliced open a coconut with a machete and shared the water.  Then, he taught me how to make a traditional Samoan basket with coconut leaves!! Here is the finished product!!

How cool is it that I climbed a tree, chopped off leaves with a machete, and then weaved a freaking basket. Pretty sweet, right? I also got some quality time with Leo, which was nice. He told me he is going to teach me how to go fishing by throwing a net. After we stopped working around Sa, I came in and showered and got ready to go back to their house to hang out. When I walked out of my house, this was the sunset.

No, this isn’t photo shopped. This is just the sunset. It looks like pink and blue cotton candy resting on the mountaintop. How did I get so lucky? I get to live in this place for a year (well only 8 more months now), when most people will never experience this kind of beauty in their entire life.  After I went back to their house to hang out, they kept on calling me a ‘strong girl,’ which I think is funny because all I really did was sweep, which might be the most traditional woman job I can think of.  I think it’s safe to say that I’m starting to become more and more part of the family. I spend a lot of time talking to Mealofa, who is Neta’s 5-year-old daughter. She is helping me learn Samoan and I am helping her learn English. She definitely helps me not miss my nieces and nephews as much because she reminds me a lot of them. She has Caleb’s curiosity, Rowan’s sass, Ben’s love for sports, and everyone else’s charm and adorableness.
Those are my only updates now. Until next time. Tofa se fua, alofa ia te oe.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Almost Perfect Weekend


Even though I'm 6,000+ miles away from home, I'm still an American. I just sent in my absentee ballot (my first one ever!) and I'm excited for this election to finally be over. It turns out that I am able to do a lot more here than I originally had thought and planned, although it takes a little bit longer than what I'm accustomed to. For example, I sent in a transcript request form and student loan deferment request via snail mail because our fax machine does not go off island. So even though it took my transcript request 4 weeks to get back to Ann Arbor, I finally got confirmation it was there and processed. So even though I did a lot of work before I left to get everything together, applying to law school is really hard from abroad. However, slowly but surely everything is falling into place. Hard to imagine that a year from now I will be sitting inside a classroom being a student once again. Now that I've been a teacher for a little bit, I understand how good the students have it. We just go and listen. We prepare all necessary work, but our job is to learn, not to teach. This is one of the reasons why I'm so thankful that I took a year off. I now have a new perspective on learning, and while I'm sure it will continue to change as my year away from home progresses, I'm already grateful for the things I am learning.

This past weekend was great. Although Michigan lost, the game was broadcasted here!! I had an almost perfect Saturday. I woke up early and went on a long walk/run by myself all the way to the ocean. I walked on the beach and just sat on a rock and looked at the waves for a while. Taking in everything. I'm still in awe of the constant beauty I'm surrounded by. After going back home, I was able to skype with some people back home. I then went swimming with the family. We sat in the ocean, ate papaya, and saw a whale swimming in the distance. Then when I got home, the football game was on! Totally unexpected, but I was able to cheer and cry along with the rest of my fellow wolverines. The reason why I say this day was almost perfect is because MI didn't win, but if they had, this would easily be one of the coolest days here. I'm loving it. Sunday was wonderful as well. Skyping with Patti, Rick, Caleb, and Rowan, and then my Mom, finishing lesson planning, and spending time with my adopted family. Sunday evening Mama and Papa surprised everyone with ICE CREAM. We were sitting outside chatting and all of a sudden out comes bowls of ice cream. It was funny because I was just telling my mom how I haven't had ice cream in like 2 months and I was craving it.

As you can see, things are going well here. I'm enjoying my village, the people, and constantly learning new things. I'm also starting to slowly understand when people are talking. I can put simple sentences together, but it is harder than it seems.

I'm very excited to come home and see winter in less than 3 months. Miss and love all of you. Wish you were here. xoxoxo

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fishing and Feather Plucking

I had SUCH a cool weekend! Saturday I went fishing with Longoleo and Neta. We left around 9 in morning and were gone for more than a few hours. We drove through the national park and soaked in the awesome views of the rain forest on one side and the ocean on the other. With Neta, Madeline and I went “women fishing.” This entails going along the shore during low tide, climbing the rocks, and getting all of the snails and clams off of the rock. This isn’t an easy process. You take a giant knife, almost like a machete, and chip them off the rocks while you have giant waves crash against you. You also have to deal with the other critters you find while doing this. Besides the endless amount of crab and jumping tiny fish, I almost stepped on an eel. Gross. We also went looking for sea cucumbers to eat. What you do is you grab them off the ocean floor and slice them open with a machete, if the stringy things in the middle are long and clear, then you take them home to cook, but if they’re still reddish pink and full of jelly, you throw them back in. The cucumbers will grow themselves back together and we can go back next week to check their progress. Unfortunately, none of them were ready, so we couldn’t try them.  Once we got the clams and snails off the rocks, we went back to the shore to sit and relax, We were sitting in maybe a foot or two of water on a boulders and Neta said it was time for us to become real Samoans so she pulled out the snails and clams, took two, smashed their shells off with a rock, handed them to us and said, “Eat.” Madeline and I just stared at each other, grabbed the snails first and then the clams and ate them. Right there. No cooking, no salt, no Tabasco sauce. Straight from the ocean. It was insane. Surprisingly, they really weren’t that bad. If given the choice, if I go out there this coming weekend, I’m sure I would eat some more.

Here are some photos I took along the way while sitting in the back of Leo’s pick up.  Look at this scenery.

There are tons of hermit crabs on the beach. Here’s a guy that I almost stepped on. His shell made him look like a dinosaur.

Here’s a pic of some of the fishies we caught. We used a pole and actually cooked them before we ate them, so not nearly as exciting as the snails and clams.

After we got done fishing, we all hopped back in the truck to make our way out of the park. Leo wanted to stop at one place real quick to check for some fish he might be able to catch with his net before we went home. When we stopped Neta pointed out a really cool bird that had just landed in a hollowed out part of a tree. Leo saw the bird and made a comment that its feathers make really good bait for fish. I heard this and didn’t think anything of it, but then Leo was like, “let’s catch it.” My first assumption was that he was going to shoot it, and then get some of its feathers, but considering I haven’t seen a gun since I’ve been here, I didn’t think that would happen. Next thing I know, Leo grabs a t-shirt from the back of the truck, takes off his flip-flops, and proceeds to climb the tree. The bird was maybe 15-20 feet up, so it was not an easy feat. Leo climbs up this tree and goes up to the bird, who I’m sure didn’t see him coming. Once Leo reached where the bird was, he yells back, “There’s babies!” So I thought this would mean he would just let the bird go and come back down, but no, he uses his t-shirt to grab the bird straight out of its nest and then he climbs back down the tree. With the bird squawking like crazy, he brings it over to the truck, tell Neta something in Samoan and then Neta started plucking some of its feathers. I was shocked, Madeline was horrified. After getting over the initial shock, I decided I wanted to try it. So I plucked a feather from a bird for the first time ever and it was alive. Crazy. After we had how much Leo said we needed, we let the bird go and it flew away. Just like that. Honestly so ridiculous.  Here are some pictures of this adventure so I can prove to you that I didn’t make it up.

The rest of the weekend went pretty uneventfully. Sunday was church and lesson planning. I made homemade peanut butter cookies for my students because ALL of them got 100% on their spelling test. I’m so proud of these tiny humans! I feel like I’m starting to get used to everything and get into a schedule. I can now do work from about 7-4:30ish and not have to worry about anything once I get home, which is SO nice. I also like the fact that Palagi keeps me company inside my room once the kids leave. He isn’t allowed inside my classroom during the day, but once 2:30 rolls around, he comes on in. Here he is. Look at this little monster, adorable right (in a stray dog type of way)?

The weather here has been super windy, everyone says we’re getting gusts from Hurricane Isaac. I have no idea how true that is, but either way, I’m sending positive vibes to Florida and the coastal US right now.  Still loving this new place I call home. Love.

Friday, August 24, 2012


How has this become my life? I’m domesticated, completely and wholly, besides the whole living on a remote tropical island part. Tonight I left work around 4pm, putting in a 10 hour day. Not did I just leave work, like I do every other day, but I brought home a stray dog. One thing I swore I would never do here. He was a helpless puppy that was going to die, and who knows he still might, but I figured he should die happy. I brought him home, gave him a bath, and fed and watered him. He won’t be sleeping in the house and he may never actually come back in the house, but he will be outside the house where we left a box and blanket for him to snuggle in at night. Here is a picture of my new puppy, Little Palagi. This is him right after his bath snuggled up in a towel. He’s a keeper. We call him Pal for short.

After dealing with him, I went and played volleyball with my landlord’s family and their friends. My landlord has 3 sons who are 26, 18, and 15, so you can imagine the age range of the people playing. It was actually just me and a bunch of guys because the girls don’t play volleyball that much here. It’s terrifying when the guys actually get into it because they could easily break my nose if I was ever on the wrong side of a spike. One of the 6th graders at my school actually came over and was like “Oh, hi Ms. Baker, I didn’t know you played volleyball.” It was funny because I can just imagine him wanting a night to hang out with the big kids and then he shows up and a teacher is there hahah.

I soon realized that I had some work to do before school, so I came home and started to lesson plan. Now I’m sitting here taking a break from writing my jeopardy questions for review tomorrow, smelling my from-scratch cinnamon (freshly picked!) banana cake bake in the oven, and wondering “How did I get here?” 4 months ago I was on the craziest bar crawl of my life wrapping up senior year, now I’m sitting in my house with baked goods, a steady job, and a dog. I’m not saying it’s a bad change, I’m just saying it’s a change.

Here’s a pic of the chalkboard as I left school a couple days ago.

I know it just looks like a normal school classroom, but it’s my classroom and THAT is the crazy part.

The weekend is coming up and I will spend the bulk of it working on my lessons, especially now that I know my students better, I know how to keep their interest. I’m hoping to explore the national park and work with Mama on making some new mats.

Here’s the finished product of my banana cake! All of my baked goods keep on sinking slightly in the middle when they cool. Does anyone know why that might be happening/ how to prevent it?

I’m going Papaya picking tomorrow night, should be quite fun! Alofa. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Normalcy and Breadfruit Fritters!

Where to begin? My life is now back to being somewhat normal, just not in a normal location. I’m starting to feel like I am no longer a college student (although the consistent later nights and early mornings would make my body argue differently).  I have real responsibilities and I have students that depend on me. They are in hands for the next year and it is my responsibility to teach them as much as possible.

My landlord’s family is wonderful; Logoleo and his wife treat me and Madeline like we’re their kids. We actually call him Leo and his wife Momma. They check in on us and make sure everything is fine. They bring us food, give us money to put in the church offerings, and tell us when everything is happening. It’s safe to say they’ve welcomed us with open arms.

On Saturday I went fishing with Leo, his son Asila, and Madeline. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but we caught three fish and I don’t remember any of their names. Leo actually did all the catching; Madeline and I sort of wandered the coast taking in the breathtaking beauty. We fished out of the national park, so it was great to be able to go in and see it. I guess there are wild boars in there, so all I could think about is Lord of the Flies. There are also lots of butterflies and moths, for someone like me who HATES butterflies and moths, this was more terrifying than being worried about being taken out by a wild pig.

After a few hours fishing, we came home. That afternoon Leo and Neta (Momma’s niece—the heroine of the centipede story) took us to see the other side of Ta’u- Faleasau and the village of Ta’u. These places were much more like beach villages. They are sea level, the front yards are sandy, and the housing style in slightly different than Fitiuta. Hard to believe that a drop in elevation and only a 6 mile car ride can drastically change your surroundings that much. Here is a picture of the views from the other side of the island. The Wharf for Ta’u is located on that side, so if you look in one picture, you can see the wharf and a sign made out of seashells in the side of a mountain, “Welcome to Manu’a.” 

That evening we went to Momma and Leo’s for dinner where we had taro, coconut crab, the fish we caught, and some other little things.

Sunday was spent going to church. One of my 3rd grade students sat with me. The whole service was in Samoan, so I had no idea what was going on, but I nodded along and followed the actions like I did. A few times my student would see that I was doing something wrong, he would elbow me and whisper, “Teacher!! CLOSE YOUR EYES.” Hahah I listened. The reverend welcomed us to the church and the community during the service, which was nice.  After church we went to Momma and Leo’s and had a big lunch. Again we had taro, breadfruit, boiled bananas, pork chops, chicken, fish, soup, and corn beef and cabbage. Interesting mix, but it all tasted pretty good.

When I don’t spend my time lesson planning, which is how I spend my weekends because I have to turn in a weeks worth of plan’s Monday morning, I spend it attempting to cook. I made some cookies Saturday for us to eat Sunday. Then last night I made breadfruit fritters. If you don’t know what breadfruit is, look it up. It grows on a tree and it’s a pretty weird texture.  Anyways, I used the fruit to make dough and then made cinnamon sugar fritters. Here’s a picture of the finished product!

After only eating a few I took them over to Leo’s because I didn’t want to eat the entire thing. However, when I went I thought I would just drop them off and be on my way, but Momma wouldn’t let me leave until she had food to give to me. I left my house with fritters, I came home with 2 chicken thighs, 4 hot dogs, and 4 chicken tails (I don’t even know what these are). Clearly they mean business when it comes to sharing food.

I’m still trying to figure out the mailing situation here. It’s hard because I’m not on the main island, where my mail gets sent. So typically I have to wait an additional week before any of it actually comes out to Manu’a. I’ll keep people posted as I get my mail. For people who are sending me stuff via amazon, sometimes they will send you an email saying that they left it at the post office or they tried to take it to my house; please know that EVERYTHING ends up at the post office because they don’t deliver here. It is our job to pick everything up. So don’t worry, it should be getting to me in due time.