Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Aaron's Xmas Eve Party

Aaron, fondly known to us as "The New Guy" or "TNG" though he's been on-island as long as me, hosted yet another successful party at his house. Rich brought fake snow, thank you Rich! The Harty's brought our Kid Reps, Everette and Simon (thanks Julia and Cliff). Everybody brought fabulous food, thank you everyone. Naomi's friends from Hawaii brought key Xmas elements such as: eggnog and cranberries, thanks Naomi's friends! Nikki brought a fabulous Mimosa drinkie, thank you Naomi. And everyone brought a "nice gift" and a "crap gift". There was some cut throat gift exchanging at the end but fun was had by all. Here are a few key moments:

Samoa Xmas Lights

The utter lack of seasons here in Samoa requires a lot of effort to get that Xmas feeling in the air. Samoan's have found the solution with huge light displays (how they pay for it with our expensive diesel generated electricity is beyond me, but bless them, somehow they make it happen!)

Here's a sampling:

Samoan Xmas Work Party

Work Xmas parties have never been on my top 10 list of "fun things to do". Thank god I moved to Samoa. If there is one thing Samoans have perfected it is the art of having fun.

Samoan's have a different partying style with lots of dancing and singing, skits, and games. They have perfected not taking themselves seriously which makes for a lot of fun. Even the older folks and "important" people can still play and have fun.

The department chief proved himself a great singer and good sport. Here are a few highlights.

Kilisimasi Samao

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I have to admit it took me a little time to get into the Christmas spirit here. It is perpetual summer in my mind. But a few Christmas Parties and a whole lotta baking and Christmas lights later and I have to admit it was a fun first Samoan Christmas.

One of the best things about Samoa at Christmas are the fabulous all-out Christmas decorations at the churches. And forget about religiously appropriate decorations, we are talking the cult of Disney here. Well, that is except the Samoan Fale Nativity.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dinner with the Governor

Or as I like to call him, "Sir."
Yes, yours truly has had the royal treatment at the Governor's Mansion for dinner. How, you may ask, did this happen? A lowly midwife such as myself? No, it wasn't to receive any honors for my hard work serving the women of American Samoa.

It's because of who I know. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, "It's all who you know, people." And in this case it was my future husband. You thought I was going to tell you I delivered some important family's grandchild or something right?

No, it's because Markus likes to dive. And our friend was the Governor's dive instructor. There are few resources on island for dive instruction (Paul and now Jay), few people that dive, and no dive outfitters or excursionists. So Paul and the dive guys are the lucky ones who got to hang with the Governor.

The Governor was apparently a very good student and really enjoyed his experience. He invited his instructors and one very lucky guy with a flexible work schedule (Markus) and their significant others for a "relaxed" (maybe the Gov and First Lady were, I'm not sure we were) dinner at their house. Which is good because Paul wore shorts and flipflops (new flipflops but still).

We were given a tour of the house which was very much like being shown around the White House or something, but the American Samoan version of the White House. The house was recently restored as there had been massive rotting issues. It sounds like it was a down to the studs rebuild and that the Governor was very involved.

We were shown all the Governor's fun collections of rocks, drift wood, art, books, memorabilia and silly gifts from friends. He's apparently a man of many talents, having paid for his law schooling as a traveling Fire Knife Dancer. He was also a free diver in his youth which most certainly made his diving experience easier.

I was a bit taken aback when I got Markus' phone call that we were dining with the Governor. I would usually be planning for something like this days in advance. Of course, I had few clean clothes and I was cursing myself for still not having gotten a puletasi (formal women's dress). I have a bunch of nice respectable dresses but darn if they don't show shoulder (how risque I know!). But I pulled myself together and I had a fun time.

The Governor and First Lady were gracious hosts and Markus and the guys were given a signed book on Samoa.

This is something that NEVER would have happened to me in the states. Definitely one for the blog.

Here is the official press release on the Governor learning to dive.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Turkey Umu

What's an Umu you ask?
Well, it a traditional Samoan oven. It's made by heating river rocks and piling your food under them and then steaming everything under banana leaves. We've never done an umu before and having enjoyed the Roth's Easter Turkey Umu immensely, I decided to do a Turkey Umu for Thanksgiving. The following is a how not to and how to do, an umu (say that 5 times fast!)

Me in my best Martha Stewart pose! "No really, it was no work at all!" Ha.

How Not to Do An Umu
1. Invite lots of people to your house on a major holiday on a tropical island where it rains A LOT and not have a covered outdoor area to make the umu.
2. Leave the carefully gathered river rocks (apparently lava rocks explode when heated-something that would have become glaringly apparent after I had started my umu, if I had not been forwarned) outside while the heavens drench them over several days. These rocks actually cracked and exploded too as it was their first use and they weren't seasoned.
3. Decide the best place to have the umu, is not right out in the open where the rain can come and douse the fire, but snug up against a rock wall under the shelter of a palm tree. Sounded good to me . . . apparently not the best place.
4. Watch as your FH (future husband for those of you not hip to bridal blogging abbreviations) digs a big pit and (very nicely I should say) lines the pit with the river rock all of his own invention! A very bad idea indeed we were to find out. Einstein looks a little concerned. "Don't these guys know how to build an umu?! I'll never get any turkey leftovers at this rate!"
5. Don't buy wood well in advance. Depend on "picking up some crates or something" the day of the big meal, they will undoubtedly be soaked with the previous monsoonal rains the day before. Your dear friends will have to pay with the shirt off their white palagi backs to buy you semi-dry wood on a rainy, Thanksgiving day. Thanks Jay!
6. Don't have a large pile of coconut husks as firestarter for the fire. "WHAT! Nobody told me I needed coconut husks!" Something that is done over a long period of time, whilst enjoying said coconuts prior to them becoming husks.

How to Make an Umu
1. Allow your Samoan friend to come over to help you even though you are COMPLETELY sure you will have things under control.
2. Have an open area (duh, there's lots of smoke with the umu, as if I didn't notice the multitudes of plumes of smoke all over the island on Sundays) to make your umu (covered is preferred but if your Samoan friend brings dry weather with her, then you are good to go).
3. Have a flat board or corrugated tin for the bottom of your umu.
4. Hack a banana tree up into logs and create a square around the umu area.
5. Lay out your wet rocks to dry in the sun (not piled up in an aesthetically pleasing, yet pathetic, display of pride of ownership)
6. Make one layer of rocks in your square.
7. Build a fire with your hoards of coconut husks, kindling and dry wood you've had stored for just this occasion. (Or pull out the charcoal if you didn't do the above and pretend that this is the right way to make a fire-geesh, coconut husks-I'm so sure!) Do you think Fua is asking god what she was thinking offering to help these palagis?

8. Stack your wood in a log cabin style over the base layer of rocks.

9. Pile your now sun dried rocks all over the wood.
10. Let those puppies burn, baby! Your wood will burn down and you'll be left with piping hot rocks. Which you will knock around your umu area until you get to your base layer of rocks. (Pray it doesn't rain at this point and turn your fire into a smoldering heap)

11. Put your food on the Umu. Usually you will have way more food in the umu than we did (I just wanted to do the turkeys and have the rest of the food be US Traditional as we get Samoan traditional all the time) Fua asked me several times if that was all we were putting in. I'm not sure she felt all her hard work was being put to good use.
12. Pile all those hot rocks on top of your food (the food is usually whole foods that have peals you can remove, things wrapped in banana leaves or in tin foil). Big things like pigs and our turkeys often have a rock placed inside to ensure it cooks well.
13. Pile the masses of banana leaves you've collected that day-thus improving your view-over the food.

14. Don't question your Samoan friend when she covers the whole thing with a plastic tarp. Especially when she is walking around with her rock poking stick that she cut down and sharpened herself with a machete.

15. Sit back and wipe your sweaty brow for 2 hours.

16. Uncover it all.

17. Eat and impress your friends who all tell you the turkey is the best they've ever had.

We had a great feast. We had a ton of people in our house, about 15 adults and a slew of children (too many to count).

As entertainment Matt backed off our driveway and provided the men folk with an opportunity to chin scratch, walk around lookin' at things and then attempt a variety of engineering feats, to have Markus throw on the tow rope and have my wonderful Subby pull the car out! Yeah, Subby!

There was also a fair amount of ruthless Apples to Apples and some cut throat Badminton played that day. Markus broke out his home brew and we ate a lot. Melanie even made pumpkin pie! I think the Turkey Umu will now be an annual event, as I can only imagine doing all that work once a year.

If You Aren't Pissed . . .

Then You Aren't Paying Attention

Here's a little political soapboxing for you. Something I rarely do, but right now, having watched this movie. I have to say I am pissed.

I would like every single one of you out there to stop reading my blog and run out and rent this movie, or at least put in your Netflix que. If you are in AmSam it's available at both Video Plazas.

No really stop reading my blog! Go watch No End in Sight! And then go to their website and read some more.
I feel this movie is not just some liberal propaganda movie about the war. We are talking major figures (Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad during the Spring of 2003), Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, and General Jay Garner (in charge of the occupation of Iraq through May 2003), speaking for themselves and discussing the horrible planning for postwar Iraq and why we are STILL THERE and why as the movies says, there is no end in sight. A masterful work, really. Please check it out. Not about "not supporting our Troops" but about supporting them by getting them out of a situation that a bunch of ignoramuses got them into. Or at least understanding why they are still there.

And what, you might ask, does this have to do with American Samoa?
I'll tell you what . . .

American Samoa has the most military casualties per capita (this is a calculation to make a small place like AmSam-57663 compare with a big place like Cali-36 million) The actual number is 5 (as of the source on StateMaster which is 2006 data-it's higher now, they just buried another soldier last week) but in a place with a 50,000 population it's too many.

And though the U.S. Nationals in American Samoa can not even vote to get the Chimp out of office, they sign up in large numbers to defend us.
American Samoa is 6th per capita in recruits of all military forces.

I'm not even sure I can say U.S. out of Iraq anymore after this movie, as we created such a mess, we need to stay and clean it up-if indeed it's possible. I just wish so many lives weren't at stake to clean up the avoidable (and that's what really hurts) mess our awful "leaders" created.