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October Highlights

“The place you stick out the most is the place where you should stay. Because that’s where you can contribute something new”- Riz Ahmed

What a month. October has been incredibly busy, but exciting none the less. I love not knowing what the day will bring. I am in constant awe; the hospitality and kindness of the people, the intense beautiful colors, the smiles, the breeze – everything. I am sure I will soon get used to it, but I am hoping I stay in constant awe for as long as possible, it’s a great state of mind.

Keeping up with the blog is difficult, So many aspects of my life have changed and it is hard to write down all the differences and similarities of this unique chapter of life.  I welcome your suggestions or questions for future blog posts (susiemstillwell@gmail.com)!

here are a few highlights from my month:

  • Living with the Lemoa family has been a blast. My Host dad, Levai is the pastor at the church, a fisherman, a farmer, the cook, and a really great dad to all his children- he’s a Jack of all trades and he does it all with a smile.  Last week he asked me why I am doing The Peace Corps. He thanked me for my dedication and for helping his country. It was sweet and heartfelt. My host mom, Maselina is a quiet queen. She is always smiling, and a great mom to her children. She told me the other day, “I am your mom, I wash your clothes!” She is a hard worker and keeps the house tidy, she is also a champ at taking it easy. All of their children are active in the church, great singers and dancers, and just plain good people.
  • The family boat rides have left me in awe. The blue water, the tiny islands- straight off of Planet Earth. We saw sea turtles, dolphins, and plenty of beautiful fish. We took a coconut break and relaxed in the clear blue water. Rachel and the girls serenaded me with Moana music. It was so perfect that we went again the next week and a few Peace Corps friends tagged along. This time the waves were bigger and I lost my stomach a few times. The boys caught lots of fish, the gals enjoyed the views. While swimming, we got caught in an intense rain storm. We laughed a whole lot on this day. We dropped off each friend with a half of a fish, it was quite the experience. It was once again a perfect boat day!
  • Training has been an overload of important information. Monday through Friday I am in training with 15 other Peace Corps Trainees. We are the 89th Peace Corps Samoa group and it is evident that the leadership team  has put a lot of time and effort in to making training effective and fun. I am really enjoying my new group of friends here. This past week we completed our first practice teach in the local school where our training is held. It was nice to be in a classroom again with smiling kids. A huge difference from teaching in the states that I find difficult is simplifying everything. No longer am I asked “How can you take this lesson deeper?” it’s now “How can you make it simpler?”

This month flew by. Though training is an intense beast of a ten weeks, I look forward to the rest of it! In a few weeks I will find out where I will be serving for the next two years, and in December I will swear in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.  There is a lot to look forward to and I am excited to share it all with you.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the photos!

Laughter in Samusu

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor” – Charles Dickens

What a difference a week makes! Today marks one week with my Samoan family.

I was welcomed in to my training village, Samusu, with around 8 pisikoa (direct translation= busy chicken, but it also translates as Peace Corps Volunteer) with an Ava Ceremony. The mayor of the village read a beautiful speech in English where she thanked the Government of Samoa and The Peace Corps for selecting their village as the 10 week training village. It was heartfelt and I fought back a tear or two- they are truly grateful.

After the Ava Ceremony we were served a traditional Samoan meal.

I could write a book on my first week in Sumusu- these people are kind, interesting, and unique. They are happy and laugh at the smallest things. The laughter is contagious and I’ve noticed my face hurting from laughing and smiling so much.

I have no idea what all this laughter was about.

As I write, my family has FINALLY settled in bed and they have stopped laughing. What are they laughing at you might wonder? They are teaching me a Samoan dance and got a real kick out of my dance skills.

Rachel relaxing in front of the fan after an intense dance party.

White Sunday is a day to celebrate children. The kids sing beautiful songs, perform silly skits, and do traditional Samoan dances. Oh my, the skits are funny, but the reaction of the Samoans is completely lose yourself, knee slappin’ laughter!

Here that laughter?
One reason I was drawn to this project in Samoa is because I have heard that Pacific Islanders are the happiest people in the world. I am excited and grateful for the next two years of smiles and laughs with the Samoan people.

Rehearsing for White Sunday.

Host sister Deborah, me and host sister Rachel ready for white Sunday.

A few of my new family members in front of our house.

My Samoan Dad ( Boss) and host sister, Sharon ready to eat our White Sunday feast.

Fellow Peace Corps Trainee, Cynthia came over for dinner.

Going for a walk.

I busted out my deck of cards and they haven’t stopped playing. I taught them ‘Go Fish’ today.

Faifailemu (taking it easy) with the parents.

Late night truck ride to Amailie.

Host sister and friend, Upu, working hard sewing a dress.

Until next time,

Susie

Dreamin’

Tomorrow the adventure begins, and the huge heap of things is still there, a bit more organized. My Peace Corps adventure is a long time coming. I began the application ten years ago when I failed my first semester of college and I hit submit this past March after attending a teacher conference I thought was a total bust.

So here we are…! I have had four months off of work- it has been fabulous. I have had a lot of time to relax with friends and family, sleep until I wake up, and dream weird dreams that I am going to interpret for y’all right here-

Dream 1:

Dream one was in the airport. I had just met all of my new Peace Corps friends. Everyone got through security and I was last to go. Of course, I did not make it through. I didn’t fit in the body scanner. I was so embarrassed and everyone looked at me awkwardly.

Interpretation:

Making new friends will be fun, but my old friends won’t be there laughing with me through all of my awkward moments. (hopefully I fit in the body scanner)

Dream II

Our group got to where we were going, it was more like a big city in Italy. We checked in to our hotel and I asked the lady for the WIFI password, and she told me to get on the kids network and that the password was Perez Hilton backwards…OK…

Interpretation II

I fear I will not be able to communicate with friends and family in the states. I think I will though, mostly through my phone on Facebook and WhatsApp. I have already talked to my mom about setting a weekly phone call, and my Squirrels (best gals) have downloaded WhatsApp and there is talk of moving the whole friend group chat there (yas- I cant miss the birth of baby Mikey).

Dream III

I continued to work at my most recent school, Walnut Springs. A few weeks into the school year I was switched to 4th grade. I was excited because my good friend Mrs. Clark was a 4th grade teacher, but the kids were HORRIBLE. I was out of breath constantly from yelling and no one listened to me. There was a huge slope in the classroom and I told my lovely principal, “I quit, I’m going to the Peace Corps,” and I slid down the slope like a big slide.

*I miss my last job—-A LOT! The kids are not bad at all and I would never walk out on that school.*

Interpretation III

Even though I am leaving a lot behind, this adventure is meant to be. ❤

I welcome your thoughts and further interpretation!

Now time to get my bags packed and get on outta here.

giphy

-Susie

Goal: The Newbery Award Books

Hello!

As I write my first blog post of this amazing adventure, a huge heap of things I plan to bring with me is staring me down. It is overflowing from a blue storage bin; the least bit organized. I have a pretty decent to do list but I find myself on the couch watching Bachelor in Paradise contestants on Ellen.  

Overflowing from this blue storage bin are quite a few books. While teaching third grade, I quickly found that I love reading children’s novels. I prided myself this past year that I read over 10 novels with my students, some that have become my favorite books.

This brings me to a goal that I am setting for myself, and I would love for you to participate.

I will read all of the Newbery Award books from 1922- present during my Peace Corps Service (27 months).

          newbury

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. The purpose of the Newbery Medal is “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field. (www.ala.org)”

Why is this a good idea for me?

It is important for teachers to know good books. While teaching reading, I referenced this list many times, yet I have only read a handful.

It is  a timeless list. Some of the most memorable books from my childhood are on this list ( A Wrinkle in Time, Island of The Blue Dolphins, Holes) and they continue to be popular today.

This is a great way to stay connected with my former students and nephews: Those that would like to participate can connect with me through Kaizena (code:c7t4n). I may have to ask someone to send me the next book on the list 🙂

A library of great books for Samoa.  Even though I do not know where I will be placed in Samoa, I believe there will be a special place for a collection of Newbery Medal books to live and be read.  

How will it work?

If you have taught with me, been my student, been a parent of a student, or you are friends and family, you know that most things I do are pretty informal. I tend to not play by the rules and I like to just go with however it turns out. So, we will see how it goes and I will do my best to have a bit of formality to this daunting task. 

Feel free to start with me in October as I read the 1922 Newbury Award book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon. I created a Kaizena space to discuss the books (code: c7t4n), but I am not sure what my internet access will be in Samoa. 

I also do not have all of these books, so your participation in sending them to me is important!

This is a beautiful list of remarkable books that I am excited to read. I hope you can join me for a few, or the whole list.

newbery medal winners 1922-present

 

Thanks for reading,

Susie

 

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