Today ceremoniously marks the halfway point of my journey, a time we can call “mid-service.” About 5 months living and teaching in American Samoa. This experience has both dragged into an eon and rushed by before my eyes.
It’s at this point where I find it difficult to think of life before this. At least the lifestyle, the ease of American commodities and bustling pace. Rather picking up your Starbucks drink for another structured day, you’re counting every penny and coming to work not knowing what they’ll throw at you.
While I cannot begin to encompass my service into a neat package, I want to share some highlights for my mid-service in American Samoa as a WorldTeacher. And no, it’s definitely not all picturesque ocean views and beach days.
simplicity at its finest. and worst.
Everybody is coming into this experience with a different perspective. I can feel the stagnation just among the group of volunteers: most are working on iMacs and booking holiday trips to New Zealand…and I’m staying here for winter break to save money, fixing any laptops woes with washi tape.
I’m beyond blessed for all I have, but the transition to island life wasn’t too harsh. I already wasn’t buying Starbucks every day, nor booking weekly mani-pedis. The “American” of this Samoa is obvious in pockets of Western culture, but there’s something stripped-down that is humbling and eye-opening.
The vast majority of American Samoans live impoverished. Houses don’t have addresses, but random letters and numbers for FEMA tracking. Wait for a bus at the right moment, and you’ll see busloads of workers going to the tuna cannery. Students come to school in shirts with holes and shoes(“slippers”) half-falling apart. I have felt immense guilt for the couple of times where I expressed frustration in my class not coming prepared with basic supplies, like more than one pencil at a time. Only later do I realize that’s likely all they have.
Coming here as a privileged individual, all I can hope is that I make some sort of positive impact. I need to do what I can, even if it’s watching videos crowded around my laptop that only three kids can actually hear. Or buying construction paper on a regular basis so we can still make art projects.
remember…you’re a “palagi.”
By that, I mean I’m white. Regardless of how long you’re here, you’ll always be the different one. Especially when I grew up in a majority-white town, being the one person in a room with your color of skin changes you.
Honestly, I don’t notice or care most of the time. However, when I was first starting the school year, I had to work to demand respect. Adults and children alike assume, “Oh, she’s a palagi, so she’s loaded with money and will be a total pushover in the classroom. Let’s speak Samoan so we can talk about her behind our backs.”
I likely will never know the full scoop of how locals feel about me, but the good thing is, I could care less. Sure, nobody tells me anything about what’s going on at school, and I’ll not go a day without walking past someone only for them to catcall me in Samoan…but it’s no skin off my pasty white back.
expect the unexpected.
As slow as people walk here, things can change so often, your head is left whirling. That detailed lesson plan you were required to write weeks in advance? Yeah, how about we spend the entire afternoon practicing for our “Thanksgiving program”?
I’ve had students who stop coming to school for weeks only to return like nothing’s happened. I’ve had staff members come to my door asking about something, and I’m completely dumbfounded on what the heck is going on. (Only for them to look at me like I’m the dull knife in the drawer.) Even just this week, I’ve learned I’m getting a new roommate, just when my daily routine has been established amidst my topsy-turvy mental health.
All the obstacles thrown at my head have left a few bumps and scrapes. The only choice I have is to adapt and do the best I can. You don’t realize how resilient and resourceful you can truly be until it’s all you’ve got.
where I am now.
Most of any evolution of self has been internal. Sure, I haven’t worn makeup in months and hopefully have some stronger muscles from daily yoga, but otherwise? I feel like I’ve grown in passion, spirituality, and awareness. Each day is an opportunity to learn more about myself and the beautiful gift surrounding me. All my loved ones are several time zones away,but their daily words and generosity mean the world to me.
My mental health has certainly been all over the place, ridiculously anxious highs and lows deep into the dark abyss. There are times where I’ve felt myself implode, hands shaking and mind blurring. Other times, I’m dragging my achy body and mind through as if time became molasses.
Not once have I considered leaving this all behind. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be right now. I didn’t plan on it, but I’ve fallen in love with my kids. Multiple times, I’ve held back tears as I’ve stood up and told them how brilliant they all are, how they are capable of anything. The hugs and notes I continually receive make every ounce of pain worth it.
Being a WorldTeacher in American Samoa is not for the weak of heart. It’s not an experience to recommend to everyone off the street. You will be tested in every single capacity imaginable. Many days, you’ll come home from work beyond exhausted and frustrated. The motivation and language barrier each leave you feeling like you might never reach through to the students, that they’re getting nothing from your efforts.
Keep working. Seeking. Trying. Prepare to amaze yourself. Mid-service is upon me, and five months have passed. Here’s to the next half and all the twists, turns, hardships, tears, sleepless nights, “aha” moments, laughs, celebrations, and smiles ahead.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie