Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Well I had a great week last week, as it was spent completely in my old island of Savaii. I had forgotten how much I had missed it, and was disappointed to come back to Apia and my daily job here. I have to say though, that after this week, there is nothing that I can complain about as far as my job is concerned.

I went out to Savaii last Saturday, because I wanted an extra day out there before my work colleages came to pick me up. I went to Lusia’s with some of the Peace Corps Savaii people, along with Blakey, Toa and Matt who came over on Friday to have a little Savaii downtime. I stayed that night with Supy in Palauli as it was on the way from the wharf to Asau, where I was going the following day for work. Five coworkers came and picked me up on Sunday night around 530 pm and we drove up to Asau which is on the North Coast of Savaii. It’s about an hour and a half drive. We stopped to pick up Sulu and also stopped by Matis’ house to pick up some of our palolo nets.

Now I am assuming that most of the people I know from back home don’t know what palolo is, since I had no idea what is was before I got here. You can google it if you want, but I think I can explain in concisely enough. Palolo worms live in coral along the coastline here in Samoa. I’m sure they live in other places as well, along the Pacific. The palolo spawn twice a year, once in October and once in November. Samoans always know when it is, all I know is it’s around the same time each year, and has something to do with the moon. During these times, the end of the tail of the palolo breaks off and floats to the surface. Inside this tail is the reproductive materials for spawning. The Samoans find it a delicious treat. So twice a year, the morning of the palolo harvest fishermen and women wade into the water before the sun rises and collects the tails that have risen to the top. If they did not, the tails would disintegrate and fertilization would occur.

After a 330 am wake up call of Monday morning, I waded into the water in a village called Sataua with two coworkers, Davey and Tai. I’ll tell you it was slippery walking over rocks with algae, especially when it’ still dark out. I honestly think I looked like the classic comedian bit, where someone just looks like their running in place because they’re slipping over and over again on the same rock. I didn’t fall though, and got into the water. There were probably about 25 other people in the water, waving around their palolo nets, hoping to catch some. It was nice standing there in the water, with lots of other people with the same goal, even before the sun rises. After about 20 minutes, it was understood by everyone that there was no palolo. This came as no surprise to me since, for hundreds of years the Samoans have been collecting and eating the only chance these worms have to reproduce. The boys and I climbed back out of the water and picked up Sapeti, Matis, Mikey and Sulu where they were trying to collect. We all got back in the van and headed over to Falealupo, which is at the North Western tip of Savaii, and holds the title for being the last place to see the sunset for the day in the whole world, as it sits closest to the international dateline. I took some pictures down here, and although there wasn’t much we did manage to buy some palolo that had been collected. Sapeti wanted it to bring home to her family, since as I said it was a delicacy. We then took one of our algae samples in Falealupo. At this point it was about 8 am and we decided to go back to the beach fales where we were staying to rest and get ready for our afternoon monitoring. We had a few goals that week, palolo, collection of algae for ciguatera sampling and the monitorings of a couple Fish Reserves, one a new one in Lefagaoalii. I slept for a while, then ate some lunch and we went over to the Fisheries Office in Asau. It’s quite different from the Apia office, and there are only three men on staff. We processed our algae sample from Falealupo, then rested for a while, as we were all pretty tired.

On Tuesday morning we went back out to see if we could collect any palolo on that day, but there were no other people in the water, so we didn’t even get wet. After about two hours we went back and I fell asleep for a good while. We then got up and drove over to Fagamalo to collect algae, and then again in Safune on the way back. We stopped at a family member of Matis’ house and picked up a size two pig, some breadfruit and taro. It’s amazing that you can just show up somewhere and walk away with more food than anyone needs. We went back to the beach fales and rested for a while then later that afternoon we went back to the Fisheries Office where we ate most of the pig, breadfruit and taro, we also had sashimi. It was a week filled with delicious raw fish, mostly oka, which I’ll have to make for everyone when I get back to the States. It’s cucumber, tomato, onion, coconut milk/cream and pieces of tuna. Delicious. We processed our two other algae samples from Fagamalo and Safune while we were there as well.

Wednesday morning was our time to move from Asau down to Sapapalii, which is very close to where I used to live. On the way down we stopped at Lefagaoalii to do the initial monitoring for the new Fish Reserve there. As soon as we go there one of the Fisheries men from Salelologa was there and recognized me from Salimu. He said sau i teine Salimu, which mean come here Salimu girl, and I had to give him a kiss on the cheek. Everyone thought it was hilarious, not so much me, but no harm. I also was employed to use my camera to take pictures of the village to go into the report for the new Fish Reserve. There are mangroves on the other side of the village and pre-school that backs up to them. I took pictures of all the kids outside of the school and they were all adorable. They kept saying, Vaai, aulelei le teine palagi, which means look, a pretty white girl. Again they were adorable. Finally I was able to suit up and get in the water.

At first it was freezing getting into the water because there are many freshwater springs that flow into the ocean along their coastline. Doesn’t happen very often that you get cold while here in Samoa, at least not for me a Maine girl. When we got out farther though, it was probably the most impressive coral, soft coral and marine life that I have ever seen. It wasn’t low tide, but it certainly wasn’t high, and it was the type of swimming where you had to inhale deeply so you would be buoyant enough to get over the corals. My job was to lie the transect lines and then the rest of the team would come after and mark the corals, fish and invertebrates that they saw. My first try was pretty ridiculous, as I was supposed to be lying a straight line, but Mikey kept hitting me in the leg, and pointing in a different direction. I thought that I was going straight, but I wasn’t looking up or back, so I don’t know why I would have thought that. The other four times were much better, and total we were in the water for 2 hours. It was amazing, and I’ve gotten to see things that I have always wanted to, but hadn’t yet. It will be a great place to protect. It’s right back Jim’s village in Samauga, so as we were going through I saw him crossing the street in his newly black hair. We stopped and I got out and Jim showed me around his fale. I have been to his house before, but only to pick him up, so it was cool to see how he lived. He had a great set-up and it seemed like it was very comfortable. I got back into the car and after many jokes about the fact I was in Jim’s room for a long time, we moved on.

We got to Rosalote fales in the afternoon and signed in. I actually liked the first place better, but everyone else seemed to think that Rosalote was great. They served food buffet style instead of individually, so that might have been why my Samoan counterparts liked it so much better. We rested that night and then left early the next morning.

On Thursday we went to Papa Puleia by Liz’s village and did a monitoring of the Fish Reserve there. We had to wait for a while for the tide to come back in because we could see the coral exposed, and obviously you can’t swim over that. It took about an hour and a half, but we finally got into the water. I was then handed a GPS remote, so we could map the Fish Reserve for our report. The device isn’t waterproof however, so that didn’t really work. I had also never seen it before, but it was assumed that I knew how to work it. I had to have Tai meet me along the coast line so I could swim up and onto the rocks, and take a reading from there. The waves that day were pretty crazy and we were getting tossed around pretty bad. Since I’m the less experienced of the crew, and Tai was on shore, my job was to come behind everyone and untangle the transect line. The corals there were mostly Acropora tabular, so the line was stuck everywhere. On top of the massive job of untangling it, I was being pushed around pretty badly. I had to hang onto some of the massive coral, just so I wouldn’t be swept away. Being me though, I thought it was pretty fun, and enjoyed myself immensely. I was also able to take a look around at everything while the rest of the team was writing down data. It was a beautiful area, and I have never seen that much Acropora tabular in one place before. I also saw a beautiful toby and lots of other great marine life.

After Papa Puleia we drove down the long road to Tafua, where there is a pretty amazing beach. The waves were crazy right here though, and we hardly went swimming to get the algae samples that we needed. Again I thought it was fun. That afternoon we relaxed, hung out that night and then everyone else left on the 10 boat on Friday morning. I stayed on in Savaii to go home and visit my host family which was great.

It was an amazing experience and reminded me of why I have wanted to be a marine biologist since I was ten. I recently was asked by the Peace Corps to help with one of the training sessions for the new group of 23 volunteers. They asked me to do the survival session, which I found to be a little funny, but after being there and talking about how to survive here in Samoa, I guess I understood why they asked me. I had lived with a family, without one, in a village, in Apia, in Savaii, in Upolu, worked in an office and in a village. I had pretty much all of the bases covered. When asked what I do to cope, I said I go swimming in the ocean for a couple of hours, get out and write down everything that I saw. It’s amazing, but true that this simple act can change my whole outlook on life. It rejuvenates me and allows me to be calm. I’m very lucky to be in a place where that’s even possible.

It was also great spending time all day with Samoans again. They were wonderfully nice and welcoming and complementary. They loved the fact that I could speak their language, at least to a degree and that I was open and willing to try and do things in a Samoan way. I think my time in the village will be a great asset to me in my work here in Apia. I definitely feel like a part of the team.