Monday, May 27, 2013

15 hours of Greatness on Saturday

Before I get into my fantastic of a day that was Saturday, May 25th, I have a few thins to mention from Friday. Friday during the three classes I had, I shared a slideshow of some various photos form the year representing my year in American Samoa. Some of the students seemed to enjoy it. Then, I reminded them they could get a hold of me anytime in the future via the Internet. 

Here is a photo with some of my first period students. This was our last class time together. I told them how I've seen some improvement. This was my largest Earth Science class with 27 students on a full day. Whether we had this class the first period of the day or the last, I had students that would show up late and many that were "too tired to focus".

This is a photo with some of my second period students. There have been days where this class has been an absolute joy to teach. There have also been the days when they would drive me crazy. The boys that helped make my Samoan ava experience happen were in this class, and this was one of the classes that went on the National Park school field trip I led.

A full day was Saturday. 15 hours loving every minute of it with some great people. I became more and more excited for this day as the week progressed, and you will soon find out why. There are a great many a pictures in this post to help tell the stories. As planned alarm clock sounded at 6am, and Hannah and I were out the door by 6:30am for our Saturday adventures. Walked 10 minutes to the Tafuna road to catch ourselves a bus for the first item on the agenda - breakfast at Deluxe Cafe. We had been talking about going and checking out their breakfast for quite some time, but when we used to live in Pava'ia'i, it wasn't the most convenient place to go to. Different story now from where we live. Just one bus there, rather than two, after the little walk to start.

I had been thinking about this breakfast all week. I had a feeling it would be delicious and was optimistic that it would be decently priced. Oh my goodness! We were not disappointed at all and pleasantly welcomed by good prices. One other restaurant we have frequented charges $7 for a short stack of three pancakes. Only $3.50 here, and I added a side of fresh fruit for just $1! The iced tea and coffee was also $0.50 cheaper. Hannah's fried potatoes were also down in price. Plus, the nice atmosphere where we weren't uncomfortable with too much air conditioning. Super score! Think we have the official favorite. Funny how we finally went with only a few weeks left. Oh well, the ones in town were also convenient on the days we had errands to run in town anyways. Slowly enjoyed our plates and iced tea until 8:20am. Fueled up and ready to go. :-)

Next on the agenda - head to the bus station in town to meet up with some of my students for a Saturday field trip to Cape Matatula. I had set up a little tour with the lady that works out there and had plans to just enjoy the view out there for a while. This is one of my favorite spots on the island, so it worked out to head back there one more time. It's a long trip out there but well worth it. Ended up with three of my senior students joining Hannah and me. Hannah came along since I made this spot sound pretty nice. Got on a Tula bus about 9:40am, which is right around what I had hoped for. I gave Tina the heads up we were on our way. Rode the bus for about an hour, got out, popped in the store to grab ourselves a little snack, and we quickly checked out the beach of Tula quick. The beaches look different on this far East end of the island. Very peaceful, whiter, and clearer water.

Here is Matane and I on the beach.

Tina came down from the cape to pick us up in her truck. There are some dogs she didn't want us to have to walk by, so she grabbed us at the store. Up we went, and then she started by explaining a little about what she does out at this NOAA research observatory. Early on in the tour she took us up to the roof of the observatory for the beautiful views.

I knew the students would go "ooooo" or "woah" when she flipped the levers to make the dome spin and open. Yep, I predicted correctly.

Then, she took us back down and showed the students some various equipment that is monitoring carbon dioxide levels in the air here. The cleanest air on Earth coming right off the ocean down on this end of the island, thanks to the easterly tradewinds. Tina had another tour group coming in a bout an hour after we met up with her. Since I had already been down to the cape, she let me lead my little group down there to show them a few things and enjoy ourselves.

Here's tour guide Miss Boschen pointing out some sea turtles out in the ocean. Second time now that I've had this spectacular view of some sea turtles.

You can see two greenish brown circles toward the left of this photo; those are the sea turtles.

Hannah took a photo of me with my three senior students that joined on the venture for the day - Tavini, Filipo, and Matane. All have been with me on a Saturday trip before, and some more than one. These guys rock!

Had to take a fun photo with three fun people :-)

After pointing out a few things, I let them go exploring. All three of them were speedy monkeys climbing around the lava rock out here at Cape Matatula.

I meandered around a bit myself. Last time I didn't wander too much on the lava rocks.

After just a little meandering, I sat down on a nice rock over near Hannah where I just watched sea turtles and the ocean while enjoying the breeze. The boys climbed over this way and headed up into the trees you can see in the upper left corner. I heard them rustling in the trees a bit, but then I figured they must have gone scaling around the corner even further.

When I finally called them to head back around 1pm, as I wanted to get heading back, here they come out of the trees with coconuts in their hands. Apparently they found some coconut trees, plucked a few, and husked them. That's what was taking them so long. haha What a pleasant surprise.

This was so unexpected, but turned out to be a pretty cool moment out here. It was fun to watch these two open up these coconuts with good skill. A lot smoother than the job I did myself. They even popped a nice hole open at the top so we could drink the water first. Takes a little more work than just poking a hole like I did and sticking a straw in. So cool.

Being the gentlemen that these two are, they made sure each of us ladies had a coconut first. They decided to give Miss Hammersmith one first since she's shorter than me. haha

Grabbed a photo with our coconut fetchers. Malo lava, boys. (Thank you very much.) Interesting "malo" can also be used to say hello and you're welcome in a way. Don't be surprised if you hear me saying this phrase for a while when I'm back. I've been on a "malo lava" kick lately. Using that phrase left and right. :-)

Pleasant surprise with the coconuts like I said, and it made for a great way to wrap up our little field trip. Just something about this particular experience brought a huge smile to my face. Nothing I would have ever anticipated in our day, and it was awesome!

Said our goodbyes and thanks to Tina again for the tour, and then we headed back down the road. She was a bit worried about the dogs, but we didn't want to sit around and wait until she was finished with her other tour. I figured if the dogs gave us any flack, the football boys would take care of it. Well, we all would, by throwing some rocks. They weren't too bad anyway, when we went by. Made it past the house, and then I jump a little as something grabs my ankles. I didn't scream or anything, like Hannah said she would have.

The boys immediately start chuckling and within a millisecond I knew it wasn't the dogs, but my boys playing a trick on me. I startled to my toes a bit, probably turned a little red in the face, but laughed along with them. Those boys... haha. Waited at the bus stop, and finally snagged ourselves a bus headed back to town about 2:15pm.  All three of my students conked out within minutes. Especially those boys after all their crawling around and husking coconuts. ;-)

Hannah and I got off the bus at the Uele house near Fagaitua. Let me back up a bit... Remember my good friend Lilian from church who I usually sit with? One of her friends from college has been staying with her the past few weeks, and I saw a photo on Facebook where they had made a traditional Samoan umu last Saturday. I mentioned to her that I see they had done one when we were in church last Sunday. She asked me if I had ever gotten to go do one with Miss Tia yet, and I told her I hadn't. I had asked Miss Tia about it a few times, but it hadn't ever materialized. Lilian knew that this was one cultural experience I was hoping to partake in before leaving the island. I've had food that has been cooked in an umu before, but I wanted to see it done and help out.

Well... on Wednesday when we had met up for lunch in Utulei, Lilian told me her dad was thinking about doing another small umu this Saturday. This would be the last Saturday her college friend would be around before going back. I think she may have also mentioned that I was really interested in seeing one. She told me she would let me know when he officially decided and that I was more than welcome to come if it worked out. I was getting anxious and hopeful that this would work out as my week continued.

Friday night, I hear my phone buzz... I look over and see it's a message from Lilian. Gut tightens, and I think "Oh boy, this might be it." Open up the message to find that they are doing an umu beginning about 2pm. Hooray! Even more excited now for my Saturday than I already was. I told her Hannah and I would meet at their house as we would already be out on the East side with my field trip and thank you so much for the invite :-) An umu is an outdoor oven built with rocks from the ocean.

Hannah and I arrived at the Uele house about 2:45pm, where Siuila (Lilian's younger sister), Fale (Lilian's dad), one of their Filipino neighbors, and Fale's brother were in early stages of umu preparation. Siuila had fetched the banana leaves, uncle was working with some taro leaves, the neighbor had shaved a bunch of coconut, and then Fale had run to the store.

A dish called palusami contains taro leaves and coconut milk. I've enjoyed this in small helpings the times I've had it. When one is making palusami the traditional way for an umu, fresh coconut milk is used. No canned business here. The neighbor showed Hannah and I how the coconut is first shaved. The coconut is scraped against this serrated edge attached to this bench you sit on. I forgot to take a picture of the little contraption. Here is the neighbor showing us what to do and explaining it as he went. He made it look so easy, but I had a feeling it wouldn't be that simple.

Here you can see all the coconuts after they have been all shaved out, no more white flesh inside these shells.

I gave it a go. Definitely not very good, but it was fun to try it a bit and participate.

The neighbor had shaved up 9 coconuts by the end. We will get back to the making coconut milk and palusami process in a bit. Then, Fale showed up with his machete in hand, and started explaining all sorts of things to us. You could already tell he was enjoying showing us this Samoan tradition. He told us when he did the umu last week that was the first he had done in many years. He had thought I had already seen one up until Lilian telling him otherwise, so he was super excited to involve us in this Samoan experience. This helped make it an even more memorable experience for both Hannah and me.

Here is Fale and his brother placing wood and coconut husks over the rocks. A fire was then started and burned for a while warming up the rocks at the bottom.

While that was under way, more food preparations are made. A local food - the breadfruit, is a part of pretty much every single umu. I don't mind ulu too much (once again in small quantities, though). I've had it plain baked, and I've also had it served with coconut milk before.  The breadfruit is peeled with a coconut shell that has been sharpened on an edge. It was so cool to witness how they use all of these natural tools and the various parts of the plants for different steps in the process.

At the very bottom of this photo, you can see a breadfruit that has not been peeled, a bunch that have been, the peeling son the ground, the piece of wood the breadfruit rests on while it is being peeled, and the coconut shell used to peel sitting on top of it. These are cooked whole just set right onto the rocks of the umu.

Now back to the coconut milk and the palusami. So we have a bunch of coconut flesh shavings, but we need the milk. These "strings", which are made from the stalk of a plant, are dipped and twisted into the coconut shavings. Then, someone with some strenthg "wrings out" the bunched up strings like a rag. Coconut milk comes out.


Oh yeah, and Fale placed a few hot rocks inside the coconut shavings before doing this and let it cook for a little while. He said it would add some flavor to the palusami.

Here's the milk from the nine coconuts. Super cool to see in action. That's where coconut milk comes from, and this is how people have been gathering it for many many years. Fale tossed in some diced onion and squeezed some lemons (looked more like tiny limes to me) into the bowl of coconut milk. He wanted to make the palusami with a little different flavor. They don't always use the lemons. These lemons come straight off the mountain behind their house. Very yummy. They had made a batch of lemonade with all these lemons a while ago for a church funciton, and I remember it being very delicious.

Four handfuls of the  coconut shavings that had been milked (giggle if you want, I did. haha) were then tossed onto the umu to help a bit with flavor, as well, they told us. Hannah and I each got to throw a handful onto the umu.

Back to the palusami. Taro is a root, growing underground much like a potato. It's also a bit starchy like a potato, but a bit more bland. (I think that's how I would describe it.) The leaves of this plant are used to make palusami. The smallest leaf found in the middle of the plant is what goes in with the coconut milk. Here is Fale's brother picking the tip off the end of the leaves.

They then arranged the taro leaves in a fashion like I would picture a stack of napkins being spun out like a pinwheel on a buffet table. They held it in their palms, and then scooped some of the coconut milk complete with onions and lemon juice into the leaves. A larger leaf was then used to wrap around the whole thing.

They would rip off the end with their teeth and tuck the vein of the leaf back into itself to seal it. Nifty! These were the traditional palusami bundles. They also did some that were wrapped in tin foil - the palagi (white people) version. haha

 As they would move rocks and cocnut husks on the umu itself, they would use these tongs made from the stem of a coconut branch. Super cool!  Fale told us how these don't really get hot like metal tongs might. Here is a photo of me modeling the traditional tongs, and you can see the umu just behind me and to the left. You will still see wood and coconut husks on it at this point.

Here is just a photo of me sitting on a cinder block watching things happen and loving every minute of it. Yay for cultural experiences!

Here I am again next to the umu. It's getting closer to being ready for the food to go on. Once all the wood and coconut husks had burned up, the rocks of the umu would be ready to go.

Fale then showed us how coconut fronds are peeled off the stem (one clean piece if you're good, rather than them plucking off one by one). I was good at this.  :-)

These were then woven into baskets, which are used to transport the cooked food to the serving or eating area.

 Here you can see some of the men loading up the umu with all the food. The breadfruit (not wrapped in tin  foil), the bundles of palusami, some bundles of fish, and some of chicken. This was a smaller umu. Large umus can be built to roast a whole pig. You can also see the tongs being used toward the left side of this photo.

Once the food was placed on there, everyone moved pretty quickly placing all the giant banana tree leaves over the umu to trap all the heat. Oh, and some parts of a plant stalk were laid on the rocks before the food, otherwise too much direct heat. It was so cool to watch them all just know exactly what to do. Fale explained how everyone has a job or there is always something to do as an umu is being prepared. Indeed. Also, it was cool to see this family come together. Fale's brother doesn't come over very often, even though he lives right next door. Fale had told him how we were coming over for our first umu and the brother agreed to come help.

It cooked for a couple of hours, and some of us went and hung out at the beach across the road in front of Lilian's grandpa's house. A little swimming in the ocean and sitting by the beach. There were some snacks including chips and soda ready to go, but I said no. No chips. No soda. I stuck to my juice and water. Then, I was able to shower and freshen up at their house before dinner was all ready. They had hot water! This was my first hot shower in a couple of months. I had been spoiled with it a bit the six months we spent living in Pava'ia'i. I still kept my shower short, but my hair felt the cleanest it has in quite a while. haha

The table was full of food by 6:40pm. I was quite hungry by this point, and appropriately so. The food prepared in the umu, some tacos, some Filipino noodles, lumpias and a relish tray. Always some random compilations at these big Samoan dinners. None of it surprises me anymore. I enjoyed some breadfruit, palusami (I could taste the lemon in it), Filipino noodles, some veggies from the relish tray, and I made myself a few veggie tacos.

My camera battery died as we were working on the umu, and Hannah's fell not too long after mine. One of Lilian's college friends was taking some pictures of the table of food, a big group photo, and she let us use it for a few pictures with the family. Hopefully I will get my hands on some of those eventually. Me without a camera... Gah... that's no fun. No fun at all. I feel almost lost without it some times. haha

Some more relatives of the Ueles came by, some friends were there, and then us few palagis. Fale got up and said a few words about how some of us would be leaving soon. He's such a kind guy, and I was beyond grateful for involving me in this umu on Saturday. We also had some chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. Mmmm.

Got to speak with some of Lilian's college friends. Then at 8:15pm Fale was saying party is over in 15 minutes. He knew some of us had an hour drive ahead of us still and wanted us home safe. Being such a dad. Lillian's friend Tawsh took us home as she lives just a little ways down the road from us. She's pretty cool, and it was a nice ride home. Didn't seem to take too long, either. I was ready for bed, though when we arrived. Had been out of the house and doing things for 15 hours. Great day! :-) An unforgettable day for many many reasons from the moment I walked out the door to the moment I laid down for bed.

Sunday after church I enjoyed a delicious and healthy lunch. I kept thinking about something not quite so healthy, but this worked out for the best. I ate it slowly and enjoyed all of its plain freshness. A cucumber, carrot, tomato, orange, dried cranberry, and peanut salad with iced island spice tea. Finger licking good. ;-) No dressing, no seasoning, just all the natural and fresh flavors. A Fun fruit, veggie, and nut salad.

Everyone at church is starting to realize next week will be my last Sunday with them. All the high school kids in the van with me asked if I could bring any more of my cookies; they were referring to my no-bake cookies. I told them I didn't have all the ingredients anymore. I looked around the cupboard a bit after lunch after an idea had come to mind on our way home from church. I experimented a bit and made these chocolate peanut bars. They became gooey rather quickly thanks to the heat here, but the kids enjoyed them. Junior said "These changed my life, Jess." hahaha They were a little sweet. If I ever made them again, I would probably tweak my recipe a bit. Was fun to make them for the group in the van, though. Now I'm off the hook for next week. I much enjoy the beautifulness that is my healthy salad above over these gooey not so healthy bars below, but oh well. Had to post a photo anyway :-)

Hope everyone has a nice Memorial Day Holiday! Keep it healthy. Thus begins my last week in American Samoa, wrapping up my 10.5 months of service here. Wow... Another fine weekend with some great experiences and some great people in my life down here. Malo malo. Malo lava.

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