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Ocean Center, Hope House, and Military

January 31, 2013

American Samoa – Tuesday, January 22

I took care of turning in the car, then got my stuff together for a day of walking and riding the buses. The first thing I wanted to do was head back to the Hope House to make my donation. I had to walk the opposite way back up to the marketplace where the buses gather to find one heading to Tafuna. But I took a little detour – every time I walk up that way, I pass by the Ocean House, and I had been wanting to see what was in there, but they had been closed the last couple of days. This time I saw people around, but then found out that half of the building would be closed while it was being repainted. But, I had heard that this would be a good place to visit, and would possibly be a good donation place also. I heard this from a woman I met while we were in line waiting for customs when we arrived in Samoa – she was coming to visit her daughter who was teaching in Samoa for a year. Knowing that many schools and churches could use a little donation for supplies (that came from my Samoan taxi driver in Honolulu), I told the lady I would be more than happy to make a donation to her daughter’s school if they needed anything. I gave her my contact info, and a couple days later, the daughter emailed me, and said her particular school is pretty well-funded, so she suggested the Ocean House instead, and that’s part of the reason I ended up there. The room that wasn’t being painted was kind of the map room. There was information about all of the islands and atolls that make up American Samoa, and the guy who came in to explain things to me was from the family who owned one of the smaller islands. Although his family visits the island, they can’t live on it because there’s no fresh water supply. He was a very enthusiastic young man, and seemed proud to point out that American Samoa had gone from have the least amount of protected marine areas in the NOAA to having quite a large percentage of it as of last October. I guess the NOAA has protected marine areas in 11 locations in the US. He’s also the guy who told me about the coconut crabs, and he told me about taking a boat over to Aunu’u Island, which which is close and has a village and churches and all. I knew I would enjoy that! To show my support for preserving coral reefs and marine life, and educating people about it, I made a donation to them, which will count as my animal-related donation for the week, because preserving coral also is good for many sea-life habitats. I couldn’t think of any other animal-related donation on the island – there is obviously no humane society or animal shelter on the island with all the stray dogs, and I certainly couldn’t start feeding them, and one of the islanders said there’s no longer even a vet on the island. It is a big problem, but not one for me to tackle.

After the Ocean Center, I finished walking to the marketplace. There’s actually a lot more buses going to the west side of the island than the east side, simply because it’s bigger and more businesses are there, and more people live there. So I didn’t have to wait very long. I had been told that the bus drivers are happy to drop people off in out-of-the-ordinary stops if you just ask, and my bus driver said he’d be happy to take me up near the Hope House, even though I think that’s in the next village over. I offered to pay an extra $1, but he said no. So far, I’ve always been the only white person on these little buses, which hasn’t bothered me, and the only people who seem to look twice are little boys around the age of 7 or 8! One in particular kept turning around in his seat to look at me, and when I’d smile at him, he’d hide his head in his sister’s shoulder. And another one just kind of gazed at me as though I was some sort of odd specimen – which to them I probably was! There aren’t many white people around at all, but there are some Asian visitors. I read that the Samoans are the most full-blooded race in all of Polynesia. There isn’t a lot of intermarriage with other islanders, and it has kept the Samoan bloodlines pretty pure. I imagine a lot of that is due to their relative isolation, and their emphasis on family and preserving traditions, although I personally met 2 white ladies who had married Samoans.

Anyway, it was a pretty long ride into Tafuna, but I do like the stretch along the ocean. The waves were still pretty big – enough so that I heard the boats back and forth to Aunu’u Island weren’t running today (good thing I didn’t head in that direction!) and lots of the kids had the day off school, based on the big storm potentially hitting the island last night, which it didn’t do. The driver dropped me off a couple blocks away from the Hope House, and this time there were people around. I was supposed to ask for a person named Mele, so I asked around and was told to go into the big cathedral and her office was in the back. Mele was away for lunch, so I ended up talking with Ivona, a delightful lady about my age. It turns out she is the secretary to the bishop, and very involved with the church and its programs. She was so pleased about the donation for the old people’s home, and told me how there have been some big changes recently – there used to be nuns helping with the program, but they were getting older, and there were no younger ones to take their place, so just a few weeks ago the nuns retired back to the Phillipines, where they had originally come from. So now “lay people” are helping out. But it is an adjustment as they deal with the changes, and my little donation came at a good time. Ivona took me out into a huge hall to show me some local artwork – paintings and some beautiful woodwork, and as we walked back into her office was talked about our families. She has 10 kids and numerous grandkids, and she showed me a big family picture. There were family pictures all around, and I saw some in uniform. It turns out 4 of her 10 children are serving in the military, and one is flying missions in Syria and she doesn’t hear often from him. We chatted about that a bit, and to make a long story short, I ended up giving her my military-based donation of the week so that she could send one or all of them a little care package. Ivona had to dab tears away. That was so much more of a personal connection for me instead of stopping by the Veterans Affairs office. And I think when you have family members in the military, you can send packages for free, unlike when I send them I have to pay $13.55. So I’m very happy to know that somewhere an American Samoan soldier will be getting a care package! Before I left, Ivona took off the beautiful white ginger lei she was wearing (I thought it was a pretty accessory attached to her dress because the colors matched so well!) and put it on me, and I proudly wore it the whole rest of the day, and into the next as well! It smelled so good – better than any perfume! She also gave me a CD of Samoan music and a calendar. What a special visit!

From there I knew the Samoan visitors center was only about a mile away, so I walked there to make sure I wasn’t missing anything I would want to see while I was here. I had stopped by yesterday, but they were closed. I did find out that every Wednesday night, if there’s enough people, a place called Tisa’s Barefoot Bar puts on a traditional umu-cooked Samoan dinner along with some Samoan dancing. I was going to call them the minute I got back to the motel! From there I decided to just walk back into Tafuna – it was nearly 2 miles and not a scenic walk since it went past the airport and all, and was very flat and non-descript, but it gave me some miles. It was hot out, and a lady pulled over to ask if I needed a ride somewhere. I told her I enjoyed walking, so I was fine. I’ve seen very few people out walking, and only one person out jogging the whole time I’ve been here. It doesn’t seem to be something the local people do. As I came into Tafuna after several miles of walking in the heat, I was hungry and thirsty for a cold drink (my water was very warm at this point!) and there was a cluster of fast food places, and chicken at KFC sounded good – I needed some protein! So chicken, cole slaw and a cold pop revived me, and I set off for one of 2 souvenir type stores to see what they had. That was another long walk, but it was a good store to browse around, and I got a few little things. There’s only a few places that sell souvenir-type things because there just aren’t enough tourists to support much of a trade. I had heard that one of the rare cruise ships that stops in Samoa was coming in on Thursday, and locals all flock to the harbor with things to sell, so I was looking forward to that – although it turned out to be a week from Thursday, so I was out of luck with that!

When I was done shopping at that store, I was going to take the bus back to my part of the island. But I had heard of one other mini- mall, and I asked a lady at the bus stop how far away it was. She pointed down the road and said its too far to walk. Someone else told me the 2 places weren’t that far from each other, so after the lady got on her bus, I headed off down the road again, and it was only about 1/2 mile away! Too far to walk?!?! While I was there, I ran into the lady I’d met at the airport and her daughter, and we compared notes about what we’d been doing. They told me about a good ice cream place near the motel. After I finished up there, I caught the bus back to the motel, and immediately called Tisa to have her add me to the list for a Wednesday umu dinner. She only had 3 people, and needs at least 10 to put the umu to work, so I crossed my fingers. She said she would call back in the morning. There was also a message from Val’s (Red Cross guy) newspaper friend, and she was wondering about meeting for dinner, but when I called her, she thought I was staying on the west side of the island where she lives, and transportation became an issue since the buses stop running around 5 or 5:30, so we decided to meet for breakfast in the morning instead. I wandered down to the ice cream place and got one scoop of ice cream and had to eat fast because it melts fast in the heat! I don’t know how anyone can get more than one scoop and not have it turn into a mess! And this wasn’t even the middle of the day! I took a quick dip in the bay right by the motel since a few other guests were swimming, and that was a refreshing way to end the day!
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2 Comments
  1. Kitty permalink

    I was just reminded by some mutual friends that I have not checked in on you for a long time – what a joy to have so many entries to read! 😀

  2. Hi Kitty – It’s nice to hear from you! I haven’t seen much on FB or anything, and when I see the occasional post from Amanda I would think of you, and hope that you’re doing well 🙂

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