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February 5, 2013

American Samoa – Thursday, January 24

I had to spend the first part if the morning packing up after a week on the island. The flight out is late – when the flights come in twice a week, there’s just a little turnaround time and then the plane leaves back to Honolulu again on an overnight flight. It doesn’t stay on Samoa very long. I carried my stuff down to the office, where they’ll keep it until the shuttle comes late tonight.

The only donation I hadn’t physically handed out was the one for the elementary school in Tula. Teri from the newspaper said if I couldn’t get out there again, she knew someone who worked at the school, and could make sure they got it. She said the island doesn’t really have mail delivery – most people use a post office box. But since the east side of the island was my favorite part, I wanted to take one more bus ride out to Tula, and deliver the donation in person, and take my last walk in American Samoa out along the ocean.

When I was in the office, I bumped into Lisa, a new acquaintance from Virginia, and she was just finishing up her work, and since she hadn’t ridden in any of the little buses yet, or been to the east side of the island, I asked her if she wanted to come along. So we set off for the marketplace to wait for the Tula bus. First we wanted to get a bite to eat, and the market had a rice/coconut dish that was good, and then some banana-fried-pancake-ball things that were really good too. The bus came and was kind of crowded but we found room, and then the farther out we went, the more the people cleared out. Even though I’ve done it a couple times, I still think its a pretty ride out there. We got off in Tula, and one of the students pointed out the principal’s office. So we went inside and met the vice-principal and the secretary, and it was really fun talking with them. They were delighted with the donation, and we took pictures and they told us there’s over 100 students and they come from a few villages. The school is pretty – all white with blue trim and right on the ocean – beautiful location. We asked about the temporary buildings in the center of the school yard, and found out they were the FEMA structures still there from the 2009 tsunami. I guess FEMA will be coming back soon to pick up some of those temporary structures. Tula is my favorite village on Samoa, and it’s not just because my dog is named Tula! It’s in such a pretty location, right on the curve of the island, and there’s also an air-quality monitoring instrument there (I guess they’re located in numerous locations around th world to monitor air quality, and Tula has good clean air!) The little village has a nice market and lots of the open-air community pavilions – just a lovely seaside village on a tropical island. When we were done talking with the vice-principal, the school day was nearly over. They get out at 2:00, but start at 7:30, partly to beat the heat. Instead of ringing a bell to signal the end if the day, she licked up a bat sort if thing and hit it against a long heavy metal weight. I see some if these placed periodically along the coast, and the sound travels pretty well, and I meant to ask if that was the purpose – some sort of weather warning system or something. Lisa and I wandered down by the sea and waded and picked up some shells and rocks, then started walking along the little sidewalk out of the village along the ocean. The bus was theoretically going to be coming back by in about 1/2 hour, but we probably missed that one, and just kept on walking. We eventually came to a bus shelter and waited with a young lady who was on her way to work. She told us when the bus should arrive, but they don’t always keep to a schedule, and since they make so many stops, people have to be conscious of leaving themselves plenty of extra time to get to work. The bus finally came, and for a while the 3 of us had it to ourselves. Then groups of kids started getting on – with backpacks – heading to some event. Then more kids got on, and more kids got on, and I’ve never seen so many people on a little bus. They would just plunk down onto the laps of people sitting on the outside of a seat, and I seriously don’t think that bus could have held another person! And then everyone would have to shift around at bus stops to let people off. When we passed the big Starkist tuna factory, there were literally a couple hundred people around – lots in line to start a shift I think, and others finishing up or on break. The fishy smell was especially pungent. Whew! Soon after, the kids all got off at the same place, so something extra was going on. There’s little cords near the ceilings of the buses that people pull on, and it rings a buzzer so the driver knows where you want to get off. Or if there’s no cords, they knock loudly on a window, and somehow the driver hears that above the loud music. Lisa and I got off at the national park visitor center to get a few more postcards. Then we were near a shop I wanted to poke my head in – it was partly a fabric shop, and I was astonished at the huge variety and colors of fabrics that were for sale, and locals were busy choosing out dress fabric to take to one of the many little sewing shops dotting the island. I think the seamstresses can get the tunics and skirts made pretty fast. We had seen some wedding photos too where the ladies wear the traditonal dress, and they’re so wonderfully elegant – and all custom made. There were actually lots of different white fabrics too for the Sunday clothes. They had other stuff too, and we both got a few things. Then we walked the rest of the way back to the motel. I just put my stuff in Lisa’s rental car, and we headed toward the airport, but stopped at a little restaurant she had found for dinner and yummy banana cream pie for dessert. They cook a lot with bananas, and I enjoyed all of it!

Then it was time to head to the airport. There were a couple short power outages, and lots of people arrived to meet the incoming plane, and little kids were running all over the place (with many people hoping they weren’t going to be on the outbound flight!) We met up with the lady who had come out to visit her daughter and it was fun to compare notes. She had visited her daughter’s school a couple days, and said they have to deal with some of the same discipline issues that everyone else does. Plus she said there seems to be a bit of a lack of motivation with their schoolwork since many of them just sort of assume they’ll end up doing what their parents are doing. And many of the islanders got aid money to rebuild their homes after the tsunami, but with a stipulation that the replacement home not be built in the same spot. Which is sort of a logical request, but not entirely practical since the people are so connected to their villages, and there’s a lack of flat land to build on, so I’m not sure if it’s entirely feasible to rebuild elsewhere. As a result, apparently a lot of people bought nice new pickups instead. It makes me wonder if anyone who controlled that aid money actually visited the island to look at practical rebuilding issues.

Anyway, when it was almost midnight, it was time to walk out onto the airfield and say goodbye to an amazing week in American Samoa. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back, but I’m so glad I included the territories in this adventure. When I remember back to landing in the dark and the rain a week ago, not knowing what to expect, I could never have imagined what a special stop this would become, and I’ll have a lifetime of memories of all the people I met and the things I did and saw on this faraway tiny island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.














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