• backyard viewMy House

American Samoa

(Pronounced SAW-MOE-A… the SAAHHH is greatly exaggerated like when you go to the Dr. and have to say AH with the tongue depressor.)

Greetings from American Samoa! I arrived on Sunday, April 13, 2008 after 20 hours of travel. The flights were all fine and it was an easy day of watching three movies: Dan in Real Life, August Rush, and Juno. In case you are rushing out to rent any of them, I liked the movies in that order as well. I was greeted at the airport by many large customs officials wearing skirts. The men in Samoa all wear skirts that reach about mid-calf. They were friendly and then as soon as they found out that I was the new Assistant Attorney General, they took my passport and rushed me through very quickly. By the by, the Pago Pago International Airport isn’t in Pago Pago, which is hilarious, like most things on this island. I waited for my luggage to arrive, and then went outside to be greeted by the “Special Assistant to the Attorney General” (seriously this is his title, AKA office manager), Lancaster Allen, AKA Lanky.

Lanky greeted me with a lei of white ginger flowers, beautifully fragrant and reminiscent of gardenia, an auspicious beginning for certain, the lei is currently in my fridge making everything smell much better than usual! We proceeded immediately to my new home, a sea-foam green, long, skinny two-bedroom, one-bath house in Lions Park, Tafuna. My home, T80, is about 5 whole minutes from the airport (so when you come to visit you won’t have to worry that we have a long way to go to my house—we’ll get you to rest after your long journey quite quickly)! Apparently, I have one of the nicest homes in the lovely government housing section. Someone, likely Lanky, had placed sheets on the bed, water and fruit in the fridge, and new towels and a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. That was definitely super nice after 20 hours of traveling. I briefly unpacked, enough so that my dress wouldn’t be so wrinkled for work the next morning, and eventually dosed off to sleep.

Lanky came to pick me up at 9:30 the next morning and we went to Mom’s for Breakfast (Mom’s is the actual name of the restaurant), I decided that coffee and a Ham and Cheese sandwich was my best bet. So sadly, most (95%) places on the island just make instant coffee, so I’m slowly getting used to Sanka (my grandmother (Oma) would be proud, my parents would be devastated, and I can’t wait till my coffee maker gets shipped here) (any care package that you send will definitely need to include some real coffee). We then went to the local Cost U Less (like Costco), where I could by some much needed cleaning supplies for the house and some bottled water. We then also went shopping for office furniture for my office (which apparently lacked any office furniture). The price of furniture here is outrageous! The ugliest, most pitiful office chair at one store was $350, the nicest one there was $699. The cheapest desk we could find was $500. We eventually found a decent chair at cost u less for $120 but no desk, so Lanky got invoices for the furniture and then we were off to work.

Work is about a 20-25 minute drive from Lions Park, because the speed limit is 25 and the traffic is usually bad. There is one road on the island, so something simple like someone actually using a crosswalk can slow traffic for several minutes. The drive is gorgeous! The island is really mountainous (in a tropical, super steep but really not that tall, way completely different than Colorado), so the drive to work is along a beautiful coastline that wedges the road between the Pacific and the mountains. The road is dotted with villages and sewing shops (for all the man-skirts and traditional women’s clothing), and little “mom and pop” style stores.

We reached downtown, close to Pago Pago (pronounced Pahngo Pahngo… the “g” here is like the ng in sing), and went to the government building where you will find almost every type of government office in one: Passports, Department of Commerce, Human Resources, Military Recruitment, EPA, and the Office of the Attorney General. I went to HR to fill out more forms and then finally made it to the AG’s office. I met a ton of people whose names I couldn’t pronounce and thus there are 20+ Samoans who I work with and I can only hope to learn how to say their names by the time I leave here in 2 years. I met the AG, Afa Ripley and my boss, the Deputy AG, Frederick O’Brien. O’Brien goes by O’B, and is completely hilarious. I also met my new best friend Aaron. Aaron is also an Assistant AG, and is the guy who got me into this mess in the first place. (I’m just joking, I actually really love it here so far). Aaron had been answering my daily 100 questions from Colorado before I came, and thus the nickname.
O’B. quickly rushed me off for a drive to show me where Pago Pago actually was, and as we are driving points to the water and says, “this is the proverbial spot where I killed someone.” I start laughing, because whose boss says something like that to you within the first hour that you’ve met him? Well, O’B. does. Apparently in 1986 his friend was diving with him in that spot he pointed to and didn’t dive properly and was killed. And this is just par for the course in American Samoa…

So I went to Court and nothing was really going on. Although, the Judges in the High Court here sit en banc, meaning all 3 Judges sit together for all cases, which seems crazy. Especially because 2 of the Judges aren’t real Judges, they are lay Judges who are supposed to arbitrate land and water disputes… again, par for the course…

So my work week (which was only Mon.-Wednesday because of the Flag Day Holiday) consisted of meeting tons of people I can’t remember and basically going to one meeting where everyone talked about how inefficient everyone else was in the office (definitely par for the course here), and me running around getting electricity, phone, email, a cell phone, fingerprinted, a driver’s license, an official gov’t drivers license, etc.. I am super, super lucky by the way because the office is letting me drive a super nice Toyota Tacoma truck (an official gov’t vehicle, thus the official gov’t drivers license) until I can figure out a way to have my own transportation.
Then the four day weekend began…. For Flag Day, April 17th (the day American Samoa actually became a U.S. territory back in 1900).

Let me introduce the weekend players… and my new island acquaintances:

Aaron, 32, from Seattle, co-worker, previously introduced as my new best friend, so he has a whole group of friends and that’s who all these people are. Aaron and his girlfriend Naomi have awesome house right above the ocean. He’s also a great cook!

Naomi, 28, Aaron’s girlfriend, from Indiana, the local librarian, and generally super fabulous.

Matt, 30, Lt. Commander of the Public Health Service, from Baltimore, was in the Peace Corp in Africa, works with the EPA in his current role, has a ridiculously awesome house that overlooks BEAUTIFUL ocean cliffs and has horseshoes (the game) set up in his backyard.

Doug, 31, Lawyer from Kansas, although most recently D.C., and not currently working as a lawyer, working for the EPA, has one of the crappier gov’t houses in lovely Lions Park where I live. He does have a fantastic Toyota 4-Runner that was very helpful over the weekend.
Melissa, 27, just moved here 3 weeks ago from Seattle and is pregnant and has one daughter already. Yup, she’s a rockstar for moving here! She works as a public defender in the lower court, called District Court, so a potential adversary, but the AG’s and the PD’s aren’t very adversarial here, which is nice! She also lives in Lion’s Park in a house that isn’t as nice as mine, but nicer than Doug’s.

Jeremy, scientist guy, preserves the coral reefs.

Tim, another guy I work with, most recently from Maine, does civil work in the office and drives a rip-roaring scooter! He wants to be known as the metaphysical guy on the island.

Gwen, crazy, half Samoan-hair-dresser on the island. So glad to have met the one hairdresser on the island!

Barbara, crazy Italian who lives here, according to the guys, everything on the island is more dangerous because of Barbara.

So, Wednesday after work, we went to play golf. Golf here is $3 a round, so nope, I don’t play golf, but I will soon, and this time I just walked the course with them and hit one ball, actually pretty far given that I’d never hit a golf ball. The course was spectacularly beautiful. This island is really mountainous, like I mentioned before, so the golf course sat a tad higher than much of the coast and there is a beautiful view of the mountainous coastline from the course, the view alone is worth the $3 golf fee.

Then we all went to dinner and had Chinese food that wasn’t too terrible.

Thursday was officially Flag Day and there were ceremonies but it was pouring raining most of the day and I missed the festivities and spent most of the day setting up my internet and writing the earlier part of this blog post.

Friday the gang called and said that they wanted to go this island off of the island, Aunu’u, and that there would be a beach there and some hiking. So Doug, Matt, and Melissa and I drove to the Eastern side of the island to get Aaron and Naomi and we attempted to go to Aunu’u but the waves were too big and the ferry stopped running. So instead we decided to head to the Northern side of the island, which we did by going over a mountain pass in Doug’s car (probably all of 2 miles) and we headed back to our own private beach. It was spectacular! Beach is a term used loosely here. There are a few sandy beaches on the island, but even if there is actually a beach, there isn’t normal swimming because there is too much coral. So you wade out to a sport that is at least waste deep and you hang there. You can also swim around and check out the coral, and the fish, which are beautiful and incredible! The water is also every kind of beautiful blue and green you can think of. We spotted some kids who looked like they were trying to break into the cars, so I befriended them and convinced them to come swim with us. Crisis averted.

Then we headed back to Aaron and Naomi’s where Aaron made us 2 fantastic meals. We also went down to the beach near there house and fought with the crazy waves at high tide. The coral and the waves definitely won the battle and my leg (as are everyone elses) completely bloodied by the coral. It was fun though anyway, we would get swept into a current for 500 feet or so, and then swept back in the other direction., it was almost like a theme-park ride. We spent the rest of the night playing board-games and watching movies and we all crashed there for the night.

Saturday Doug, Melissa and Naomi actually had to work, so Aaron, Matt and I hung out, watched T.V., explored the beach across the street in low tide (much less dangerous), and then attempted to go play bingo (bingo is VERY big here), but we had bad information and there was really no Bingo where we went, it was really a homeless shelter. Then we all got ice-cream, which is Italian style gelato (YUM!), and parted ways for all of 3 hours before we convened at Matt’s house for a BBQ by yours truly.

Matt’s house is huge, and there is a path behind his house where in 2 minutes you are at the most amazing black lava cliffs. We watched the waves crash and spray through blow-holes in the rocks, and I walked around the cliffs for awhile until I came to the most beautiful scenery on the island: a view of the tallest mountain, lush forest, and the cliffs and breaking waves in one fell swoop. Nice! The BBQ turned out well, glad I didn’t screw up my first peace offering meal to my new “friends.” We played horse-shoe and chatted and then all headed home.

Sunday I decided to explore the island. I made it to one of the only beaches you can go to on a Sunday, Tisa’s Beach, where you enter through a Tiki-like bar and hit the beach. They were doing native tattoo-s in the tiki-bar when I arrived and invited me to hang out and watch the tattooing or hit the beach. I watched that tattooing for 30 seconds and hit the beach. The beach was teeming with hermit crabs and ants, but I got over it quickly and read quietly for 2 hours, swimming in between (again, swimming is a relative term here). I then decided to drive to the most Eastern part of the island until the road ended, which I did (this was about an hour drive from where I was, which was already an hour from my house). Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I should qualify here. The geography of the island is spectacular. The poverty is not. Places that could be million dollar resorts are, instead, homes in disrepair. Also every church has a volleyball net in front, not sure what’s up with that. The island is very churchy— so there wasn’t much activity as I drove through, and no beaches where you are allowed to go on a Sunday, but beautiful nonetheless. Then I went back and got Naomi and we went back to Tisa’s beach and swam around and hung out, then I dropped her off and headed home where I caught up with you.

I hope that you will enjoy the musings from American Samoa!  Thanks for checking this out!  Please feel free to post comments here or email me at lisatema@yahoo.com or listema@hotmail.com