Return to Paradise - Part IX
This is the ninth installment in a series of posts commemorating a very memorable journey.
Thirty-five years ago, I paid a visit to American Samoa. At that time, it had been twenty years since I left there after spending one of the most unforgettable years of my life on the main island of Tutuila -- a year chronicled in my memoir Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta (Behler Publications, 2019).
In this series of posts, I'm sharing excerpts from my 1986 travel journal, along with photos from the trip.
In the last installment, I spent more time with old schoolmates and their families, and I accompanied my friend Pili to the Tikki Lounge, where his band Tropical Storm was playing. There, Pili introduced me to a young man who turned out to be Tui Letuli, the kid who stole my heart as a second-grader when I was a teacher's aide in his class.
I spent that night at the home of Pili and his wife Gretchen. Today's installment picks up the next morning, my last day in Samoa before returning to Detroit.
Good to know:
Pili, Fipa (AKA Fibber), and Jeanette were all schoolmates in Mango Rash days
Stillwater - my hometown in Oklahoma
umu - traditional Samoan oven
April 27, 1986
Pili and Gretchen's church meets under their house (open-air first floor) -- a dozen or so adults and kids sitting on wire patio chairs singing Baptist and Samoan hymns. I liked singing the Samoan hymns just to hear the words. Didn't know what most of them meant. It was kind of neat sitting there, watching the birds flitting around, seeing flowers everywhere, watching the rain. Everyone was cold -- it was probably 70 degrees.
The one nice thing about leaving here will be not feeling clammy. I can't remember the last time my skin didn't feel that way.
After church there was cake and Samoan-made (Halleck's) coconut ice cream.
Then Pili's cousin (who went to school for six months at Stillwater High School) sent over food from his umu: taro, bananas and mackerel baked in coconut cream inside coconut shells. Wonderful. I'm really going to miss this Samoan food. Later we had chow mein, chicken, taro, cucumbers, rice.
The day sort of slid by -- not how I really planned to spend my last day, but I was more into going with the flow than with trying to run around. Pili drove me into town and I took my last looks at the Leone to Fagatogo stretch. The rain had stopped and the colors were vivid again -- the hills all shades of green, from pale lima to deep emerald; the water in sparkling blues. Far from shore it's deep indigo, then it breaks white and foamy. The waves look turquoise witih the light showing through. And up over the reef, the water is calm, dappled blue, blue-grey in places. Sailboats and a motorboat were out on the bay. The waterfall was cascading down one of the mountains -- a steep, sheer veil across the bare rock face.
Fipa had said he would stop by today, but I didn't get back to the hotel till after 2:00, and there was no message from him. Jeanette and Mai had called.
Tonight at Pili's we watched TV, took naps. Now I'm waiting for Pili to take me to the airport. I just went out on the balcony. The sky is perfectly clear. The moon is bright, stars everywhere, low clouds around the horizon. Palm trees silhouetted against the glowing, grey clouds.
Funny thing how this place can drive you crazy one minute because of inconveniences but the next minute show you something spectacular you could never find anywhere else on earth, and make you feel like you never want to leave.
All week I kept going through contradictory feelings. At first I felt out of place and wondered how I ever felt at home in Samoa. But by the end of the week, everything felt natural.
I'd really like to come down for a month (or a summer) sometime and spend the time writing about the place. I'd do it a lot differently next time. This time I didn't do much to prepare myself -- reading up, etc. I was so afraid of getting my hopes up and being disappointed that I just didn't want to think much about it before I got here. Now I really want to read more about Samoa and other Pacific islands.
Pili's Pacific studies program is inspiring me, too. He showed me some books he's using and talked a lot about the things he learned. He told me the Pacific studies program was only started last year, though the college is more than fifteen years old.
To be continued . . .
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.