This is the sixth 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 previous installment, my Samoana high school friend Abe invited several of us classmates to come with him on a trip to the outer islands of the Manu'a group: Ta'u, Ofu, and Olosega. At the time, Abe was overseeing public works and power projects throughout American Samoa. Four of us made the trip: Abe, classmate Robin, another American woman named Karen, and I.
April 24, 1986
This morning the weather looks awful. Last night it was storming -- high seas, boulders across the road, fallen trees. Today the skies are gray, foreboding. But I don't want to disappoint Abe, so I go to Manu'a.
We fly in a tiny plane -- twelve passengers. From Pago airport, it's 30 minutes to the dirt landing strip at Ta'u. The strip there is a swath cut through banana trees; taro grows within yards. There's no terminal, simply "Welcome to Ta'u," from the pilot.
Then we buzz back into the sky, and in five minutes we're in Ofu. I was dreading the landing there, but to my surprise there's a new concrete runway and the landing is perfect. The runway is one of Abe's public works projects.
We're met by John, a Samoan wearing an L.A. Raiders cap. He has lived in San Francisco, speaks with an American accent. He's been in charge of a project to build a road to a peak on the island for a TV tower.
Abe sees a street light on that should be off -- the photo cell isn't working. On the way back to the motel, he's counting how many are defective.
John takes us for a ride around the island, and we see Abe in action, pointing out to John areas of the road that need to be improved. He asks John how far from the top the road is now. John says, "About 200 yards." Abe says, "That's what you told me a month ago."
The rest of us are enjoying the sights, sitting in the back of the pickup. There is white sand everywhere--even people's front yards are covered with it. The houses are clean, painted sweet pastel colors. The water is turquoise and sparkling, with live coral. Abe says the drinking water is very pure. (It comes from underground springs).
Only about 1,000 people live on the two islands, Ofu and Olosega, that are connected by a bridge Robin says cost $1,000,000.
The people of Manu'a are wealthy, I hear it said by several people. They have very little to spend money on, so they save everything. Their taro is considered the best. It's whiter, not as sticky, almost a fluffy texture like heavy bread.
Abe checks the power plant, and Robin, Karen and I walk around the dock area and along the road, down by the little cafe. Karen tells us bizarre stories about her life. We get back to the plant; Abe is taking a nap on a mat on a bed. John drives us back to the motel. On the way we meet another of Abe's employees, who is bringing us boxes of food: pork, chicken, taro, palusami, and what Robin calls chow mein--cellophane noodles mixed with corned beef.
After dinner, Robin and Karen watch TV and talk about Karen's problems, and Abe and I sit on the beach talking for a long time. He says he envies Bill for his stable family life. (Bill envies Abe for his seriousness and studious nature.)
When it starts raining, we go inside and make coffee and sit around and talk some more. Karen falls asleep, and Abe, Robin, and I talk about our compulsiveness at work -- how we all avoid personal relationships if they interfere with our work. It strkes me as very ironic that we're all on this serene, relaxing island, miles from our responsibilities, but we end up talking about work.
Robin and Abe: the Samoan yuppies.
About 11:00, we go to our rooms. I sit outside watching the clouds in the dark sky, listening to the ocean, smelling the frangipani blossoms.
We would have slept soundly, but we were dumb enough to leave the door open, and mosquitoes were all over us. I had to keep the sheet completely over me -- face and all -- to keep from getting bitten about once a second.
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.