My Short, Fruitful Trip to American Samoa
As you've now noted from our Cousin Maletino's post, I was fortunate to be given an opportunity where I had to join a working group in American Samoa last weekend. The trip was confirmed last minute and I had to quickly arrange for my flight before leaving for the Islands last Thursday November 11. As with most trips, mine was full of the 'highs' and some interesting stories. Here's a few to share:
(1) The Purpose of the Trip:
I was involved in an alignment study of American Samoa's current standards in mathematics and English and what is now implemented in most States in USA as the Common Core Standards for K-12 levels in those two subject areas. The study really went for two straight days (Friday and Saturday) where we got to work with 48 teachers and some of the Department of Education's staff. There is potential for continuation of this work particularly if American Samoa chooses to adopt the Common Core Standards, and if that happens, I might find myself returning to this beautiful Island as early as next year.
(2) Airports, Airlines and Airplanes:
A few notable experiences. Started out with a charged fee for my check-in bag, which I passed by carrying both my bags into the plane. That turned out to be a great thing as I was able to stay inside the gated areas without having to check-out and in through the Airport securities at my two mid-stops, Seattle and Honolulu. The in-board food and entertainment was certainly reflective of the budget-strapped airlines. But I couldn't understand why, if that's the case, they wouldn't accept anything monetary like cash other than credit cards. Anyway, on my return via Seattle I volunteered my seat (for the YVR flight) to a couple from Denmark who found out that they were overbooked and weren't seated for our flight. They needed the seat more than I did (since Jay and Sebastian were not at home and still in Edmonton) in order to make their connection to Denmark and as a reward I was offered by Alaska Airlines 400 travel credit voucher plus 2000 airmiles. I negotiated instead to get USD210 cash plus 6000 airmiles as I felt I may not be using that credit voucher any time soon. I thought that was a worthwhile bargain for the 4 hours delay of my arrival back in Vancouver.
(3) Hotel and Tafuna
I stayed at the Tradewinds Hotel just outside the Airport but about 20 minutes drive to the capital. Arrived Thursday night November 11, and checked out Sunday afternoon November 14. It was great to find free access to the internet in my own room, and when it wasn't connected, there was an internet cafe downstairs that opened almost all night and day. I also found out, though could be a bad thing, that I could use my local bank's debit card to cash money at the ATM machine there. Not surprising of course given the connection of this territory to mainland USA. Lastly, from the moment I arrived, a few of the hotel's staff thought I was somone else they knew from before. It turned out that my younger brother Poini Jr was there, which confused those staff to think I (as 'Poini') somehow suddenly didn't recognise them. I knew Poini at that time was coming from Tonga to Samoa for work-related training but I didn't know it was at Pago, and not Apia. The lesson here of course: if you go places, your foot prints will be there. Let's just hope you will mark it nicely for those to follow! :-)
4) Pago Pago and the islands of Tutuila
I was quite impressed with how beautiful the island is. The capital and its harbour certainly can lay claim to being one of the most beautiful in the Pacific. However the impact of the tsunami last year did affect the coastal side of the islands with a number of people who lost their lives. I managed to drive through the capital where I found their newly built 'Talamahu' food market to be in abundance of quality island crops. It was there that I first bought my "faapapa" (or to'okutu as it is called in Tonga) along with a coconut to drink. You should have seen the scene of me, lying on my bed, with a strawed coconut on one hand and a faapapa on the other, all while watching a replay of a local high schools' football playoff game.
5) The Tongans
I once met someone from Uganda who told me that if you find a place where you can't find a Nigerian there, then that's not a nice place to live. I thought the same can be said of the Tongans. But then it can be said of most Pacific people. Well, some of the Tongans made it their home in American Samoa. I was aware of a huge Tongan community there. I was sure I'd run into one of them. Friday night my entourage came back late from dinner at the capital to find the conclusion of a traditional dance performance at the hotel. The last performance was a siva and I thought it was a local Samoan dance group. The next evening, our group went out after our second day of work to have a few vailimas by the swimming pool where we find the same dance group practising a few Polynesian items, ranging from Tahiti, Cooks, Hawaiian and to my surprise Tongan. There were a few supporters who sat around cheering the practice. But it took about 3 vailimas before I came to my senses that I was actually hearing Tongan people talking around me. It turned out that most of the local people around me including the dance group were all Tongans. But they also were all fluent in Samoan; so I'd hear them switching between the two languages when they threw jokes at each other. Anyway, it was a nice thing as I also found out that the local Bishop was going to have a special mass the next day (Sunday) with the local Tongan catholic community. The hotel was only 15 minutes walk away from the Fatuoaiga Cathedral where I found the Tongan catholic community. Their choir was great, singing mostly in Tongan, and even the American Bishop who celebrated their mass in Samoan was quite impressed as well. There, I also met two former St John's High School students, one by the name of Tavite Lolesio - a classmate of Stanley Manu and Dateline Fatu - and whom Fr Napa may still remember from his school days. He was the choir master or conductor. Regretably I forgot to have a picture taken with those two.
6) Fr Lopeti and the Apia Customs
As planned for the trip, it was an opportunity to settle once and for all a request by my brother Lopeti (which you've read here so many times) to get him a computer for his work. Luckily for me, Uncle Felise and Aunty Kara pitched in half the costs, and I was able to handcarry the computer all the way to Pago before posting it to my brother via a local air cargo, which cost only USD20. Unfortunately I forgot it would be taxed at Apia, which my brother found out the hard way when he got to the airport for pick-up. Without cash to pay, he returned the next day only to find from a different Custom officer that the tax has gone down to about 100 talas compared to more than the previous amount of 300 talas. Of course that somewhat made his day, and with that are also movies and TV-shows for him (and Fr Hiko) to watch. Anyway, this would not have been possible had it not for Vo and Kara's assistance.
7) Cousin Maletino and Pago relatives
Obviously my trip would not have been complete if I didn't get to meet Tino and his family. I knew they were living there and my brother managed to contact Tino who later called me at my hotel. After the Tongan mass on Sunday, Tino's wife and kids came to pick me up at the airport. We went to their home where the man of the house was there awaiting my arrival. Food was already prepared, and stories followed. It was family as always, and Tino's ways remind me a lot of Grandpa Filimi - the way he talks, laughs, his story-telling and love of our family. Tino's better half was even better; I wouldn't be surprised if she was working for hotel or anything to do with hospitality. I was welcomed with love and open arms and the kids are brought up well to love their parents, home, our family and visitors like me. Obviously as you can tell, they were excited to learn more about our family, and to be part of this forum. Lastly, another cousin, named also after Tavo, showed up to meet me. Tavo is Aunty Luisa's son while Tino as you now know is Vailili's son.
Before I sign off, I'd like to show you a couple of pics of the special gift - the faapapa - I brought with me back to Canada.
Unfortunately I was planning to share half with Aunty Lupe and family who was hoping to meet me at the airport in Honolulu, but couldn't probably because our plane arrived so late that I had less than 2 hours to make my connection flight. Anyway, if you'd like to check out the rest of my photos, you can click here to find out.
'Ofa atu to you all, and thanks for all your prayers for my family and for coming back safely to our little home here.
Stan, Jay and Sepa Jr.