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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012, 08-16 American Samoa We have been anchored in the main harbor near Pago Pago for more than two weeks now enjoying all that is Samoa. The main island of Tutuila in American Samoa is an interesting mix of a Polynesian tropical paradise and your typical anywhere US of A. We have US dollars in our pockets again and are spending them on all the familiar products we haven’t seen in the nineteen months we have been out of the states. We while away the hours in McDonald’s or Carl Jr's catching up on internet tasks and we can order in boat parts and pick them up at the local branch of the US Postal Service. Nearly everyone speaks English in addition to the Polynesian dialect of Samoan which makes for easier communication, a huge bonus. Twenty months of struggling with language gave us a real appreciation for the sound of English coming from the mouths of the locals. There is a small concentration of cruisers who have welcomed us and kindly shared their knowledge and helped us find our way around the island and the culture. Much like Mexico many cruisers get stuck here in what is the largest protected bay in all of the South Pacific. Being an American Territory it is one of the few places in the South Pacific where US citizens can stay indefinitely. As an added benefit visits to doctors and dentists are readily available and the costs are highly subsidized by our own tax dollars. Making it a great place to take advantage of resident medical care. Twenty seven months away from Seattle has made getting routine medical care difficult. We are simply never anywhere long enough to wait for an appointment then follow through the system of visits and rechecks, tests, results, specialists referrals, diagnosis, treatment and follow up. Here we were around long enough for Bill to have a second diagnosis and treatment for a simply skin problem and to take advantage of a free pap and mammogram program. I also had my hearing tested to confirm my suspicions of hearing loss -see Bill I told you I wasn't ignoring you and yes your voice hits right in the middle of the range of sound that is strangely “gone.” Our stop here almost didn't happen. As we move along we make choices at every new junction. The choices are influenced by available time, relevant distances, weather, seasons, reports from friends and what we read in the guidebooks and online cruising compendiums written by other cruisers. We had read pretty mixed reviews about Samoa. Reportedly the harbor water was polluted and thick with trash, the towns dirty and the people unfriendly and the remnants of missionary Christianity still so pervasive that the culture could be stifling. On the other hand there would be a US Post Office within walking distance that accepts General Delivery packages: the lure of General Delivery won out, thankfully. So, here is the real scoop. Yes the harbor water is dark and peaty but it comes rolling down off the nearby mountains through lush tropical vegetation AND it's cool enough here that it's not mandatory to be in and out of the water all day long simply to stay cool. Yes there are some issues here with trash but it seems to be something the whole island is working on and the problems are actually much better than some of the places we have visited. There is an occasionally problem that is uniquely Pago Pago's -pronounced “pahngo pahngo.” Periodically the Charlie the Tuna canning company needs to vent their boilers which releases an airborne stench that could peel paint. The odor is periodic and if the winds are blowing quickly disappears. It is the smell of thousands of tons of rotting tuna carcasses, blood meat and offal superheated and released into the air and to the uninitiated nose can literally wake you from a dead sleep. The tuna fleet here is one of the largest in the world but growing smaller by the fish. There used to be four canneries but Starkist is the last and long ago stopped dumping tons of fleet waste directly into the harbor -thank God! SO the stories were true but not and so far we have accepted the occasional stench in exchange for the other joys of the Samoan Way. Which brings us to their culture. The Samoan Way is still alive and well. They are kind and gentle people and they have a pride and delight in sharing their islands. Virtually everyone we speak to one on one makes a point to welcome us to their island and are immensely pleased when we tell them we are enjoying ourselves here. They love our attempts at Samoan and seem pleased to see us out exploring their island. There are customs to watch for and ways of acting which are important to the Samoan and we do our best to fit in. Among the things that we have learned that are different: No one eats and drinks as they are walking along or on the bus or inside any business. When asked we were told that if your going to take the time to eat you should give yourself a little “me time.” The buses n't run at on on Sundays and they stop for the nights after their 6pm run the rest of the week. Most of the shops close down for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 each day and after six in the evening except for taxi's and restaurants. The daily rush hour occurs around 2:00pm when the schools let out for the day. Early evening is out and about time when the ball fields and volley ball courts fill up or people walk around together or sit on stoops resting in the shade and visiting. Sundays are church and family day period. The missionary work done in the South Pacific really took hold here in the Samoa’s. Church life is suck a big part of the culture that in polite conversation the question of “what church do you attend?” is number three right behind what is your name? And “Are you from off island.” It strongly influences how they act and what they wear and to a big extent how they spend their days. There is no shortage of choices for church membership, in fact it is reported that there are far more pew seats on the island than there are seats to fill them. Most of the churches meet several times each Sunday and numerous times over the week. In some of the smaller villages it is still not only mandatory that you attend your village church but that you attend all three or four Sunday services. Many villages also still observe an short evening period of worship right before sundown when everyone stops and prays for a few minutes. If you are unobservant enough to be walking or driving about during this time appointed enforcers will stop you and insist you pause silently until the minutes pass. The only clear division between the multitude of church choices seems to be whether you choose a church that meets on Saturday or Sunday. If you see someone swimming on a Sunday you can bet they attend a Saturday church. On our first weekend in town I was sitting under a tree across the street from the Methodist Church making a phone call home on what turned out to be White Sunday. As the services ended the parishioners began to trickle out of the front doors and down the wide front steps and each member was dressed head to tow in white. What a beautiful sight. The ladies were all wearing the traditional Samoan two piece dress topped off with a white straw or silk hat many of which were covered with white flowers. The men wore button down collared shirts over the traditional lava lava ( a skirt like covering tied at the waist) and many held hats in hand. Even the little children were dressed all in white. It was definitely beautiful but all I could think of was the laundering logistics involved. We leave American Samoa in a few days, our next stop Western Samoa. It will be interesting to see the differences between the two Samoa’s. We will fuddle through a change to yet another new currency and try and train our ears around English with a Kiwi twang. We will try and complete a radar repair before heading on to Tonga (it's whale season in Tonga!!!) and will spend the next few weeks studying up on the choices we will have to make as we move north into Kiribati and then on into The Marshall Islands. ~hugs~ kat

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