|An American in the Pacific|
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If you think about America what do you think about? Fast food, big cars, fat people, Vietnam and Iraq? American Samoa is a real experiment in American cultural influence. Lying next to its larger neighbour Samoa it is never the less very very different. This is even though the people are the same, most of them come from Samoa for work anyway. American Samoa is smaller than (western) Samoa but more industrious. With that I mean they got a very large Tuna canning factory. So if you enjoyed a Tuna sandwich for lunch it is a fair chance it started its life here. Apparently if a Samoan work for 20 years in American Samoa they get a US social security code and a pension which is attractive even on a 3 dollars an hour salary
Pago Pago, the main town, also has something else Samoa does not have; filth and decay like never seen before. The harbour is unbelievably dirty. There are plastic bags and fast food containers everywhere. When a tuna boat comes in to offload its cargo the water is coloured red. The smell is incredible and the sound of the generators deafening. In the marina all the boats, no exceptions, are wrecks. One has lost its mast and nobody cares. The stumps hanging off the side of the boat. Three are about to sink with large rusty holes in the hull and deck, and nobody seems to notice. People still live on the one boat in the corner that is resting on the bottom and has a small tree growing on deck. I asked a local if they have had a cyclone since all the boats are wrecked but the answer was no. He had a puzzled look on his face as he did not make the connection and did not understand the question in the first place. This picture is unfortunately also reflected in the buildings ashore. It seems like they where just left to themselves as soon as they where build and no maintenance ever performed. Going ashore to clear customs I am stunned to see this one "building". It has a roof and the main pillars holding the roof are up. It is quite impossible however to see whether it is under construction or being torn down. In the middle of it all are two office desks with piles of paper, a couple of filing cabinets and a telephone. It does look a bit like an office, and the two men working there behave as if it is. Believe me it was like something out of Monty Python.
Down town Pago Pago is not full of shops as maybe you would expect. You do find the compulsory very grand bank building though, but apart from that not much apart from government offices. There is the War Veteran office, The food stamp office, the social aid office, the.... You get the picture. All of this sums up a place unlike any other we have seen so far. But the people are very very friendly. There are smiles and laughter everywhere. In stark contrast to the videos they seem to watch, the video store displaying horror and violence DVD's with pride. The kids were too scared to go inside.
The American Samoans carry a considerable bulk as they are much fatter that their cousins to the east. The people in French Polynesia and Cook islands beaming of health comparatively. Everywhere you looked where half hearted attempts at getting the population to think about diabetes and other weight related problems in the shape of posters.
Samoans have a few particularities that we observed while taking the bus. They keep their change in their ears! Maybe because they all wear skirts with no pockets. It does look very funny though and requires a vigorous hand wash after handling money. Polynesia, has so far been a quiet place. Nowhere have we found loud music, or music with a lot of beat. That ended here. The Samoans love loud music and I haven't heard music systems like this, or music this loud since the Caribbean! It is incredible to think that someone actually sits inside the cars! Apparently they have competitions every year for the best (loudest) music system. Must admit it was quite nice too- and it did clear the ear canals so I too can carry coins in my ears.
Driving around in the bus we also noticed something else. They bury their relatives in their garden and preferably in the front. The house might have seen better days, much because of lack of maintenance, but the graves are magnificent. So if you where looking forward to getting free of your "mother in law", no such relief here in Samoa. She will be there right in front of the house reminding you of her presence.
Cruisers stop in American Samoa to shop. The shop to head for is "Cost-u-less", which for a long time we thought was a national monument, the way people referred to it. The bay itself is known as the "armpit of the pacific" so nobody expects anything else. This is largely due to the large canning factory that processes tuna for Sunkist. When the wind blows a certain way, you can be sickened by the smell,not to mention the waste that is dumped into the sea. The island is however very beautiful if you see through the filth or venture further inland than the very dominant Pago Pago. The large American style supermarkets outside town offer most American products at American prices. Very attractive after the highly inflated prices in French Polynesia.
We did however find time for some fun as well. The weather was not cooperating but we got a gang together on a sunny day to experience some true Samoan food. 1/2 hour outside Pago Pago is the very quaint "Tesas Barefoot Bar". It had real atmosphere and we had a great time. The hostess ,Tesa, was great and the food outstanding, all of it cooked the Samoan way. This is known as an "Umu", where all the food is laid on hot stones and covered with Banana leaves. It then steams for 3 hours with coconut oil and is served on leaves. They cooked lamb, beef, pork, fish, shrimps, papayas, bananas and breadfruit altogether, and we ate it with our fingers. Delicious!
The grand finale of the meal was the hostess and her kids dancing and singing. The Samoan dance is free of hip movements in curtsey of western missionaries. Hand movements and face expressions on the other hand were in abundance. It was a real experience. Then the cruising children all entered the stage to learn some Samoan dancing. Colin was more than happy to take the mike and show off his dance moves. He also did one of his self composed songs to everyone's delight.
Sailing is never without drama. While we where anchored in Pago Pago a cruising boat sent out an mayday. She was sinking only 3 miles from the harbour. A rescue was organised and they managed to get the couple onboard safely off. The boat however was lost. They heard a load bang and then the engines stopped before water starting flooding in. The couple were in their 60's and clearly shaken by what happened. All their earthly belongings went down with the boat. Luckily they where insured, many yachties aren't. Well installed in their hotel room ashore they invited all yachties over for pizza and beer. Guess it was some kind off send-off or wake for their yacht.
This site was last updated 09/01/07