Archive for November, 2012

November 28, 2012

Post 16 — The Banyan Tree (Part 1)

Unfortunately, no pictures of the real banyan tree can be found. This is Kathy and friends in a different tree.

“Hey, do you want to go see the banyan tree?” A girl with blond hair almost as white as the sand tugged at Chrissie’s arm. The number of children milling about seemed far greater than the number of parents available.

“Um, sure. Let me go tell my mom.” Chrissie had no idea what a banyan tree was, but she didn’t feel it was necessary to volunteer that information. Her mother just waved at her and told her to have fun, deep in conversation with another mom about the fact that the freezer could hold fifty pounds of meat. Kathy saw them leave and hesitated, trying to decide if she should go explore with the children or stay with the adults. At twelve, she often felt torn between the two groups. But her interest in freezers full of meat was limited, so she grabbed Carolyn and they followed the other kids. Karen was busy digging in the sand so there was no need to restrain her.

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November 25, 2012

Chapter 3: Post 15—The Family Starts to Adjust

The kids have been very good … Periodic fights break out but that happened at home so I don’t suppose it means much. Karen has been crying, whining and being a miserable child but she was also like that at home. Our house is a joy, very large, airy and attractive. It will be some time before our household goods come so since everything is loaned there isn’t much convenience. Our one knife has a heavy wooden handle with a blade about twelve inches long with a good sharp point. So far we have hacked open a coconut, opened a can of milk, took the pins out of the door hinges (I locked myself out), pounded nails, cut bread, Spam, etc. and peeled potatoes. The other knife has a blade 16 inches long with a round end (they are called bush knives, and every Samoan over four years old has his very own – and we worried about penknives!) I haven’t found much use for this other than chasing the kids with it.


The village of Tafuna — Photo by David Gillmore

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November 21, 2012

Post 14 — The Southern Hemisphere

Music is the backbone of the fiafia. Samoans grow up with music in their respective villages. Ukuleles and guitars are popular all over the island and even the little children manage to get something that sounds like music out of them. Once the music starts, the dancing is not far behind.


Although the weather raged outside, inside the fale it was dry and warm. A haze of pork-infused smoke wafted through the air, along with the occasional whiff of wet dog. The girls gawked at the Samoan men wearing lavalavas, a large rectangle of brightly printed cloth that wrapped around the body and knotted at the waist. The garment was well suited for the climate; it provided a breeze as well as easy access for the outhouses that stretched out over the reef. The women’s version of traditional garb was called a puletasi, which was a short-sleeved dress worn over a lavalava, usually all in the same print that had the unfortunate effect of making the wearer look a little like a large sofa. Long tables ran around the room, covered in banana leaves and set with plates that had been woven from the fronds of the versatile palm tree.

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November 18, 2012

Post 13 — A Village Called Vaitogi

Although the family hadn’t slept in the last twenty-four hours and the whole experience was taking on a vaguely hallucinogenic quality, the neighbors told them that there was a fiafia being held in their honor at the village of a Samoan teacher. Fiafia is a term used throughout Polynesia and is loosely translated as “the happy time.”

Jean could think of few things that would make her less happy than having to drag her four jet lagged daughters out into the pouring rain again, but clearly a lot of effort had gone into the party and it seemed rude to refuse. Twelve years of schooling by nuns had taught her manners, as well as the ability to spell. So they piled back into the assorted cars and jeeps that had brought them to their new home and set out for the village of Vaitogi.

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November 14, 2012

Post 12 — A Village Called Tafuna

Their new village was called Tafuna, and it combined the best of Samoan living with the worst of a suburban subdivision. The houses were all identical, shoebox shaped, like larger versions of Monopoly hotels. Instead of lining up along a nice geometric grid, they were scattered in every direction, as if an angry Polynesian player had flipped the board and all the neat little houses had ended up facing different ways. There were no streets or sidewalks or signs to distinguish where your house was; just some spotty grass and sand, white coral sand that had tiny shells hidden in it that came to the surface as rain poured off the eaves of the house. All the doors were painted aqua, gold or red.

“How are we supposed to remember which one we live in?” asked Carolyn.

“Well, find a blue door, go in and if you find other people with that haircut, then there you are,” said Larry.

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November 11, 2012

Post 11 — Welcome to Samoa!

The airport at Tafuna. Photo by John Flanigan.

They walked across the tarmac, the older girls holding hands while Larry carried Karen, her thumb stuck deep in her mouth for comfort. The terminal was a surprisingly modern looking building with large windows that overlooked the runway, nothing like the primitive airstrip that they had been expecting. There was a large crowd of people waiting just outside the customs area, all of them laughing and waving and holding flowered leis, obviously there to meet one of the passengers. Carolyn and Kathy exchanged a look as they remembered their going away party and the paper leis Aunt Betty had made for them to wear. “Two years is a really long time,” Kathy whispered. Jean was thinking the same thing but gave her an encouraging smile, although it was just a little wobbly. Karen was too miserable to even whine.

We got off the plane feeling like hot, sticky loser orphans and dragged those damn umbrellas across to the clearance desk. I was going to bring some flower seeds in my luggage but it’s a good thing I didn’t. However if anyone should want to stick a few zinnias or marigolds into a letter, what the agricultural dept. doesn’t know won’t hurt them.

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November 8, 2012

Post 10 — The Family Goes Even Wester

We rented a car and drove around Hawaii. Up mountain roads with palm trees and the water was any shade of blue from sky to royal to bright navy. It is horribly commercial and any relation to Michener-like descriptions are few and far between. Everybody was either old and wealthy-looking or young, tan and looking for action. The thing that struck us was that it was so quiet at the beach. Very few children. Later on when we were riding around we hit some stretches of beautiful big beach where the poor people go. They were a little noisier. There are many O­­­rientals. Some look like they haven’t got a dime and others looked like James Shigeta and Nancy Kwan on location. As a whole, the mixtures come up with very attractive people. That little bit of information may not be new but it’s kind of interesting coming from one who is there instead of the National Geographic.


Hawaii had been exotic and dreamy, but the family was getting anxious to see what the real destination would be like. The longest part of the trip turned out to be the last twenty-four hours. The baggage handlers in Honolulu were negotiating a new contract and the flight to Samoa had been delayed three times. The previous night had been mostly sleepless as the family tried to find places to stretch out at the airport, where the few available couches were covered in complaining tourists wearing shirts that they would be embarrassed to be seen in as soon as they got back to Ohio. The Broquet children were crabby and their parents exhausted as they all pined for the end of the journey, which had been accompanied by six awkward and bent umbrellas (200 inches of rain per year!). The plane finally left, nine hours later.

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November 4, 2012

Chapter 2: Post 9 — The Family Goes West

The seven thousand mile journey had been an exciting one. The trip had taken a week with a few days each in California and Hawaii. Larry had cousins in Los Angeles so there was more family to visit there, and a long-promised trip to Disneyland finally came true.

For children who had been thrilled with free cereal at the Kellogg’s factory, Disneyland was an experience they could barely imagine. The day was hot and sticky as they wandered through the theme park, gawking at costumed characters and hearing songs from all their favorite films. With “It’s a Small World” on a loop in their heads, the whole family boarded the boats for the Jungle Cruise.

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November 2, 2012

Post 8 — Farewell to Harper Woods

Somehow everything got done. The packing was finished, the paperwork signed— all the steps necessary to walk away from an established life for two years. Larry was granted a leave of absence from the Detroit Board of Education so there would be job to come home to when the contract was up. But the hardest task of all was still ahead.  It was time to say goodbye to the family.

The going away party was held in the backyard of Chuck and Betty Broquet, Larry’s brother and sister-in-law. It was the mother of all family parties, with every living relative within fifty miles of the Detroit Metro area invited. There were co-workers, friends, neighbors, and even Jean’s side of the family showed up for some uneasy cross socializing. There was a lot of potato salad.

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