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.                                                            


The boisterous crowd surged forward but instead of passing by, stopped and surrounded the family. They threw the leis around the children’s necks and shouted, “Talofa! –Welcome to Samoa!” Introductions flew as people tossed out their names and hugged each little girl, everyone talking at the same time as they reassured the family that the worst was over. “We always send a welcoming committee out to meet the new teachers,” one of the friendly strangers said, “because we all remember what it was like to get off that plane and wonder what the hell we had gotten ourselves into.”

“Usually the flights from Hawaii land at 4 am and one or two people show up,” he added. “But because of your delay, everybody got to sleep in, so you got the whole group! Who wants champagne?”


The drive from the airport to their new home was a short one. The island of Tutuila is the largest in the chain of six that make up American Samoa, but it is only eighteen miles long. There was one paved two-lane road that ran the length of the island, hugging the coastline with the crashing surf just beyond the serpentine street. “I’ll bet passing is fun,” said Larry, the former driver’s ed teacher.

Karen started bouncing up and down and pointing, excited because she had just spotted a grass hut. One of the greeters explained that the traditional Samoan houses were called fales. “The word looks like fail,” he explained, “but it’s actually pronounced folly.”

The fales were round with a stone floor and a series of wooden poles that circled the perimeter. The poles supported the thatched roof  which was a good fifteen feet high in the center, hardly fitting the description of a hut. The openness of the home allowed the tropical breezes to cool the family inside, and a series of blinds made out of woven mats could be pulled up and down to keep out rain and provide some privacy. The fales were well constructed and perfectly suited to the tropical environment, the only incongruity being the television antennae sticking up out of the thatch.

“Are we going to live in a house like that?” exclaimed Kathy. The driver shook his head and said,  “No, the government teachers live in housing that is a little more like what you’d find back home. We’re almost there.” She slumped back in her seat, disappointed, although Jean seemed to visibly relax when she realized they wouldn’t be living in a house without indoor plumbing.

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