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

Chrissie opened her eyes and found herself staring at a tan canvas shade. It seemed odd that this would be in her room, since as far as she could remember, she didn’t have a window in there. There was a space about a half-inch wide where the canvas slid up and down a track, and a long, narrow rectangle of sunlight beamed through the space, lighting up a room that was completely unfamiliar. She had been dreaming something about troll dolls who could scuba dive, and she felt unsure whether the dream was over or if she was going to be required to don a snorkel.

She put her eye up to the space and immediately winced. Sunlight bounced off something brilliant and the glare was so great she had to blink several times in order to stop her eyes from watering. There was a gentle breeze sliding through the open edges of the shade and a soft, sweet perfume surrounded her as if she had fallen asleep on flowers.

She sat up abruptly. She had fallen asleep on flowers. There was a lei of slightly brown blossoms that yesterday had been yellow still around her neck. The events of the past 24 hours came rushing back and she jumped out of bed and ran down the hall to find an empty living room. Panicked, she flung open the front door and stepped outside to look for her family.

The sky was a cloudless aquamarine blue with a rapidly fading rainbow the only sign of recent precipitation. Yesterday had been gray and dark, with a torrential downpour of tornadic proportions. Today, the sun sparkled off the white sand as if it had diamonds in it, and the mountain off in the distance was a color so vibrant it seemed unfair to call it green. Chrissie was pretty sure she wasn’t in Kansas anymore — you could tell that by the humidity. But there was a breeze that ruffled the palm fronds of the few skimpy trees planted around the house, and it made the air feel as soft as a kiss on her skin.

We have a mountain at our back door. It is huge, fat and green. The mists form at the top and you can see the rain coming down the side. I also have two coconut palms planted near our door and a huge stalk of ripe bananas ripening from the rafters. Sounds terribly native, eh? … I have been picking up any plants I see that looks like it doesn’t belong to someone and hauling it home. I thought I had some pretty interesting looking specimens until the house girl across the way came over and made disparaging remarks. I really couldn’t understand exactly what she said but I have a suspicion I have been nurturing Samoan weeds. Oh well, a rose by any other name … I like them! We have to be very careful about what we pick because what might look to be a deserted area could be someone’s backyard. They have hibiscus, blue hydrangeas and some red and yellow plants that resemble cannas. I expected to see flowers running rampant all over but they are mostly in carefully cultivated spots.


The rest of the family was in front of the house, talking with several people who had been part of yesterday’s welcome wagon. Everyone living in Tafuna was a government employee, working at either the television studio or as a teacher at the Dependent’s School where the girls would attend. At the time the Broquets arrived, there were approximately sixty different families scattered about the village.

The houses may have all looked the same but the people living inside were as varied as there are ways to use a palm tree. They were from all different parts of the United States and each one had their own reason for wanting to leave behind an established life and go change the world. Some had traveled extensively and some, like Jean and Larry, had barely been off the mainland. There were teachers, technicians, administrators, engineers and editors. The people Vernon Bronson had combed the states to find shared more than an educational television background. There seemed to be a common gene that delighted in new experiences, as well as a general pioneer spirit that believed any problem could be tackled as long as you remained open-minded and willing to improvise. It also helped if there was beer available.

We can get a fifth of Canadian Club for $3.50. The powdered milk runs 98 cents for an 4-quart package so we are thinking of switching the kid’s liquid diet. It might be habit-forming but it’s cheaper and think what it would do for their dispositions! Happy, happy all the time.


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5 Comments to “Chapter 3: Post 15—The Family Starts to Adjust”

  1. Chris I am so enjoying The Samoan Letters. Thank you!


  2. I wouldn’t be Xan if I didn’t ask whether these common genes were also all white. (Serious question– were they recruiting black, asian, amerind, or hispanic professionals as well?)


  3. Xan, it is true that most of the recruited personnel were white; I don’t think there were many opportunities in the early sixties for minority television teachers, so perhaps not many to hire. However, looking forward a chapter or two, there is an African American family who come to the island as part of the program and some comments from my dad about integration coming to American Samoa before it reaches Detroit! Carolyn also remembers a Japanese family living in Tafuna.

    Interesting Samoan word will come up soon – palagi (pronounced puh-lon-gee) which means anyone who is not Samoan. Doesn’t matter what the race or ethnic background is – if you are not Samoan, you are palagi.

    (and of course you wouldn’t be Xan if you didn’t ask the question – that is why i love you!)


  4. One of the last classes I took in college was Cultural Differences taught by a fascinating professor who told us that the two key attributes an ex-pat needs in abudance are: a sense of humor; and an openness to making mistakes adjusting to a new culture.


  5. There were a couple of families of Japanese descent–I vividly remember my first taste of sushi. And several of my friends’ families were Hispanic, though I did not register it at the time. It wasn’t something we kids really talked about or noticed. A few gay men, also, in retrospect. These posts are filtered through a child’s perception and through adults’ comments that are fairly censored. Seemed to me there was good camaraderie despite cultural differences but we weren’t privy to the gossip.


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