Archive for December, 2012

December 31, 2012

Chapter 4: Post 23 — Terrapins and Television

October 8, 1964
We have two channels operating at present and expect the third to be on shortly. Our building, the only air-conditioned structure on the island, is considered quite a showplace. Troops of visitors are constantly streaming in to examine the new wonder of video. The governor seems to show up about every second day to see what’s going on. I sometimes wonder if it’s us or the air- conditioning that attracts them.


The H. Rex Lee auditorium, known to everyone as The Turtle.

The H. Rex Lee auditorium, known to everyone as The Turtle.

The educational future of the children of a tiny Polynesian island was entrusted to two men from the landlocked center of America. The first was H. Rex Lee, a farm specialist who was plucked from potato-loving Idaho and appointed as governor in 1961. Lee championed the untested concept of televised teaching for the island and brought in Vernon Bronson to implement his program. The second was Michael J. Kirwan, the Democratic representative from Ohio who pushed through millions of dollars to actually fund the program. Kirwan’s son John was the assistant director of the U.S. Department of Interior office that was responsible for overseeing American Samoa, and got his father on board with the project. Each man was rewarded with an important building in Samoa named in their honor, yet if a tourist asked anyone on the island for directions to the H. Rex Lee Auditorium or the Michael J. Kirwan Studio, they would have been met with a blank look and a shrug.

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December 20, 2012

Post 22 — Larry Takes a Test

The brand new Datsun. I can't imagine how we got six people in this car.

The brand new Datsun.
I can’t imagine how we got six people in this car.

Since he would soon be driving in this new place, Larry walked over to the police station to renew his driver’s license.

“Excuse me, I was told I need to take an examination to get a new driver’s license,” he said to the man at a desk.

“You new to the island?” asked a burly police officer who was wearing a khaki shirt and a lavalava with a tiny finger banana tucked in the waist.

“Just been here a few days,” said Larry, distracted by a loud conversation that seemed to be coming from the jail. “Is something going on over there?”

“Oh, no, it’s just lunch,” said the cop, peeling the banana and swallowing it in one bite. “The families of the prisoners bring them food.” He indicated a Samoan woman who was busy trying to push a papaya through the bars. From the amount of pressure being applied, Larry assumed that the fruit was going to pop and eliminate the need to be cut open. Amazingly, it didn’t, and the woman took out a machete and handed it to the prisoner.

“Do you mind if I ask what they did?” said Larry nervously. He had assumed the island would be devoid of murderers and crooks.

“Traffic violations. They all drive like crazy nuts. You want to take the test?”

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December 16, 2012

Post 21 — The Family Learns to Dance

dancerJean took the girls to their siva lesson while Larry left to do some shopping. In a small, wooden building next to the tourist office, a very large, smiling Samoan lady introduced herself as Tuli. The carb-laden diet of taro and breadfruit tends to produce a population that is quite heavy, but in Polynesia, big is beautiful. Jean compared her own ample figure to the woman in front of her and considered that she may have come across the perfect society. Tuli greeted the children and handed each of them a lavalava to tie around their waists. “I thought we would wear grass skirts,” said Carolyn doubtfully.

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December 12, 2012

Post 20 — The Village of Fagatogo

Downtown Fagatogo just before a parade broke out. There were LOTS of parades.

Downtown Fagatogo just before a parade broke out. There were LOTS of parades.

All over town there is hibiscus planted, and all sorts of green leaves and different colored-leaf plants. Everything has been planted and carefully cultivated and the jungle or vegetation is mostly palm trees, taro, banana plants and some vines & underbrush. We are eight miles out-of-town. All along the way are fales with the lavalavas all hung out. Some of the places look pretty junky but most of them are well-kept. It surprised me to see them along the paved road. I guess I thought they would be tucked away out of sight, but they were there before the road was and they didn’t bother to move.

Here and there along the ocean we would see a little walk built out and a little house at the end. They are the community johns. They open right into the ocean and the tide takes out all the waste and brings back nice clean water.


The village of Fagatogo was a jumble of old and new buildings that seemed to have every necessary service. There were three or four garages masquerading as stores, as well as a post office, jail, bank, tourist office, boat dock and movie theater. None of the businesses had signs, so it was fairly common for newcomers to head for the post office to drop off mail and accidentally wind up in the jail where the prisoners would lean through the bars and try to bum cigarettes off of them. Many of the structures were wooden and looked a bit shabby because the humidity and rain made most construction materials peel, rot or rust. Houses and fales were mixed in with the commercial establishments, and a large open grassy area called the malai functioned as the community’s front lawn. Parades and celebrations often took place there, as well as an occasional soccer game.

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December 9, 2012

Post 19 — The Aiga Bus

The route from Tafuna to downtown Fagatogo ran for 7 miles along the edge of the island, with ocean on one side and mountain on the other.

The route from Tafuna to downtown Fagatogo ran for seven miles along the edge of the island, with ocean on one side and mountain on the other.

After a few days, the family was beginning to feel a little more acclimated. Everyone had caught up on their sleep and the overwhelming sense of strangeness was starting to fade just a bit, although the children still kept trying to go into the wrong houses. School would not start for a few more weeks and the household goods weren’t expected until next month, so Jean was kept busy trying to keep the gang occupied with very few props. She thought about falling back on an old standby – mosaic pictures made out of dried peas and beans – but the cost of food was so exorbitant that it seemed wasteful. As an alternative, she signed the girls up for siva lessons so they could experience the culture firsthand.

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December 5, 2012

Post 18 — It’s Pongo Pongo, not Paygo Paygo

Lynn is our one hold out. She still gets a little mopey but she was doing that at home so I don’t think the change is her problem. I think it’s just being eleven and Kathy’s younger sister. They have done nothing but get on each other’s nerves. I had to separate them. Lynn is in with Karen now and so far it has been turning out pretty well; she seems a little gentler and more considerate of her since they have become roommates.


An overhead view of Tafuna. Photo by David Gillmore.

An overhead view of Tafuna.
Photo by David Gillmore.

“Has anyone seen the kids?” Jean asked the group that was sitting in lawn chairs in front of one of the houses, possibly hers although she wasn’t quite certain.

“Oh, they’re probably off playing in the banyan tree,” volunteered Mary, who was the mother of Liz, the Polynesian encyclopedia. Jean had no idea what a banyan tree was, but she didn’t feel it was necessary to volunteer that information. “Do you think we should go look for them?” she asked.

“Oh, they’re fine. There’s really nothing around here that they can get into that’s dangerous, so we let them roam pretty freely,” replied Mary, oblivious to the fact that at that very moment her children were considering jumping from the top of a forty-foot tree onto vines that may or may not have been connected to something. “Have you been into town yet?

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December 2, 2012

Post 17 — The Banyan Tree (Part 2)

The author's memory of what the tree looked like - not the actual banyan.

The author’s memory of what the tree looked like – not the actual banyan.

A banyan has a parasitic relationship with the jungle around it. The seeds take root in the crevices of high surrounding trees, deposited up there by helpful and/or incontinent birds. Because the light is better above the canopy, the roots grow quickly down from the top and eventually overpower and strangle the host like an over-served, psychotic guest run amok. This banyan had apparently crashed the party many years ago, because there was no sign of the original tree.

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