Archive for June, 2015

June 30, 2015

Post 68 — Tastes Like Chicken

Karen at Tafuna, before Elizabeth came into her life.

Karen at Tafuna, before Elizabeth came into her life.

Karen was bored. Second grade wasn’t particulary challenging for her and she frequently found herself sighing with exasperation. Her teacher had wanted to skip her to third grade but her father had vetoed the idea; something about her “lacking in social skills,” whatever those were. Idiots.

Everyone else in the family had been thrilled with the move into town, but Karen wasn’t so sure. She had had complete autonomy in Tafuna and had spent hours wandering around and visiting with neighbors, especially the ones who had no adorable little girls of their own. She was petted and spoiled and given way more ice cream than her sisters. She really wanted to brag about this to someone but suspected her mother would put a stop to it if she found out, so she kept quiet. It would taste so much better if Chrissie had found out about it — that would teach her to call Karen “snot nose.”

But there would be no more ice cream because she had been restricted now that they were in town. The front door was four feet from the road and everyone on the island drove like they were from Western Samoa, so crossing the street was forbidden. She could play in the backyard and try to climb up to Chrissie’s treehouse, which was a rotting piece of plywood shoved in the crook of a tree, but that thing was terrifying. The yard had tufts of scraggly grass that sloped up into a steep hill that eventually turned into a mountain. Houses were tucked amid the increasing vegetation and a Catholic church shone white against the greenery. One of Karen’s favorite things about Sundays was the call to mass that was sounded by the men of the congregation by beating on old oxygen tanks, the sound ringing out across the mountain. She thought she might like to live near bells one day.

On one side of the house, there was something that was either a drainage ditch or a raging torrent, depending upon how much it had recently rained. Right now it was quite shallow, which was fortunate because the neighbor’s pet pig was snorkeling around in there looking for scraps. Karen wished she had a pet. She didn’t think a pig would be a very good idea because she would want it to sleep on her bed and this one weighed about 300 lbs., but it would be nice to have one of her own that she didn’t have to share. Being the youngest of four was a constant trial.

Last week a chicken “followed” Karen home from school, so after the old “Gee, Mom it won’t eat very much” routine, I relented. It is a tiny yellow chick who has been named Elizabeth. She was right, it doesn’t eat much, at a time; just constantly. 


Elizabeth was a pretty formal name for such a tiny chicken, but Karen felt she had regal bearing and could live up to it. The chick was devoted to Karen, following her around and playfully pecking at her toes. Karen had made a little bed for her out of a cardboard box that she placed in the corner of her room. She had wanted the chick to sleep with her but changed her mind pretty quickly when she woke up in a bed full of squishy brown stuff. The chicken showed no interest in being housebroken and was therefore allowed to go in and out as she pleased, much to the annoyance of the house girl who had to keep opening the screen door. She never voiced her opinion about having a chicken living in the house, but her body language was clearly saying “crazy white people”.

Elizabeth had few talents that would endear her to normal people, save for one: she was a hunter. The sound of her tiny talons clacking on the wooden floor would suddenly speed up, followed by a satisfying crunch as she captured a roach and bit it in half. This was quite an accomplishment considering the roaches were almost as big as she was. She ate constantly, devouring bugs and seeds and anything she found on the floor, including bits of chicken that Karen cluelessly dropped from the table for her as a treat. The irony was lost on both of them.

After a few weeks, the thrill of having a chicken follow her around had waned a bit, and Karen didn’t realize she hadn’t seen Elizabeth until almost a full day had passed. A search party was formed and sent out to scour every inch of the yard. The girls were looking in the back while Larry trained a flashlight under the house, which was built up on stilts in case the drainage ditch flooded. This was the dry season so there was mostly dirt and garbage under there; and unfortunately, the lifeless corpse of the beloved Elizabeth.

From the condition of the body, which appeared to have been separated from the head in a grisly matter, Larry surmised that a stray dog must have gotten to her. It could also have been the pig next door, but Elizabeth had been pretty fast so that seemed unlikely. Wrapping her up in a handkerchief, he quickly deposited her in a garbage can and then went to break the news to his youngest: her chicken had crossed the road and was now on the other side.

June 20, 2015

Chapter 9: Post 67— Aaaand We’re Back

Larry in front of the house in town.

Larry in front of the house in town.

June 5, 1966

The present plans are still that we will leave here June 20 for Honolulu. The plane departs here about 3:00 A.M. on its way from Sydney to Hawaii. I don’t think we’ll bother staying in Hawaii, but will go on through to L.A. or Frisco, depending on our connections. We’ll probably spend one night, Monday night, in California to rest up because that’s a ten-hour flight from Samoa, not counting the stop over in Honolulu. This means we’ll be getting into Detroit sometime Tuesday afternoon; but I won’t know just when until the final details are worked out. As soon as I know the arrival time, I’ll let you know, even if it necessitates calling from California.

I have about eight weeks annual leave accumulated, but I’m not planning on taking it all. Within the last couple of weeks, a situation came up whereby the U.S. Office of Education gave us a grant of 28,000 dollars to enable a group of Samoan leaders to go to the states and learn more about the country. They’re going to spend seven weeks at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, near San Francisco. During this period, they will take field trips to various industries, National Parks, etc. and study the mountains, deserts, rivers, etc. and other physical features of California.

The Samoans who are going are all members of the Education Dept., mostly Supervisors and Principals who have never been off the island. The purpose of the trip is to give them a broader view of the rest of the world so they can do a better job of passing that on to the Samoan students. Roy C., the poker playing friend of mine who is in charge of teacher training is going to be in charge of the group of about 20 Samoans during this period. He could use some help and asked it I would assist him. So I’m going to meet the group at Stanford about July 18, and spend the last three weeks with them … So if this works out the way we anticipate, I’Il be home for about four weeks, but the rest of the family will be there most of the summer.


Two and a half months later:*

August 20, 1966

Well, Tuesday is the big day. The broads arrive back in Samoa at 2:10 pm, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s about time.

Boy, has this been a quiet house for the past few weeks. A little solitude may be all right at times, but this is ridiculous. The cat and I have reached the point where we snarl at each other when we go by, just so we’ll have a little noise in the house. I didn’t mind so much the first week because all I did was try to catch up on my sleep after getting back from that exhausting California trip on August 9. I’ve been well taken care of since I arrived back. I’ve only cooked two meals — dinner invitations took care of the rest.


Sept. 9, 1966

School starts Sept. 19, and things are ready to start moving. We’re starting three weeks earlier than last year and have almost our complete program going. We have 19 elementary consolidated schools and 2 high schools, whoops, that’s 3 high schools since the new one in the Manua Islands is ready to go also. We expect to have about 90% of the kids on the islands watching our programs this year. Two elementary schools are not ready yet, but we expect them to join us soon, making our program complete. There are still a couple of isolated villages on the north side of the island which will not be served by TV so they will still operate in grass huts with village teachers. This year my programs will be seen in every school, both elementary and high school because I’m teaching in Levels 4 & 5. Level 5 includes the 8th grade in elementary and 9th in secondary. The schedule is still, heavy, 13 programs per week, but we’re getting a much better start than we have in the past.

Last Wednesday night we had a PWFL dinner party for 18 people at our pad. It was a People Who Fed Larry when he was batching it for two weeks deal. We had a big Samoan spaghetti dinner. Our housegirl made Samoan plates from braided coconut palm leaves and we lined them with aluminum foil so the noodles wouldn’t fall through the holes. We drank Italian wine from kava cups (made from coconuts cut in half) and ate sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by tropical flowers. After dinner we all adjourned to the piano room and sang old songs (no one knows any new ones). All told it was a very pleasant evening and everyone really enjoyed it. They all want to do it again next week.

Tomorrow night we are invited to a Roman orgy out in Tafuna were we all have to dress as Greeks and Romans. It’s good to be home!


*See Word of the Day for explanation of this time period.

June 12, 2015

Post 66 — In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

Larson's Bay (photo by David/Kathy Kane)

Larson’s Bay (photo by David/Kathy Kane)

Pushing through the jungle was like an experiment in sensory confusion thought Chrissie, as she followed her sisters down the uneven trail. There was an immediate temperature drop so she felt cooler, but the humidity was worse because the breeze was blocked by the dense foliage so she felt hotter. The light was dappled and in some cases obscured, so as her vision lessened, her sense of touch was heightened. Vague shadows brushed her face. Her imagination ran wild; every shriek from the canopy could be a monkey, every hanging vine might be a poisonous snake! It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

The path they were on was more of a half-road through part of a banana plantation than a full-scale expedition to find Dr. Livingston, but the Broquet girls read a lot and had a bit of a dramatic side. Also, no monkeys or poisonous snakes on the island. The half-mile hike through the jungle was one of their favorite outings; eventually the path would turn into a steep hill and they would struggle to the top, grasping roots to pull themselves up as their feet in slippery thongs scrambled for better footing. Going down was even worse but well worth it, for the roar in the distance meant they were about experience the magnificent vista that was Larson’s Bay, the premiere swimming spot of the whole island.

Getting there was a challenge, but that was what made it so great. Once you cleared the hill and burst out of the jungle, there was a sparkling ocean waiting for you to plunge into and wash off any vegetation that was stuck to your sweaty body. The sand was fine and white and the waves were big and blue, and the whole beach looked like it could be on the cover of a tourist brochure.

Jean has been arranging a safari to Larson’s Bay for July 4th. This is a beautiful little cove with a lovely beach accessible only by a hike through the jungle.  She’s got about seven families lined up for the trek and the way these things snowball half the island might show up. The last time we were there a bunch of Samoan kids were giving me the business about swimming there because some of them used it for a john. Oh well, at least the Hygiene program has them thinking about where they go.


We had a 4th of July picnic expedition . . . to Larson’s Bay. The secluded island paradise reachable through half mile of crawling through the jungle . . . it sounds so Polynesian, doesn’t it? Anyhow, about 19 of us formed a safari and took a lunch into the wilds. When we got there, our secluded rendezvous was crawling with TV personnel. 

So with the people already there and our gang, we had about 36 people, all playing in the waves and getting sunburned. This was the first time we ever had the Samoans outnumbered! It was a beautiful day and the breakers were coming in like crazy. It was too rough to swim and a little too dangerous to go out too far so we were all riding in the breakers in the shallow part. Yes, Grandma, there is an undertow, and we were all extremely careful because we don’t care for the idea of drowning anymore than you do. 


On one side of the beach there was a lava rock that jutted out over the water. Chrissie stood on the sand and watched Carolyn get ready to jump off of it. If you timed it perfectly, you could leap out over the ocean into a breaking wave that would carry you all the way up onto the beach, rolling and gagging on salt water and shrieking with delight at the adrenalin rush. If you didn’t time it perfectly . . . well, sometimes collecting shells on the beach was fun, too.

Her father was lounging on the sand with some of the other TV teachers when a group of Samoan boys ran past her, giggling and pointing. They starting shouting “Lar-ee! Lar-ee!” and then gathered around her father, all of them gesturing and talking at the same time in Samoan. It suddenly dawned on Chrissie that her father was a celebrity, his Hygiene & Sanitation program on how to go to the bathroom shown all over the island. It was the most embarrassing thing that she could possibly imagine, and this was from a girl who had already lost her bathing suit top at a water ballet.

Here is a wonderful video I found on the web. I don’t know the Kuhne family but I want to thank them for taping their trek through the jungle to Larson’s Bay in 2010. This brought back so many memories! (no copyright infringement intended)

June 8, 2015

Post 65 — We Are Eager to Learn

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I'm in the back. I'm the one with the really crooked bangs.

The front row is kneeling on coral! That is why I’m in the back. I’m the one with the really crooked bangs.

The stainless steel segmented lunch tray looked like it might have been left over from the filming of Riot in Cell Block 11. Dented and the color of melted guns, its heavy weight was only a fraction of how the stuff piled on it was going to sit in your stomach. In one corner, there was a pyramid of canned grayish-green beans. There was no need to check the expiration date on the can because the amount of salt mixed in with the beans came out to a ratio of 70/30. These beans couldn’t have gone bad even if they had wanted to. Section two contained an assortment of stewed plums swimming in so much syrup that holding them down and drowning them seemed like the better option than eating them. And finally, the largest middle segment held a big scoop of canned corned beef mixed with coconut milk and rice that was the government-surplus version of the Samoan classic dish, pisupo.

Chrissie stared at her lunch and questioned her life. How could anyone think this was what a growing child should, or would, eat? The everyday problems of fifth grade —cliques, math, boys— all faded away when she faced the daily dilemma of how to stomach what the school laughingly referred to as a “well-balanced” meal. She assumed the protein part of the food pyramid was represented by the insect that crawled out of her rice that she half-heartedly flicked away. After two years on the island, she didn’t even bother to get worked up about bugs anymore. She glanced around the cavernous cafeteria and saw that the teachers from the TV studio were eating there, too. If she could find her father, she might be able to talk him out of fifty cents.

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