April 17, 2015

Post 58 – The Hurricane: Aftermath (Part 3)

The final resting place of the banyan tree.

The final resting place of the banyan tree.

The three older girls stood in row and stared at the death of their childhood before them. Riding out the storm on soaking wet mattresses with a yowling cat giving birth in a closet was nothing compared to this, the first huge loss of their young lives. Leaves were everywhere and there seemed to be an increase in the now homeless bug population scuttling about. The once mighty banyan, proud surveyor of Tafuna and the jungle whose perimeter it had guarded, protector of secrets and troll dolls, had finally met its match in a wind gust clocked at 120 miles per hour. Large chunks of branches were strewn about perilously close to someone’s house.

“This is so terrible. Should we sing something in its honor? ” asked Carolyn, racking her musical data base to try to come up with a song that had the words “banyan”, “hurricane”, or “pulverized” in it. Being her father’s daughter, she had just decided on a parody called “The Best Things in Life Are Tree” when a shout rang out across the littered sand. “Hey, there’s free ice cream!” Continue reading

April 12, 2015

Post 57 – The Hurricane (Part 2)

The banyan tree goes down. (photo courtesy of Richard Carter)

The banyan tree goes down. (photo courtesy of Richard Carter)

The sheet metal sails seemed to have momentarily stalled and the power had gone out around 4pm, so the children cautiously left the humid bathroom and came back out to the living room. Lack of windows made the room safer but it also contributed to lack of oxygen. Their next door neighbors had come over and the adults were sitting around the Coleman lantern drinking. The wind had died down a little but now picked up again, and after a particularly powerful blast, there was a series of booms that sent them rushing to the windows to peer around the beds to see what had gone down. The air was suddenly filled with swirling waves of leaves and splinters and vines that wrapped themselves around any still standing object.

“What the hell was that?” shouted Jean.

“The only tree big enough around here to produce that much mulch is the banyan on the edge of Tafuna,” mused Larry.

“Oh, no,” moaned Chrissie, for the banyan tree was her favorite place to hide and climb. There were several troll dolls stored there for later use, or had been. Now they were apparently in the upper atmosphere somewhere, swirling through the clouds toward Tonga. Continue reading

April 10, 2015

Chapter Eight (1966): Post 56 – The Hurricane (Part 1)

The storm starts to move through Tafuna.

The storm starts to move through Tafuna.

Chrissie blew cautiously on the spoonful of creamy, yellow soup and then slurped it into her mouth, followed by a gulp of ice cold orange Fanta  pop. The combination of salty and sweet exploded on her tongue and she closed her eyes in gratitude for the opportunity to try new and exotic foods. Her mother never served Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup.

The children of Tafuna spent a great deal of their free time living at friend’s houses. Groggy parents had grown used to listening to a strange kid complain about powdered milk while wearing their actual child’s pajamas. The Broquet girls never tired of abandoning their home and familiar lives to assume the position in someone else’s family.

Chrissie was on day one of a three day home-swap, and this one had started off with a fabulous lunch. Her friend Nancy’s dad was a manager at the Coca-Cola bottling plant and that meant an unlimited supply of Coke and Fanta soda. The weather was windy and rainy and the two girls were considering a Monopoly marathon when they were interrupted by a pounding on the door. Chrissie was disconcerted to see her father standing there, and even more upset when she realized that he was there for her. As much as she pleaded and pouted, she could not convince him to let her stay. He kept saying something about a hurricane but all she could think of was that so far she had had only one orange Fanta. Continue reading

April 4, 2015

Post 55 – Going Under Kava

“Your head is affected most pleasantly. Thoughts come cleanly.
You feel friendly…never cross…you cannot hate with kava in you.”
-Tom Harrisson, Savage Civilization, 1937

dedication1The borrowed jeep sped straight up the mountain, straining in first gear as the angle became more pronounced and the ruts became as wide as the pigs that frequently wandered across. The island had been living up to its 200 inches of rain per year promise and the road was more of a suggestion at this point than an actual thing. Jean held on to the window edge but it was canvas so it didn’t afford much stability. She was grateful not to be in their clunky rusted Datsun, for it would have given up miles ago. Larry had commandeered a neighbor’s four-wheel drive for today’s visit up the mountain and it was currently the only thing keeping them from falling backward down the rutted path. Continue reading

March 27, 2015

Post 54 – Samoa Samoas (Part 2)

Jean stands behind a tikki in front of the pool at Aggie Greys.

Jean stands behind a tikki in front of the pool at Aggie Greys.

The Tofua docked in the harbor near the capital city of Apia the next morning, having traveled 137 miles in twelve hours. They probably could have swum there faster, but Larry and Jean were happy to have their snug little berths nearby after discovering that a double shot of scotch in the ship’s lounge was one shilling each. The change from dollars to pounds was a bit confusing, made even more so when they realized they were only paying fourteen cents per drink and might as well take advantage of the exchange rate. Although breakfast tea was included in the cruise cost, the idea of facing the judgemental steward again after a night of hanging out in the bar was more than Larry and Jean could handle. They tossed each girl a banana, said goodbye to their English roommate (who nearly dropped her cigar as she attempted to wave and eat a scone at the same time) and stepped off the gangplank to a new Samoa!

Which looked exactly like the old Samoa. The same palm trees, the same lava landscapes, the same hair-curling humidity – the islands were bigger, but disappointingly familiar. Yet there was a different energy in the damp air, a bustle in the streets of the larger city with more cars, more shops and a feeling of formality that seemed startlingly out-of-place after the casualness of Pago Pago. The Brits were gone but old habits die hard, and the family felt like they should immediately start drinking tea and stop brushing their teeth. Continue reading

March 20, 2015

Post 53 – Samoa Samoas (Part 1)

A worm-free Karen in Western Samoa.

A worm-free Karen in Western Samoa.

After eighteen months on the island, the family felt like they could use a change of scenery. In Detroit, Larry would have just piled everyone in the car and taken off for a weekend drive to a nearby interesting place. After all, Flint, MI was only 130 miles away! But if you already lived in a paradise that happened to be in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, the choices were limited.

They decided to visit Western Samoa, which was not only NOT on their island of Tutuila, but was also an entirely different country. Owned at various times by the Germans and the British, the islands declared their independence in 1962 and were now attempting to try their hand at governing themselves. Being your own boss can be a giddy feeling, and the government has made some bold choices, most of them in the past twenty years or so.

In 1997, they amended the constitution to change the country’s name from Western Samoa to simply Samoa. This pissed off American Samoans, who asserted that the change diminished their own identities in whatever the Samoan translation of “what are we, chopped liver?” would be. The people of American Samoa still use the terms Western Samoa and Western Samoans to describe the independent state and its inhabitants, because they are not the boss of them. survivorsamoa-logoThis change was unfortunately reinforced when the reality TV show Survivor filmed three different seasons there (2009) and blatantly put it on the show logo for millions to see. This was the season that introduced Russell Hanz to the general viewing audience, much to their dismay. Continue reading

March 13, 2015

Post 52 – The Samoan Fales: A Complete Fail if You Pronounce it Wrong*

South Pacific programThe Island Community Player’s production of Little Mary Sunshine had whetted the appetite of the family for musical theatre. Altough one disillusioned 9-year old felt she belonged on the stage instead of in the audience, they were delighted to attend a high school production of a classic musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific was so perfect for the island setting that it seemed odd that no one had attempted to perform it before. Although the family owned many Broadway soundtracks and sang them loudly and unbidden, this was one musical they had never heard. The plot was loosely derived from Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, and Jean fervently hoped that the story of the man with the wheelbarrow-sized scrotum had not been included.

From the very first song, the girls were hooked. South Pacific is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most glorious scores, and the cast was nailing the songs as they plowed through “A Cockeyed Optimist”, “Some Enchanted Evening” and “There is Nothing Like a Dame”. The plot centers on American nurse Nellie Forbush, stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II, who falls in love with a middle-aged French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. The issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most controversially in the song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”.

However, the controversial interracial aspect was somewhat lost in the translation, as all of the parts were being played by Samoans. The girls turned to each other in bewilderment as the Samoan Nellie sobbed to Samoan Emil DeBeque that she could never marry him because his children were Samoan. But at least the songs were pretty. Continue reading

March 6, 2015

Post 51 – Caviar of the Sea

The chickens are dyed pastel colors for Easter.

The chickens are dyed pastel colors for Easter.

A year and a half into the two-year contract, nothing much phased the family anymore. Pigs in the road were to be expected. Parades with marching men in lava lavas followed by floats full of tie-dyed chickens happened on a regular basis. Five inches of rain in an hour simply meant the laundry would take a little longer to dry. Gradually, the extraordinary had become mundane.

Larry felt that they had become too acclimated. Although they had moved to a new culture, they had brought comfort items and bad habits from home. Jean and Larry had sampled some of the native-flavored foods on the island, but the children were picky eaters and remained stubbornly loyal to more traditional fare. Carolyn still refused to eat many meals, preferring to wait until there was something she really liked and then stocking up by having several helpings. Larry decided that some tough love was going to be needed to force the children out of their comfort zone. Continue reading

February 27, 2015

Post 50 – A Confirmation That Life is Not Fair

The church in the village of Leone.

The church in the village of Leone.

October 1965
“We go to church in the village of Leone, which is about 8 miles in the other direction from Tafuna. The road is paved and winds through mountains, with palm trees, banana trees and all sorts of interesting green stuff. They have the brightest blue hydrangeas here, assorted colored leaves, hibiscus all over and somebody must have smuggled in some marigolds. The church itself is white cement block, very airy and with horrible wooden kneelers. The women don’t wear hats, or shoes, and the men and women sit on separate sides. We were ushered in one Sunday, Larry trailed by all the females and directed to the men’s side.  The man sitting next to me got up and moved . . . I guess he wasn’t going to sit next to some damn women during church. I am hoping Chris can be confirmed here instead of waiting until we get home.”


Chrissie danced impatiently around the large package as her mother went to find a pair of scissors. Excessive amounts of tape were a Broquet family tradition, and the lengths that had been adhered to a box that had traveled overseas were roughly the equivalent of the distance from Tafuna to Leone. Sometimes special tools were needed to saw through it, but at least it made it off the boat in one piece. Continue reading

February 20, 2015

Post 49 —What Happens in Manu’a, Stays in Manu’a (Part 3)

Never before had a serious book by an anthropologist been sold with a cover like this.

Never before had a serious book by an anthropologist been sold with a cover like this.

Margaret Mead’s groundbreaking book Coming of Age in Samoa was published in 1928 and was considered a key argument in the nature vs. nurture debate, as well as other issues relating to family, adolescence, gender, social norms, and attitudes. By 1965, the book had done more to put the islands on the national radar than Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in a sarong.

Mead wrote that the socialization of children in Samoa results in a generally happy adolescence and easy transition to sexual activity and adulthood. Her findings challenged the widely held belief that biological changes occurring during adolescence were necessarily accompanied by social and psychological stress. Mead described the goal of her research as follows: “I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa: Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions, does adolescence present a different picture?” Continue reading

February 20, 2015

Post 48 — What Happens in Manu’a, Stays in Manu’a (Part 2)

Manu'aIn the history of the Samoan islands, there is an origin story that claims Manu’a is the founding place of all Polynesian culture and its’ peoples.

“There are various Tui Manu’a descent lines, many of which bear little resemblance to each other. It is common belief, however, as part of Samoan myths and legends, that the first Tui Manu’a (sovereign ruler) was a direct descendant of the Samoan supreme god, Tagaloa. In Samoan lore, the islands of Manu’a (Ofu, Olosega, and Ta’u) are always the first lands to be created or drawn from the sea; consequently the Tui Manu’a is the first human ruler mentioned. This “senior” ranking of the Tui Manu’a title continues to be esteemed and acknowledged by Samoans despite the fact that the title itself is no longer occupied.”*

This theory does not always sit well with the natives of other Polynesian islands. To a Tongan, this fanciful fable is wishful thinking, and the whole Tui Maunu’a question should be settled in a bar fight involving broken beer bottles. Continue reading

April 1, 2014

Chapter Seven: Post 47 — What Happens in Manu’a, Stays in Manu’a (Part 1)

Larry exiting a longboat (called a tulula) but this is not Manu'a. The eagle eyes of George Hastings identify it as Aunu'u. But same general idea.

Larry exiting a longboat (called a tulula) but this is not Manu’a. The eagle eyes of George Hastings identify it as Aunu’u. But same general idea.

A wave of freezing Pacific crashed over the crowded bow of the deck, soaking the already dripping wet palagis as they huddled together on the hatch of the creaking ship. The moans of the sea barely covered up the groans of the passengers, many of whom were regretting the celebratory dinner they had consumed. Five hours earlier, the television teachers had gathered excitedly on the dock, their piles of luggage outnumbering the amount that most passengers would require for a long pleasure cruise. The Samoans on the trip had each brought an extra lavalava and a case of beer. Everyone travels the world in their own way.

The boating excursion was an information-gathering expedition. The teachers were on their way to Manu’a, a group of three isolated islands that make up the eastern half of American Samoa. The largest island of Ta’u reaches an elevation of 3000 feet, higher than the mountains of Tutuila. The other two are Ofu and Olesaga. The islands are beautiful, with green volcanic peaks covered in lush vegetation and far fewer western influences than the place the travelers now called home. Continue reading

March 25, 2014

Post 46 — An Awkward Stage

LittleMary poster“Musical theatre is the one true art form to come out of American culture in the last hundred years,” Chrissie argued at her friend as they biked furiously across the mushy terrain of Tafuna. A certain speed was needed to be maintained in order to keep the tires from sinking into the sand, and she did not seem to be achieving it.

Her opinion was not quite that well phrased, but it was essentially the gist of what she meant. Liz rolled her eyes and ignored her, for the state of the American musical theater was not high on the list of subjects she wanted to discuss. She was hoping to steer the conversation back to the fact that her dachshund’s poop had lately been in the shape of letters and she wondered if they were trying to communicate with her. But she knew even the turd Ps and Qs weren’t going to be enough to stop her friend’s monologue, because that Broquet family was insufferable since the Island Community Players had started rehearsal for that stupid musical. Continue reading

April 18, 2013

Post 45 — Scratching the Surface

More random palm trees.

More random palm trees.

Chrissie gnawed at her hand like a wildebeest caught in a snare trap. She had never heard the term “coyote ugly” before, but she would have gladly chewed off her own paw if it would only stop the itching. Her fingers were swollen with tiny blisters that burned with the intensity of a million fire ants attacking at dawn. Popping them with her teeth would alleviate the pressure momentarily, but then the open wounds would throb and seep. Plunging her hands in ice water sometimes helped, but this was the tropics and there wasn’t an abundance of ice, and anyway most of it was reserved for cocktails. The rash appeared only on her hands and would show up randomly, although math tests seemed to accelerate it. Her father suffered from the same condition and the doctors treating him had mentioned stress as a possible cause. This made sense for him, given the workload and problems at the TV studio, but she was a nine-year old girl living in paradise who was seldom required to wear shoes. It would be difficult to imagine a less-stressful environment. Continue reading

April 11, 2013

Post 44 — The Tutuila Trots

A helpful poster shows young people exactly how it's done.

A helpful poster shows young people exactly how it’s done.

The educational television experiment was proceeding at breakneck speed. Programs were taped and broadcast at a staggering pace, the workload increasing as the teachers tried frantically to keep up with the curriculum. The United States Congress had given Governor Lee permission to expedite the TV operations, so phase two of the program was accelerated and plans were made to go into effect one year ahead of schedule. While the news was an endorsement of the work, it was not met with much enthusiasm by the staff.

Feb. 6, 1965
This means we are to have three new channels next year, and the entire high school program is to be converted to television programming. None of the high school teachers will have their contracts renewed since they want the system turned over to Samoan teachers gradually. 

This creates many new problems for us at the studio. After this July, we’ll have about six additional staff members coming in with no extra physical facilities. We don’t have enough office space as it is so no one knows where the new people will work. Also, we’ll have only four studios in which to tape programs so the rumor is that we’ll have to go on shift work, perhaps taping around the clock. It’s physically impossible to do this with our present facilities so it’s going to be touch and go for the next year or so. Continue reading