Posts tagged ‘American Samoa’

February 2, 2016

Post 82 — The Pow-pow-powerful Winds of Change

pao pao

The actual pao pao being expertly steered by Mark Hastings, who was a much better sailor than Carolyn was. (Photo by George Hastings, actual pao pao owner)

Carolyn sat in the canoe and surveyed the awesomeness that was all around her. Pago Pago Bay was a mirror that gorgeous afternoon, and the reflection of the mountains that enfolded the harbor made it feel like she was skiing across the tops of the peaks. As a teenager, most of her waking thoughts were of herself, but at this moment even she could appreciate the beauty of the scenery.

The boat ride was an impromptu thrill, prompted by a party at her house and a neighbor’s conveniently located canoe. Her parents and their guests had started singing show tunes, and there was no way anyone was looking for her until they had finished with the entire Richard Rodgers songbook. She was safe until they hit “Younger Than Springtime”.

Her neighbor was fine with her borrowing the canoe, or so she assumed. He had loaned it to the family before so she didn’t see why it would be a problem if she took it out now. The boat was a traditional Samoan outrigger, carved from the trunk of a breadfruit tree. The weight of the passengers was balanced by the extended arm that stretched out over the water. The body was narrow and just barely accommodated two people but the sleekness of the craft made it extremely aerodynamic. The Samoan word for the boat was paopao (pronounced pow pow) and Carolyn delighted in the way the boat shot forward through the water. She liked it when things sounded like their names.

Her friend Marilyn had joined her for the adventure and it took a few minutes to get their paddling in sync. Carolyn considered herself the captain since she was in the front (which was either the bow or the stern – she could never remember which was which), and she set the course straight out into the bay, as the ancient Polynesians must have done as they headed into the sunset without a clue as to where they were going. They skimmed past the docks and waved at the people walking along the decks of the ocean liner that was anchored there. High above their heads, the cable car began its slow ascent across the bay toward the peak of Mt. Alava, swaying gently as the wind picked up. The breeze also brought a pungent reminder that the tuna canneries on the other side of the island were operating at peak capacity.

Carolyn was lost in her thoughts as they glided across the aquamarine water. She realized that this could be the last time she would see the harbor from this perspective. School was almost over and they would be leaving the island for good in July. She blamed her older sister for this decision; her parents were worried that Kathy’s island education wouldn’t be academic enough to get her into college. If the girls had known that was going to be a problem, Carolyn thought, Kathy should have just flunked out and they could have stayed longer.

As the wind picked up, the water got choppier and the progress slowed. They were no longer gliding but paddling harder and harder to stay within swimming distance of the shore. Rounding the point of the island where the Intercontinental Hotel jutted out into the bay, the girls could see some boys splashing around on the beach who seemed a lot farther away than they should be. The little swells of sea water suddenly became swollen and the waves started breaking over the bow and/or stern. Both girls were soaked and Carolyn tasted salt on her lips.

She glanced back at Marilyn and realized that her usually unflappable friend suddenly looked flappable. The plan had been to paddle around the harbor close to the shore, not fight the wind as it carried them out to sea. Carolyn hadn’t given much thought to how deep the water might be but had assumed that the reef was right below them so if they capsized, they could still stand up. Now she realized that the color of the water was changing to a darker indigo color, and that meant the end of the reef was approaching. A rogue wave suddenly crashed over the boat and both girls were tipped sideways into the ocean.

The first thought in Carolyn’s head was to save the outrigger canoe. It had filled with water and was listing to one side. Drowning was preferable to sinking the boat and having to tell the story of this seemingly harmless adventure to her parents, who had certainly finished with Rodgers and Hammerstein by now. Maybe they had moved on to Lerner and Loewe.

She felt something sharp under her foot and realized with relief that that they were still on the reef. Balancing on her toes, she could just keep her head above water and hang onto the listing paopao. The poisonous coral was the least of her problems right now. Marilyn was hanging on to the other side but the two girls could not tip the outrigger over to bail out the water.

The ocean had always seemed like a benevolent friend, warm and welcoming in the shallows and filled with colorful sea life and shells. Carolyn had never been afraid of it before, but now she started remembering the two surfers who had drowned just a few weeks ago, and the couple who had disappeared one sunny afternoon after heading out in a canoe for some sightseeing. Hanging onto the paopao was exhausting and she didn’t know how much longer her arms would hold out.

She heard shouting behind her and turned to look back at the shore. The boys who had been splashing at the beach were now swimming toward them and yelling to hold on. They were able to dump enough water out of the canoe that it floated on the surface again and could be pushed toward the beach. The two girls swam slowly to the shore and staggered up on the rocky sand. The boys were teasing them about their boating skills but the girls were shaking too much to go along with the joking.

Later, after a dramatic period of resting on the beach, the girls gratefully accepted the boys’ offer to return the paopao. They walked back to Carolyn’s house and found the party was still going on. No one had noticed they were gone. Carolyn really wanted to share the fact that she had just narrowly cheated death, but it seemed like a better idea to keep her mouth shut. Besides, they were only halfway through the score of Funny Girl.

December 24, 2015

Post 81 —The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway . . .

The Broquet family in 1968

The Broquet family in 1968

Chrissie carefully peeled the paper back from the linoleum block she had carved and inspected the printed image. It was a palm tree with a Christmas ornament hanging from a frond and she had smeared the ink while removing it. Again. Sighing, she crumpled up the paper and tossed it on the pile. Earlier that morning, she had confidently told her mother that she could easily print out forty of the images to be used as Christmas cards. Four hours later, she had done six of them. She went to find her mother to tell her that the family would really appreciate a Christmas letter instead. It was so much more personal.

December 1968

Manuia Le Kirisimasi!

It seems unbelievable but we are in the midst of our fourth Christmas season here in the South Seas. This year is much, much different from that first lonely one when we missed the family, snow and a piney-smelling tree. Even Christmas shopping seemed appealing compared to the panic of the possibility that the Sear’s order wouldn’t be on the boat that came in just before December 25th.

Many changes have occurred since our first Christmas here, both in the island and in our family.

We now get three planes in a week instead of the single anxiously awaited jet that used to come in at the crack of dawn every Sunday. The Samoan boys seem to have adopted sports shirts and long pants instead of the wildly patterned lava lavas. A wrap-around skirt, which is essentially what a lava lava is, may sound peculiar for a male but these kids didn’t lose one ounce of masculinity, even though they were wrapped up in a pink and yellow print.  The puletasi, the native dress the women wear, is now mostly seen on the older women. It is a short dress with an ankle length lava lava  worn underneath. The younger girls still wear the tops but are most likely to have shorts on under it.

We have a new warehouse and enlarged dock area, a new modern hotel, three tennis courts, several parks being developed, regular and more varied food supplies and more tourists and strangers invading “our” island. While most of the cars were once the small Japanese models, bigger and heavier stateside cars are now being imported. Oddly enough, it is the Samoans who have the big cars and the palagis have the small ones. This makes for exciting driving conditions since there is only one road from one end of the island to the other.

The stores all have names on them now, no more wondering which wooden building is which. Shopping still has the nightmarish aspect of a poorly organized scavenger hunt. One shops according to what one sees, not what one wants! Many good friends have left and while it is painful for a while, we keep in touch and are pretty certain we’ll be running into them again somewhere.

Larry has had a busy and frantic year administering to the needs of the principals and their families that are situated in each of the twenty-four Consolidated schools scattered among the villages all over the island. In addition to the endless paperwork, he rides over mountains in a jeep to the remote schools and over the ocean in a motor launch for 75 miles to the even more remote ones. Good thing he is a good sailor because it is a bouncy crossing.

I am in my second year as Assistant Supervisor of Materials and Productions. I have one of the longest titles in the building! Our office handles, correlates, prints and distributes all of the materials that go out to the schools. One of my duties for a while was to drive a tremendous pick-up truck. I was very proud of my accomplishment and was all set to apply to the Teamsters Union.

The girls, whether it is the sun and rain or would have happened anyway, have sprouted and matured beautifully. Kathy is a sophisticated sixteen and a half, Carolyn is an independent fourteen and Chris is a happy twelve. The maturing process really worked on Chrissie. She is referred to as the “best developed girl in the seventh grade.” There must be some distinction there because she smiles modestly whenever it is mentioned. Karen, our baby, is a long-legged eight and a half. All the girls go barefoot most of the time, are doing well in school and are as happy as most adolescents can be, although they itch to see the big city and bright lights.

We are planning to attend midnight mass as we did the first year. We know most of the people now, and palm trees swaying, the lights shimmering on Pago harbor and Christmas lights from the fales scattered all over the side of the mountain no longer seems strange or exotic. We are all very happy and contented and our initial “daring” adventure has subsided into a pleasant way of life. I hope our friends and relatives have an equally happy Christmas and we are looking forward to seeing many of you next summer.

Jean, Larry and Girls

December 17, 2015

Post 80— LB, LBJ and KVZK (Part 2)

The motorcade heads toward the school dedication.

The motorcade heads toward the school dedication.

(The journal kept by the Presidential secretary continues:)

12:15 PM: Traditional presentation of Samoan gifts to the President and Mrs. Johnson.
[Margin note:] The weather seemed to get much warmer, and the President wiped his forehead several times. The President received: a roast pig, tapa cloths, miniature outrigger canoes and the supreme ula—one made from the red fruit-seeds of the pandanas tree. The single most prestigious gift to be given to President and Mrs. Johnson was a Samoan fine mat (took nearly two years to make).

The President then went several yards to the rear of the platform to a round grass hut with open sides. At one end of this native girls in native dress were kneeling and began singing as the President entered. At the other end, to which the President went, was a bar. The President paused here and had a drink of water.

12:21 PM: To motorcade. A truck of photographers led, then the President’s car, a red Impala convertible with the President and Governor Lee sitting on the rear seat. Mrs. Johnson followed the Secret Service cars in a light blue Mustang convertible with Mrs. Lee beside her.

12:23 PM: Motorcade moving. Along the way to the school there were people scattered on either side of the road way waving and saying “Talofa.” Small thatched huts could be seen, the obvious homes of some of the native population. Along the way the motorcade passed a band, groups of Boy Scouts, and other uniformed groups. (The police of American Samoa were dressed in red skirts with white shirts, red fez. ) The route was 1.3 miles to one of American Samoa’s new consolidated (ETV) schools for dedication by Mrs. Johnson. The new name of the school is Manulele Tausala Consolidated School, which translates roughly into “Lady Bird Consolidated School.”

The new Lady Bird Consolidated School.

The new Lady Bird Consolidated School.

12:32 PM: Out of the cars. The President and Mrs. Johnson paused to be photographed by a sign written in flowers growing in a special flower bed. The red floral arrangement spelled out the name of the school.

Mrs. Johnson cut the floral ribbon to officially dedicate Manulele Tausala Consolidated School. The children of the school, dressed in black skirts and white shirts were gathered on either side, forming a line for the official party to walk through.

The President and Mrs. Johnson then began a visit of the classrooms. They observed six channels of educational television broadcasting for grades one through 12. They went into one room of small children, greeted the teacher,  posed for pictures, and watched the children learning a language from the television teacher.

12:53 PM: The school children sang their school song— very melodic. Mrs. Johnson responding by thanking them again.

12:56 p: Motorcade departing. Once again people lined the route, waving, smiling, singing.

1:04 PM: Arrive at airport. The crowd sang the Samoan farewell song, “Tofa Mai Feleni” (“Goodbye My Friend”). The President and Mrs. Johnson were given more leis.

1:15 PM: Air Force One off. President to his bedroom to change from his clothes for he was so warm. He remarked how beautiful the island was.

Departed Pago Pago, American Samoa. Wheels up for Ohakea, New Zealand.

[Margin note:] The temperatures had been in the 90s in Pago Pago and the President and Mrs. J. were warm and uncomfortable. They went immediately to the bedroom which had been kept cool in their absence, changed into pajamas and got into bed for takeoff.

Back at the TV studio, enthusiasm was beginning to flag. The teachers had been in a state of readiness for hours, but there had been no sign of the President. The visit to KVZK had been planned for after the Lady Bird School dedication, but word got back that the President’s entourage was running late. No one dared eat lunch or leave the building for fear of missing the visit, and the teachers were hungry and cranky when word finally came in that Air Force One was not headed toward them but on its way to New Zealand.

The disappointment in the studio was palpable, and some teachers felt angry that they had skipped the dedication in order to stand by in the studio. Regardless of personal politics, a Presidential visit did not happen every day and many of them had been thrilled with the idea of giving him a tour. They had also been in the only air-conditioned building on the island all day and had no idea that the sweaty President just wanted to get back in his temperature-controlled airplane, put on his pajamas and brush his teeth to get the taste of kava out of his mouth.

Larry looked around at his tidy office and sighed. He had really wanted to meet the President. He got up and hung the toilet seat back on the wall.

(Photographs supplied by Farida Sweezey and Dave Gillmore)

For an important disclosure note, see The Word of the Day.

December 17, 2015

Post 79 — LB, LBJ, and KVZK (Part 1)

President Johnson in American Samoa.

President Johnson in American Samoa.

The whole island was sparkling with anticipation. Crews had been cleaning and planting for weeks, and even the rocks lining the flower beds had been given a fresh coat of paint. The marching band had finally finished plaiting their palm frond vests and had cleaned out their spit valves, an important note since the tubas rusted faster than the cars. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to Samoa since the hurricane.

KVZK was buzzing, with all four TV studios operating at the highest level. Six channels were on the air broadcasting school lessons and every single teacher was wearing shoes, even though they were only being shot from the waist up.

Larry paced nervously around his office, stopping for a moment to re-arrange the papers on his desk. He wanted to look busy but efficient, like someone who could handle teaching a variety of subjects and supervising a department in a culture that had been completely foreign to him just a few short years ago. It was important to the program that he look as professional as possible. He paused for a moment before the object hanging on the wall: it was a toilet seat that his coworkers had presented to him after he had finished the Health and Sanitation curriculum. It occurred to him that this was not exactly helping his image.

Seven miles away, the sun was blazing as the silver jet touched down at Pago Pago International Airport. The tropics usually settle comfortably in the low eighties with a cool breeze, but on this particular October 18, the temperature was hovering around 93 degrees. A tall, beefy man in a dark suit appeared in the open door at the top of the exit ramp, and the humidity smacked him in the face with no regard for his title or rank.

The band broke out with “Hail to the Chief” as the sweating leader of the free world became the first sitting president to set foot in American Samoa. Lyndon Baines Johnson was greeted heartily by Governor H. Rex Lee, and worked his way through a reception line of many chiefs and their wives. They shook hands with President and Mrs. Johnson, piling shell ulas around their necks until the weight nearly pulled Lady Bird over. LBJ’s face was turning red as streams of water poured down his temples, but somehow Lady Bird’s hair remained perfect.

Lady Bird is dressed appropriately for the heat, while her husband the President wears a wool suit.

Lady Bird is dressed appropriately for the heat, while her husband the President wears a wool suit.

(The following are excerpts from a journal kept by Presidential secretaries Walt W. Rostow and Marvin Watson – Special Assts. to the Pres.)

11:22 AM [time change]: Arrived Pago, Pago International Airport, American Samoa. 

[Margin note: The weather was warm and very sunny. Samoa gives the  impression of being an island paradise —rich verdant vegetation, browned, barefoot people, and the sound of the surf in the background.]

 [It was a very colorful scene— the band was attired in bright blue print shirts and white trousers with some kind of leaves over the shirts. The native chiefs and their wives had on brightly colored skirts and leis and many had grass shawl-like articles over their shoulders. A sign at the foot of the ramp on the fence read “Talofa! President L. B. Johnson” and had a picture of the president on it. Talofa means hello!]

11:40 AM: To the platform. There was a very warm welcome by the group gathered. Grass and straw were tossed in the air, drums beat, cheers and applause.

11:50 AM:  President and Mrs. Johnson standing as the President was presented a piece of wood by one of the Chiefs—it was unfinished wood (this was a single dried kava root— a high gift—resembling drift wood).

11:51 AM: Royal ‘Ava Ceremony, conducted by Talking Chief Pele. This was very colorful as the natives danced, chanted, and took cups of liquid to the dignitaries on the platform (the President, Mrs. Johnson, Governor and Mrs. Lee).

[Margin note: This ceremony is the supreme honor to be bestowed on a visitor. Samoan chiefs prepare the ‘ava drink from the pulverized root of the ‘ava tree. Juice is bitter in taste. (Ceremony has some parallel to ‘smoking the peace pipe.’)]

[During this it was very warm, and the President was noticeably hot, often wiping forehead with his handkerchief. He also seemed just a bit ill at ease—this was tribal ceremony, and one had the feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.]

11:56 AM: Governor Lee introduced the President.

12:00 AM: REMARKS* by the President. There were three applauses during the speech and a very warm reception afterwards in which the natives threw straw and grass in the air. 

“I am very proud that I could be here with you today.

I can assure you that the people of the United States share my pride in what American Samoa has done to prove that destiny is really what we make it.

This island—with a population of only 22,000—has become the symbol of what many large nations may achieve for their people. It has become a showplace for progress, and a proving ground of methods to improve the lives of our fellow human beings.

And, along the way, American Samoa has taken the term “self-help” out of the bureaucrats’ dictionary and made it a living language for their people.

You have recognized that education is the tidal force of our century, driving all else ahead of it.

I am told that the pilot program of education which you have started may point the way to learning breakthroughs throughout the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. Samoan children are learning twice as fast as they once did, and retaining what they learn. Surely from among them, one day, will come scientists and writers to give their talents to Samoa, to America, and to the world.

One requirement for good and universal education is an inexpensive and readily available means of teaching children . . .  Unhappily, the world has only a fraction of the teachers that it needs. Samoa has met this problem through educational television—which was pioneered here by your outstanding Governor, Rex Lee.

. . . It is truly a remarkable experiment. This technique—which you are helping now to improve—has the power to spread the light of knowledge like wildfire, to spread it all across the wide areas of our earth.

An American editor, who used to have nothing to say about what we were doing in Samoa, recently wrote, “Somewhere on earth there may be a more spectacular example of revolutionary change in an area and its people, but in years of roving the world’s far corners, I have not seen it.”

Go to Part 2

*Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: “Remarks Upon Arrival at Tafuna International Airport, Pago Pago, American Samoa.,” October 18, 1966. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. 

(all LBJ information comes from

August 28, 2015

Post 74 — Hondalulu

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during "The Samoan Fales" were always a big hit.

Motorcycles roaring down the aisle during “The Samoan Fales” were always a big hit.

Jean left the TV studio where she was now employed in the art department and headed toward the car. After three years on the island and copious amounts of salt spray and humidity, the gleaming white Datsun they had purchased their first month there was now barely intact. Large areas of rust spotted the exterior, and in some cases the actual metal had flaked away, leaving holes in the body. The most affected place was the front right quarter panel. On most days you could see right through to the wheel, but not today. Jean was delighted to see that someone had gathered a bouquet of wild ginger and hydrangea and carefully arranged them in the hole, as if the rusting hulk of a vehicle was a delicate vase. She smiled all the way home. She loved this place.

Our car has been rusting very badly but its motor is still good and we are not about to buy new one just to keep up with Larry’s new supervisory position. We have the most recognizable car on the island — fifty percent of the fenders are gone. One of the Samoan boys in my office puts bunches of flowers in the hole — it’s quite jazzy! The car is now being fixed and I have been taking the motorcycle to work. 

Hang on to your disapproval, we bought our own Honda! It is reputed to be the fastest bike on the island, however, this old lady isn’t about to drag race with anybody so I’ll never know for sure. We used the one we borrowed from George a lot and expect to use this one a great deal. Fortunately, the driving age here is eighteen or we would have an eager sixteen-year old breathing down our necks. 

I took Kathy for a ride on the new bike. She was a little apprehensive at first but my confidence won her over. The fact that I was relying on the glasses that make me seasick was the cause of her concern. My old ones cracked right up the nose piece, and these are better than going around blind. I am getting used to them and they don’t bother me too much. I am very conscious of the dark frames but they will do until the new ones arrive. 


Jean’s confidence in her driving skills had increased greatly since the first weeks on the island, when there had been an unfortunate incident that involved a suicidal pig and the front end of the new Datsun. She had sat in the car staring at the stunned pig in the road, unsure whether she should get out and try to administer first aid or drive away like a bat out of hell. She had gone with the latter and felt guilty about it for months. Now she had no qualms about riding the motorcycle through the villages armed with a big stick to bat away the packs of stray dogs who loved to chase Hondas. Life on the island had changed her perspective about many things.

We both realize we were a disappointment last year when we visited Detroit, but I guess the adjustment to coming home was just as great there as it was when we got here. We have both changed so much and we weren’t prepared to come back and have everything be exactly as we left it. I guess it was the fact that we had so little in common with the relatives and we all seemed a little strange. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, or maybe I just didn’t explain it well. You all had common experiences and ailments and shared happenings while we just had Samoa, which after the first five minutes of discussion seemed to pale as a fascinating subject. 

Since we won’t be visiting this summer, we all have plans. The girls and I are going to spend a week in Fiji – sort of a consolation prize for not going home. Larry is going to California for several weeks to Stanford with another batch of Samoans. He will be charge of the group this year. And just to show you that we really are all well and happy, we have a surprise – Larry will be able to spend a week in Detroit after CA as a representative of the family! 


August 10, 2015

Post 73 – So Long, Farewell

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

The view from the cable car platform. Carolyn was not invited to the party.

Staying for the fourth year was the right decision for Larry and Jean, but it was bittersweet. Many of their good friends had completed their contracts and would soon be leaving. The friendships that had formed on the island went deeper than any they had ever made before. Shared experiences in such a unique setting as well as the thrill of being pioneers in a bold new experiment had made for a bond that felt like it would last a lifetime. It wasn’t exactly Band of Brothers, but the past few years of getting the ETV program off the ground had been a little like jungle warfare. The only shooting going on was with a camera, but the conditions had been primitive at best. Not to mention the foot fungus.

There was a core group of six couples that had become close, and two of them were scheduled to leave within a few weeks. One of the ladies also had a birthday coming up and it was decided that a Going Away/Birthday party for the group of twelve would be a nice way to say goodbye. (For those of you who were there, the couples were Gene & Farida, Jay & Patty, Sally & Don, Bob & Tuffy, Larry & Jean and Bill & Jean D., who was also the birthday girl)

A circular concrete observation slab had been poured halfway up the mountain at the boarding point for the cable car. The tramway had been built to allow access to the TV antennae on top of Mt. Alava and the cable stretched nearly a mile across Pago Pago harbor. The journey was shaky and windy with magnificent views that made the rider realize just how small the island was when seen from that height. And also to hope that the end of the cable was tied in a really good knot.

On that night, the observation area held a round picnic table that had been set with white linens, good china, sterling flatware and silver candlesticks. The path up from the parking area was lined with plants and flowers, and the scent of pua blossoms followed them to the top and mixed with the bouquets that adorned the table. The couples started to arrive at sunset, as the blazing rays glinted off the tiny boats in the harbour and the light across the bay was filtered with a rosy glow.

Champagne glasses were filled and held in waiting as the birthday girl climbed up to the area and was astonished to find a formal dinner party breaking out on top of the mountain. Toasts were offered and Happy Birthday! was sung as the group of twelve sat down to a meal of beef stroganoff, asparagus with toasted almonds, seasoned rice and chocolate cake. Background music was provided by a small tape deck, and as dinner progressed, the sun sank below the horizon and a velvet darkness fell over the mountain. Pinpoints of light came on around the harbor and dotted the sides of the hills, but they were insignificant compared to the explosion of stars that filled the sky. Tiny lanterns had been strung around the perimeter to make sure no one fell off the platform, and no one even gave a thought to the fact that all the stuff that had been carried up there was going to have to be carried down.

“The men all wore long pants, shirts and ties and the women long dresses in beautiful prints. There were at least two million stars out and the air was warm with a slight breeze blowing. After a delicious meal, four bottles of wine and all that atmosphere, we were all in a very quiet and slightly unreal mood. So we danced for a little while and then sat around the table looking at the stars and talking about the past three years and all the things that had happened. It was Jeannie’s birthday party but it was actually the Tofa party for the group. There will be others, I suppose, but this was the one that meant the most.”


July 26, 2015

Post 71 — Highs and Lows

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry sat on the front steps of the house, waiting for dinner. Man, he was tired. He thought about going back in for his cigarettes but then decided against it. The last bill from the general store showed he had been buying far more Winstons than he thought, and he should probably think about cutting back.

A young Samoan boy walked past the house, paused, then waved and shouted “Hi, Larry.” He walked up and said he was from the village of Ili’ili and was just visiting in town. Larry had never quite gotten used to being recognized on the island but he had to admit it was flattering.

The boy was thrilled to meet one of his teachers in person and began a long complimentary monologue on how much the TV program had done for him. “I have learned more in the past two years than I ever have in school!” he declared. His English was very good and he gave credit to the Oral English programs that ran daily. He also said he thought the Hygiene program had been great for keeping the villages clean, although many of the kids found it hard to convince their elders to follow the guidelines.

“We realized we probably wouldn’t be able to reach the parents,” Larry explained, “but we hoped that the kids would pass it on down to their kids.”

The boy nodded and shook his hand, and then headed off toward the malai in town for a football game. Larry went in the house to find his cigarettes.

April 17, 1966 

“George Pittman is back . . . George is the language specialist from Australia who designed the English curriculum. About a week ago, I conducted a testing program with him to see how the Oral English program is fairing. Pat L. and I tested a group of kids from a TV school and George tested kids from village schools which haven’t started TV yet. The kids from the TV school were so far ahead in English speaking and comprehension that even George was amazed. He told me he felt this program would work, but he didn’t realize how quickly and how well it would take effect.

We haven’t gotten much done at the studio this week, even though the whole staff worked while school was out for spring vacation. Vernon Bronson is back after a year’s absence and he’s raising hell because he feels the project has been deviating from his master plan. We’ve been snowed under with meetings, discussions, and re-organization. Actually, the elementary section has been operating smoothly, but the high school program has been receiving a great deal of criticism about not meeting the needs of Samoan kids. The long break after the hurricane enabled us to get several weeks ahead in our taping schedule and Bronson is angry about this because he feels we should be doing programs one day and sending them out the next day so we can keep modifying as we go along. Unfortunately when you’re sending out about 175 programs per week, that cushion gives you a nice feeling of security. “


Jean wandered through the wards full of hospital beds, looking for her husband. Larry had been admitted yesterday after feeling light-headed at the TV studio. Weeks of worrying about the program and sleeping badly had finally caught up with him. He had gone to the doctor for a quick visit and had been checked in immediately, after being given an ultimatum: he could walk in on Friday or be carried in next week. His last experience at the hospital had been over a year ago when he had hurt his back and Jean had called for an ambulance; two men had arrived with a pick-up truck to take him into town. So walking in was definitely preferred.

The doctor believed that he had completely exhausted himself and simply needed to stop everything and rest. Vitamins, sleeping pills and no cameras in his face were prescribed, and the cure seemed to be working. Apart from the times when the nurses turned on all the lights during the night to make the roaches scatter from the pillows, he had been sleeping soundly and had even had time to read a bit. Tests had been completed and the results showed that he was in fine health, just very, very tired.

Jean finally found her husband’s bed in the large room and saw that he was napping. His color was better, although he was still pretty pale by comparison, being the only palagi in the ward. She found a chair and pulled it up next to the bed, waiting for him to wake up. The room was cool and quiet, with ceiling fans set at a drowsy speed. Her eyes slowly closed and as she drifted off, she wondered what she would have to do to get admitted, too. This was so much nicer than home.

July 18, 2015

Post 70 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 2)

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in "Harlequin", wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in “Harlequin”, wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie flicked the cigarette butt out of the treehouse and pumped her fist in triumph as it sailed across the yard and landed in the drainage ditch, sinking with a little sizzle. She pulled out another unfiltered Winston from the package and lit it with a sigh. It was easy enough to charge cigarettes to the family account at the store, but it had to be the brand her dad smoked to avoid calling attention to the scam. She wished he smoked Kools – those sounded so much better.

She thought about actually inhaling with this one, but changed her mind. She was mostly interested in how dramatic it looked to gesture with a lit cigarette in her hand; she would worry about the actual smoking part later.

Her sisters mocked her treehouse but it was nice to have somewhere to go to be alone. Their new house was huge but it always seemed to be filled with Kathy and Carolyn’s friends, and it was tough trying to keep up with that crowd. Here she could be alone with her thoughts and the two small trolls she had brought up to keep her company. She had passed her troll house and the extensive collection of accessories down to Karen, stating that she was bored with the silly dolls and would rather play with Barbies now. But for some reason the busty dolls didn’t make her as happy as the trolls had. Barbie always seemed a little too judgemental.

“Chris is having her group over during the day. There are seven sixth grade girls that are bosom buddies, and I use that word carefully about that blossoming group. There are also five brave seventh grade boys that aren’t afraid of them. The difference in numbers doesn’t seem to bother anyone . . . the whole group is slightly nutty and have fun together. I think they will have a weenie roast and an egg hunt, plus other activities Chrissie is supposed to organize. “


Her heart stopped, along with the bottle, right in front of Kevin, the boy she had been crushing on all year.

The activity she had organized had been put on hold until her mother went over to a neighbor’s for coffee, but now the group was deeply invested in a game of Spin the Bottle, which was way more fun than the egg hunt had been.

Kevin grabbed her hand and she followed him into the closet. The cramped, dark space was even hotter than the room, with a funky teenage boy smell that was only slightly masked by the overpowering aroma of English Leather, the scent of choice for all males under the age of 15 on the island. Her hands were sweating and she wiped them surreptitiously on the back of her shorts.

Chrissie’s thoughts were all over the place as she prepared for her first kiss. How exactly was this supposed to work? What position was the nose supposed to be in so it wouldn’t be in the way? Should she lick her lips first? She had just decided that when the party was over she would start a diary so she could record this memory but she wouldn’t begin with Dear Kitty because Anne Frank had already used that and look what happened to her when Kevin grabbed her and kissed her full on the mouth. She stood frozen for a moment, and then relaxed a little as their mouths shifted, trying to find a better fit. She started to feel a little tingly and was thinking that this might be okay when, out of nowhere, his tongue slipped into her mouth. She pulled back in horror, and frantically wiped the shared spit off her lips. No one had told her about this part! This was almost too disgusting to contemplate and she pushed past him and out of the closet and went to sit next to her friend Liz in the circle.
“What happened? Did he try to grab something?” she whispered?
“He stuck his tongue out!” Chrissie hissed, trying to look calm but wanting to wash her mouth out with orange Fanta.
“He’s supposed to do that!” crowed Liz, much louder than was necessary. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!”

Kevin sat down across from her looking embarrassed and the group seem to find the whole thing entertaining, with the boys smacking each other and the girls giggling nervously.

At that moment, Chrissie would have welcomed a tidal wave; a big wall of water that would wash through the room and carry away all of her friends and deposit them on the other side of the island where she would never have to see them again. French class was going to be hell on Monday.

July 13, 2015

Post 69 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 1)

Kathy poses for the camera.

Kathy poses for the camera.

“The girls are all fine, still fighting and being adolescent but I hope they will outgrow it. We have had an addition to the family TV watching; Ken D., Kathy’s boyfriend. He is fifteen and a nice boy. I guess once Kathy realized we would behave ourselves and not embarrass her, she started to invite him over here. Actually we are quite a nice couple. I wonder how long it will be before Kathy and Carolyn realize it. Carolyn wants so desperately to be “cool” but hasn’t quite managed it. She is coming along, but we are a big trial to her. “


The move into town seemed to cross the line of demarcation between the sweetness of childhood and the raging hormones of adolescence. Kathy and Carolyn had both become teenagers while the family lived in Tafuna, but they started acting like them once they were in the big city. Back in the states, rock n’ roll was everywhere and the music exploded across the ocean so quickly that even the smallest trickle down to Samoa gave a new soundtrack to the lives of the teenagers on the island. The Coconut Hit Parade was a local radio program that stayed fairly current with the rock n’roll sound back home, and the island kids combed the stores for that rare shipment of records that might show up and be shelved between the papayas and powdered milk.

Kathy had been sent into to town to pick up a few items for dinner, and as she slouched through the store, she happened to notice a milk crate filled with records in the corner of B. F. Kneubel’s, a store that sold just about anything that came in on a boat.  She casually flipped through the pile of albums, not because she was particularly interested in them but because the longer she stayed away, the higher the odds were that Carolyn would have to peel the potatoes.

Halway through the stack, she paused and gasped, and then looked around quickly to see if anyone was within grabbing distance. Sandwiched between Great Samoan Siva Songs and The Royal Tahitians Sing Minoi Minoi Minoi was a brand new copy of the Beach Boys Summer Days. Although the album was a year old in the states, finding it here felt like she had just been invited to a party at Capitol Records. She charged the prize to her family’s account and floated home, blissfully unconcerned that she would be babysitting for the next month to pay it off.

“Next weekend Kathy is having a party. These are very large noisy affairs, I am told. With a band and something like a hundred kids. The house will be able to take it; I hope I can!


“Friday night was the hottest night of the year. It was absolutely still and terribly humid. Unfortunately, that was the night Kathy had picked for her “little party”! She’s gone to quite a few teenage bashes since she joined the “in group” and has bugged us to let her give one. I’ve been using the convenient excuse, “well, if we had a bigger house . . .,” but now that we’ve got the much, much bigger house, we ran out of excuses. It wasn’t the idea of the party that bugged us so much as the extent of it. It seems like a teen brawl isn’t complete here without a rock and roll band and 100 or so screaming participants. So that’s what we ended up with. My God, the noise! These rock and roll groups all use amplifiers on their electric guitars and they have one setting —LOUD. The party group was made up of about 50-50 Samoan and palagi teen agers from the high schools. The noise was unbelievable even though the group was pretty well behaved. What got us was the sloppiness. We had several hundred cupcakes and about 30 gallons of Kool Aid, all of which was consumed, except the stuff that got on the floor or got ground into the mats. I don’t think any of these kids ever picked anything up in their lives. They spilled Kool Aid, dropped cupcakes, got gum on their shoes, and heel marks on the walls, since no teenager can stand on two feet. The only way they can stand is to perch on one leg like a flamingo and rub the other foot on the wall behind them. Kathy was thrilled with the turnout, and the crazy kids danced all night despite the heat. Jean and I played cards with another couple in the kitchen and we could feel the floor swaying with the fruggin’ and the jerking or whatever the hell they call what they do. Now that Kathy has fulfilled her social obligations, we can all rest easy for a awhile. “


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)

May 15, 2015

Post 62 — Downtown (Where All the Lights Are Bright)

The view from the front of the house. The dog was optional.

The view from the front of the house. The dog was optional.

Before the decision to NOT to move home had been made, the family had decided to move home. But this move was only 7 miles, from Tafuna into Fagatogo, not 7000 miles back to Detroit. It took almost as long.

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May 8, 2015

Post 61 — There’s No Place Like Home

Karen knows being the baby is best.

Karen knows being the baby is best.

As the months on the island passed and the Broquets came to view Samoa as home, the letters to the family back in Detroit changed. Originally three to four pages long, now they were barely two full pages (unless there was a hurricane, in which case – six pages, single spaced!). Somewhere after the first year, Larry and Jean made a remarkable discovery: carbon paper could cut their letter writing time in half. They were upfront about it to their parents, making sure that each set got one original page and one carbon, as if that somehow justified that they weren’t spending hours on each letter. Larry embraced the concept wholeheartedly, although fully one-third of his letters ended with “Oh hell! I just discovered I had the carbon in backwards again!” Since all the big expository subjects had already been described in the missives of the last eighteen months, the letters now described parties, the children, the weather, and what they had for dinner. And hints. Lots and lots of hints.

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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.

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