It wasn’t part of the plan, but a need for boat parts led us to American Samoa, a mere 250 mile detour. In Pago Pago, we could receive mail via the United States Postal Service at a reasonable cost and quick delivery time. I was looking forward to learning more about American Samoa, and for the first time in months, I spoke the language and could ask all my dumb questions.
What I discovered was that the United States took a lot from American Samoa upon arrival, which was no surprise. The U.S. established a naval station and heavily fished and processed in these waters without much care of environmental impact. More recently the give and take seem more mutual, however. Most people we spoke with had lived in the United States at some point in their lives. It seems that greater prospects for education, professional sports, and military service were the main reasons. One man told us he moved to Texas and became a police officer to give his family a better life. After only a few years, he returned because he wanted his children to speak Samoan, to grow up with their extended family, and understand Samoan customs and culture.
The United States contributes to American Samoa by providing standard government services, including education and medical assistance. A local nurse told me that most people that went to the hospital are on Medicaid. And the United States also contributes by providing things like McDonald's and the concept of fast food, which isn’t the best thing for a society that already has a tendency towards obesity.
Everywhere we looked we saw food served in plastic and styrofoam containers and we saw people drop trash out of their car windows onto the beautiful landscape. There was trash everywhere and no sign of recycling. The water looked polluted as well and is due to the numerous cargo ships, fishing vessels, canneries, and a tsunami in 2009. Apparently, there were once 3 tuna canneries, but only Starkist remains and seems to be a major employer on the island.
Despite all the pollution, I saw moorish idol fish swimming, frigate birds fishing, swiftlets soaring, and flying foxes suspended in the trees. Mother Nature is a powerful force and is still winning the battle.
Life in American Samoa seems a bit more American than Samoan. Customized buses transport people around the island, shipments of American food arrive daily, locals are talking and texting on cell phones constantly, and large Toyota and Ford trucks are the norm.
God is a big part of life here. There are numerous churches throughout the island and most everything shuts down on Sundays. Due to their religious background, people dress conservatively. Despite the heat and humidity, women cover their shoulders and knees. Often women and men wear long skirts. For men, the skirt is called a lava-lava and even businessmen wear them. The people of America Samoa are welcoming, kind, and friendly and crime seems very low.
To be honest, our opinion of American Samoa stems from time spent in the main town and the harbor. We weren’t able to spend much time in rural communities. We did spend one day in American Samoa National Park and it was beautiful. I am happy to have had the experience but possibly more happy to have picked-up the boat parts.