Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami in Samoa

When I was nine our family moved to the island of American Samoa, a US Territory in the South Pacific. It is located roughly midway between Hawaii and Australia, and for a child was a little taste of exotic heaven. I'm sure it was an adventure for the parents as well.

This morning I saw a headline that read Tsunami Hits Samoa. As I read through the article and looked at the pictures, many memories came to mind of our two year stint there. My father taught school at Mapusaga High School, which was owned by the LDS Church. The campus now is a Community College. My recollections are those of a child - rather vague and disjointed, but the photos of devastation in and around the capitol city of Pago Pago (pronounced Pong-o Pong-o) triggered some reminders.

I remember a rare trip to Pago Plaza to buy shorts. Most of my clothes were hand made and store-bought clothing was a Big Deal. Now in my limited and narrow version of life, red clothing did not exist, and this particular pair of shorts was the color of tomato-soup which was definitely missing from my narrowly defined view of cool, but the shorts must have been either a good deal or a good fit on an island where everything is imported, so Mom bought them and I dutifully wore them.

I remember going to the lone movie house near the harbor and seeing Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dance in a film version of Swan Lake. I was totally enthralled, he was amazing and she was enchanting. Like many young girls, I wanted to be a ballerina after seeing that.

I learned how to swim on the beach adjacent to Pago Pago harbor. I couldn't open my eyes in the salt water and still don't open my eyes even in pools. Another outcome, I swim with my head up because the long hair of my youth draped across my nose and mouth with the turn of my head with each freestyle stroke and I always felt like I would drown under the mass of hair and salty brine. My preferred swim method is the backstroke because my hair was floating below me, the sky was open above me and I was floating in paradise.

Adventurous Samoan teens would dive for coins at one end of the tourist laden cruise ships, while sharks would circle at the other end of the vessel. The story is told of our friend Surran who was swimming along the coast and started into an underwater pipe only to find himself face to face with a hammerhead shark. He carefully started backpaddling to escape the deadend option!

Outside our front door was a banana tree from which we would harvest banana bunches. Another neighbor on campus had a huge mango tree. We enjoyed the fresh fruit, although I prefer the less ripe green mango, probably because it was fresher than the bruised orange-red fruit which had fallen to the ground. Coconut trees were plenteous and talented teens could show off their monkey-climbing skills to pluck the nut. Husking the outer layers to get to the inner core and then nailing the eye to drink of the pure coconut juice was a treat. Then scraping the meat out, although time consuming, was the island version of a Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn existence. We were living the good life!

Our neighbors the Smiths, ordered oranges which had to be imported. At first they were very stingy about sharing, it was such a special treat and they had many children to feed and they rationed them out accordingly. After a few weeks however, they started going bad. It was then that they started sharing like crazy! To this day I have a discerning taste for oranges because of the bitter fruit experienced in Samoa.

We experienced many humbling Job-like events. There were many tropical storms that punished the island with wind, rain and water. One devastating storm created rivers of water that cascaded through upper campus and submerged the school and lower campus in a lake. During this frightening deluge, young Kenneth disappeared. It was feared that he may have been swept down in the torrents of water. After frantic searches and unanswered shouts, Mom retired to her bedroom to kneel in fervent and humble prayer for the safety of her youngest. As she began to pour out her heart to the Lord, up popped the nine year old from a pile of blankets! Seems he had warn himself out sliding down the hill into the newly formed lake and had come in to rest and warm up. Prayers of thanks were quickly offered along with hugs of relief.

Our duplex also experienced a middle of the night fire. The Smith family employed a Samoan housekeeper to help while both parents taught school. The woman had stacked the freshly laundered towels in the linen closet too close to the light bulb used to keep mold at bay. During the course of day and night the fabric began to smolder than ignited. From a dead sleep we were startled awake and ordered to grab what mattered most to us before fleeing for safety. My mom grabbed all of her family history/genealogy records, all pre-computer era and irreplaceable. I grabbed my glasses (so I could see) and four dolls - Nikki Sue (a recent Christmas present), Bugs Bunny (because you gotta save the silly rabbit) and Raggedy Ann and Andy (handmade for me by my Grandma Hughes.) The other family lost everything in the fire but were devasted most because of the loss of pictures of a child who had previously died. As their extended family around the world heard of their plight, photos of the lost child were recovered from other picture albums, her visual memory would be preserved. Although we still had all our belongings they were heavily smoke and water damaged. We ended up moving to lower campus into the old mission home which was a memorable shift. The new home was filled with cockroaches and other creepy crawlies. When you crossed the room at night you would crunch across the floor, then when you turned on the lights all the bugs ran for cover. It was the beginning of the end of our family's stay in paradise.

Another adventure for the little branch was the decision to travel to a neighboring island to attend the temple. For many local members of the church it would be a first time experience. For us, it would provide the opportunity to be sealed as a family. To raise the necessary funds, taro fields were planted. Through the labors of the saints the resources would be used to fund the exodus to New Zealand. I had acquired a cool new toy, an ankle jump rope, which rubbed a raw spot on the skin. While working in the marshy fields the raw spot became infected and boils spread. I endured primitive treatments for the 100+ painful lessions that covered my legs and bottom- lancing, purple iodine dyes and trips to an ill-equipped hospital. During this healing time my service shifted from the taro fields to babysitting duty since each person was required to give hours each week. Bob started experiencing gout, a painful disease, which led to a trip to the mainland to seek medical attention. Weeks later we returned to California. The taro fields were a learning experience for the Samoan saints. Very few made it to New Zealand during that initial experience, but the islander's faith brought about the eventual building of a temple in Apia Samoa. It took many years but our family eventually made it to the Los Angeles Temple to be sealed together as a family.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

30th Anniversary Trip

On September 11th, Eric & I celebrated our 30th Anniversary by flying off to New Hampshire to spend a delightful ten days with Ben & Caitlin. After flying all night with a layover in New Jersey we finally arrived in Manchester where Eric was surprised to know that prayers can be answered when he received a snazzy rental car instead of a clunker.
We headed north for the two hour drive through the Franconia notch. We had no idea what that meant but as we continued to tweak the GPS and read various maps we were greeted with scenic vistas and overwhelming beauty.

We were appreciative of the lovely Jackson Inn accommodations arranged for us and were even more thankful when we checked out and found that Ben & Caitlin had paid for the two night stay! We loved wandering through the mansion and seeing all of the cool rooms. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

On Sunday we explored the area around North Conway including Diana's Baths, Cathedral Ledge and Echo Lake. We stopped at a produce stand and enjoyed delicious apple juice and fresh veggies for dinner that night.

On Monday we hopped in the Charger and drove to Woolwich, Maine to meet Caitlin's parents, Brian & Elise. We had a wonderful lunch, a fun game of bocce ball and enjoyed the Grand Tour of the home they built themselves on 10+ acres of wooded terrain. It was fun seeing Caitlin's roots.

Then it was back in the car and on to Belfast Maine. In the morning we continued our journey and stopped at Fort Knox and Penobscot Narrows. What a visual feast!

We continued on to charming Bar Harbor. We enjoyed dipping our fingers in the Atlantic (brrr!) There was a cruise ship which was unusual and had the locals in town heading to the harbor to check it out. We drove back across the bridge to Ellsworth where we stayed one night and enjoyed a lobster dinner at Jasper's.

Our second night we stayed in the Sea Breeze Inn on the coast of Mount Desert Island.

We enjoyed the hike through Acadia National Park with scenic views the first day and the journey around the south end of the island to Bass Harbor the second day. The fall leaves were beginning to turn and the drive was an immersion in the history and color of New England. Picturesque spired churchs in every town, water-front property on rivers, lakes and the ocean and trees as far as the eye could see.

We returned to the White Mountains area and enjoyed three days and nights in the cozy little cabin in the middle of the Jackson woods that belonged to Caitlin's grandparents. The amount of work required to keep and maintain a home is compounded when it's on an acre+ of trees.

I love watching the lumberjack videos as they split logs from their own property for winter warmth.

Everywhere we looked there were Kodak moments. This barn is on the road leading up to their cabin and the waterfall is in Jackson.

On our last day in Jackson we took a hike to Tuckerman Ravine, a ski resort in the White Mountains. It was about five miles round trip and was basically like doing the stairmaster for four hours! My calves felt it for several days afterwards, but the view was worth the effort. We returned to the little house in the middle of the woods for a final farewell and bid adieu to Ben, Caitlin, Virgil and Ryder.

We spent our final day in Concord. We went to the Capitol and wandered through the building. We saw a group of people gathering and stopped to ask what was going on. The woman we talked to was the governor's assistant and he was coming to give awards to volunteers who work with sick children. We checked out the historic district and then headed off to lunch at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester which was tasty and great for originality.

We were too early for the airport so we stopped at a park and watched a boy and his dad fish and read for a while. When we got to the airport we found they had changed the time of our plane. It was now leaving thirty minutes earlier than we had planned. Fortunately we were in time! What's with United and their last minute changes? We flew through Chicago O'Hare (enjoyed the self wrapping toilets, thanks Noelle!) and got home at 10pm where Aunt Karen picked us up at the curb. What a Grand Adventure!