Thursday, September 28, 2006


Earthquake rocks Samoa. Okay, perhaps "rocks" is a bit too strong of a word, but we did feel it on our little island paradise. A 6.7 earthquake with the epicenter roughly 180 miles South Southwest struck around 7:20 pm local time on Wednesday. It was too far out to sea to warrant any tsunami warnings, but the island shook for a good 30 seconds. I was at home watching the HBO series "Rome" highly recommend it, but watch out for gratuitous nudity. Anyway, I was watching TV and my house started to shake. At first I thought it was a local Samoan in his pimped out SUV with the bass booming driving by my house, but I didn't hear the associated rap music. Jessi called me a couple of minutes later and we figured out it must have been an earthquake. Wow. No damage to the island, and no real threat, but another interesting adventure for me. Another thing off my list - feeling the earth shake.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Dew

I decided that I needed a haircut. At first I thought that I would just let it grow out like I did on Semester at Sea. I also did not want to "cheat" on Tammy, my stylist in Chicago (not sure if stylist is the right word, but barber doesn't sound right and the lady that cuts my hair doesn't convey the strong bond we have developed). However, I realized that long hair plus heat does not make an enjoyable environment. So, I decided to cut my hair, sorry Tammy. The next step was to find a place. My neighbors recommend Muumuu - not a large piece of cloth worn by our larger friends, but an actual person. I went to her place near work. She was extremely friendly, as was her Auntie, who just smiled and watched as I got my hair cut. If it was not Samoa, I would think it was a little creepy.
I sat down and tried to tell her what I wanted. She chuckled, stated that I must have gotten this hair cut off island, and grabbed her electric shears. I grabbed the sides of the chair and held my breath. I had a vision of her turning the blades on me a shaving all my hair off. yikes. She didn't. Thank goodness. She was very fast - her usage of a comb and electric shear is a sight to see. She did use scissors at one point, but I think it was for my benefit because she might have sensed that using electric shears the entire time is not my usual m.o.
When she was done cutting, Muumuu began to style my hair. This is were the real fun began. First, she got a huge pile of mouse in her hand and flopped it on my hair. I did not have much hair left, so she struggled a bit in getting it all in. However, it seemed that the first pile was not enough, so she created a another huge pile of mouse and somehow blended it into my hair. She gave me what she called "The Executive" which was the professional court look. Not too bad. I thought that I was done, but as a finishing touch, she sprayed a half can of hair spray into my hair. The total bill was only $10 - a reasonable price for Samoa. I did enjoy my time with Muumuu, and will most likely go back, but do miss Tammy.
By the way, the next morning after my haircut, I woke up and my hair had not moved - still had "The Executive" ready for another day. I think I have to wash my pillow now.

"The Executive"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Magic of Brunch

It rained all Saturday - no lie all day - okay, I think it stopped for two hours in the afternoon. The rain is not like the little drops we get back in the states - it is like someone dumping a bucket of water - for hours and hours. While fun to watch, but it limits island activities. We were suppose to go to palagi beach - named because it is a hike from the road and only palagis go to the beach - silly palagis - but the rain prevented us from going. It made me sad. I did go to over to my neighbors that night. (Fred and Niki Castro - no relation to the Cuban dictator or valiant protector of the Cubans from US oppression, depending on your point of view). Fred made pina coladas - very tasty. Other palagis showed up and we had a nice Saturday night. good times. They actually got up on Sunday at 5:30 am to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play football over at a friend's place - live kick off was at 6 am Samoa time. yikes. I declined the invitation.

Instead, I went to to brunch with my friends Sharon and Jonas at Deluxe Cafe - while Deluxe is no Luna in DC or Nookies in Chicago, it is not bad for Samoa. I ordered Apple Juice and I got this strange looking beverage that looked like Coke, with a cherry and ice in it. It tasted like Apple Juice, but with an extra something. We never figured out the extra kick, but we determined it was probably not that harmful. We spend close to three hours at Deluxe and I felt really refreshed after brunch - the magic of brunch. I came home and even cleaned the house. Cleaning is a bit of an uphill struggle because once a good wind comes along, it blows more junk into the house. oh well, at least I got brunch today. yum. And it finally stopped raining!

Friday, September 22, 2006

My Guard Dog

As I have mentioned before, American Samoa is blessed with numerous wild dogs. Some of these dogs have been "domesticated" in the sense someone put a collar on the dog and sometimes the dog is given scraps of food by the palagis in the neighborhood. They also do not look as sick as the others - not as many tumors or cuts.
Relatively good looking Samoan dogs.
My neighbors who are Samoan have a dog. It appears to be in decent shape. In addition to guarding my neighbors yard, it also patrols my home. Sadly, the dog tried to protect the house from me as well, barking at me and running towards me as I hustled into my house from my car. However, we finally bonded. I have started to run again - in my attempt to get back into marathon running shape - it is an uphill battle, perhaps I should be satisfied with two marathons under my belt. oh well. It is actually not too hot - sort of like DC summer running - but with a breeze. I normally wait until just before dusk. Okay, back to the main story. I mapped out a route that takes me around the bend of my road to the cul-du-sac. The cul-du-sac is guarded by some really mean dogs - like five of them. I did not know this before I entered the cul-du-sac and they started to come after me. Luckily, they are skiddish, and a quick lunge at them normally gets them to back off. I made it back to my house, and the neighbor's dog came out to greet me. He came over and sniffed me and determined that I was okay. I believe that I passed some sort of right of passage by facing the dogs on the other side. I later fed him some extra ham I had. Best Friends Forever.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Yard Work

I decided to do some yard work this past weekend, which for me, is a big deal. Living in a city for the past 12+ years has prevented me from doing such activity. To be honest, when I lived closer to nature, I was never a big fan of taking care of it - illustrated by how quickly the lawn care business inherited from my brother (when I was in junior high school) collapsed after he left. alas.
My motivation for outdoor activity was a large shrub next to my driveway - actually it was more like IN my driveway. I could not pull in or out without driving my car through it. I bought a pair of sheers. I am told most Samoans use a machete to trim the shrubs, but I thought that was a bit too butch for me. I enjoyed myself so much that I attempted to tackle the backyard as well. I was able to clear my a patio area out. At first I thought I had some large tropical plant in my back yard, but upon further review, I think it is just a really, really big weed that has turned into a plant. I am a little nervous that Little Shop of Horrors will replay in my back yard and this large weed will come after me. I think I will just stay indoors.
Before & After - the difference looks more impressive in person
The Backyard
I did not know I had a table and chair before...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Saturday's Beach

Went to another beach over the weekend. The beach is located in Pago Pago Harbor - the harbor is very large and almost divides the island in half - look at a map to get a sense of it. All along the main road, there are places to stop and go into the ocean. However, some places are cleaner then others - I would not suggest swimming near the port or the tuna canneries, yuck. The beach we went to is not that big, actually, during high tide the beach disappeared. I decided to go snorkeling again. Thankfully, because we are in the harbor area, no large currents (or an ava - as the Samoans say) existed, so no risk of being swept out to sea. We went out a good distance and saw a ton of fish - all different kinds. The highlight was seeing a sea turtle - totally outstanding. The guy was very large and was just walking on the bottom chilling out.
The Beach

The Water, duh.

Drive to Work

As I mentioned before, the drive from home to work is seven miles and can take between 15 and 40 minutes - depending on traffic, or based on the slowest driver on the road. One slow guy can tie of traffic for half the island. The roads are very curvy and we do not really have a spot to pass, even though some do, yikes. Here are some photos on the drive to work. The photos were taken by Sean - it is not wise to drive and snap photos at the same time. I should mention that the photos were taken from a moving vehicle and they turned out very nice - good job Sean.
My morning cup of coffee

Rainmaker Mountain
A big Mountain that causes a lot of rain on the West Side of the Island, where I live. Not sure why it does it, must be something scientific or something like that.
A ship - hopefully with supplies, or at least fresh fruit.

Good times.
A now for some random shots...
I think she is running for Congress, or something like that. It was hard to figure out in a moving vehicle, even going 20 mph.

Public Transport in Samoa - 50 cents a ride.
Worth every cent. I think the CTA buses are just one step above these....
Driving with a smashed windshield is not as bad as one thinks, but rights turns can be a little hairy - major blindspot - just have to look down a little. Rumor is that the windshield might arrive by next week, keep your fingers crossed.
The Harbor area - not as pretty as the other photos.

The Fono - The Samoan Legislative Branch.
Forgot to take a picture of the High Court, oops.

Monday, September 11, 2006

An Argentine Barbque

Saturday night, I went to the Argentine's house for a Barbecue. The "Argentines" refers to a large family that has lived on the island for a number of years. I am still trying to figure out the family tree. Great people. Regardless, it seems they won the indoor soccer championship (yeah, I guess we have indoor soccer in Samoa, who knew), received a very large trophy - like really big - and a bunch of beer. So why not have a party. They also have an amazing setup - built in barbecue, a great deck and even a dance floor, if one is so inclined.

A good time had by all - however, a word of caution - San Miguel Beer - while the pride of the Philippines - is not something you should drink in a large quantity (or even in moderate quantity) for it does not provide a smooth day after. However, it is necessary to drink many bottles, because for some reason San Miguel tastes better after a number of bottles. Hmmm.

Westward Ho

This past Saturday, Sean, Jessi (his wife) and Jayden (their kid) and I were planning on going to a "private beach" with newly made friends of Sean and Jessi. Most of the beaches are "private" in the sense that they are either part of a village or some one's front yard - and it normally requires one to ask permission before using it. Some beaches, like the one we wanted to go to are more restrictive. Anyway, when we got to the meeting point, we were told that too many people were going and we basically got bumped. ouch.
So, we decided to find our own beach, thank you very much. We drove to the Western part of the island. While the island is relatively small - something like 25 miles long - it still feels long because the roads are really windy and everyone goes 20 - 30 mph. We drove for about 45 minutes and found a nice stretch of beach. We found the closest house and rang the bell and asked permission to swim. It was granted. yeah. The beach was nice, but the water was a little shallow and soon low tide arrived. I wasn't too upset about the depth of the water after last weekend's adventure. The kiddie pool is fine with me.

A picture of our beach - a little cloudy due to the moisture on the camera - oops!

After awhile, we decided to keep driving west. We went through a number of neat villages, which felt very different from the big city of Pago Pago. We also went pretty far up on the island and then back down - I was glad I was not driving. Due to the geography of Tutuila, the main road (or any road for that matter) circles the island. At one point, the road simply ends in a village. We snapped some photos and head backed home.

The end of the road, or I guess the start of it...

The actual end of the road.

We stopped at another village and chatted with some locals. Everyone is soo friendly. Near home the Colletti's bought me ice cream. Chocolate Chip - it was great and only fifty cents. sweet.

Single in Samoa

After my recent birthday, I am now 31 years old - and single. Which I am fine with, but it appears to be a horrible circumstance in American Samoa. The other day Sean and I were talking to a number of kids (11-13 years old). They asked Sean's age (29) and told him that he could be married. Sean told them in fact he was married, and they were very happy. They asked me my age and then asked if I was married. I said no. I have not seen such a look of horror on little children in a long time - it was like I told them Santa was dead. At first I thought it was just the group of children, however, it happened again. An old lady (and her family) stopped by house to sell me some housewares (fine mats and such - the concept of the fine mat in Samoa is for another posting). I told her that I wasn't interested. She asked if I had a wife, I said no. She looked at me like I had some horrible disease, she smiled and quickly ran back to her family and their truck and drove away. True story, I swear. My Samoan co-works also asked me if I wanted to be fixed up with a nice Samoan girl on my second day at work. I politely declined.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The First Two Weeks

Today (Friday, September 8) marks the end of my second week in American Samoa. What a crazy two weeks. I am adjusting each day and accepting the Samoan way of life. Everyone is really friendly and I try to laugh at the unique aspects of life in American Samoa.

For example, I am adjusting to the wild dogs. We have a bunch of random dogs all over the island. For the most part they leave you alone. I walked to the store one day and had about seven dogs follow me to the store and then back home. When I got back home, they just camped out on my front lawn. I now have a guard dog that walks around my property. He is useful, but he also barks at me, so I think he is more worried about the house then me. oh well.

Overall, I am enjoying the experience, but today was a tough one. I finally got DSL at home - sweet. However, my laptop still runs on Windows ME - yeah, old. So, the my friends at BlueSky (the Internet provider) could not hook up my computer. If a computer could laugh, it would have laughed at me today when I attempted to hook it up to a DSL line. My co-clerk saved the day - he brought Windows XP and I was able to upgrade and get the Internet working. yeah.

While I thought the DSL hook up was my crisis for the day - the powers that be had other ideas for me. In the afternoon, one of the court assistants called us and told us that something happened to my car. My car that I just got two weeks ago. It appear that some kid decided it would be fun to try to get mangoes out of the tree by using a rock. It seems his aim is not that good and instead of hitting the tree - he hit the front windshield of my car.


Fortunately, a number of kids stayed around and told us who did it. I called the cops. They took a "report" - I use quotes because calling it a report insults real reports (that line is for my trial team) - anyway, he took my name, and information. I told him that I had the name of the kid who did it and the name of his parents and the village where he lives. The cop was non-pulsed. He asked me if I wanted to press charges. I said yes, he seemed annoyed. He quickly left and told me that I could get the police report in about two weeks for the insurance company. However, I have learned that using the name of the Chief Justice (my boss) can be very helpful in working with the Samoan bureaucracy. Our office manger told the officer that I worked for the Chief Justice. The officer finally showed some emotion - he told me that the report would be ready by Wednesday.

I next called my insurance company. I decided to get full insurance and I am glad that I did! At first the insurance company seemed unfazed by my situation. They told me that I could not get it fixed until the police report came back and I got an estimate from a number of auto places. My voice went up an octave. They told me to come over to the office (which was across the street). Which I did. I tried to keep it in check - counting to 10 and breathing helped. Anyway, I filled out the forms and my claims agent looked at the car. He informed me the car was drivable - regardless of the smashed windshield and pieces of glass. By this time I was calming down and realized that I was in Samoa and just had to roll with the punches. The next punch was that of course my windshield glass was not kept on island and it might take about three weeks to get to me. good times. Looks like I will be driving with a shattered windshield for awhile. I drove home and even with the potholes, the windshield didn't move or shatter further. Sean and I taped it up with some packing tape - McGyver style. I guess it is good thing that we only drive 20 mph. No worries mother - I will be safe.

My insurance should cover all the damage - minus the $250 deductible. However, I am going to call the parents next week and see if I can get that covered. Perhaps a trip to small claims court....I'll keep you posted

Never dull in American Samoa - I really hope my stay in Samoa is not as action packed as the first two weeks. yikes.

My Car

Even though you live on an island - it is necessary to have a car. I was luckily enough to buy one from the former law clerk before I arrived on island - it saved me a lot of headaches. Now, I am the proud owner of a 2001 Nissan Altima. Sweet ride. This is my first car in three years and my first automatic transmission. I still want to use the break as a clutch, oops. Getting around Samoa is relatively easy, but relatively slow. We have one main road. Actually, I have discovered that American Samoa does not have street names. I guess it helps that we don't have too many roads. For example, my house is in Tafuna village, by Lion's Park up the road from the tennis courts. I hear that search warrants for people's homes can be very long when describing the house.

Did I mention that the speed limit is 20 mph. I did not think cars could go that slow, but they do. I still have not gotten the car to 40 mph. I am looking for an open stretch of road, but I don't think I am going to find it. Two major reasons exist for the slow speed - one is the curvy road - and the other are the potholes that could swallow small children. It is a bumpy ride. However, a large part of the main road into town (Pago Pago) has been newly paved, and it is smooth. The slow speed does create helpful drivers - many people stop on the main road and let you turn onto it - now that is amazing.
It is exactly seven miles from home to work and it takes about 25 minutes, depending on traffic. Sean (my co-clerk) and I commute together and the ride is breathtaking - it always gets me going in the morning.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Trip to Ofu, Part IV - Final Thoughts

Besides nearly drowning (see last post) I had a great time on Ofu. I plan on going back. If anyone visits, I will try to take you to Ofu. Enjoy these photos.

Taking off from Ofu. The Island of Ta'u in the distance
More of Ofu and the bridge between the Ofu and Olosega Islands
A nice beach next to the bridge - very clear water

Tutuila Island -

The main island of American Samoa and my home

Trip of Ofu, Part III - Strong Currents

The first day on Ofu, we went to the beach. It is basically your own private beach - the 12 of us were the only people on the beach - for a far as you could see, which was like two miles. Can not get that at the Jersey Shore. Coral reefs are right off the beach, so it is also great snorkeling. As I said, Ofu is wonderful, but for about 40 minutes it was horrible. As I was snorkeling with my new friends Fred and Niki, we noticed that the coral reef dropped off - the next thing I know, I was being pulled out to the ocean. yikes. I did not freak out until I attempted to swim as hard as I could and just kept moving further out to sea. I also got caught in the area where the waves break - and got trashed around a couple of times - now I know what it is like to be in a washing machine. For a good minute I thought it was over for me. Did I mention it was my birthday, nice present to myself. Luckily, I was able to swim to the side and get out of the current. By the time I made it back to the beach, I was exhausted and my legs were cut up due the coral. Two other people also got caught into the strong current and faced a similar situation. It was a stressful time for everyone. Fortunately, everyone made it back in one piece. While I do not recommend a near drowning experience, it is an amazing way to bond 12 people in a short amount of time.

The beach at Ofu and where I got caught in the waves.
I plan on snorkelling again, but I think I will stay closer to shore.

Trip to Ofu, Part II - The Plane, The Plane

Getting to Ofu is not that easy. In theory Inter Island Airways have flights every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday - but they only have two planes, and they tend to need repairing on a regular basis - also the weather is a factor. For example, we almost got stuck on Ofu on Monday because the airlines said that they were not running the planes to Ofu either because of the electrical issues or weather - they couldn't figure out which one. We had to make some phone calls and put pressure on the airline to fly us home. We took the small plane to Ofu and the "larger" plane back - the larger one holds about 18. I thought the aircraft was small, but that was nothing once we saw the runway. Yikes - what a flight.

The small plane to Ofu - outside and inside.
The Ofu Airport - security was not that tight. But we did have to get weighed in.

The airstrip of Ofu - you can see it over the pilots shoulder.
Basically a strip of land between the water.

Trip To Ofu, Part I

Over the labor day weekend, a group of palagi (samoan for off-islanders) went to the island of Ofu. Ofu is another island in the Samoan island chain - part of the Manu'a Islands. The Manu'a Islands - Ofu, Olosega and Ta'u are about 60 miles from Tutuila (the main American Samoan island where I live). Ofu has about 200 people (at the most). We stayed at the Vaoto Lodge - basically the only place to stay on the island. It is run by Marge and Tito. Tito is Samoan and Marge married Tito during WWII - they moved to Samoa roughly 30 years ago - check out the website - - I strongly recommend a visit - I am already figuring out when I can go back to Ofu. I'll posted more details about the trip.
The photo above shows Ofu and Olosega islands - Ofu is on the left. The islands are connected by a bridge. Below is the group of 12 and Marge on the left; sunset at Ofu and our private beach for the weekend.

Friday, September 01, 2006

My Home

Some pictures of my new home. It is sort of like living in a screened in porch - you feel one with nature and sometimes nature joins you inside. Very spacious and even have an extra bedroom - so everyone is welcome to visit.