Monthly Archives: August 2010

An Unwelcome Guest

This morning I awoke to the sound of Mary shouting in the bathroom. This little guy was in the shower with her:

Scolopendra subspinipes– the red-legged centipede. I had heard about them but this was my first encounter.  Here are a couple of bite stories from a website for people who keep these things as pets:

At first, it felt like just a bee sting. I looked at the finger and saw 2 punctures, and very little blood was coming out of the holes. I quickly washed my hands with warm water, and sat down. After 15 minutes, the finger started swelling considerably, and turned red. This is when the pain really started, and I decided I must go to the hospital. By the time I had gotten to the ER, an hour had passed, and the pain was really bad. It literally felt like my hand was on fire. I registered, and sat down in the waiting room. At about 4:30 PM, an hour and a half after the bite, the pain had really increased, and my hand, wrist and forearm had swelled up. At 5:00, i was still waiting in the waiting room, and the worst thing happened. I had been feeling fine, other then my arm being on fire, when all of the sudden I felt nauseous and very dizzy. I began sweating profusely, and my ears were ringing and my eyesight went black. My face lost all color, my lips were gray, and my eyes began rolling back into my head. I nearly passed out, the only thing that kept me from passing out was an ice pack that a nurse put on the back of my neck. They laid me on a bed, and I began to feel better. To treat the swelling and pain, I was given benadryl through an IV, and I was given 2 percocet pills. After tests and calls to poison control, I was released from the hospital after being there for 4 hours.”

“At 58yrs of age I thought I had experienced pain. WRONG! I have never experienced such pain. This was at 9pm, at 9:30 I was in the emergency room! At 11:00pm I was give an shot of morphine, which did next to nothing for the pain. I was given a shot for tetanus, a prescription for antibiotics and percocet. I was to take 2 percocet every 4 hours as needed. Two hours later I had taken all 4 of the percocet they had given me until I could get the prescription filled the next day. There was no relief until about 5:30am on Aug 5th. The pain begin to subside and by 7:30 was gone. On the 6th there was still quit a bit of swelling but no pain. I did however get a reaction to the antibiotics which was exciting.

It was obvious that a rolled up newspaper wasn’t the proper weapon for this battle.  I picked it up with a barbecue tongs, laid it against the bathroom floor, and beat it with a channel lock pliers.  I had to hit it several times all along its body before it stopped moving.

Here it is after I got done with it.  To give you an idea of its size, I posed it next to a dollar bill (which I stole from the centipede).


A dollar bill is six inches long.  According to the internet, these centipedes can grow to over eight inches and live for ten years.  They’re fascinating creatures- and they eat bugs, which is nice.  It’s a shame that I had to kill it, but things with that much poison in them don’t get to live in my house.  Sorry, PETA!


‘Aunu’u Island

Today Alexander and I dropped the ladies off at the courthouse and took the ferry to ‘Aunu’u.

(A quick Language Lesson:  When a Samoan word has an apostrophe in it, it signifies a Glottal Stop.  This is a fancy term for the quick closed-throat sound you make in the middle of the word “uh-oh.”  Samoan has a lot of these.)

‘Aunu’u is about a mile off the eastern tip of Tutuila (the big island we live on) and about a mile in diameter.  There is one village and a few people who live back in the rain forest.  It’s much cleaner, quieter, and less crowded than the densely-populated part of Tutuila where we spend most of our time.  We walked along the shore around the southern half of the island and then cut back across the middle.

The ‘Aunu’u “harbor” and the “fleet” of ferries, with Tutuila in the background:

Some kind of crazy tropical tree:

A Taro plantation with irrigation ditches.  The ditches were full of black fish with orange fins.

These old tanks are used as bells all over Samoa:

Some of them are used as school or church bells, but the main use is for Sa.  At about 5:45pm every day, a group of men called Amunga ring the bells.  This is the signal to get ready for Sa, which is  15 minutes of quiet prayer and meditation starting at 6pm.  The Amunga ring the bells again at 6 and then stand on the street looking menacing.  Driving is allowed on the main road if you are passing through a village (as long as you aren’t playing loud music), but if you stop, drive on side streets, or walk outside during Sa, the Amunga will ask you to sit down or go into a house to observe Sa.  In our village there are no Amunga and Sa isn’t enforced (maybe because there are a lot of off-islanders in Tafuna), but things get noticeably quieter, and in smaller villages it’s a pretty big deal.  Someone told me that the Amunga are a good example of the Samoan way:  “Respect our beautiful, peaceful traditions or we’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Anyway, we weren’t on ‘Aunu’u during Sa, I just thought my nice picture of a bell was a good time to mention it.  I doubt I’ll be taking any pictures of the Amunga.

A typical Samoan church:

I can never tell what denomination they are (except the Catholic churches which have a lot of statues of the Virgin Mary).  They all have this style of architecture, though.

After returning to Tutuila we stopped at the wreck of an old Korean fishing ship:

That’s ‘Aunu’u in the background.

Larson’s Cove, Tisa’s again

More tropical paradise stuff.  Maybe I should be saving some of this for winter for you guys.

Saturday we went to Larson’s Cove on the southwest corner of the island.  Like everything else here, it’s three miles from our house as the crow flies, but to get there takes a half hour of driving on crowded streets, a half hour of driving on off-road trails (which I did in a ’96 Mercury Villager minivan), and an hour of hiking on muddy paths through the rainforest and a banana plantation.  It’s worth it- it would be worth it even if it was twice as hard to get to.

Larson’s Cove is an inlet about three acres in size surrounded by steep cliffs.  The sand is perfect, the water is calm, and the reef is beautiful.

Some of us hiked about a mile west to the next inlet.  Not great for swimming or snorkeling but the cliffs and rock formations were incredible.

When we got back, I went swimming and met some Samoan teenagers who were jumping off of some rocks into the deeper water near the reef break.  I decided to give it a try.

The jump was fun, but I only did it once because the climb up the cliff was pretty rough on my soft Midwestern feet.

Sunday we went to Tisa’s.  I took more pictures this time.

The best meal on the island- fresh swordfish steak and banana fries:

Long post with lots of pictures

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post.  The slow internet here really tries my patience.  I should pretend it’s 1997 and my 28k dialup is blazing fast.

What have we been up to?  We got really sick.  There was so much “fluid” coming out of us that we were getting lightheaded from dehydration.  The four-mile drive to the hospital at 4 in the morning felt like the longest trip I’ve ever taken.  Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center looks a little run-down from the outside (and the chickens in the parking lot didn’t inspire a lot of confidence) but inside the facilities were clean and modern and the staff were as competent as any on the mainland.  They gave us some IV fluids and antibiotics, and told us that we had a bacterial infection due to contaminated water.  We had been boiling our tap water and then running it through a Brita filter, but it’s strictly bottled water from now on.  Most of the little corner stores here have vending machines where you can fill up jugs with what is supposed to be clean, safe water, but I can’t help but wonder if some of them are just hooked up to a garden hose.  Anyway, after 24 hours of Mary and I taking turns waiting impatiently outside the bathroom door, we’re feeling fine.

Last week we welcomed Mary’s co-clerk Genoveva, her husband Alexander, and their 9-year-old daughter Genrietta.  They’re very nice and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them and sharing the experience of being new here.  Like me, Alexander doesn’t know what he’s going to do on the island other than explore and get to know the culture.  He’s from Russia and has a bit of a hard time with English, but he seems very adventurous.

Alexander and I hiked on the north side of the island on Tuesday and I got some nice pictures.

Pola Island seen from the east across Vatia Bay, on the Sauma Ridge hiking trail:

From the same trail, facing east towards Craggy Point and Vainu’u Point:

We later hiked along the rocky beach of Vatia Bay to get up close and personal with Pola Island.  There are some very cool sea arches, but at high tide I couldn’t go out far enough to get a good picture of them.

Looking east from Pola across Vatia Bay towards Sauma Ridge:

Pola Island seen from the road above Vatia:

Last weekend we went to Tisa’s Barefoot Bar near Alega.  It’s next to one of the nicer beaches on the island.  The “building” itself is sort of a pile of driftwood arranged in a vague restaurant shape, but it’s really cool.  We swam and lounged on the beach for a few hours and then had dinner.  It was one of those moments when we could hardly believe that we live here now; bare feet, sitting on a deck with the waves crashing directly below us, eating extremely fresh swordfish ($12 a plate, would have been at least $30 and not nearly as fresh back home), watching sharks swimming in the reef with a pristine white sand beach on our left and a rocky, rainforest-covered point on our right.  I was having such a good time that I only got this one picture:

Later that dog sat under our table and gnawed on a coconut shell while we ate.  I’ll get some more pictures next time- it’s one of the  most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Since my internet connection is surprisingly fast today, I’ll throw in a few of pictures of our house.

The outside looks a little rough, but other than the mice, cockroaches, poisonous centipedes, dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes, lizards, termites, mildew, spiders, peeling paint, broken windows, frayed wires, and occasional power outages, the inside is really nice.  At least the lizards and spiders eat some of the mosquitoes.

Exploring the island

I haven’t done much exploring yet, but I’ve seen some pretty cool things already.  Our first day here we walked along the coast near the airport.  The shore along that part of the island is lava rock.  There are some blowholes that the waves crash through.  It looks sort of like geysers.  Unfortunately my timing with the camera wasn’t quite good enough to get the full effect.

Yesterday I borrowed a car from Mary’s co-worker Shalini (who has been extremely friendly and helpful with getting us settled into our new home) and drove out to the east side of the island.  The east side is less populated and more natural than the part of the island we live on.  It was stunningly beautiful!   I didn’t take many pictures because the “main highway” becomes a one-lane road that hugs a narrow strip between mountain and ocean, so there weren’t many places to park and get out.  Here are a few of the shots that I was able to get between the villages of Amouli and ‘Au’asi:

The small island in the background is called ‘Aunu’u.  I don’t know much about it except that there is a village and the ferry from Tutuila only costs about a dollar, so I guess I’ll have to check it out!

Where the heck are we?

American Samoa is located roughly 1000 miles south of the equator, 2600 miles SW of Hawaii, 1800 miles NE of New Zealand, and 4800 miles from the US mainland.  The territory consists of seven islands (five extinct volcanoes and two coral atolls).  Six of the islands are inhabited.

We live on Tutuila, the largest and most-populated island.  Here is a link to a map:

Our house is in Tafuna, about a block from Pala Lagoon.  Mary works for the High Court of American Samoa in Fagatogo.  The official capital is Pago Pago, but most of the government buildings seem to be in Fagatogo.  I haven’t figured out why that is, but Pago Pago and Fagatogo sort of run together into one town anyway.

This is Fagatogo seen from across the harbor:

the view from our front yard