After three months in American Samoa, it’s started to feel- well, not like home, but it feels like we live here. We know our way around the roads pretty well. We know that TSM Market is likely to have what passes for good broccoli here, while Cost-U-Less is the place to go for milk and yogurt that aren’t expired. Things like the vicious dogs and constantly flooded streets have gone from fascinating to frustrating to just part of daily life.
Our time here still feels, in a sort of abstract way, like an adventure. When we first got here, we were constantly going around thinking “Wow! We’re going to spend a year living on this beautiful, remote, exotic island in the South Pacific!” But lately our thoughts are more along the lines of “I guess I need to return my library books and get the oil changed on this beautiful, remote, exotic island in the South Pacific.”
Frequent readers have probably noticed a recent decline in the number of pretty pictures and stories about incredible new experiences. The reason for that is simple: we haven’t been doing awesome stuff very often lately. The past few weekends, rather than snorkeling at new beaches or exploring new waterfalls, we’ve just been getting together at some other palagi’s house to grill some burgers and trade stories from our lives back in the real world. It’s been fun, and we’ve met some really great people. It just doesn’t lend itself to interesting writing or photography.
I don’t think we’ve got ourselves in a rut here already, but there’s a path where the grass isn’t looking real healthy. There’s no excuse for that- we’ve met some folks who’ve been here for years, who claim to have seen all American Samoa has to offer and now just drink, complain, and count down the days left on their contracts while doing their best to approximate the life they left behind and can’t wait to get back to. That isn’t us, and I hope it never is. It’s ok that we’re no longer constantly in awe of the very fact that we live here. We’ve come to the point, though, where we may need to occasionally remind ourselves that there is still plenty of awe to be had on this island and it’s worth the minimal effort of getting off the couch and looking for it.
And still, sometimes I see something breathtaking when I least expect it. Today I had to go to KS Mart to buy a mop. Whether you live in Toledo or Tahiti, buying a mop is one of the least exciting things you can do. And between our house and KS Mart lies Senator Daniel K. Inouye Industrial Park, which is exactly as scenic as the name suggests. As I drove I thought about how ugly all of the buildings are here (aside from the churches, which are almost always magnificent). If there was a name for the general architectural style here it would be something like “Abandoned Shopko” or “Late 20th Century Welding Shop.” Being a U.S. territory has brought some good things to American Samoa, but it has aesthetically (not to mention ecologically) ruined huge swathes of this island.
Anyway, I bought my mop. Driving home, the crumbling concrete high school football stadium was on my left. On my right, acres of gravel piles surr0unded by rusty chain link fence. Suddenly, a line of clouds crested the ridge of the mountains and began to roll down the near side. The setting sun came out, and everything was bathed in the most beautiful pink light. The clouds looked like cotton candy. Matafao, Rainmaker, and the lesser hills glowed a gentle green that seemed to come from within the rainforest itself. I nearly drove off the road. It was a much-needed reminder: Sure, the potholes and mosquitoes are annoying- but if you keep your eyes open, once-in-a-lifetime experiences can happen almost every day. Even when you’re just out buying a mop.