I know I’ve mentioned the termites several times, but I’m not sure I’ve described our housing situation in general.
Our whole neighborhood consists of houses owned by the government, and most of the residents are either off-island contract workers like Mary or Samoans lucky enough to get a government job that comes with a house. We didn’t have to do any house-hunting or even sign a lease before we got here; we just moved into the place formerly occupied by the previous High Court clerk.
Anyway, for the last few weeks we’ve had some carpenters from American Samoa Housing Authority working on our termite damage. As they’ve gotten farther into the project, it’s become apparent that it’s going to take more than a few surface repairs and some Raid to permanently solve the problem. They showed me what the framing in the bathroom looks like with the paneling off, and now I’m afraid that if I slam the door a wall will come down.
This morning one of the carpenters showed up with the project manager. I knew something was wrong; I hadn’t seen him since they first started working on our house, and it took the involvement of the Chief Justice of the High Court to get him here then.
The carpenter pointed to the termite-infested framing around our bathroom door. The project manager put his finger through the wood as easily as if it was angel food cake. He scowled silently at it for a couple of seconds, then turned to me and said, “We have a different house for you.” He didn’t directly say that they’ve decided not to do any more work here until we move out, but that was the gist of our conversation. And if they need to completely redo the bathroom our house will be uninhabitable for a while anyway.
Unfortunately, the house he offered is in another government housing neighborhood called Freddie’s Beach. We know some people who live there and most of them wish they lived in our neighborhood. The houses there are more like houses in the States, which means smaller windows and therefore less airflow. It’s hot enough in our current house and we usually have a nice breeze blowing through. And don’t even ask me what it costs to run an air conditioner in American Samoa.
The supposed selling points of Freddie’s Beach are that it’s closer to the ocean and has a swimming pool. But on a five-mile-wide island surrounded by 80-degree seawater, is anyone really concerned about easy access to a place to swim? Freddie’s Beach is farther away from almost everywhere we go, dogs aren’t allowed inside the houses, and we have some good friends just down the street in our current neighborhood.
I asked about the many empty houses within a couple of blocks of where we live now, including the one across the street that Housing workers have spent several weeks working on over the last two months. “Oh, it doesn’t have a sink. We’re waiting for it to ship from Hawaii. Could be a while.” Really? The kitchen sink is the only think that isn’t broken in our house. Loan me a jigsaw, a caulk gun, and some channel locks. I’ll move it over there this afternoon.
I’m trying to figure out why they’re so interested in moving us to Freddie’s Beach when there are empty houses so close by. One reason I’ve considered is that when we first moved here, Housing really dragged their feet (even by American Samoa Government standards) when we asked them to even look at the problems in our house. The only reason they started working when they did is that the Chief Justice leaned on the top guys at Housing. It’s possible they view us as trouble, and want to kick us over to Freddie’s Beach where the houses are rented by the government from private landlords and Housing doesn’t have to deal directly with repairs.
A less paranoid and more likely possibility is that, now that they’ve seen how much work it’s going to take to make our house livable again, they don’t want to devote resources and manpower to getting a different house ready for us.
Whatever the reason, my goal now is to get us into another, better house in our current neighborhood. Due to the cultural differences we’re dealing with here, it’s probably going to take two skills I’ve never really developed: flattery and bribery. Not serious, felonious, cash-in-a-briefcase bribery, of course. More like, “Hey, just happened to be wandering past your weekly meeting with some beer and donuts. So nice to see you! By the way, our house is still really shitty.”
If all else fails, Jeremy and Ashley have one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood and they’re moving back to the States in April. If we can put up with this place until then, maybe we can just sneak our stuff into their house the night after they leave…