Friday, June 27, 2008

Supply & Demand

Shopping on the island can be interesting. For the most part you can get some version of just about anything you'd need here if you look around enough (notice I say some version and need). You've got your basic staple stores: Cost-U-Less (our version of CostCo), Forsgrens (kind of like Walmart only much much smaller), and KS Mart (the island's King Soopers--at least the one in my village of Tafuna). There are also tons of other little shops on every corner that carry all sorts of items from toiletries and snack food to fabric and school supplies. Every store has something different and if you check out enough of them, you find all kinds of surprises. For instance, Steven & Sons actually carries green Tobasco. I love green Tobasco!

The age old question then becomes how much to buy. You see, you never can tell when or if you'll see a particular product again, so it follows that if you see something you like/want/need you should buy it then and there and lots of it, right? Well, that may not be your best course of action I've come to discover. On more than one occassion, people I know have gone into stores looking for something they have seen and/or purchased there before only to find it no longer available. And when they asked about the missing items (which were not obscure items, but rather very marketable and popular) they were told that indeed those items were very popular and for that reason they are no longer carrying them. Because they keep selling out. Apparently they don't teach economics in school here. Supply and's a crazy concept.

Car Painting

In a few weeks, American Samoa will play host to the upcoming 10th Annual Pacific Arts Festival during which thousands of people from all over the South Pacific will descend upon our little island to celebrate the arts of the region. There will be everything from quiltmaking to fashion designing, tatooing to log carving, indigenous food preparation, navigation and canoeing, indigenous medical treatment, visual and of course, performance arts. Not wanting to be left out--or so the newspaper would believe--(and also because we have to make our own entertainment here) a few of the Palagi's decided to get into the spirit and paint one of our friends' cars. They used palm fronds for the front, made the bed of the truck look like a zebra, spruced up the grill and rims with a nice gold color, and even had the truck owners put their own feet and hand prints on the doors in paint. You know, your typical Sunday afternoon around these parts. The awesome part was that someone sent in a picture of the paint job to the local paper and today, it was on the front page of the Samoa News! Check it out...

For the real low down on the car painting as well as more pictures, check out Jeremy's Blog.

Office Space

So I've officially been here for a month now, and still I have no office. It's really starting to get old. I've been trying to work by jumping onto other people's computers while they are at court or out sick and I'm just about at my wit's end. You'd think that a professional office, like the Attorney General's Office would have an office for the professionals that it hires. Or at least a freakin' work space! Lisa and I have suggested turning this file room into an office and just moving the file cabinets that are in there out into the hallway and line them up along the wall outside the library (because there are about 40 other file cabinets lining the hallways throughout the office in other spots), but the office manager's response was, "no, that would make it look too junky." Like not providing one of your Assistant Attorney Generals with even so much as a couple of square feet to work is any better?!? For the next two weeks I'm camped out in Nikki's office, who is off on vacation. So at least I have a little bit of time that I don't have to worry about where I can work. Every time I start to get worked up about it, I have to remind myself that this is American Samoa...nothing gets done with efficiency here, so why would I expect my office to be any different? Oh, the price we pay for living in paradise.

Did I also mention that even though I've been here for a month, I have no office supplies at all? I was online trying to buy my own from, only I got to the checkout and discovered they don't ship here. Good times.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dogs, Dogs Everywhere

Magistrate Lung was right about one in American Samoa, there are thousands of wild dogs. Although some can be pretty vicious, most are not. You pass them on the street like you would any other person. Some are loners and seem to run by themselves, but many others run in packs. You see alot of them hanging out under cars during the heat of the day--anything to get a bit of shade. Alot of them look pretty bad. Dirty, ribs showing through, patches of hair missing, scars on their sides from wounds they suffered at the hand (or paw) of another more dominant dog. And the sad part is that not all of them are wild. Many of them actually belong to someone here--someone that just doesn't take care of them.

A few of my friends have rescued various dogs off the street. Puppies really. One of the attorney's in my office, Tim, rescued a puppy by the name of Lou. He was incredibly skiddish around other people when Tim first brought him home, but he's being socialized and now that Tim's dog from back home has arrived (his name is Lexington and he's a boxer), Lou is doing much better. I'm actually thinking of adopting Lou, but we'll save that for another post.

The Harty's, who live across the street, just rescued a puppy last week that looked like he had a broken leg. They took him into their home for the Humane Society and tried to nurse him back to health. He was clearly malnourished, had worms, his ribs were showing through, and his stomach was swollen so big it looked like it would burst. They gave him medicine to try and de-worm him, but he wasn't pooping the worms out like he was supposed to. They gave him an IV, since he wasn't eating or drinking anything and even tried giving him an enima. But the only thing that came out were a few rocks. Apparently, when they are on the verge of starvation, the puppies will resort to eating rocks to get something in their bellies. Unfortunately, it was too late for this pup and he passed away a couple of days after they took him in.

If you want to read more about the animals on the island, check out the Humane Society's webpage at This link will also show you some photos of the dogs on the island.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things...

Moving to a new place requires a trip or two to various stores to set up your new house. Many different items have been purchased to make this my new home away from home. Among those purchases are a few that stand out...

Bug spray. Many forms have been purchased...Raid, Ortho-Killer, Cockroach/Ant/Spider Killer, ant traps, roach traps, giant roach traps, rat poison, and my favorite--Bug Stop. It comes in the gallon-size jug with a spray hose that you attach and can take around and spray all the base boards both inside and outside your house. It's awesome. About a week into my stay here, I came home and found a spider the size of a baseball perched on the side of my couch. That's right, I said a baseball. No joke. Ahhhh, the joys of tropical living.

Fans & Air Conditioning Unit. I purchased 2 tall standing fans that I keep in my living room and an air conditioning unit that I had installed in my bedroom. Best $$ I've spent yet.

Otter Pops. Yep, Otter Pops. Found them at Cost-U-Less (our version of CostCo) and they just make everything better.

Golf Umbrella. Actually, Lisa bought this one for me before I came, but it is one of the best investments on the island given the crazy amount of rain that we get. And at $3, you can't beat a deal like that.

Zip Lock Bags. And tons of them. They have been a tremendous help in my quest to not give the bugs any real reason to stick around. Everything gets zip-locked around here. It's amazing what some ants will do to your motivation to clean up after your self and every little crumb that gets dropped.

Machette. That's right, I've got an 18 inch machette that I bought at Ace Hardware. It serves 2 purposes: home protection and hiking. You need a machette to go on many of the hikes around here because everything grows so quickly and lots of the "paths" to the beaches are through dense jungle that you've got to cut through to get through.

These are just a few of my favorite things...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Getting Here...

Getting to American Samoa is no small feat. About 24 hours of travel and 3 plane rides is what it took. Let's start with the travel arrangements...

Having your new job buy your plane ticket to paradise sounds like it would be an awesome bonus, right? Wrong. You see, in order to travel on the goverment's dime, you need to go through a travel agent, who will keep renewing the reservation for the 12 years that it takes the American Samoan government to process a travel authorization. What's that you say...a travel agent? Who knew that in today's world of internet access, web-based fares, and online check-in that these mythical creatures still existed? Well they do, and in American Samoa the one that was "recommended" was J & J Travel. Now, you didn't think I would actually be able to go through a travel agent back in Colorado, did you? Silly rabbit. You also are probably imagining this "travel agent" to be a knowledgable professional in the travel industry, right? Someone who knows the business, what to do, what not to do, and can help answer your questions and prepare for your trip, right? Well, let's just say that despite no less than 30 phone calls and emails to this travel agent, I NEVER got a copy of my own itinerary. That's right...I said never. But for Lisa being able to track down a copy of my itinerary at the Attorney General's office, I wouldn't even have known what time to show up to the airport. I guess I was lucky in that I got my ticket about a week before I was due to fly out, which is quite early considering Lisa didn't get her ticket until 2 days before she was scheduled to leave. And when I say I "got" my ticket, I mean Lisa told me that it was paid for by the AG's Office. Good times.

Now here's where the travel agent's experience and professionalism paid off...Luckily, because Lisa tracked down the itinerary sent to the AG's office, I knew that my first flight left Denver at 7:00 am. I had been up since about 3:00am to get to the airport from Conifer in time. When I went to check in at the Frontier counter, because I was flying on multiple airlines and wasn't provided with all of my flight numbers and information needed to get me all the way to Pago Pago, the gate agent could only check me in through Honolulu since they couldn't access Hawaiian Airlines database to get my flight info from Honolulu to Pago Pago. I was told that I would have to pick up my bags in Hawaii and re-check them to Pago Pago. So that's what I did.

The flight from Denver to San Diego was about 2 and 1/2 hours; the one from San Diego to Honolulu just under 6. After I picked up my bags, re-checked them and went back through security, I sat down in a little restaurant in the Honolulu airport to grab a bite to eat since I had a few hours to kill before my last flight to Pago Pago. As I sat there eating my chicken ceasar salad and watching all the travelers coming and going from their tropical vacations, it hit me...I was picking up my entire life, leaving my friends and family behind and MOVING TO AN ISLAND THE SIZE OF A POSTAGE STAMP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN!!! What in the hell was I doing?!? Was I insane? Had I not thought this through? I started to have a bit of a panic attack. This wasn't just a little trip to Hawaii for some fun in the sun and sand. This was for 2 years! For 2 years I would be half-way around the world, away from everyone I know and love. Just then, my cell phone was Lisa calling to tell me she would be there at the airport to pick me up tonight. Man, it was good to hear a familiar voice and know that she would be there when I arrived in this strange new place. So I stopped, took a breath, remembered why I was doing this and headed down to the gate to wait for my plane.

I slept for most of the flight from Hawaii to Pago Pago (it's about a 5 and 1/2 hour flight for those keeping score). And when I finally stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity hit me like a brick wall. I certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore. We exited down those portable staircases they push up to airplanes and walked outside toward the airport. Now let me back up for a minute and describe the "airport". It's basically a runway with a holding area on site. There is a building that I guess you'd call the terminal, but I use that word loosely. As you enter, there are a few booths that you go through for immigration. They ask you about the purpose of your visit (if you're there for business or pleasure), give you another customs form to fill out, and stamp your passport. Then you move forward another 20 feet or so and you're in the baggage area. There is one conveyor belt similar to what you may have seen back in the States, only here, the electrical outlet that this belt plugs into is hanging from a pipe full of wires about 6 feet off the ground over the belt itself. And the wires look like they've been pulled out of the pipe by vandals. Now, where you are probably used to seeing a small opening covered by vinyl or plastic flaps through which the luggage would magically appear at a normal airport, here, there is another mini-conveyor belt on the back of a truck that drives into the "terminal" and parks next to the big conveyor belt. A second truck carrying luggage carts then drives up to the open end of the conveyor belt and a couple of very big Samoan men turn on the conveyor belts (after about 30 minutes of trying to figure out what was wrong with the power to the big belt--here's a hint, maybe it has something to do with the exposed wires) and start unloading the luggage. Did I mention that the mini-belt runs on some sort of diesel fuel that had we not had a 20 foot section of wall missing, may have caused many-a-passenger to pass out? The baggage phase of my journey was almost as long as my Denver-San Diego flight. Maybe it had something to do with the 5000 pieces of luggage they had to unload from the airplane. You see, when traveling to and from American Samoa, you don't travel light. I myself, had 2 checked bags and 2 carry-on's (well, 1 carry-on and 1 personal item--a tote bag), but I was moving there for 2 years! I should also preface this by saying that when Samoan's travel, they travel with like 15 family members and each group has close to 75 pieces of luggage. And it's not the kind of luggage you're used to seeing at American airports. I saw no less than 45 giant duct-taped coolers come off that conveyor belt. No idea what was in them or why there were so many. There are alot of things here in American Samoa that you just learn to say, "ok, cool" about, and this is one of them.

Although my flight arrived on the island at about 9:30pm (2:30am Denver time), I didn't get out of the "terminal" until after 11:00 pm. Once I had my bags, I made my way to customs (another 15 feet off of the baggage area), gave my form to a customs officer, and walked outside to a sea of people waiting to pick folks up from the flight. You see, flights only arrive and depart on the island from Hawaii on Thursday's and Sunday's, so it's a big deal. And on the day that I arrived, several people in our social circle here had folks flying in. Some were just visiting, others were new people (like me) arriving to start their contracts, still others yet were returning from a trip off-island. Hot, sweaty, and exhausted, I came around the corner to see Lisa standing there with a beautiful boquet of flowers. She grabbed 2 of my bags and we headed out to the parking lot where Shitbuggy was waiting to drive us home. Sidebar--Shitbuggy is the name we affectionately use to refer to one of our office cars that had the sun roof left open on it one day and the rain destroyed the center console leaving behind the permanent, yet fragrant smell of mildew. It was a beautiful Nissan Mirano when first purchased, and now it's Shitbuggy. But enough about that. Lisa then drove us the whole 3 minutes from the airport to her house (which is just across the street from mine) where we chatted for a bit before I crashed for the night in her air-conditioned spare room. Aaaahhhhhh air conditioning...