Post 83 — The End Begins

american-samoa-np-021

The night sky over Ofu island. Photo from the US National Park Service.

The static was driving Jean crazy. Larry had been fiddling with the radio for twenty minutes and had yet to find a station that came in clearly. Although early June was supposed to be the beginning of the dry season, it had been raining for days and her mood in general was damp. There was sewing to finish and packing to be started and she didn’t want to do either of those things because both activities pointed in the same direction: they were leaving the island.

She wandered into the bedroom to get away from the radio and started looking through the closet. Decisions were going to have to be made about what stayed behind. She had fourteen long dresses in various shades of pink, yellow and lime green and was having trouble visualing them at a PTA meeting in Harper Woods.

“Jean! Jean!” she heard Larry shouting. Running back toward the front of the house, she met her white-faced husband in the phonograph room. “They shot Bobby Kennedy.”

June 7, 1968
The whole island is in an uproar over the new Kennedy assassination. The Samoans couldn’t understand it and how can you explain something that terrible? How cheap people hold a human life these days. It’s pretty frightening.
Jean

The political assassinations were somber bookends to their time on the island. They had left the summer after JFK was murdered and now were about to return to the states as another Kennedy brother was gunned down. Jean and Larry were aware of the turmoil and protests that had been ongoing during the end of the 1960s, but the impact had been somewhat lessened because most of their news came from months-old issues of Time magazine. The decision to come to Samoa in the first place had been difficult; the decision to return to the chaos had been even harder.

Samoa was not a utopian society; there were many problems similar to those the mainland faced. In the past year, the principal at a village school who was a good friend of theirs had been shot in an armed robbery. Fortunately he had recovered, but the news had sent a wave of unease sweeping across the island. You could feel the real world creeping in. It was just easier to ignore it with a gin and tonic in one hand and a tropical breeze in your hair.

But not all the bookends were bad—some simply completed a full circle. That very night, the family were guests of honor at a tofa fiafia held in the village of Vaitogi, the same place they had gone their very first day on the island. Unlike the last time, the evening was clear and the air was fresh and scented with the sweet aroma of fragipagi blossoms and red ginger. The family of Siamau were the hosts – he and Larry had worked together the entire time the Broquets had been on the island and considered each other good friends. In fact, Siamau’s youngest child was named Larry and he was running around in a pair of Chrissie’s old shorts. The Broquets handed down the girl’s old clothes and Siamau shared as much fresh pineapple and bananas as they could eat – both families felt they got the better part of the deal.

The fiafia followed the usual script— large amounts of food cooked in umus, singing, dancing— but every moment felt as comfortable and welcoming as the old family parties in the grandparent’s basement. All that was missing was the potato salad. The girls jumped up to join in the dancing, proving those sivasiva lessons they had taken in their first year had been worth it. Gifts of tapas and mats were heaped upon the family, ordinary everyday things on the island that would come to mean so much once removed from this setting. The evening was already long and emotional when Siamau and a group of Samoans stood up and began to sing:

Tofa mai feleni, o le a ou te’a (Goodbye my friend, we are departing)
Ae folau i le vasa le ali’i pule meleke (As you travel overseas)
Ne’i galo mai Samoa, si o ta ele ele (Don’t forget our homeland Samoa)
Ae manatua mai pea, le aupasese (Always remember us)

Jean’s eyes filled up, and she heard a small sob. Her stoic, unsentimental husband had tears streaming down his face. She took his hand and looked up at the night sky. There was a wash of brilliance that looked like someone had flung a handful of glitter into the air and a full moon so bright you could read by it – just another ordinary Tuesday night here in Polynesia. She remembered that first fiafia and how strange the Southern hemisphere sky had seemed. Larry had reassured her that the giant moon hanging over the island was the same one they could see from home. She knew that was true; the difference now was that home was where they were, not where they were going.

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One Comment to “Post 83 — The End Begins”

  1. Brought tears to my eyes as I remembered our last day in Samoa – such great memories!

    Like

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