On the plane from Hawaii to American Samoa, eagerly anticipating seeing Dane for the first time in 3 weeks, I sat next to an American, a petite, friendly woman headed to Pago Pago as part of the local community college accreditation program. She’s a school administrator at a Palo Alto community college (small world), and prior to being an administrator, she taught Spanish. As someone who went out of her way to become an expert in another language, and, one would think, culture, as we spoke throughout the flight, she kept on dropping little gems like “Isn’t it funny how they [emphasis added] take so long to say the same thing?” when flight instructions were announced on the loudspeaker in both English and Samoan. Or this beauty, “How many times do you think [the stewardess] will have to tell them [emphasis added] to sit down?” And oh, how she laughed and twisted her lips in disgust when the free (! – on what airlines does that even happen anymore?!) in-flight meal served to me was scrambled egg, white rice and spam. She only ate the bread roll from her meal. This, having never before been to American Samoa, maybe never having had much experience with the culture, and an obvious lack of interest. I put my headphones on after the fourth or so incidental racist comment.
As an ironic sidenote, the in-flight movie was “Million Dollar Arm” a Disney movie wherein sports agent Jon Hamm goes to India to find a pitcher for American baseball, and cross-cultural hilarity ensues. See Don Draper sweat a lot! Wow, there’s a cow in the road! Golly, there sure are a lot of people here in Mumbai! Indian food tastes funny! I turned that off halfway through, too.
Now that I’m writing about American Samoa, I cringe thinking that I’ll be like that racist administrator, sniggering maliciously at the way things are done here. But I hope it will be clear that while I am indeed laughing at the way things are done here, with the entrenched but benevolent corruption and semi-seediness of it all, I absolutely don’t intend to be laughing at the people. Almost without exception, every Samoan we’ve met here has been very kind and friendly. They go out of their way to say hello and make conversation and certainly don’t have the same invader distrust that Tahitians do with the French. Several times, we’ve played the doofus tourists, leaving our money in public places and having it returned to us intact by perfect strangers. So, honestly, my intention is not mean-spirited. In fact, maybe it just plays me as the rube pointing out the obvious different ways of life in different places (“The men wear skirts here! Can you imagine?! Har har har!”). I’m ok with being the rube for now, because there is definitely some comedic gold to mine, frequently at my expense. Also, because I know I’ll assimilate, have already started assimilating, and soon I’ll be the one working on island time. Pass mama another Vailima, baby, and I’ll get to that bilge cleaning eventually.