There’s an old Samoan folktale about the Octopus and the Rat. It goes a little something like this: The Rat is on a sinking ship and doesn’t know how to swim. Luckily, the Octopus is propelling by and nobly saves the Rat from certain drowning. As the Rat is ferried to shore atop Octopus’ head, he says “Thanks so much for saving me, I’d be at the bottom of toxic Pago Pago harbor with the rusted car doors and cannery offal if it weren’t for you. I’ve left you a gift on your head to express my sincere gratitude. Please, take it and be well.” With that, he scampers off and runs into the forest, sniggering. The Octopus would have helped the Rat for no reward at all, but, as anyone would be, is happy that he received some sort of recognition for his kindness. Snaking one of his tentacles to his head, he feels around and picks up something cylindrical, warm and slightly moist. Bringing it in front of his bulging eyeball, he sees…a turd. Shaking all eight tentacles in rage, he declares his eternal vengeance upon the Rat, if only he could catch him.
I love this story for two reasons: one, because poop is never not funny and two, because it doesn’t really have a moral, except maybe that sometimes you’ll do great and noble things and you’ll still get shit on, which is a great lesson for the kids.
After a month here, I’ve discovered that American Samoa is full of such vital life lessons in island logic. On our WWII gun/jungle hike, we checked out the artillery guns that the U.S. put in to guard the entrance to Pago Pago harbor. Pua, the friendly park ranger, confirmed a story we heard that the only “action” that American Samoa saw during WWII was when a Japanese submarine launched several shells into Pago Pago, where the only major damage they inflicted was to the lone Japanese storefront on the island, destroying the building. The Octopus tries to do good, and gets a shell on his head again. I think it’s the only time it’s ok to say: at least he was in an internment camp at the time.
Also along the trail were the remnants of a tramway which once spanned the entire Pago Pago harbor opening, heading up to 1,600 ft. Mt. ‘Alava on the opposite side. It seems a tremendous feat of engineering, just to, well, I’m not really sure why. Ok, so it was to get workers up to the T.V. towers on Mt. ‘Alava, but really? A road was too much to handle? (They’ve since built a road anyhow.) Regardless, it worked great for many years until, in 1980, a plane crashed into the tramway and the Rainmaker Hotel on the shore below, killing all 10 or so passengers. The tramway never ran again, but the cable was still up until about 4 years ago, when a cyclone finally brought it down. It seems like one of those island things where the government giveth and the island taketh away. “Well, that was a good try, but it failed epically, so let’s just leave this rusted hunk of machinery and yards and yards of cables here until the jungle takes it over again.”
Dane has felt a bit like the Octopus several times here. He really blossoms in the yachting community, becoming social and making connections in a way that he (and I) doesn’t on land. He goes out of his way to meet everyone in the anchorage and is super quick to offer his considerable boaty skills when needed. Just since I’ve been here, he’s helped a boat who’s anchor was dragging in gusty winds, he’s offered an expensive piece of rope to a perfect stranger, and helped this same not-so-stranger anymore get his anchor untangled from a coralhead (which involved strapping an air tank on his back with spare rope and diving in the murky, choppy and did I mention shark-infested harbor waters?). He’s helping frustrated cruise ship passengers get online at McDonald’s, he’s rounding up the harbor denizens for Thursday night tacos at Evalani’s and writing maps of stores for newbies to the area. Mostly, he gets thanks for all his efforts, usually in the form of a beer or some fresh tuna, or the use of diving tanks or drill bits for our boat projects and occasionally, an awesome surprise cash reward. But sometimes, just sometimes, he gets his rusting outboard, acid-leaking battery and bin of good lines left on Cadence’s deck for a year in the rain. It’s always a crap shoot, but I’m constantly surprised at Dane’s insatiable curiosity and his sociability. Frequently, it’s exhausting, but that’s only because I’m such an unsociable hermit. So I really appreciate Dane making the effort to be the social butterfly here, even if it does mean he has to be the Octopus sometimes, or that we get buttonholed for a few hours on someone’s boat chatting about how cool Tonga will be. We call it the “ol’ stop ‘n chat” and it’s a way of life here, taking up maybe half our day, every day when maybe we should be plugging up leaks or something. Putting out all our Octopus feelers can turn up some really great jewels or some turds. But you never really know until you try, so we’ll keep picking up those proverbial drowning rats and hoping for the best!