Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tales of Samoa - o le momono i le va'a - The Plug In The Boat

My first experience with Aunu'u was in 1965. When we arrived in Samoa in March of 1965, quite a few consolidated elementary schools were under simultaneous construction, and virtually all of the construction was behind schedule (surprise, surprise! Things are almost ALWAYS behind schedule in Samoa. What's a schedule?)

Although I had been hired as a school principal at the tender young age of twenty-seven, when I first walked into the old office that sat approximately where the entrance to the Rainmaker Hotel now stands, I was told that school assignments for principals were still pending, and that we would be housed temporarily in Tafuna, the new government housing area out near the airport on the main island of Tutuila.

Other school principals were also living temporarily in Tafuna, awaiting school assignments, including Dick Danner, Doug Thorpe, Don Miskovsky, & Harold Hooten. Between us we were loaned an old blue government jeep, which we used to go shopping, visit schools under construction, and most often to drive down the dirt road from Tafuna to the end of the airport runway where there was a nice swimming hole!

One afternoon when the whole unassigned principal corps and families were down there swimming, I was wading out of the water after some snorkeling when I stepped on the dorsal spines of a stonefish. It felt like someone had inserted a hot poker through the arch of my foot and rammed it up past my knee almost to my hip! Needless to say, I let out a huge yelp, and yanked that foot out of the water. As I set the other foot down I managed to place it exactly where the first foot had been, thereby puncturing the sole of that foot on the stonefish too! I tumbled into the shallow water, groaning and causing everyone much concern while I contemplated the ephemeral qualities of life. Fortunately, neither wound was either very deep or particularly serious, evidently due to the fact that I had chosen a very small stonefish to exterminate, and within 40 minutes or so I was able to walk around again.

I was soon assigned to the newly opening Pago Pago Elementary School until the end of the 64-65 school year to work with Cantley George, the first palagi principal, and Mageo, the Samoan principal.

Not long after that, Dick Danner was assigned to become the first principal of Aunu'u Elementary School when it opened for the beginning of the 65-66 school year. I was with him and Tasi Tuato'o when we went out one day to see what progress had been made on the school construction.

When we arrived at the village of Auasi there were the usual number of longboats bobbing at the end of ropes attached to chunks of coral in the calm waters inside the reef, but nobody there to meet us as promised. Tasi proceeded to walk up the road about a hundred yards to the place where the road curved sharply around the point toward the village of Tula. He grabbed a small soft piece of wood and another short stick, and hunkered down just off the road. Using the short stick, he gouged a trough several inches long on the soft wood, and then, his hands and arms working like the pistons on a steam engine, rubbed the small stick back and fort in the groove, faster and faster. In less than a minute there was a wisp of smoke. Just like that there was a tiny fire to which he added other small sticks, then larger sticks. When the fire was well established he dumped a great armful of leaves on the flames, and a column of billowing white smoke rose into the air and blew off toward the west.

Less than ten minutes had passed when we saw another longboat putting out from the beach at Aunu'u. Before long the four rowers and the man working the steering oar had crossed the channel, maneuvered through the cut in the reef, and were jumping out into the shallow water to pull the boat up to the beach.

After greetings, introductions, and handshakes were exchanged we all climbed into the longboat for the crossing to Aunu'u. We waited just inside the narrow passage through the reef called avaava in Samoan. The rowers backpaddled to keep the current from taking us out until the proper moment.

The steersman gave a "ey-io!", and the rowers pulled on the oars, shooting out through the cut, surging over the incoming swell with only a little water splashing into to boat, and we were on our way. The color of the water quickly turned from shades of green to light blue as we reached the deeper water just beyond the reef. The clarity of the water was impressive; you could see the coral on the bottom easily, thirty or forty feet below. Within a hundred yards or so the bottom dropped away and the sea became a wonderful cobalt blue. A couple of flying fish erupted ahead of us as we approached, skimming away just ahead of the cresting swells, extending their gliding paths occasionally with a rapid flippity-flip of their tails on the surface of the water.

About a third of the way across the mile wide channel, Dick Danner, sitting between a couple of the rowers, leaned over toward the bottom of the boat, picked up a wad of leaves, and casually tossed them over the side. Much to our surprise, two men simultaneously shipped their oars with a yank, and standing on the seats, leaped overboard! As we gazed at them in amazement and looked at each other, we saw immediately the cause for their unexpected actions; there was a four-inch fountain jetting up inside the boat from a finger-sized hole that had been drilled next to the keel. It seems that all the longboats had several of these holes drilled right next to the keelson. When pulled up on the beach the holes are left open to drain any water that has splashed inside. Before the boats are put in the water a small cone of banana leaf, rolled tightly, is pushed firmly into each hole, sealing it tightly. The rolled up piece of banana leaf that Dick had so thoughtfully decided to clean up turned out to be the PLUG!

The errant soggy plug was duly retrieved from the water while another one of the longboat crew kept his heel on the open hole. As the two swimmers clambered back over the gunwale and stuffed the rerolled plug back in the drain hole everyone, Samoan and Palagi alike, was laughing so hard that we had trouble staying on the seats. Everyone except poor Dick, who apologized profusely, and spent the rest of the ride across to Aunu'u sitting very quietly!

The tales of the boat, the floating frozen chickens and a near drowning, and another tale of the drifting photographer and her aging mother will have to wait for another posting.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is awesome. Thanks for sharing your stories George! Very well written and told like a fairy tale. I love it.