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50 Things I’ve Learned from Life in American Samoa

We just passed the two year mark, since the kids and I joined Nate, on our new adventure of living in American Samoa. We started out by knowing nothing, but over time, we’ve learned enough to write a list of 50 things we’ve learned, dozens of times over.

In no particular order, the following are 50 bits of information we’ve learned during our time in Amerika Samoa. Plus, some Samoan vocabulary as an added bonus.

Life in American Samoa

1.The dogs’ barks are worse than their bites. Except when they aren’t. I’d say, over 95% of the time, the dogs are just acting tough, but it’s when you’re not expecting it, that’s when they’ll sink their teeth in. The territory is rabies free, though, so at least you don’t have to worry about that.

2. Winter doesn’t exist. Spring and Autumn don’t exist. Summer is all you’ll ever know again.

3. You’re allowed to take as many showers in a day as needed. Even then, you’ll still be sweaty.

4. When riding an Aiga bus, chances are someone will sit on your lap if it gets too full, or offer to let your child sit on their (stranger’s) lap. It’s totally okay to politely decline, if you want.

Aiga– Family

5. Samoan teenagers are some of the nicest, most respectful of anywhere in the world. No, they’re not all saints, but as a whole, they’re incredibly impressive.

6. Don’t mess with the ava‘s. When in doubt, ask a local or just avoid that area of beach.

Ava– Ripcurrent

7. Alao is an incredibly beautiful beach and can be the perfect spot for a beach day, as long as you stay away from the ava and limit your time in the sun.

View of Aunu'u from Alao Beach
View of Aunu’u, from Alao Beach

8. Some of the jellyfish aren’t venomous, you can actually hold them in your hands.

9. Some of the jellies are very venomous (Portuguese Man of War)… know the difference (Learn more here).

Ma’a– Jellyfish

10. If the temperature drops below 80 F, you’ll be pulling out your long pants, jackets, and fleece blankets.

11. A car honking is a gesture of friendship, rather than frustration. Best to leave your road rage off-island.

Malo– Hi

12. Just because something’s illegal, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means no one’s reporting it or the offender knows the right people. Similar to most places around the world, I’m sure, but everyone just laughs it off, saying that’s just how it’s always been.

13. Since the Samoan language was exclusively oral until recently, legends and historical stories tend to differ, depending on who tells them.

Tala– Legend/Story

14. Geckos are not pests. They eat the pests. And they might just become your best friends.

15. Those flying bugs that swarm around the light bulbs every few months are female termites, it’s mating season.

16. Speaking of termites, that’s not saw dust they’re leaving behind in piles… that’s their poop.

17. There’s really not a “bad” part of town. Bad things happen from time to time, but you’ll be comfortable and safe anywhere.

18. There are no street addresses, street names, or house numbers. Directions are given using natural and man-made landmarks: the end of the rock wall, the ulu tree, the blue house, etc.

Ulu– Breadfruit

Banyan Tree In American Samoa
The Banyan Tree that identifies one of our favorite beaches

19. The graves in the front yards are there as a place of respect for the deceased, as well as a place holder. As long as it’s there, their family has claim upon that land.

Tuugamau– Grave

20. The last gas station on the west side is in Leone and in Amana to the east.

21. There are attendants at all gas stations, who pump your gas for you and most of the stations only accept cash.

22. Go to Aunu’u! I’d suggest arranging the tour ahead of time, but even if you can just hop over for a few hours, it’s totally worth it!

23. When grocery shopping, don’t take a shopping list. The time you have something written down, is the time you won’t be able to find it. ANYWHERE.

24. No one swims in the harbor. It’s where all the island’s filth collects. Plus, the only fatal shark attacks in written history have happened in the harbor, near the tuna factory. There are plenty of other, more beautiful places to swim nearby. Just don’t do it.

Malie– Shark

25. No one swims in Pala Lagoon either. Not the new swimming pool, that’s great. No, the actual lagoon it sits next to. It’s a main outlet for many of the streams from the Tafuna area, but with minimal movement within the lagoon, the water ends up stagnant and gross. Again, just don’t.

26. Samu’s really is the best ice cream on-island, especially their Snickers, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Peach Mango flavors!

Samu's, Best Ice Cream in American Samoa

27. When shopping for butter, go with Anchor brand. I don’t know what they do differently in New Zealand, but it’s working. The butter truly is creamier and super delish.

28. When going to the beach, it’s not uncommon to see people swimming fully dressed. It is, on the other hand, uncommon to see bikinis and “speedos”. If you’re planning on wearing one to the beach, you probably won’t be asked to leave or cover up, just be aware that it’s not the normal, acceptable beach attire.

Matafaga– Beach

29. Koko Samoa brownies from Cheat Day are the best! You can find them at KS Mart or Cost-U-Less, but you might as well go to the actual Cheat Day shop, in Nu’uuli. And while you’re there, try the lava cake, too. Just plan on sharing it with a friend.

30. The best BBQ chicken is found at a little shack with a homemade grill out back. It’s in Malaeimi, next to Fa’atamalii Center, with no signage. Don’t miss it. Also, ask for double chicken instead of the turkey tail. Trust me.

Moa– Chicken

31. Pritchard’s Bakery, in Leone, is usually closed on Saturdays. If you’re planning on driving out to the west side on a Saturday, just know, it probably won’t be open.

32. Tuafanua Trail, in Vatia, is my favorite!

Ropes and Ladders on Tuafanua Trail, American Samoa
The kids LOVE the ropes and ladders on the Tuafanua Trail!

33. Fagasa has the best snorkeling on Tutuila. Look for the underwater tunnel you can swim through. Just be aware, it does take a BIG breath.

Sami– Sea, Moana– Deep Ocean

34. Don’t bother Googling businesses. Chances are, they don’t have a website, just a Facebook page.

35. You can find bananas and papayas year round. Other local fruits like pineapple, guava, mangoes, and pomelo are seasonal, usually ripening during Spring and Summer. Southern Hemisphere Spring and Summer, that is.

Fa’i– Banana

36. There aren’t enough post office boxes (PO boxes) for everyone to have their own. So, you can either sit on a waiting list indefinitely or you can find someone to share with.

37. Island time is real! For better or worse, people move slower, cars drive slower. If something is supposed to start at 6:00, it will probably start closer to 6:30 or 7:00. If something is supposed to end at 8:00, you can be sure it won’t end until at least 9:00. Except for the time you rely on this rule and end up being the rude one who disrupts the one event that started on time.

Motu– Island

38. Vick’s Vapor Rub is used to heal anything and everything. You remember the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Vick’s is the Samoan equivalent of Windex.

39. Universal health care, on a Pacific island, is about what I expected. Free and adequate. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible. It usually gets the job done.

40. Saturdays were made for the beach. We’ve found a very satisfying routine of hitting a beach each and every Saturday.

50 Things I've Learned About Life in American Samoa
The end of a long, beach day

41. Spending Christmas Day on a hot, tropical beach is the way to go. Everyone should try it at least once in their life.

Kerisimasi– Christmas

42. The equatorial sun is intense. During our first few weeks here, we couldn’t keep enough sunscreen on. Luckily, it seems that our bodies have acclimated. Except Holden, poor kid. He still burns no matter what.

43. Fresh coconut water is sweet and refreshing, nothing like that nasty bottled crap. And when you find them lying on the ground, especially in a more remote area, you can generally help yourself.

Popo– Coconut, Niu– Young Coconut

44. Most people wake up before 4 or 5. They’re probably better for it, but I’ll stick with my 6 or 7.

45. This climate destroys everything. Regardless of what it’s made of, it will rust, mold, or be eaten by moths or termites. You’ve been warned. *We live in a house without air conditioning. I’ve heard the chances of survival are better in consistent a/c.

46. Sasa (corporal punishment or hitting) in schools, private or public, is illegal, but the truth is that it’s still happening. When we registered our kids for school, I made it known that I was aware of this and that we wouldn’t tolerate it. We had to deal with it with one of the kids’ teachers, but the principal got involved and there were no more occurrences. Just be clear and firm from the beginning.

A’oga– School

47. Dengue sounds like death! Just hearing what it’s like, I hope I never have to experience it for myself. Keep a full stock of mosquito repellent.

48. Calling people overseas is much more affordable over Skype or Google Hangouts.

49. The kids have dealt with some bullying at school due to being the only palagis (white people) and I’ve noticed some racism against other races and against anyone who isn’t Samoan within the professional world. But all things considered, I still stand by the fact that Samoans are the friendliest people on Earth.

Co-Pilot Holden
You may even get the chance to be co-pilot, when flying off the rock

50. Island fever is real! If you find that you just need a break from this rock, a quick flight to Apia, Samoa is a good, affordable option. Need a little more? New Zealand costs more, but is still affordable. Need a little less? A few hours on Aunu’u might be just what you need.

And that’s the top 50 things I’ve learned from life on our rock.

There’s so much more! I just can’t fit it all into one little post. Soon, my travel guidebook will be available for those looking to visit the islands. After that, I’m planning on putting together a How To Guide for actually moving to the territory, that will include answers to everything you might be wondering, when considering a move to American Samoa.

Until then, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you might have about visiting or moving here. And as always, for more real-time updates, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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9 thoughts on “50 Things I’ve Learned from Life in American Samoa”

  1. As a teacher with a passion for global education, this post is fascinating!!! I’m especially intrigued by the sections about schools.

    1. It’s kind of hard to believe that kids here bullies. I know for sure they don’t really talk much to Caucasians because they don’t speak in English very well, but all is well. Since this is coming from the mother of these young people, then I shall believe it. There’s not so many sights here in American Samoa but I’m really happy you got to enjoy it. I forgot to mention; usually we act as if we are racist, but we have nothing against others, people are different in their own way, it hurts to see/know that our actions of playing around has given you/others the wrong idea. I sincerely apologize for the bullying part, I forgot that teasing others is bullying, but when you learn to understand that they never meant to hurt You, its a way of letting you know that they/We want to become your friend. Reading this is epic, I love it.

      1. Thank-you Matilda. We’ve come to understand that, in general, Samoan kids play rough and can be hard on each other in a joking way. What is considered bullying in other places, is just how lots of the kids here play. Once we realized that, it’s been better. There is a difference between being rough in a playful way and being rough in a mean-hearted way and there was some of that, where our kids were targeted and the other kids admitted to it. That being said, I’m the first to say that Samoans are so friendly and that these instances were by far the exception! Thank-you for reading and for commenting, and for sharing your beautiful island home with us!

    2. Life here can definitely be intriguing. haha I’m glad you enjoyed it. We love our life here and I’m always happy to tell others all about it.

    1. There’s so much I didn’t even include, lol. We had a steep learning curve when we first arrived, then lots of smaller lessons since then. If you ever get the chance, you should come experience our “rock” for yourself.

  2. Pingback: Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift In the Equatorial Pacific, By J Maarten Troost - Traveling Outside-the-Box

  3. Hi
    enjoyed reading your articles and blogs, is your guide to living in American Samoa available yet If so please direct me to where I can buy

    Thanks Mike

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks for writing. The travel guidebook has hit some snags along the way, but I think we
      re finally in the homestretch. I have a designer working on the last little details and then it will be available as e-book and hard copy through Amazon. Will let you know when that happens.

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