There’s steam rising up from the streets and an energy in the air that’s been missing throughout the day.
Pago Pago Summer Evening
It’s the rainy season in American Samoa, which means rain everyday and lots and lots of humidity! Plus, its hot! The combination of these elements makes day-time almost unbearable as people go throughout their daily activities. But as the sun begins to fade over the horizon, taking the oppressive heat with it, people make their way outside.
Soon, the streets are teaming, not with crowds of tourists, but with Samoans who are coming out to escape the heat that is now trapped inside. There is a slight breeze to help cool things down and everyone is ready to enjoy it.
As I drive down the main road, the scene unfolds before me.
Families are out. They’re walking together: father, mother, kids. There is a Dad pushing a stroller down the worn path along the side of the road. Next, I see Aunties guiding herds of children like cattle-drivers. And over there are some of the older generation, showing off a new grand-baby to all who will pause to see.
I pass groups of adults, catching up. The men talking about guy stuff, no doubt, and the women, gathered together to spread the gossip of the day, brag about their kids, and complain about their husbands. It’s nice to know, some things stay the same, no matter where in the world you go!
Young Pago Pago
Village kids and teens are playing games of volleyball. Have I mentioned how much Samoans like volleyball? There’s a net set up in every village, at every church, and every school. Driving by, I can see that some of them are really good. I’ve thought about asking if I could join a game, but I’ve always been too chicken. I’m pretty sure I’d just get laughed off the court.
And so, I keep driving.
I see a handful of young guys tossing a football around, their other great passion. When we first moved to American Samoa, someone told me that there were two ways for Samoan kids to get off the island, military and football. And so they play. I see high school boys holding their shoulder-pads, walking home, miles away from their practice area. They practice religiously, to get their shot at the big times!
It’s 6 pm.
I hear a “bell”. It’s not the jingle of a Christmas bell, or the chime of a church bell, but it’s a loud, clang from an empty, suspended, re-purposed gas tank. When I hear this sound, I know it’s time for sa, everyone gets off the streets and heads home for family prayer.
The aumaga (untitled men and teenage boys) sound the bell and then stand guard along the street to make sure no one is left outside. Adults and children, alike, are expected to obey. I’m driving along the main-road, so I’m allowed to keep driving, but if I were in a smaller village, off the main-road, I would be expected to pull over and stay in my car until the bell had sounded again, notifying me of the end of sa.
If I were out, walking through a village during this time, I would need to find a place to sit quietly throughout the duration, my kids included. If I forgot or chose not to, the aumaga would kindly, but firmly, remind me of the expectation.
Should I refuse? The aumaga would deal with me in the way that they saw fit, to convince me to comply (note: I have never refused, so I don’t have first-hand experience with what happens. I’ve only heard from others who have lived here longer and have more experience than myself.) After 10, or so, minutes, the aumaga sound the bell again, and everyone is free to return to their activities of choice.
Pago Pago Night
I finish making my way back home. Watching the last rays of sun disappear over the island, to set over the next island across the way. I watch as the moon begins to reflect its light over the water and as the stars begin to come into view. The kids each take their turns, wishing on the first star of the night.
By the time I park in front of our house, the air is cooler, the excitement of the evening has begun to subside, and people are making their way back to their homes. We look up and what started as a single star is now a blanket of twinkling lights. On our little island, in the middle of the South Pacific, there’s no light pollution from big cities nearby, and we have countless stars visible to us on a clear night.
Evening is over and night is upon us. We head inside to have dinner and give our own thanks for being able to live in our perfectly-imperfect paradise!