After two days of travel and over 16 hours of flight time, I am now safe and sound in American Samoa. It feels a bit surreal, but I am extremely glad to be done traveling for the time being.
Yesterday’s flights went much smoother than the first day’s (see below). After a 5:15am hotel wakeup call, I arrived back at LAX to catch my flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. The Hawaiian Airlines flight was on time and surprisingly pleasant. Five hours later, I was in Honolulu with over five hours to spare before my next flight.
I meandered around the Honolulu airport in search of something to pass the time, finally asking the advice of a lady at an information booth. She suggested I take the bus over to the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, a mere 3 miles away. With my luggage conveniently checked through to Samoa, I left the airport and discovered that Honolulu has a surprisingly efficient bus system. Within a half hour, I made it to the Pearl Harbor memorial area. While I was unable to stay around for the next available tour of the Arizona, I did do a self-guided audio tour of the USS Bowfin. After passing through the submarine (and gazing for a while at the massive torpedoes), I reemerged to find that it had begun to rain. I took this as a sign that it was time to return to the airport, so I cut my adventure short and headed back to the bus stop.
Back inside the terminal, I met up with Susanna, one of the other students who will be working on the project with me. We chatted over late lunch and a beer before heading to the gate to board the Pago Pago flight. At the gate we met Pratima, an MPH student who will be living with us in Samoa and running Professor McGarvey’s major diabetes project. Again, the flight took off without a hitch. I spent the ride conversing with my neighbor , a nurse-in-training from Seattle, who was returning to Samoa to visit her family and attend her younger brother’s college graduation.
Five hours later, I caught my first glimpse of American Samoa out the airplane window – a beautiful array of lights and a few mountain tops peaking out through low-hanging clouds. Unfortunately, I could not truly take in the entirety of the island in the darkness of 10pm, but I was satisfied with the short look I was able to get.
Exiting the airplane out into the night air, I was hit by a wave of heat and humidity. The air had a thickness to it, and the evening breeze felt nice after so long cramped in a confined space. I was not expecting the initial health form/inspection that followed, apparently the American Samoan government’s response to the swine flu scare. I passed quickly through immigration, retrieved my bags in a matter of minutes, and glided through customs. Exiting the airport, Susanna and I were met with dozens and dozens of Samoans, mostly children, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a friend or relative. Professor McGarvey quickly spotted us and we pushed through the crowd to get to him.
We got a ride to our house in Ile’Ile (a five minute ride from the airport) from the outgoing field director whom Pratima is here to replace. She pointed out some of the stores and attractions as we drove along, but I will need to orient myself tomorrow during daylight hours.
Our house, located in the village of Ile'Ile is a three-bedroom, one-story flat with an abundance of windows and a comfortable living room, dining room, and kitchen. In a few weeks, there will be seven of us living here, so we will no doubt be cozy (especially due to the limiting single bathroom). You can see the picture here that I took from the outside last night.
In addition to the muggy heat, the most defining feature of the island seemed to be its abundance of sounds. From the clicking and whining of geckos that, as professor McGarvey puts it, “are everywhere and are very friendly because they eat bugs,” to the growling and barking of the stray and very territorial dogs that cover the island (Adam Lewin would certainly not do well here). While we sat around our living room and drilled Professor McGarvey with questions about the island and its people, a pack of dogs noisily fought on the road just outside.
I awoke this morning just before 6:00am from a combination of jet lag, barking dogs, and an incessant rooster nearby who cock-a-doodle-doo-ed his little heart out approximately every 10 seconds. I am sure my early wake-up will make for a very long day, but professor McGarvey is excited to show us around the island and I am excited to start adjusting.
I have a lot more I could say, but I’ll pause for now to grab some coffee and a shower.