Monday, June 29, 2009

Twenty-five percent

We have now officially completed one quarter of our summer research. This morning, we held our second session with our first group of ten children. We collected our final bits of data and took back the activity monitors they had been wearing all week. While we won't have any informaiton on the urine analysis for quite some time, we were able to immediately upload the data from the activity monitors. Incredibly, eight of the ten kids wore the activity belts the majority of the time - a good indication that our study may very well positively prove feasibility. But we'll have to wait a while to know for sure.

In truth, our success is only possible because of the generous help we are receiving from our Samoan research partners. They have not only helped us translate and ask both parents and children questions, but they have welcomed us into their churches and homes to carry out our project. This morning, for the second time Sharon's mother made us a true Samoan breakfast - this time coconut rice. We were all so greatful for Sharon's hospitality, and I know that having their help and support made our work with the children easier. On Wednesday morning, we start with our second of four cohorts of kids (each lasts 1 week) in Marie's village of Alofau.

This weekend was a rather lazy one. On Saturday, we returned to Larson's beach, where, for the first time, we were not the only ones there. However, becasue the beach requires a 20-minute hike to get there, only Palagis (white folks) go, and so we knew everyone there. I remembered to bring my goggles this time, so I actually got a chance to explore the coral around the beach alcove. Not the most beautiful "snorkling" (sans snorkel), but still a lot of cool fish and tons of sea cucumbers. After our beach excursion, we spent the night out at a Mexican-themed Palagi party just down the road, which proved to be a lot of fun.

On Sunday, we spent the afternoon at Oscar's house for a swim in his pool and a barbeque. The food was beyond delicious, so none of us went home hungry. It was late by the time we got home, so after laundrey and a movie (Enchanted), we hit the hay.

Today, after our research work, we headed into town to try out paddling at the Pago Pago Yacht Club. Paddling is a common South Pacific sport, and there are many competitive races on surrounding islands (Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, etc). We were introduced to this activity by Amity, a Brown graduate in charge of an alcohol study here on the island, but it turns out many of the Palagis we have met paddle just about every afternoon. The boats sit six people each, and resemble a crew boat with an added pontoon suspended from the left side for stability. We each borrowed a wooden paddle (just a wide canoe paddle) for the afternoon. Paddling is very straightforward, and so after a 2-minute training we took our positions in the boats and headed out onto Pago harbor. In addition to being a great upper body workout, we got a great look at Pago harbor not from the coastline. This was our first time really getting out on the water (except for our ferry to and from Aunu'u), so it felt really nice to be back in a boat. After we pulled the boat back out of the water, we got to sit outside and enjoy a cold beer from the Yacht club bar.

We all definitely plan to return for some more paddling, maybe even tomorrow. I also found out that there's often sailing on Sunday afternoons. While I'm sure it won't compare to navigating the Sunfish at our lakehouse with my first mate/dog, I am very excited to try out some ocean sailing.

Meanwhile, we are all pumped for our trip to Western Samoa, where we plan to explore and relax on the beautiful beaches. Yes, this really is the life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Odds and Ends

Since we began our research on Monday, we have been spending part of the time doing work and the other part doing some smaller excrusions. The weather has been pretty rainy, so we've ended up stuck inside more than we would like.

On Tuesday, Rive invited us to go on a short hike at Blunt's point, just outside of Pago Pago harbor. It was only about a 10 minute walk uphill before we reached two giant cannons, positioned such that they used to guard the harbor from attack (they were never used). Oddly, there were dozens of frogs hopping around the cannons, one of which was flooded with rain water. Despite the cloudy skies, we got a cool view of both the harbor and the ocean before heading back down to the car.

We spent Tuesday afternoon doing some data entry and follow-up work on our research from Monday. We did some more work and had a few meetings on Wednesday morning.

Also on Tuesday evening, we invited Andrew, a Kiwi with family roots in Samoa, over for dinner. We met Andrew at last week's Palagi party, and it turns out he's housesitting for his cousin just down the road from us. After we fed him some traditional American food on Tuesday (that's right, homemade buffalo chicken wings), he invited us over to his cousin's house for dinner on Wednesday. The house was beautiful, and it was great getting to schmooze with Andrew again.

Wednesday afternoon, we took advantage of a brief break in the rain and visited Nu'uli falls. We muddied our feet as we hiked the short trail to reach the waterfall, crossing back and forth accross a stream to get there. Because of the rain, the waterfall was in full force, but we didn't bring our bathing suits to swim in the pool below it. We plan to go back on a sunnier day for a quick swim.

Thursday, we met up with a few people from the Historic Preservation Office who gave us a tour of a star mound. The mound (a relatively unimpressive pile of rocks surrounded by rainforest) is one of hundreds on the island that was used for pigeon catching. The event was conducted by chiefs from the villages. They all sat atop the mound and used decoy birds an nets to catch as many pigeons as possible. The event was disliked by the missionaries and so has faded out. I'm not really sure what the allure was or how feasible it owuld be to actually catch pigions, but it was sort of interesting to learn some more island history.

After our tour and a quick lunch, we went to see the new Star Trek movie, which just opened up in the duplex theater here (along with Transformers 2, which was sold out). After a good day at the movies, last night we picked up Dana, a MD-PhD student from UCSF who is here looking for possible ideas for her discertation. She will be our sixth roomate here in our cozy little home. We have also been planning our trip to Western Samoa for next weekend, and we plan on buying plane tickets today. It will be great to get off the island, but we still have plenty of work to do first.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Earning our Keep (finally)

While I know I've been mentioning our research a bit in all of my posts, really we were all just on a paid vacation (thank you, Brown University). Until today, that is. After weeks of waiting, we finally got a chance to meet with some kids and collect data.

After an early morning (though, I slept through my alarms and Kirstin woke Gabe and I up at 6:45am instead of 6:15am), we packed up the car with supplies and headed over to Taputimu (just west of us). We were spending the morning working at Sharon's house. Sharon is one of the four Samoan researchers we found to work with, and her father is the priest at the church in the center of Taputimu. Thus, she has a big house centrally located (right next to the church). Since most of the kids in the village are attending "Samoan School" (we're not really sure what that is) at the Church for first few weeks of the summer, it was easy for us to spend the day measuring some of them.

Before today, Sharon got consent forms signed for 10 kids, all between ages 8 and 12. With only a few minor flaws (e.g. the electric blood-pressure cuff running out of batteries toward the end), we were able to successfully collect all of the data we needed. We got 4 urine samples from each child and gave them an activity monitor to wear for the next 7 days. We will return next Monday to collect the activity monitors and collect 2 more urine samples each.

After our initial interaction with the kids, we took a break to eat some Samoan breakfast (graciously prepared by Sharon's mother) - cocoa rice. It's Samoan Cocoa and coconut milk mixed in with rice. Interesting mix, but delicious.

As things wound down around noon, we got to tour around Sharon's place a bit. Her family (which is innumerably large) owns a pigery in the back, full of about 10 massive pigs and 2 litters of piglets. Her brothers wer cracking and peeling some coconuts to feed the pigs (fattens them up, they say). Their incredible skill at at husking and peeling the coconuts made it look easy, but Sharon reminded us that it was not at all. We also toured through the plantation behind her house and got some fresh guavas and bananas to take home. We also, for the first time, tried breadfruit, which is starchy but not as much so as taro.

When we finished with the last child around 1:30, Sharon, Marie, and Richard (two of the other reserachers) led us by car over to some swimmable caves. None of us had bathing suits, but it looks like fun and we plan on going back some day at low tide to swim under the rocks and out into the ocean.

We arrived home to find that we had no water, so we're waiting for our landlord figure out what's wrong with that. However, we all feel very accomplished to have made it through the first day of actual work.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


First of all - yes, I know I made a typoe at the end of my last blog that suggested I wanted to become a regular church-goer. I have corrected the post, and if you don't know what I'm referring to, don't worry about it.

This morning, we woke up pretty early and got out of the house by 9:30 to head east and catch the ferry to Aunu'u (the small island off the coast of Tutuila). We arrived at the dock, and after a short wait, the ferry arrived. The small aluminum pontoon boat, powered by a 40 horespower engine, had two benches that comfortably fit the five of us. We hummed out to sea, bouncing up and down on the three- or four-foot waves and gripping the seat as they tossed the boat fro side to side. It was only about 15 minutes before we docked at Aunu'u and disembarked, paying the driver the $2-per-person fee.

There are no cars on the small island, but a few hundred people live there. According to our guidebook, there is a single path that snakes around the island in a figure-eight shape. As we began walking along the path toward the northern side of the island, we were welcomed by a Samoan woman sitting outside her home and her two puppies. She asked if it was our first time to the island, and warned us to be careful as we hiked around. We thanked her and were on our way.

As we walked out of the village and along the coastline, the sun beat down on us. There was very little shade along the first part of the path, but we soon made it to a small opening to the right that led to Pala lake, well known for the fact that it consists entirely of quicksand!! The lake is covered in red muddy splotches that look deceivingly stable (a quick toss of the rock onto one demonstrated otherwise). While I was satisfied staying on solid ground and taking pictures, Susanna and Gabe decided they would see if the stuff from the movies was really true. To make a long story short - yes, quicksand does exist. Once stuck, Gabe pointed out that as he tried to get out, he only sank deeper and deeper. Luckily for all parties involved, they both made it out unscathed (but very muddy). The smell of the swampy lake actually reminded me a lot of the Dead Sea, sort of a salty, sulfury, disgusting odor.

After their quicksand escapades, Gabe and Susanna walked straight over to the ocean to rinse off. We continued walking, and the path turned up toward the center of the island. When we arrived at the center of the figure-eight, we stopped to rest and eat some lunch (PB&J sandwiches and some cookies Katy picked up at the store near the dock) under a gigantic tree that would have been great for climbing had it not been home to a swarm of hornets.

We continued around the second part of the figure-eight until we arrived at Ma'ama'a Cove on the island's eastern side. The cove had towering cliffs on both sides with slanted strata that made it look as though part of the island had simply tipped over into the ocean. Crabs scurried accross the rocks as we set down our bags and began to walk around. The geology was absolutely beautiful (I took lots of pictures), and there was a colorful pool of water with some sizeable tropical fish and bright green algae. After copious exploring and picture-taking, we got back on the trail to finish our expedition around the island.

Just as we walked back into Aunu'u village, the sky (which had been sunny all day) became covered in clouds and began to rain. After a few hours of hiking in the heat, none of us minded, and after making it back to the dock, Katy, Gabe, and I decided that we would go for a swim on the beach despite the rain. The beach was beautifully sandy, and the bright blue water was nearly 4 feet deep with smooth stone covering the bottom. This was a wonderful change from many of the rockier beaches we have been to, and the three of us bobbed around in the waves as the rain picked up even more.

We exited the water only when we saw the ferry making its entrance into the Aunu'u harbor. While I was already wet and didn't mind getting rained on some more, Susanna and Kirstin made every attempt to stay dry and failed miserably. The rain poured down on us as the boat jumped over the waves to take us back to Tutuila.

Overall, a 100 percent fantastic day. Tomorrow we are getting down and dirty to do some actual reasearch work, since that is, after all, why Brown is paying us to be here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beach Flinging and Gospel Singing

On Sunday night, we finally got approval from the Brown IRB on some revisions we made to the project. Now we are only waiting on our Samoan translations to be approved before we can actually start collecting data. In the meantime, we decided we'd hit the beach.

On Monday, we decided we'd try out a new part of the island known as Airport beach, named because it sits along the outer side of the airport runway. All we were told about getting there was to park in Industrial Park and walk along the fence. So we did. The "trail" (really just a slim opening between the fence on one side and bushes on the other) was covered n trash, but we wanted to find the beach so we kept on going. And going. And going. Eventually, we were on the far side of the airport pushing our way through the bushes or climbing on the large rocks leading into the ocean. We looked at each other in despiration, but we agreed that at this point we might as well complete our journey and go all the way around.

We eventually did make it to a beach, but access would have been much easier if we had started in a different place. We relaxed in some shallow pools formed by the rocks for a while and attempted to swim (it was a bit too rocky). At this point it was late in the afternoon, so we continued along past some very cool rock formations and blowholes before making it back to the road. Our journely brought us not too far from our house, so Kirstin and I headed home while Gabe and Susanna hopped on a bus that took them to retreive our car. The whole shebang took 4 hours and took much more energy than we had anticipated spending on a day at the beach. But so it goes. I made us chicken parmesan for dinner, and we watched a movie (Doubt) before going to sleep exhausted.

Yesterday, feeling a bit less adventurous, we decided we’d drive out to the western side of the island and find a beach there. We were aiming to go to “Palagi Beach” on the very western tip, but we could not find anyone in the village to tell us how to get there. We kept driving around to the northwest just to see the sights, but were eventually forced to turn around due to a construction crew. We eventually settled on a beach in Agugulu (we asked a villager for permission), and spent a few hours reading on the beach and wading in the water (despite the strong current).

Today, after practicing taking anthropometric measurements on each other and running through our research protocol (see, we do SOME work here), we returned to Larson’s Beach, which still gets all our votes for most beautiful beach on the island. Because it was high tide, the water was high enough off the rocks that we were even able to swim around. The beach is particularly great because it is extremely secluded and we do not need to worry about intruding upon a village (as is the case with most beaches here).

This evening, we were invited by Rive (pronounced Ri-vay), one of the four Samoan researchers we are working with, to his Church in Nu’uli. A bit of background: The Christian missionaries did quite a number here as with most of the South Pacific (One website says the island is 98 percent Christian). Every village has at least one church, often many more. Different types include Congregationalist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, Catholic, and just about anything else you can think of. Many of the Churches we pass on the road have architecture that clearly dates them back to the colonial era.

We met Rive outside his Church just before six for mid-week services. Engraved above the door was the name of the Church, “First Samoan Full Gospel Pentecostal Church.” As strange as this sounds coming from a nice Jewish boy, I was actually glad to see this because it meant a much more musical service. Before we even entered, we could hear the music blasting, and inside the church I could barely hear anything over singing accompanied by keyboard, bass, and even a full drum set. We were the only palagis (white people) present, but everyone seemed too caught up in the service to even notice us. There were plenty of claps and raised arms and shouts of “Amen!” as the gospel music played. Despite a few repeating English phrases, the entire service was in Samoan (which actually made it more enjoyable), but the music was beautiful and it was interesting to hear the sermon belted out in some unknown language.

When the service was over and people began filing out, a good number approached us to introduce themselves and welcome us (a great demonstration of Samoan hospitality). Rive gave us a little tour, introducing us to his family and the Church’s Pastor. As we were about to leave, Rive’s mother asked us if we had eaten yet. We had not, and so we accompanied Rive, his parents, and his little sister to the Chinese restaurant next door. I’m beginning to that “Samoan food” simply translates to “Massive amounts of food,” as plate after plate arrived at our table.

We were all stuffed after the meal, and we profusely thanked Rive and his family for inviting us along to Church and to dinner. Katy later commented on how weird it is for us northeasterners to understand genuine hospitality and kindness, but that’s really what Samoan culture is all about. Churches one of the main centers of culture and community here, and it’s great that we are already being invited to join in. While I’m not sure I want to become a regular church-goer, I am certainly interested to see some of the other types of services and take up Rive’s offer to return with him for a Sunday service.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scientists and Lawyers

The past few days have been absolutely jam-packed, so sorry for the delay in posts, but this one will be long to make up for it. Friday, we planned to go to Aunu'u, the small island of the southeast coast of Tutuila. We arrived at the ferry dock around noon after completing some errands and driving nearly the length of the island. Much to our dismay, however, the boat driver informed us that the seas were too rough and so they were stopping the ferry early.

With that plan shattered, we decided to try to visit the weather station Candyman had told us about on the island's eastern tip. We missed the access road on our first drive by and ended up driving all the way around to the end of the main road in the village of Onenoa. We backtracked to Tula, where we asked a few locals how to get to the station. We were told that the station is on private property, but one of them generously offered to lead us there. We parked the car and followed Nathan, our new Samoan guide, up a steep paved road.

The weather station is located at the top of Mata Fula, overlooking the village below. Nathan led us past the station, and we proceeded to descend 178 wooden steps to reach Tutuila's eastern-most point. At the bottom, we could look out upon both the island's southern and northern coasts. The strong breeze coming in off the ocean felt fantastic as we stopped to snap some photos.

After a few minutes, Nathan led us back up the steps to the station, where we were greeted by Mark, the chief scientists (also, as he told us, known as "the global warming guy"). Mark led us to the roof of the station, where he pointed out that we could see the faint shadows of Manua islands on the eastern horizon. Though Mark apologized for not having time to give us a tour, his boss (whose name I cannot recall) offered to tell us about the station and show us what they did.

The station is one of five Federally funded sites (the others are in Alaska, northern California, Hawaii, and at the South Pole) that that have constantly collected atmospheric data since the 1970s. The station measures down to the nearest part per billionth the presence of approximately 130 particles in the atmosphere! Included in this list are both ozone and CO2. We got to go inside the observing dome, which contains a machine called the Dobson that measures ozone by aiming at the sun. He also showed us the graph of CO2 in the atmosphere over the past 30 years, and explained why there is very little seasonal difference in Samoa compared to northern Alaska (here, CO2-consuming plant life flourishes 365 days a year). We also got to here about the 2 years our guide spent at the South Pole.

After profusely thanking both Mark and our tour guide, we descended back to Fula. As we walked, we all commented on how this unexpected visit had turned out to be extremely interesting and educational. It's fascinating to visit one of the few sites doing research that is so relevant to the recent climate debate. We talked with our tour guide about how the statistics and science behind ozone depletion and CO2 buildup are very poorly disseminated, a problem that must be remedied. On the topic of reducing CO2 output, our guide noted how reducing CFC emissions to solve the ozone crisis didn't cause anyone to change their lifestyle; unfotunately, reducing CO2 emissions wil require everyone to change their lifestyle. However, he seemed confident that solving the CO2 crisis was possible.

On the way back, we pulled off the side of the road to check out an old shipwreck. We climbed down to the shore and aboard the wreck, taking some pictures and watching the waters slosh around below us. I'm not sure when the ship is from or the story behind it, but it was still very cool.

We completed the long drive home, showered, and ate dinner, before receiving a call from Oscar inviting us to a gathering of some palagis (white folks) at a house over in Industrial Park. Having not met most of the palagi community, we all agreed that this was a good chance to do so. In addition, Oscar tipped us off that the host of the party had pet bats, and this greatly intrigued us. When we knocked on the door and entered to room full of people, everyone quieted and stared at us, the new folks on the island. However, we quickly began to integrate ourselves and meeting and greeting everyone.

As it turns out, nearly the entire palagi community can be divided into two groups - scientists and lawyers. And if you're ever not sure which a person is, long hair generally indicates scientists, while short hair indicates lawyers. Oscar, a businessman, and two volunteer teachers seemed to be the only exceptions to this rule.

As soon as we met Alden, the host, we asked him if we could see his pet bats. He led us outside and into a walk-in cage, home to three fruit bats. We got the complete up close and personal experience - petting them, letting them bite our fingers, and feeding them pieces of banana. The bats were rescued after a typhoon, and so they have lost their ability to fly. However, they were very keen on following our fingers by climbing around their cage. Their faces wer actually very cute, but they smelled a bit like skunks (or, according to some, skunks smell a bit like bats). Since it was dark, we hope to visit the bats again and take some pictures.

Also noticeable about Alden's home were the walls decorated with large photographs of humpback whales breaching the surface. It turns out that Alden, a marine biologist, studies turtles and whales, and he even offered to take us out on a whale-watching boat in late July when the humpbacks return to breed!

One of my favorite moments of the night, and one that demonstrates the nerdiness of the scientists on the island, was when a gigantic beetle flew up to us in the middle of our conversation. Katy and I ducked away in fear, but Evan (one of the scientists) swatted the bug to the ground with a clean sweep of his hand, then proceeded to pick the beetle up and let it crawl along his arm. "Look, it's a rhinoceros beetle!" Evan explained. Looking closer, the beetle did actually have the very clear rhino appearance. Evan used the two-inch-long beetle to scare Susanna before releasing it into the tall grass.

Just before we left, Sean and Ned, two of the lawyers, asked us if we would be interested in joining them on a hike to the top of Mt Alava the following day. Having no plans during the day on Saturday, we agreed, and Ned said he would call us around noon. He followed through on his word, and we followed a group of 5 palagis (most of whom we had met the night before) up the mountain pass behind Pago Pago to the trail head.

The hike, the best-maintained trail in the American Samoan National Park, begins at the top of Fagasa pass and stretches 5km east along the ridge to the peak of Mt Alava. The trail was very wide and mostly open to the sun, and as we hiked we could just barely make out views mainly overlooking the northern shore.

However, nothing compared to the view when we reached the peak. Spread out in front of us, we could see all of Pago Pago harbor, both Rainmaker Mountain and Mata Fau, and nearly all of the western side of the island. The mountainous terrain was stunning, and it was awesome to look down at Pago Pago harbor and see the road and buildings we pass nearly every day. The containers stacked at the port looked like legos and the cars creeping around the bay like ants winding their way around the curves of the shoreline. I created a panoramic image of the view using a set of pictures, but it doesn't nearly do justice to the beauty and grandeur we experienced.

At the peak of Mt Alava is the rusting terminal of the old cable car that used to stretch from Fagatogo across the harbor and up to the mountaintop. The cable car was one of the longest spanning of its kind until it shut down in 1980 after a US Navy plane hit the cables and crashed into the Rainmaker Hotel below, killing 8 people. Also atop the mountain is a giant TV antenna, which two of the lawyers we were with decided to climb for a better view (I decided not to risk my life for the extra height). We rested at a shady fale (open-walled hut) for a while and ate some granola bars before heading back down the trail. The whole endeavor took just over 4 hours, and we were all exhausted when we finally arrived back at home.

To top off the day, we had a dinner meeting with 3 Samoan researhers who we will likely be working with throughout the summer. The meeting was very successful, and we will likely do most of our data collection in their villages. We may even get to start next weekend, possibly introducing the project to some parents on Sunday after church services.

It's been a crazy past few days, but I've enjoyed every second of it. When talking with the three Samoans last night at dinner, they commented on how much of the island we have already seen in just a few weeks. It's really true, but each new experience is different and great, so I hope we continue to have time to hike, explore, and meet new people.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paka o Amerika Samoa

I woke up early today to return Oscar's car and pick up ours. Apparently, he successfully jumped the car last night right after we left for Tisa's, so a new battery did the trick.

Today, we took our revived vehicle back accross the island to National Park of American Samoa (Paka o Amerika Samoa) on the island's northern shore. To get there, we had to drive into town and then up over the mountain pass. We stopped at the top to take some great scenic shots of Pago Pago harbor with Mata Fau in the background (see photo to the right).

We descended the steep, windy road and passed through the village of Afono before entering official National Park territory. Having driven the route last week to check out the area, we knew to park at the scenic overlook, where a hiking trail led down to the shore below. We took in the beautiful view of "Cock's Comb," before heading down the trail into the forest.

The steep trail led us to the rocky water's edge, where we proceeded to carefully climb accross the rocks to a tall peak overlooking the sea. We sat in the baking sun, cooled by the ocean breeze and taking in the beauty around us. The surf is significantly smaller on the northern side of Tutuila due to the prevailing winds from the south, but the whitecaps still powerfully crept up the rocks below us.

After some photos, we climbed off our rocky perch and heaved our way back up the steep trail to our car. After a few minutes to catch our breaths, we continued driving thorugh the village of Vatia toward Cock's Comb. At the end of the reoad, we parked and embarked on a short hike (it was really more of a walk, much to our disappointment) to the stony beach below Cock's Comb. We didn't stay long, but we did observe schools of fish literally hopping over the rocks to escape from tidal pools into the outer ocean - an amazing feat of evolution.

We were all exhausted as we began the hour-long treck home. Susanna and Kirstin cooked up some delicious Indian-style eggplant and chicken for dinner, and just now we picked up Katy, a medical student, at the airport. She'll be living with us and doing doing research on gestational diabetes at LBJ Hospital for the summer (or winter). I took a lot of pictures today, both in the National Park and on pictures from the car, so check them out if you have a chance.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tisa's Polynesian Feast

Even as we finally make some headway on our research, we've been taking advantage of our slow work week. Yesterday, after our errands, we drove into town (Pago Pago) to visit the Jean P. Haydon Museum. The museum displays traditional Samoan artifacts, including pigs-tooth tatoo equipment and carved wooden fishing boats. There was also come cool information on Samoan medicine and traditional healers.

Tonight, we went back to Tisa's, this time for her Polynesian feast. On the way, we stopped to fill up the car with gas. After paying, I turned the key only to find that the car would not start. We all looked at each other exasperated and worried that we wouldn't make it to Tisa's on time. We called Oscar, the car's owner, who came to rescue us. After unsuccesfully trying to start the car himself, Oscar called his mechanic friend and eventually just gave us his car so we could make it to Tisa's on time. Tomorrow morning, we'll have to bring the car back to trade it in for ours or a temporary rental. Thank goodness for Oscar, though.

We arrived at Tisa's just in time to watch as Candyman uncovered the umu, or stone oven. The umu consists of layers of hot stones and food and is covered by big banana leaves. Tisa explained the process and food selection as Candyman and some helpers pulled away the rocks and moved the buried food up to the serving table. The feast consisted of tarot root, spiced pumkin, papayas, coconut cream sauce, red snapper, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, and even a freshly caught octopus!

In traditional Samoan style, we ate on plates of woven leaves, and we ate with our fingers. The food was delicious, and the meal was capped off by a signing and dancing performacne by Tisa and two of her grandaughters. As we sipped our pina coladas, we watched a stunning moonrise over the ocean.

Next week, if all goes well, we should be able to start our research in full force. But while we wait, we'll continue to enjoy ourselves. Either tomorrow or Friday (weather depending), we plan to spend the day exploring the island of Aunu'u, just a ferry ride away.

Monday, June 8, 2009

BBQ and Beautiful Beaches

Yesterday, Sunday, we went to a barbeque at Oscar's house. Oscar is a Peruvian who has moved around a lot but settled in American Samoa for the past 15 years, and he is renting us our car for the summer. He has a beautiful house in Tapitimu, complete with a covered deck and an outdoor swimming pool. We lounged around, ate lots of grilled meat and salads, and went for a swim. It gave us a chance to meet a bit of the Palagi (non-Samoan) community and enjoy a beautiful, cool (high 70's) Sunday afternoon.

This morning, since we are still waiting on responses before we continue with our research work, we decided to explore a few new beaches we saw Google Earth on Larson's Bay. We parked our car at Turtle and Shark Lodge in Vaitogi, where we got to see a blowhole. Leaving our car at the lodge, we hiked along the trail leading around the bay. After about thirty minutes of walking through the woods and then through a high-grass field, the path led us deep into a banana plantation. As cool as the plantation was, the path eventually reached a dead end. We backtracked and found two different forks, but each direction ended in the midst of the banana trees. Finally, we found a promising trail that led toward the bay.

As we followed the trail deep through the trees, the sound of the ocean got louder and louder. The bright blue water finally appeared before us through a gap in the trees, and we all rushed out onto a rocky overlook. We were instantly overtaken by the beauty of the scene before us. A pristine sandy beach wound around a small inlet in the sea. Rocky cliffs rose high above the beach on either end, and dense green jungle spanned behind it. The cove in which the beach sat protected it from the rough seas, letting only small waves reach the shore. Coconuts were scattered accross the sand, which bore no indication that anyone else had been there in hours - if not days. As Kirstin aptly put it, "this is what people think of when they talk about paradise."

We spent over two hours on the secluded beach, relaxing and wading into the shallow water. We found crabs climbing on the rocks, hermit crabs crawling in the sand, bright blue fish swimming among the coral, and even a school of sea cucumbers sprawled out on the coral bed. Despite the midday sun, a cool breeze kept the temperature comfortable as we laid on the beach reading.

After leaving the picture-perfect beach, we found the continuation of the trail along Larsen's Bay. We hiked through the woods until we reached the second beach. This one was rockier and more open, giving a great view of the entire bay. We sat in the breeze atop a few giant boulders for a few minutes before starting our journey back around the bay to our car.

It was a wonderful way to spend the day, and I marvel that places of such seclusion exist. Maybe I'm just still getting used to this little island in the South Pacific, but maybe the scenery really just is that beautiful. I appologize that I accidentally forgot my camera at home today, so the pictures posted are Susanna's.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Internet, Food, and More

Its been a slow past few days in terms of our research as we wait for our consent forms to be translated into Samoan. In addition, I struggled with the American Samoan Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) to speed along the process of getting DSL for our house (we've just been "borrowing" wireless from our neighbor). Yesteray, the crew came out to our house and got both the phone and DSL modem working. However, as soon as they left and I plugged in the wireless router, the internet stopped working. Just my luck.

In the meantime, we've done some laundry and more food shopping. Really exciting stuff. In terms of food, the island gets a suprisingly good stock of groceries. We shop both at KS Mart (a normal supermarket) and Cost U Less (a rip-off of Costco), both of which are located down the street. The only real difference between food here and in the states is the lackluster selection of fresh food. But we've managed to find more than enough veggies to get by. The selection of restaurants is really disappointing, dominated by fast food and cheap Asian cuisine. There are a few seafood places that I'm excited to try out, but otherwise I think we'll end up eating in most of the time.

Yesterday, we returned to Sliding Rock to take in the powerful surf and wade on the rocky beaches. We even started a house shell collection. Today, despite the rain, we drove out to the National Park of American Samoa on the island's northern coast to check out the beautiful scenery. While we did't really stop to look around much, there are a buch of hiking trails that we'll have to return to later in the summer. We also got a beautiful view of Tutuila's northern coast.

We ended the afternoon by stopping at Tisa's, where we tried Candyman's legendary Pina Coladas (they were every bit as good as I hoped for). The water was a little rough for swimming, but we sat and talked with Candyman for a while, and he gave us a map and some suggestions on things to do while we are here. We also signed up for Tisa's Polynesian feast this Wednesday night - supposedely some of the best local food on the island. We're all very excited for the meal.

Hopefully the coming week will be a fruitful one in terms of our research. With all four of us now settled in and Professor McGarvey gone, we are all ready for the actual data collection to begin as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The middle of nowhere

This afternoon, we decided to take a break from our research and go out to see some of the island.  "I want to go there," Gabe stated as he pointed out a spot he had found nearby on Google Earth (see photo to the right).  There appeared to be a road that got somewhere close to the beaches he was talking about, so we decided to go on an adventure.  We hopped in our Mitsubishi Outlander and drove in the right general direction, eventually finding the unmarked road that supposedly led to the coast.  We drove down the increasingly rugged road until we reached a locked gate.

We turned off the car and got out to look for a way to keep going.  We found a Samoan woman clearing some brush with a machete who yelled for a child to come and get us the key.  While we waited, she tried to converse with us in broken English.  She asked if we had 4-wheel drive.  We didn't, but we told her that our crossover SUV would be fine. Once the gate was open, we thanked both her and the child and were on our way.

She wasn't kidding about needing 4-wheel drive.  The dirt road was very erroded and rough, but we managed to make it to the where the road ended and the walking paths began.  We hiked through rows of coconut and banana trees to a clearing that gave us a brilliant view of Fagatele Bay, a volcanic crater.  The waves crashed against the cliffs and shot more than 20 feet up in the air.  After staring in awe for a while, we headed back down the trail to go down to the beach.

The sky opened up in rain as we walked, but by the time we got back to the car, we decided that, because we were already wet, we would just drop our gear off and go to the beach anyway.  As we hiked down the steep hillside, the rainforest closed in on us making it darker and darker.  As we neared the water, we reached a set of wooden steps that took us down to the small beach.

The beach was no more than 20 yards long and looked out onto Fagatele bay.  It was high tide, as evidenced by the powerful 4-foot waves that washed right up to the top of the sand.  We left our shoes on the stairs and waded into the ocean, the rain still pouring down on us.  The four of us were the only ones around, and we just bobbed upand down in the waves and took in the scenery around us.  In front of us, the turbulent blue ocean; behind us, a steep wall of dense green rainforest.  It was very much a  "Wow, I really am in the middle of nowhere!" moment. 

As we swam the rain let up.  Kirstin was quick to point out a flying fox directly above us.  As we gazed up at the sky, we noticed more and more of the bats emerging from the trees above us.  Within minutes, there were hundreds upon hundreds of bats circling the skies.  There is no way I can translate the experience into words, but it made me so happy and excited to be in this wonderous and secluded place for the summer.

My dad said to me earlier today, "Your pictures look so beautiful, why aren't there any resorts or tourists there?"  To be honest, plopping a resort down on the shore would take away from places like the little beach on Fagatele bay.  The remoteness and the lack of human impact on the is what made our experience so incredible.  As we hiked back up the hill and drove home, we agreed that we all hoped to find many more places like this one throughout the summer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interesting Tidbits

Since the past few days have been mainly filled with research-related tasks and activities, I haven't had much interesting material to write about.  Everything with the research is going great, and we think we might have a group of four young Samoan researchers who are interested in working with us on the project (we need translators).  However, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write up a few "interesting tidbits" on American Samoa and Samoan culture that I have observed so far.  So in no particular order: 
  • There is no such thing as a short conversation.  Even quick meetings end up taking a long time and discussion can easily extend on tangents.
  • Everyone sits or everyone stands.  It is very rude to stand up and talk to someone who is seated.
  • A smile begets a smile.  When driving around the island, especially in more rural areas, it is almost expected that you wave at pedestrians as you drive by and they back at you.  It really does prove the friendliness of Samoan culture.
  • The only billboards are public health announcements.  I know it seems weird, but this really is true.  Every single billboard is from the Department of Health, offering some message to Samoans.  For example, "School sucks. But having a baby sucks even more."
  • Non-Samoans cannot own land.  Even US citizens must rent.  Probably a good move on the part of American Samoa to prevent a total culture invasion.
  • There are no traffic lights.  I guess they figure that with only one major road and an island-wide speed limit of 25mph, they're just not necessary.  However, the first traffic circle was actually just installed 2 days ago.
  • There are no street addresses.  The checks for our research funds actually say "Behind the golf course" as our valid address.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Research and Western Tutuila

Yesterday was a very productive day for our research, as we got a lot of the preparatory work going that is necessary before we actually meet any of the children.  We even did some shopping for supplies to keep us organized.

In the late afternoon, "Tour Guide Steve" (Professor McGarvey) took us out on an adventure to the western part of the island, including the villages of Leone, Vailoa, and Vaitogi.  This area was stunningly beautiful, though very different from the Eastern rural district.  Vailoa (picture shown) had an open field in the village center surrounded by many fale (open huts).

The coastline was also very different and pretty (especially in the late-afternoon lighting).  The beaches were mixed with black, volcanic stone weathered into wonderful shapes by the powerful surf.  We walked around at Sliding Rock, a beautiful beach area with awesome lava-rock formations and mesmerizing waves.

After relaxing at Sliding Rock for a while, we hopped back in the car and headed to Vaitoga, another village on the southwest side of the island.  Here, the black rock beaches formed cliffs above the water.  The surf, in all its power and glory, slammed into the cliffs and sent water shooting into the air.  The irregularity of these water sprays led us to stand stupidly with our cameras waiting to catch a picture at just the right moment.  You can see one of these on the left.  The afternoon just confirmed Tutuila's natural geologic beauty.

We returened home as the sun set.  After dinner, we returned to the airport to pick up Kirstin, the third member of our research team.  With the work week starting up again, we are about to head out to a second meeting to further our work.