Costco, Tiny Villages, and Making it Rain: American Samoa, Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, “Welcome to Ford Country (aka American Samoa)”. You can see Part 1 here.

Flags at the '09 tsunami memorial.

3. The American. 

Just as Samoa has a definite flavor of New Zealand and Australian influence, the US is reflected–probably even stronger–in Pago. You can see it everywhere–the giant, shiny, new, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs that everyone drives; two McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, a KFC, and a Carl’s Jr/Green Burrito; the hordes of kids playing rugby replaced by the hordes of kids playing football; fales traded out in favor of Western-style houses. And it’s true that on many fronts, the standard of living appears to be higher in American Samoa.

Am I at the mall back home??

Case in point: the 8-year-old in the family I stayed with walked around with an iPad (granted his dad works in the IT business). Food costs are much lower. The cost of everything seems to be lower, actually, despite the fact that the two islands face almost identical geographic isolation, and Pago represents an even smaller market. Pago is lucky too, because unlike their neighbors they have an industry: tuna canning. The two tuna canneries–Starkist and Samoa Packing, a Chicken of the Sea subsidiary–once employed up to a third of Pago’s work force. Since minimum wage laws were enforced by the US a few years ago, Samoa Packing has closed doors, and Starkist operates at a reduced level, but that is still more than Samoa has by way of industry. Continue reading

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Welcome to Ford Country (aka American Samoa): Part 1

The first thing I see upon walking into Pago Pago International Airport.

While I’m sure I’m not the only Kiva fellow who has to make a “visa run” (leaving the country to avoid having to apply for an extended-stay visa), I’m pretty sure I’m the only one whose visa run included a giant chunk of Americana. American Samoa is just a 30-minute flight away and pretty much the only destination that’s not prohibitively expensive to get to, if you want to leave the country. I had never been to a US territory before, and definitely had (and continue to have) mixed feelings about the whole concept. Regardless, my Lonely Planet guide referred to it as “the prettier sister” (ouch) of the Samoas, and my island fever got me pretty excited to travel anywhere…even to another island that’s even smaller than ‘Upolu!

Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango, but the ‘g’ isn’t so hard) is the name of both a village that is the capital and the harbor that defined this island as a US Navy base since it became a territory in 1900. Usually it’s shortened to “Pago” and is used to refer to the village, harbor, island of Tutuila, and the entirety of American Samoa. No one would refer to someone as an American Samoan–they say ‘someone from Pago’. Pago is even smaller than Samoa, clocking in at a whopping 55,519 during the 2010 census. The whole of the country amounts to around 75 square miles, which is roughly the same size as Washington DC. Tutuila is the main island, with 4 smaller islands scattered nearby. The license plates only have four digits. Basically, it’s small.

I was only in the country for 31 hours, but it was an incredible trip. To help me sort out my myriad of thoughts and hopefully keep this readable, I’m going to divide this post into several sections, and two parts. We’ll cover sections 1& 2 here.

  1. The travel.
  2. The beauty.
  3. The American.
  4. The Samoan. Continue reading