Crash landing—e.g. you can feel her mana an hour before, but you can’t really figure out how or why until that same mana hits you.
Fiji Airways love crash landings.
Anyway, I used my first half hour to clear Customs and proceeded to exchange money.
Jackie, a pālagi and the retiring Academic Director for my study abroad program, walked in to the small, crowded exchange bureau as I waited for my turn. Apparently, everyone else emerged from Customs and was ready to leave the airport.
“Are you done?” she asked.
“Nah, I just need a little more time,” I said.
“Okay, well just look for us outside.”
I couldn’t wait to get my stubby hands on Sāmoa’s banknotes. I stepped up to the counter and handed the clerk $509.
“Malo,” I said.
“O fea ‘e te sau mai?” the clerk asked.
Embarrassingly, I did not understand what that meant. I felt the breaths of a whole line of Sāmoans behind me, being how we’re in such a small, stuffed bureau, their statures stoic as they waited to exchange their banknotes. The clerk—a Sāmoan woman who wore her puletasi and a bureau pin—took a nice long look at me.
“Where did you come from?” she asked.
“I came from the U.S.,” I said as I fished out my passport.
The woman didn’t speak much, only to count the Sāmoan banknotes in Sāmoan.
“Tasi, lua, tolu, fa…”
$1,243 tala. I thanked the woman before mumbling a series of “tulou” to the men and women I passed by just to get out of the bureau.
Upon completing the exchange, I took to the small parking lot where my peers waved. White Toyota box vans, with the Oakland Raiders football team logo on the side and stereotypical “TAXI” lights on top, waited for me at the edge of the driveway. I wasn’t exactly sure why these were taxi vehicles if they are University of the South Pacific vans. After discovering that my luggage was already loaded on another Raiders van, I took a shotgun on the left and rolled down the windows. Jackie waved out her window as her van left the airport.
I embraced the cool morning air that rushed towards my face as we rode down the highway, not minding the stickiness, sea moisture and dirt that accumulated on my face. I marveled at early morning blue waters of the South Pacific. There wasn’t much in the way of sandy beaches; rather, houses, shops and beaten up palm trees occupied the coast line. We also passed plenty of churches on the highway. I was told by several instructors in Hawai’i the first thing I’ll see in Sāmoa are churches. Because Sāmoa is not only predominantly Christian. Samoa is Christian. Huge, white buildings resemble stereotypical church houses in some parts of Europe. I barely see any in Seattle. Or Honolulu, for that matter.
The driver tapped his horn at an oncoming Toyota bus, a colorfully decorated Jungle Boyz company heading for the airport. The bus driver honked back. I took note of the headsign, “FALEOLO AIRPORT” on the side of the bus, relieved that at least I can figure out where I am going if I use the buses. Songs like UB40’s “Bring Me Your Cup” and Justin Wellington’s “Iko Iko” blasted on the car stereo. This is one highway trip to remember. It took 35 minutes for the highway to become multi-lane, and another 15 for us to reach our home for the semester: University of the South Pacific, Alafua. What a colorful way to begin my day.