This trip is flying by. My time has been jam-packed, just how I like it to be. I can’t believe there are only a few days left.

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One of the things that I wanted to do here – and something that is also advertised on most tourist brochures – is to attend a church service. I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; we’re known more commonly as Mormons. Samoa is a very religious country, and there are LDS churches all over the island.

Something else I’ve really wanted to do since I got here was wear a “puletasi” – a traditional two-piece skirt and blouse made of material similar to the lava lava. As a surprise, my Aunty bought the material and sewed one for me to wear to church. I hoped it would help me look less American.

We planned to go to church on Sunday, but there was a miscommunication about what time the service started (in other words, Papa had just guessed but was wrong). We had two and a half hours to kill, and Flo invited me to go jet skiing with her and Adam on the bay. I ask forgiveness for this, because Sundays are intended to be kept holy in our faith; but the essence my trip has been based on the idea that I never pass anything up. It’s a ‘Yes’ trip, as I’ve been calling it.

We drove over to the bay; I was still wearing my new puletasi but thankfully I had a bathing suit in my backpack – I learned early on that I should always carry one, precisely for times like these. A group of kids gathered around us in curiosity – I imagined that they hadn’t seen too many jet skis on the island – but besides them, the bay was all ours. The water was shallow and clear and the mountains wrapped around it. The speed limit on the roads in Samoa is 35mph, but we skimmed the water at 60mph. We even attached a punctured inner tube to the back of the jet ski. It only lasted for two rides before we had to walk back to the car to inflate it, but being able to use it was worth all the effort.

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After the quick thrill, I changed back into my Sunday best and drove to church. Papa and I sat in the third row and I watched as the room filled with families. Where were the Hymn books? The service was conducted almost exclusively in Samoan so I sat there and tried to feel the Spirit of it.

My mother was incredibly musical. She could sit at a piano and play a new song on her first try, and also had a beautiful singing voice. One of the strongest ways that I feel her is through music. As the congregation sang the opening and sacrament Hymns, my chest warmed and tears filled my eyes. I could almost hear her voice singing along. Later, a mother in the ward spoke and then finished with a musical number. I was startled when the rest of the congregation softly joined in. Wait, this is her song, why is everyone else singing? It then occurred to me that the people weren’t stealing her spotlight as I had thought; rather, it felt like they were simply singing in support, saying: “we’re here with you.” The woman started crying mid-song, clearly touched by something, and the congregation ethereally carried the tune until she was ready to lead again. It was this accompaniment and support, as if everyone was singing in Amen. It was so beautiful to witness.

The day ended at Uncle Mapu’s house. The sun set on their home just as one of my cousins came out and apologized for what she called her “lame backyard”. That backyard was green and huge and full of banana trees and flowers. If only she knew what our backyards look like back home. Uncle cooked us dinner and we sat talking while my cousins played the ukulele. We all joined in to sing. Ukulele jam sessions have become some of my favorite things to do when I’m around family. It’s so relaxing and peaceful; everyone’s happy, rich voices combine in harmony with the light strums of the instrument, and it sounds just like a lullaby.

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The following day was my very last in American Samoa. I wanted to end that part of my journey by memorializing my Mom; that was after all, another goal of this trip. When I die, I’m going to go ahead and give people permission to honor me, if they so choose, in the ocean. But that wasn’t what my mom would have wanted. Family was most important to her, so it made the most sense for me to honor her back in my grandpa’s village.

My mom had given me her high school ring to wear when I was in high school myself. I’ve worn it on my left pinky every day since then. It’s magic; I’ve probably lost it about three times, and somehow it always ends up back on my finger. When she passed away, I took her wedding band and put it on a necklace that I wear, too. I decided that since I now have that, I could leave the pinky ring behind. I wrapped it in banana leaves and Papa and some cousins helped me dig a hole to bury it just next to the graves of some of our other deceased ancestors. We filled the hole and covered it with rocks, then topped it with flowers. I asked for some privacy, knelt on my knees, and prayed. I thanked God for this opportunity, among other things, and then spoke to my mom. I believe that her Spirit lives and that she can hear and see me. She can’t respond directly, but I feel her presence. It is a gift every time I do. Whether through music, or with a random individual as proxy, or in nature, I still feel her guiding me or letting me know she’s there. That day, in the sun, I felt the warmth of her hug. I know that not everyone will agree with or understand this, but to me it feels very real. One of the last things that she said to me before she passed was that she would find a way to communicate with me; I truly believe that she does.

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As a last adventure before our flight, I met up with Flo again and we went to a waterfall with some of her friends. Flo has been such a homie, for lack of a better word. Her enthusiastic kindness and constant openness to having me tag along has been unnecessarily sweet. It’s not even like she’s been hosting me, or going out of her way to take me to do all of these cool things; the times we’ve spent together have just been moments in her everyday life. I could get used to that kind of life!

We jumped from the waterfall while one of the boys played reggae music from his little speaker. When we were done, Flo and her friends drove me to the airport. We stopped for ice cream on the way and munched on what was left of the sugar cane as we let the sun shine down on us and the wind blow our hair back, riding in the bed of Adam’s truck. All I could think was, no worries.

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The flight back to Samoa was easy; we were literally the only ones on the plane. It was probably the closest experience to riding in a private jet I will ever have. I could see the pilots pressing buttons as American Samoa slowly drifted away slowly behind us. Wow, what an amazing week. It was packed with everything that I had planned, and more. And yet, it’s crazy to think that there’s still so much more to come in the next few days in Samoa. Really, how is this my life?!

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Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8

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Mariah Meaalii Nogueira is half Samoan and half Brazilian, and was born in Huntington Beach, CA. She graduated from Stanford University in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in Psychology and is currently a professional soccer player in the National Women's Soccer League.