I woke up to the luckiest twelve mosquitos on the island; somehow they had found their way inside the net that covered my bed. Tisa had warned us the night before to keep the net tucked under our mattress. I won’t point any fingers, but my grandpa may or may not have gotten up during the night. In my itchy sadness, I decided to count the bites. I stopped after I got to 68, and that was only from my left toe to my left knee. Fortunately, Tisa had the island’s secret remedy of vinegar that she nursed over my entire body. She left me the bottle for the day as I set off smelling great.
My uncle Mapu, named after Papa, was the point person in organizing my soccer outreach. Without him, I would have been going in blind and without resources. He set me up with a high school as well as the local radio station. There are a total of three radio stations in American Samoa, two of which are in Samoan. I had an interview with KHJ, their “Hits” station in English. I had never done a radio interview, and it was cool to sit in front of the big microphone and put on the headphones, my voice echoing strangely in my ear. The DJ was really friendly and laid back. Shocker. We spent a couple minutes going over some details and then I smiled as he turned on his “DJ voice” for the broadcast. Everyone should do that voice for fun sometime. The interview was an easy introduction to who I am and why I had traveled to the county. It also was an opportunity to advertise the also let soccer clinic I’d be doing later in the week.
There was about a 10-minute delay between recording and airtime. When the interview was live, we were already back in the car, headed toward our next event. There are some things in life that you try to imagine – and then try to envision how you would react – but it’s impossible to actually know how that will go until it happens. Hearing myself on the radio was one of those things. Initially embarrassed by the sound of my voice, I did transform into the equivalent of a teenage pop star hearing their song on the radio for the first time. I rolled down my window screaming at passersbys that it was me they were (most likely not) hearing. I know it wasn’t quite the same as hitting it big time, but I felt like a superstar for a second.
From the radio station, we headed to Fagaitua High School. I didn’t know what to expect there and approached the experience hesitantly. I threw on my lava lava under Papa’s advice before meeting the widely-adored Coach Pooch in his air-conditioned oasis of an office. To my surprise, he suggested that I speak in the school’s small weight room at lunch.
I stood at the front of the room anxiously, terrified that no one would show up. I’d be so embarrassed. A few nervous girls trickled in, then some boys, and by the time Coach Pooch was back, the room was pretty much full. But, I still wasn’t sure how interested they would be in what I had to say. I told them a bit about myself, including some details on how I got to where I was, and then some words of advice for being successful, particularly in soccer. When it was time for questions and answers, it was pretty much silent. I could hear crickets. Coach Pooch bailed me out with a couple of questions, but I definitely felt awkward. I wondered if he made people come out just to make me feel better.
I wrapped things up and then, to my confusion, only about half of the students left. Maybe they’re eating in here? One by one, they came up to me with questions about getting a scholarship and playing in college, and how often to train and what skills to work on. Turned out, they were just too shy to say anything in front of the whole group. My heart was warmed. Then, just as I felt like I had accomplished what I had set out to do with my appearance at the school, a group of girls sat down at the front table with notebooks and announced that they were looking for advice for their game later today. I geeked out in excitement.
The girls wanted strategies, so I asked them what formation they played. Silence. 4-4-2? 4-3-3? “4-4-3!” one of the girls yelled. I laughed. We decided on a 4-3-3 and I turned to the whiteboard to explain formation, shape, and patterns of play. They had never heard of those concepts before and I was both saddened at the lack of coaching and soccer knowledge available to them, but also excited to have the chance to teach them. I covered the board in mini soccer fields streaked with Xs and Os and was reminded that I really do love coaching. It’s so fulfilling to have people eager and willing to grow and learn, and to be able to contribute to that.
Just as I thought my time there couldn’t be any better, the girls invited me to play intramural volleyball with them for the rest of their lunch period. I love volleyball! I eagerly walked out and then quickly realized that it was no typical schoolyard game. The jerseys were spray-painted with their team names and numbers, and Coach Pooch was making announcements over the PA system. The court was open, covered only by balcony that overlooked the activity down below. There were bleachers are on both sidelines and the one adjacent wall was decorated with colorful street art and murals.
As the school’s guest, the students threw me onto a team in the heat of battle. My eagerness instantly turned to nerves. In my short time in Samoa, I have come to learn that locals love volleyball. There are courts and nets made out of whatever material is available on people’s yards, on the side of the street, and attached to palm trees. Given that, I was definitely intimidated by the high school kids and I sensed their lack of trust. The guys overcompensated to pass for me, or set the opposite hitter when I was in the front row. But as time passed, they realized that I could hold my own and that I was fully invested. We won in the last set! As their lunch period wound down, a group of students came up to me and told me that I couldn’t leave yet. We had to play futsal! Together, we transitioned to P.E. class, the volleyball coming down and the soccer goals going up.
I love futsal. It’s fast, you get a lot of touches, and your ball skill and speed of play outweigh your speed and strength. I never would have imagined seeing an entire school of Samoans playing futsal by choice. Not to mention, they had so much joy doing it! Forget playing with them, just watching was a treat.
After hours at the school – I was surprised at how many had gone by since I had gotten there – I left exhausted and elated. Yet there was still time to explore! We drove to a dock and paid a local fisherman to boat us about 20 minutes to Aunuu Island. Realizing that I had completely skipped lunch, I went on a hunt for food. The only challenge: unless you’re in the city, there are practically no restaurants around. This is true especially true on a tiny island of approximately 450 people. I walked into their one meager liquor store and settled for the lunch of champions: a full pack of Oreo’s and a Coke.
Walking the road – which only takes 15 minutes to circumnavigate – I noticed two little boys continuing to pass me on their bikes. By the fourth time, I bribed them for their friendship with my cookies. On an island so small, I could only imagine that they were curious about visitors. They asked me questions and took turns guiding me around like I was a new toy. With time, our band grew to about six local kids. We jumped in the ocean and threw rocks to knock down coconuts. When that got old, they taught me how to climb the coconut tree. I was so humbled by the agility of the kids and was sad to leave them. We felt like a posse by the time the boat was back. I love the curiosity and honesty of children.
I made it back to Tisa’s, salty from sweat and overheated by activity. Her coworker, whom we called Candyman, offered us snorkeling masks. Having learned in the past to never pass on a snorkeling opportunity, I headed out to the buoy that he pointed to and explored the shallow waters dense with little jetting fish. To my great delight, the floor opened up into a deep crevice where I was able to free dive. Little fish swam about and I even stumbled upon a giant clam lodged into the ocean floor. It amazes me how much life goes on in places we never or rarely get to see. I welcomed my voyeuristic opportunity as the sun set over the mountains.
My last necessary act of the day was purchasing a Benadryl anti-itch cream. It was the best $6 dollars I had spent thus far. No more mosquito feedings. What a jam-packed and wonderful day!