thomas m wilson

Letter from Samoa

May 28th, 2007

I’ve now been on Samoa for four days. Samoa consists of a couple of small islands in the South Pacific, not far south of the equator, and about 180 thousand Samoans. I’ve been staying with a friend who is working for an aid program of the Australian government, Ausaid, in the capital, Apia.

This place is really a land unto its own. Despite having had a New Zealand administration from 1914 to the sixties, English is not understood by everybody, and Samoan is most assuredly the language of the land. ‘Saaa Moa’…. pronounce it that way, and do so with a deep voice and an air of brusque finality and you’ll sound like an insider. My lips had been cracked and almost bleeding from the dry, cold air of New Zealand, but within minutes of stepping out of the plane they felt ok again and rehydrated. The air is sopping with humidity here and the temperature is always in the high twenties. Apia is a small town for a capital, and the place has a dilapidated air, perhaps prematurely aged from the tropical conditions. Faded Coke signs are here and there, and taxis crawl down the high street. Leaving uncharasmatic Apia, you head into the suburbs, which here are just villages which join up on the edges. Lots of space and virulent greenery. Except in the middle of town there are no pavements, and the seemingly blithe indifference shown by the motley strollers to oncoming traffic is surprising. School boys walk along wearing skirts, which all the men wear here. Older men are generally fat, except if they are playing sport, in which case they are very athletic. The taro, chicken, pork, cream and Vailima (the local beer), with no shortage of deep fried options, is the die (not to forget the great tropical fruit everywhere growing), and beyond bok choy greens are a rarity. As you pass around where I’m staying there are hedges, stray dogs, lots of churches, breadfruit, mango and papaya trees. The men generally seem to be quite macho, and the way that you communicate here seems to be, well for the men, speaking in short bursts and deep tones in a way which is subconsciously perhaps intended to express their control of the situation.

I’m sleeping under my tripod with a mosquito net I brought with me draped over the top of it – National Geographic journalists on location eat your heart out! I have yet to have the courage to do much photography of the people here, but that will come. For the time being here are three photos of the island. This is the real Samoa as far as I’m concerned anyway, not Apia. I have a mobile number here also: 7582361 (you’ll have to find Samoa’s area code also).


The south side of the main island, Upolu, looking eastwards.


Everybody wears colourful shirts with flowers on them… perhaps this kind of thing was the inspiration.


There is only one road that crosses the centre of the island. Here I stand looking southwards. Lots more photos to come!