Friday, January 3, 2014

Tofa, Samoa

As I type, I am aboard Fiji Airways 855 from Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles CA. This trip has been a long time coming, with endless goodbyes and flight delays and general travel frustrations, and it's funny how LA feels like it's practically "home" after spending nearly 4 days stuck in Samoa and Fiji.

We are 3 1/2 hours in to an almost-11-hour trip. According to the latest view from the "flight tracker" screen on my seat-back television, we are passing directly above the equator. Not only have we crossed from Southern Hemisphere to Northern Hemisphere , but we've also crossed back in time, from tomorrow to today. We left Nadi on Friday morning, yet after 11 hours of travel we'll land at LAX on Thursday night. With our return home a few days past our planned schedule, and internet service being difficult to access over the past several days, I'll try to recap a few things that brought our time in Samoa to a close.

Jaycey, LaQuisha, Mary, Quinton, Stacey, & Tara en route to the Fiji airport during one of our many failed attempts to get home!

Our entire group of American & Samoan students, leaders, and University interns had a wonderful few days on the big island of Savai'i. While it feels like we barely scratched the surface of seeing the island, it was a fast but amazing trip! Blowholes along the coast, a tree-top canopy walk, and swimming in an incredible waterfall pool were all part of our island-tour on Monday. Monday night, back in Manase village at our fales, we had a traditional Samoan fia fia - music and dancing, including fire dancers. An incredible site!

Early Tuesday we gathered our things and headed back to the ferry where we returned from Upolu island. Upon arrival, our American students were lucky to enjoy an afternoon lunch and relaxation at a beautiful resort - a pool, volleyball, and a nap in a lawn chair were just what we needed in preparation for a few difficult days.

Hattie & some gifts from her host family ...Mmm, Masi Popo & Taro Chips!

Tuesday night we enjoyed some final time in our host family homes. While everyone was growing excited to return to family and friends in the US, we had to figure out a way to say goodbye to our new family & friends in Samoa. Most of our participants were gifted traditional Samoan clothes to wear on our departure. After checking  into our flight, about 2 hours of photos and hugs and tears and laughs and songs were shared. It felt as if all of Samoa was there to say goodbye! I think I can speak for us all when I say we felt deeply loved & completely drained from that goodbye.

Saying "Tofa!" to two of the dearest friends I made in Samoa, London & Junior

Just when we were ready to go through security at about 11:30 pm to catch the 12:45 am flight, we were surprised to hear the news that our flight was cancelled. Tired, confused, sad, and a little frustrated, we put on smiles to yell "Happy New Year!" around the airport as we learned that mechanical issues prevented the plane from getting into Faleolo Airport, so we would not be leaving Tuesday night. Buses & taxis to hotels were slowly arranged, and we settled in at about 3 am for a short night. I can't tell you what a difficult night that was for our entire group. As one of our students so wisely observed, there was overwhelming build up of emotions and anticipation, only to have the most anti-climactic conclusion to the night that we could have had: we spent an entire day saying goodbye to a country only to not leave.

Warren with our host parents, Musi & Sofuta

Returning to the airport on Wednesday morning, we learned our flight had not been rebooked as we had originally been told and the "Plan B" work began. After a morning of calls and conversations with the airlines we created a plan for nearly all of our students to return on a flight on early Wednesday afternoon, routing through Auckland New Zealand and then on to Los Angeles, arriving at nearly the same time as our original flight & preserving our US flight connections. Our original itinerary had a day-long layover in Fiji which provided just the cushion needed for this re-arranged schedule. Another round of tearful goodbyes occurred when our American participants parted ways at the airport, most students boarding the flight, with just a few remaining behind since the flight could only hold 20 of us.

7 of us remained in Samoa - the entire 6 of the Wyoming crew of Warren, Quinton, Mary, LaQuisha, Jaycey, and I along with the fortunate addition of our adult leader Stacey from Portland. We were told our cancelled flight would be rescheduled, so we returned to the airport in Samoa only to learn we could get to Fiji but the next leg from Fiji to LA was cancelled until as late as Saturday. We made it to Fiji on Wednesday hoping the prospects for getting back to the States would be better from Fiji than from Samoa. After arriving in Fiji we spent another day on a travel-roller coaster with the airlines. Routes through Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong & Beijing were all pursued, and after having guarantees that we were on a few different flights we were disappointed that a number of doors closed.

Cheers to flight delays!?! Don't worry moms and dads, the kids are drinking mock-tails. 

So now, being aboard a flight back to LA and exciting but it's also given me time to reflect on the experience. We said so many good-byes and gave so many hugs on Wednesday, but since then I went right into planning mode for our own trip home from Samoa so I haven't had much time for thinking & processing. I'm doing that now, and look forward to posting more now that our final leg of this nearly month-long journey is coming to an end.

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