Driving home on Sunday night I was listening to talk-back radio. The radio hosts were talking about the landing on the moon 40 years ago, and were asking listeners where were they or what were they doing during that historical moment? They expanded the question to include any historically significant event.
I’m glad they did expand on the question because I wasn’t even born when man first reached the moon. But I did remember where I was and what I was doing during a more recent historically significant event: September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade towers.
I was living in Samoa at the time and I remember going up to Sebs sports shop in Motootua. It must’ve been about 11am. There were a few people standing around a TV but I didn’t really take notice. I needed some shoes as I was flying out to Pagopago that day to a sports meet, and all I had was seevae tosotoso / jandals in Apia. I saw they didn’t shelve the right shoes I was looking for so I left.
I drove down through Apia then towards the only other sports store in Samoa (forgot it’s name – next to Scoops). Again there were people staring at the TV. A young New Zealand Samoan came running out of the shop shouting to his brother in the car that America was being invaded! I thought it must be a good movie showing on Televise Samoa – poor little boy couldn’t tell the difference between a block-buster movie and reality. But then even Palagi tourists were watching the TV screens, so I decided to see what this intriguing movie was all about.
And sure enough, my suspicions were right: everyone was watching what looked like a Hollywood movie, with planes smashing into buildings, horrified people running around in the streets, and news reporters lost for words. But things didn’t look right with this movie. The news reporters where people I recognized as actual news reporters for actual news channels. All of a sudden the screen cut back away from the American news channels to TVNZ news presenters. That’s when I thought “this ain’t a movie”.
It was a real shock though, apart from the actual tragedy and loss of life, but how accustomed I had become into believing that those things only happen in movies. Despite all the hints it took me a while to click that it wasn’t a movie but reality, that the little boy was right.
But from there I can confidently say some really stupid knee-jerk reactions came over Governments. Not just the American Government or British, or Australian Governments. I’m talking about American Samoa. And I’m not talking about the heightened security measures governments enacted, nor the crushing of civil liberties.
I’m not sure what the chain of command is, but in mainland America all the airports were shut down. And for some reason, someone along that chain of command thought they should shut down the airport in Tutuila, American Samoa! Apart from the little inconvenience and big cost it was for my travel plans, it was just plain stupid!
I mean, what terrorist would want to hijack a plane and think Pagopago is a great place to attack?!?! What terrorist would fly halfway across the world to the other side of the Pacific and spread terror by making an example of a small Pacific island American territory?
Shortly after 9/11 everyone started thinking they saw terrorists in our Samoan midst’s. Samoa Observer had a few articles where members of the public reported there were suspicious looking Arab-like people taking photo’s of buildings in Apia. In actual fact they were fair skinned afakasi / half-castes Samoans with a dark tan holidaying in Samoa! Bahaha.
But the hysterics didn’t stop there. The whole of Sinalei, a luxury tropical hotel in Siumu (where the Rock stayed), was booked out for nearly an entire year by a New Age type group. Unfortunately some of the staff mistook yoga and meditation for some sort of evil terrorist plan to take over Samoa! Bahaha! Rumours spread like wildfire across Samoa. My aunty who married a man from Siumu even said, while visiting the village, late one night they saw laser beams coming from Sinalei across the coast towards Siumu village! “Ae ke’i a ua palasi mai ma leisi moli emoemo…” I was waiting for her to say “and a mothership came down from the skies or something like that.”
Retelling the story with a straight face, my aunty was confused as to why I was rolling around in fits of laughter! Man, us Samoans can be very conservative and we are easy to give into our fear of the unknown, fear of the “other”.
Unfortunately for Sinalei, the New Age group had enough, canceled the booking and took their people, and their money to Niue.
Man I’m guilty of seeing things which aren’t really there too. After work one day, I was sitting in a packed train trying to mind my own business. But sitting next to me was a young Arab boy who I noticed was reading some Arabic writing. He was holding on to a backpack pretty tight. He was also muttering away what sounded like a chant. But then he started to sway a little back and forth in his seat. But what really got me going was when he started to weep!
I started to think, is this his last prayer to Allah before he blows up the train? Were those tears of goodbye before he pressed the detonator in his bag? I wasn’t the only one getting worried. Other people had noticed the boys behaviour and were getting twitchy themselves. I started to think, should I tackle this guy before he blows us up, and I’d save the day? I decided against being a hero.
After striking up a conversation with him, he said he was trying to learn scriptures from the Holy Koran. That didn’t totally abate my fears of a terrorist attack, until he explained he was teary eyed because he was scared of his dad giving him the beats for not learning the scriptures.
That’s when I calmed down and thought, man I know that feeling. How many times had I been fasi’d / smacked by my dad as a kid for not learning my tauloto / scriptures for lotu tamaiti / White Sunday performances? Bahaha.
Despite my racist inclinations that day on the train, I came to realise we are not that much different. And once we realise how similar we all are, we’d realise there’s nothing to fear of the “other”. The real terrorists are out there, but lets not let our fear of the unknown start judging people just because we don’t know them.