April 27 to May 2, 2018
Representing the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty – following up on the Samoan Government’s unfulfilled commitment to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
The WCADP asked Speedy Rice if someone from the U.S. west coast might make the trip instead of them having to send someone all the way from Europe. He thought of me. I hated to miss the opening of Bryan Stevenson’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, for which Shelley and I already had our tickets, but this sounded like an important thing to do and an interesting experience to have, so we decided to miss the opening and see the Memorial/Museum later.
The WCADP had a deadline of the end of April, evidently having to do with their fiscal year, so had already arranged an economy class flight that had only 5 seats open. I envisioned sitting in a skimpy middle seat between who-knows-whom-or-what for the 11- to 14-hour flight and asked if we could upgrade if I was willing to make up the difference by using miles or paying the fee.
Couldn’t be done. Upper class sold out. So I shanghaied my friend and co-DPF board member Mark Kimber, travel agent par excellence, to see what he could do. Horrified at the very idea that I should sit cramped in “the back of the bus” for all that time, and even more aghast that their schedule had me coming back on a 10-hour flight to Honolulu that arrived at midnight and then left me sitting in the Honolulu airport until 7AM before flying home to LAX, Kimber did his magic and got me a much better itinerary, all in business class, this time through Fiji, and I could pay for it all in miles. The problem was, with crossing the International Date Line I’d leave on 4/27 but arrive on 4/29 and the three days of meetings would slop into May, with my last meeting and return on May 2nd. Would that work for the WCADP?
Turned out it would.
So, after a quick tutorial from Speedy, who travels all over the frigging world teaching law and setting up courts and legal systems as well as lecturing, lobbying and meeting with and representing the WCADP, and stuffing my brain full of facts about Samoa’s history (hasn’t executed anyone since achieving independence in 1961), its position on the death penalty (outlawed it officially in 2004) and where it stood on the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR (had indicated willingness to support in 2011 when urged by Brazil and France and again in 2016 when again urged by France, plus Uruguay, Montenegro and Portugal, but had neither signed nor ratified it as of today.) I geared up to take off and find out why not.
Hiccup with gearing up. My cell phone service, CREDO, doesn’t provide service in Samoa. I should, I’m told, be able to get a SIM card when landing at the airport that will have to be switched out with the one currently in my phone. Pain in the butt! My daughter Erin, who knows everything about electronics (and maybe knows everything about everything), showed me how to dismantle the cover on my phone and take out the SIM card and put in the new one and put the cover back on. Then the question became whether I’d need a transformer in order to use my computer down there. Erin decided no, just an adapter.
My sweet Shelley, who doesn’t much like to stay in the house alone, never hesitated in her support of my going and insisted she’d be absolutely fine. I’m counting on that.
FYI, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is the proud result of a long struggle on the part of the world’s human rights community against those who disdain human rights, the predators, despots and various oppressive forces that devalue human life through authoritarian, fascistic, cultish, hyper-religious or other totalitarian methods of achieving and maintaining power.
The ICCPR, which had it roots in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was formulated and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and achieved the requisite thirty-fifth signatory country allowing it to take effect in 1976. The Unites States did not take part until President Jimmy Carter signed and sent it to the U.S. Senate for ratification in 1977. Due to many objections, the U.S. Senate did not ratify it until 1992, and then did so with many ‘reservations.’ (Things it called for but we weren’t willing to sign on to, abolishing the death penalty, for example.) Despite the reservations, President George H.W. Bush signed a document intending our entry into the agreement that same year. Many sticking points and reservations continued to roil our participation, but one of the largest was the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Rome in 1992. Over many objections, mostly from raving right wingers railing about the possibility of American citizens or American troops being vulnerable to trial in an international (read “un- or anti-American) court, President Clinton signed the Rome statute in 2000 but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification. As the ICC came into being at The Hague during the second Bush Administration, President George W. Bush ‘unsigned’ it in yet another embarrassing demonstration of ‘American exceptionalism,’ and despite the Obama Administration’s working out a respectful relationship with it, the U.S. is not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC today.
The ICCPR provides a general statement of rights and is the precursor to many more specific human rights treaties. Because some of its positions or mechanics were felt to be unclear or ambiguous, the opportunity to add certain Protocol’s were built in. The First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR established an international complaint mechanism and was adopted in 1966.
Because the ICCPR expresses the belief that the right to life is a fundamental human right but does not explicitly outlaw the death penalty, many signatory nations continue to maintain and use capital punishment. Since the intention of the document clearly aims toward worldwide abolition of the death penalty, the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR was drawn up as a side agreement aiming at that very thing. It was created in 1989 and entered into force in 1991. As of this date 85 state parties have joined and two more, Angola and Gambia, have signed but not ratified the Protocol. The hope is Samoa will be joining soon.
Friday, April 27
I board Fiji Airways for an 11:30 PM departure on Friday April 27th and land in Fiji’s NADI Airport at 6 AM on Sunday April 29th, having lost my Saturday somewhere along the way.
As Saturday disappeared into the ether below me I blessed Kimber once again. Business class, up against the bulkhead, the seat was a little pod all mine with a dazzling array of buttons to push that apparently lifted, lowered or readjusted various parts of me. After being offered more to eat than I wanted, I figured out that pushing on the light that looked like a little straight line on the instrument panel flattened things out almost completely. Though I’m longer than it was designed for, and the night was longer than I was designed for, I was actually able to get a bit of sleep.
As dawn breaks I learn from his conversation with the attendant that the poor man in the window seat beside me had to make do with a bed/seat that didn’t operate correctly. I’m afraid he didn’t have as comfortable a situation as I did as his seat apparently didn’t flatten out very well. A very nice guy, he is certainly understanding about what can’t have been a restful flight.
For me, what a way to fly!
Sunday, April 29
Fiji at dawn, from what I could see coming in, is as beautiful as you might expect. Once inside the very modern airport, though, aside from the colorful dress and warm welcome of all those one encountered, it’s like any modern major airport in any part of the world. After passing through customs, a vast, very modern section of Duty Free shops tempts the interested traveler to buy what appear to me to be mostly liquor and cosmetics, along with a smattering of clothing, curios and trinkets.
Told to go to the Business Class Lounge I ignore the Duty Free temptations, watch for sign of such a place and found none. Finally a handsome, smiling young man took me to an elevator, rode down with me and then pointed the way to the Qantas (Fiji Airways is evidently connected) Business Class Lounge where I have a 6-hour wait for the connection to Samoa. (Kimber apologized for that, but it was better to have it at this time of the day than sitting up all night in Honolulu.)
The Business Class Lounge is lovely. Free food, pleasant people offering drinks. Nice way to spend a layover. Except. For some reason my phone isn’t working at all. No service. The people at CREDO told me I’d have service everywhere but in Samoa. What the hell? So I went to my trusty computer to communicate by email. Talk about a no-exit situation… Sometimes when I try to open up my gmail account I get a message from Google (I assume) that’s some kind of security device. It says they’re texting me a code, so all I have to do is enter the magic numbers they’re texting me and I can get access to my gmail account. But WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANY PHONE SERVICE AND CAN’T GET THE DAMNED TEXT?
Schmucks. Six hours with no phone and no email! Good thing I brought a book.
OK, finally the flight to Apia, Samoa, is ready and it’s up and off we go. A couple of hours and down we go.
Grab my gear and out into the heat. Not awful, but certainly noticeable. Down a portable stairway onto the tarmac, not into one of those collapsible corridors that takes you into the modern, air-conditioned customs area. Nope. Lug your carry-on and hang-up bag (had to bring a suit, meeting official types) across the hot tarmac and into a dingy area lined with people in uniforms who want to check your passport and landing documents. No desks, just people in uniforms, standing. Hot here, too. Still. Once they check the documents they motion me forward. Happily there are some luggage carts where another uniformed man is standing. I ask if I can take one, he nods. Put my stuff on the cart and I don’t see any exit. I look at him and he says, “Luggage?” I say, “No, this is it.” He says, “OK, you can go.” I look around, “Where?” He points back to where I just came from and I notice a door I hadn’t seen. Pushing my cart I head through it, down a dirty, canvas-lined corridor and out into a very bright day with a crowd of people, including lots of kids, staring at me.
This is really a no-frills setup. Lots of noise. Kids are hanging onto a kind of pipe bannister, their families behind them, some holding onto a badly leaning, mostly broken, waist high chain-link fence, apparently waiting for friends or relatives who are behind me. The surface I’m pushing the cart over is slanted, cracked and broken. I’m not sure which way to go. This is the arrivals area; welcome to Samoa.
Given the chaos, I immediately flash back to getting off a plane in Costa Rica some years ago and walking into a tableau like this. Same scene, different tune. It has quickly become apparent that I am in the Underdeveloped World, what used to be known as the Third World.
It’s loud with people chattering and music coming from somewhere. Everyone is looking at me as though I’m supposed to know where to go and I don’t. To my left are two rusty, dented, old, tired, trailer kind of things that were probably once hooked to vehicles. They each have a big open window and are doing some kind of business. Between me and them is a line of men, all of whom are smiling and looking at me. To my right, aside from the kids and the waiting families, is another line of men looking and smiling. They are all, I suddenly realize, cabbies hoping to give me a ride into town – wherever town is. I turn left. The first trailer, blue, is decorated with an acronym I don’t understand. Maybe it’s a car rental office? I don’t know. The next one, the orange one, says it offers cell phone service. “Aha!” I think. This is the office where I can get the SIM card I need so I can use my phone. But Jesus, office? This really doesn’t look like much of an office and I’m not sure I want to put my phone in these people’s hands.
At this point a young man is talking to me, offering to help. I mention the SIM card and he says this is the place. I step to the window and a young woman takes my phone and says “Yes,” she can set it up with WiFi. I say I don’t want WiFi, I want to be able to make calls and text. She looks at me like I’m crazy, looks at the phone and appears ready to open it. I stop her and we go back and forth about WiFi and call and text until it’s clear I’d better wait until I get into town, wherever that is, and find a real office that does this.
The young man has been watching and listening to all this, so I turn to him and say, “How do I get into town?” He says, “You need money.” I say, “I have money.” He says, “You need Samoan money.” Ah. I say, “Where can I change some money?” He points past me, down to the right and says, “Bank.” And sure enough, there’s a little, dirty, crappy looking place that says “Bank.” I start to push my luggage cart down that way and the young guy wants to help, so we go down to the door, I go in and there’s a guy sitting behind a counter with a thick glass or plastic barrier. “What’s the exchange rate for the American dollar?” I venture. He says, “One dollar, two-fifty (something unintelligible).”
Now let me say quickly here that I didn’t understand the word for their money. Everyone so far seems to me to speak softly and, to my ear, rather indistinctly. I don’t think I’m hard of hearing – at least not to that degree – but I did get the two and a half to one part. So I gave him $50.00 and got a fist full of whatever their money is called.
Stepping outside, the young man is still standing with my stuff, so I ask if he can take me into Apia and the place the WCADP had arranged for me. He smiles and said yes. I ask how much and he says “60 (something unintelligible”) I understand the 60 part.
OK, fine. I’m in Samoa. As we head for the car, here’s what I know so far.
Officially the Independent State of Samoa, until 1997 it was known as Western Samoa. It is made up of two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu (where I am), and four smaller islands. Just short of 200,000 people live in Samoa, about three-fourths of them on Upolu, the vast majority in the area around Apia, the capital. The other quarter of the population lives on Savai’i.
The country was dominated by Germany from 1900 until taken away by New Zealand on behalf of Great Britain in 1914. The Samoan people sued for independence and realized it in 1961. Samoa is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and was admitted to the United Nations in 1976.
American Samoa, to the east, is a different story. Part of the Samoan Islands, it remains a territory of the United States and has a population of just a bit more than 55,000.
My driver’s name is Simon and, apparently thanks to the influence of New Zealand via Great Britain, we are racing, when he can, down the left side of the highway. At speed, it takes almost an hour to get us from the Apia airport to Apia, the capital of Samoa. The highway, that he says circles the island, is a two-lane road that winds along the coast, often at the edge of the water. It’s a beautiful drive. Simon says it would take about 5 hours to go all the way around. I am again reminded of Central America as Simon races along when he can and keeps passing slower cars, trucks and the occasional bus, sometimes coming perilously close to either the one we are passing or the ones coming the other way. The difference was that in Central America that included a lot of horn honking. Not so here. Here, as I discover, people only occasionally tap lightly on the horn, usually to say hi to someone or acknowledge a generous act by another driver.
The island is very lush, of course, and the vegetation impressive. To our right, as the land climbs, it is even more so. With the ocean on our left we pass lots of brightly colored homes, most of them on our right. They are brightly colored - orange, pink, blue, green, violet - almost all single story, some pretty much shacks with corrugated metal sides and others very nicely maintained. One striking thing was what seemed to me an incredible number of churches along the way, some quite grand, some not. I comment on the churches and Simon says “We’re a Christian country.” I don’t take him to mean it literally, but later find they’ve actually made it part of the country’s constitution. Samoa is a Christian country.
As we pass, many people walk, stand and sit beside the road, the women wearing long, brightly colored, gaily patterned dresses, the men mostly wearing shirts and a kind of wraparound sort of skirt affair called a lava lava, and flip-flops, or what I always think of as shower shoes from my days in the Marines.
The traffic gets heavier and structures more dense as we apparently (I see no signs) come into Apia, turn off the main road and quickly into the dirt and gravel driveway of my temporary home, the Vaea (pronounced vaya) Hotel. Beyond a big hedge reinforced by a rusty corrugated metal sheet, is a covered open-air reception area with a few chairs, a couple of tables, a counter with a refrigerator on the right, a desk straight ahead and an open, uncovered garden area on the left that leads to a small pool. It’s all wood and has some colorful cloth hanging in spots. It’s your basic Islands motif meets a motel. The building has two levels and what appear to be perhaps six or maybe eight units. It shows a lot of wear, but it’s clean and the family that owns it, runs it and lives here is quite warm, friendly and welcoming.
Did I say it’s hot?
Checking in a sign on the desk tells me I can buy packages of internet time. The proprietor, who I immediately like, is a big, capable-looking guy. He explains that the wi-fi system they have is cranky and spotty and he recommends purchasing time through a system he can arrange as it will be more reliable. That involves inserting a little device into the USB port on my computer. It’ll provide access for the number of hours I choose and can be recharged when I run out. OK, but about the phone? He says the SIM card they were offering at the airport is pretty much what’s available. There are shops in town – I later see they’re everywhere – but the service they’ll provide is only local. It’ll provide internet access as well, but I won’t, it appears, be able to call or text back to the States. Bummer!
I get settled in, complete with a lot of fussing over me by the woman of the house, who is just as sweet as she can be. They had originally chosen an upstairs room for me but she quickly decides I’d be better off downstairs in a ‘garden room,’ one that has a sliding glass door that opens onto the garden area.
Once everything is hung up and sorted out I ask about a place to eat and she suggests a pizza place, “Giordano’s,” which sounds Italian and good. She says it’s walkable, but he thinks a taxi is best. Taxis, I find, are everywhere here and the primary way many people get around. “5 (something unintelligible) will get you pretty much anywhere in Apia,” the husband tells me.
They’re right about the place. Giordano’s seems to do a pretty big take-out business, with the kitchen open, easily accessible by a big window to the street where, when I arrive, sits a line of vehicles waiting for take-out. Inside it’s open-air seating, very Polynesian décor and atmosphere. Waiters in the shirt or top and lava lava are very friendly. One of the things I’ve noticed so far seems to be the case everywhere here. Everyone, it appears, is very friendly and solicitous, even with strangers. Warm greetings and making one welcome are the norm.
There are a number of choices on the menu, so I don’t have to deal with pizza (always a pain to order as I don’t eat cheese). I order a pasta arrabiata with vegetables, a green salad and flat bread with olive tapenade. It comes pretty quickly, and DAMN is it good! When I ask if they accept credit cards they very apologetically explain that they do but will have to add a 3% fee to cover the cost to them. It’s nice. They add that in the U.S. but don’t bother to tell us.
During the dinner, just to demonstrate that my observation was on point, a waiter, not mine but one in the area, keeps smiling at me. So I smile back. He comes over and introduces himself as Gasi and wants to know where I’m from and if I like it here. He’s a very sweet guy and totally unassuming and friendly. Later two or three different people, two waiters and a woman who is, I think, the owner, want to be sure I enjoyed my dinner and make a point of thanking me for coming. The best thing was, as I’m paying the bill the woman says, “You look very familiar. Do I know you?” Fortunately, before I can figure out how to answer, she adds, “Have you been here before?” So I’m relieved to be able to say “No, I haven’t, but I’m glad to have found you. You were recommended by the folks at the Vaea Hotel.” Oh yes, she says, “He’s a friend of my husband. They come in all the time.” Then she adds, looking at me thoughtfully, “I know what it is. You remind me of my father.” Then she turns to the man at the cash register next to her, taps him and says, “Don’t you think he looks like my father?” The man turns, smiles and says, “No, he looks like that guy on television.” A beat. “You know, the guy on the 700 Club. Pat Robertson.” Well, that’s a new one. “Nope,” I say. “Not me.” Then, “Would it be possible to get a cab?”
Back at the hotel I’m smiling, thinking about the “You look familiar, do I know you” situation. I’ve always thought the worst possible answer to that question is something like, “You probably know me from television.” Eons ago, on my second trip to the Middle East with a peace group, we learned about a demonstration by Palestinians near our hotel in Jerusalem. A few of us went down to show our support, found the tent where the demonstrators were sitting, fasting, talking to the press, quite serious as they made their points about the plight of their brethren in the occupied territories. I noticed a striking woman who looked very familiar and thought I might have met her the last time I was here. I said, “I’m sorry, but you look very familiar. Do I know you?” She looked at me and said, “No. You’ve probably seen me on television.” I almost laughed and then realized she was right! She was Hanan Ashrawi, one of the primary spokespeople for the Palestinians I had seen on Ted Koppel’s show any number of times.
Now back at the Vaea Hotel I head straight for my room to see if I have any email – actually any reception - then read over my information about the meeting with the Attorney General’s office tomorrow and get some sleep. I note a group sitting around a table in the garden talking and find out later they’re from a New Zealand medical organization that comes periodically to provide surgical assistance for those in need here in Samoa. Nice.
I have spotty access to email and no phone, so I manage to send a note to Shelley explaining that communication will be limited and hope she gets it. I see Erin had sent a note so I reply and ask her to call Shel and explain, in case she doesn’t check. Then to sleep.
Monday, April 30
I awake early, but with no clock in the room and no phone I’m not sure how early. I’m greeted by a fairly significant scouting party of ants in the bathroom sink and manage to deal with them before showering and going out to see what the continental breakfast offers. They only have regular milk for the cereal and eggs don’t work for me, but papaya and pineapple along with toast and jelly will do. My meeting with the Attorney General is set for 2PM, so I have time to get some local money. The proprietor tells me the bank is not far, so I head out for a walk downtown.
It’s hot, have I said that?
This road (no sidewalk) is pretty busy and I have to keep remembering which way to look when I cross. The street has a lot of greenery, which figures. Houses alternate with stores and small businesses, none of which look particularly busy or prosperous this morning. Lots of cabs move up and down the street and a fair number of trucks do as well. There’s a real industrial feeling to this part of the city, though I do pass another small hotel, this one a bit more up-scale in presentation than the Vaea, and then a couple of restaurants, both closed. I note when passing others on the street, whether walking or not, almost all of them smile and offer a greeting. Getting down into the main part of ‘downtown,’ traffic is quite thick and lots of people are hustling about. There’s a mix of structures, a huge and very ornate Catholic church, lots of grimy one-level businesses, many cellular shops and lots of places without signs. I see the NZ Bank and head in. Two uniformed men are in the entrance. I ask where I can change money and am directed into the portion of the bank where there is a very long line. There’s a very short line at windows 1 and 2, but the uniformed guy tells me money changing happens at windows 3 through 10 and the long line snaking back and forth is where I need to go. He also indicates, interestingly enough, that I should talk off my hat. I don’t know why, but assume that’s the custom here.
Watching this cross-section of Samoans, women and men, young and old, as we stand and wait, then creep slowly toward, then stand and wait again, is interesting. People are polite, but few speak to one another. The Samoan people I’ve seen so far seem to be what I’d call ‘ample’ in size. One periodically sees a lean person, but most are good-sized. The men often look to be quite powerfully built, and again, few are thin.
Only three, and occasionally four of windows 3 through 10 are staffed, so the wait feels like forever. Fortunately my meeting wasn’t scheduled for this morning. Finally I get to a window and change $150.00 into something over 325 of what the young woman behind the glass kindly, and clearly, tells me are Talas. As she points to the word on the bill, I realize I’m an idiot. Instead of trying to figure out what people were saying, all I had to do is read it right on the damn bill. Ah, well… The exchange rate here is only 2.4 to the dollar. The little place at the airport was better, surprisingly enough. Maybe it changes every day. So, after collecting my Talas I head out to look around a bit before walking back to change for my meeting. On Beach Street, the main road, I pass what says it’s a department store but upon investigation is actually a ‘big box’ store. Literally. This one sells things by the case, a la Costco or the like. But it’s just a big, dark, warehouse with huge piles of stuff for sale. A really messed up looking guy sitting on the sidewalk begs for some money, so what the hell, you know? Around a corner I check out a smoothie stand, but nothing looks particularly appetizing, then go into a dress shop to see if I can find something to take home to Shelley. But the one thing that catches my eye is something that I doubt she’d wear. It’s really pretty, but very much ‘of the islands’ and doesn’t feel like her. So on I go. I pick up some antibiotic ointment at a pharmacy for a cut on my hand I’ve somehow managed to acquire and then head back to the hotel.
It has gotten noticeably hotter and by the time I get back to the Vaea I’m soaked. So I clean up again and change into the lightweight suit I brought. I’ve not been sure about how to dress because clothing here is so island and weather appropriate, but I kept thinking I didn’t want to take the chance of offending anyone. I had asked Speedy what he thought about a coat and tie. He thought a tie wouldn’t be necessary but suggested I might keep one in my pocket to be safe. Dragging out my suit, a light blue seersucker, again brought back thoughts of travel to hotter climes like Central and South American and the Middle East. So here I am again, the foreign meddler, and since this time I’m about to meet the Assistant Attorney General of the country I’m dealing with, I decide the suit is the way to go. But it’s too damned hot for the tie. And it makes too big a bulge in my pocket, so to hell with it.
I get some directions from the proprietor and he’s nice enough to call me a cab. Quickly we’re back downtown and heading toward what I’m told is a building built by the Chinese, easily one of the largest and clearly one of the newest in the downtown area. A few loops through what might be a business park and up a ramp and I’m dropped at the door.
Inside, I’m in a big open space in a modern building where a few people wander about. There doesn’t seem to be an information desk or a legend. I don’t know if it’s all government offices, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. My information says the 6th Floor, so I find the elevator and head up. Once there, down a hallway and I’m at the reception desk for the office of the Attorney General of the Government of Samoa. Introducing myself to the pleasant woman at the desk I say I’m here for a meeting with Assistant Attorney General Teueli (whose full name is Galumalemana Noumea Loretta Teueli). The woman behind the desk gives me a sweet smile, shows me into a waiting area with five or six overstuffed chairs and asks if I’d like a glass of water.
She seems a bit anxious and says Loretta is busy at the moment, but I assure her I’m early and don’t mind waiting – and yes, I’d love some water.
She goes off and is quickly back with a glass of water and another sweet smile, saying it will be a few minutes. So I sit. There’s one other man here, much more casually dressed than I and very busy on the phone. I wait about 20 minutes, long enough to notice it’s hot, the place is very quiet and the chairs are a bit run down. Then the nice woman comes out again and leads me to a large, empty conference room where I barely have time to sit before Asst. AG Teueli comes in. She’s a nice looking young woman, perhaps in her thirties, is wearing a western-style business skirt and blouse and is followed by a young man in a jacket and the traditional lava lava. Very warm and welcoming, she introduces Jacek, who I assume is an intern or assistant, and seems ready to get down to business.
Ms. Teueli is clearly quite bright, very pleasant and very open. We talked a bit about my being new to the country and I offered my hastily-gathered impressions about the kindness, openness, friendliness and warmth I’ve sensed in the welcome I’ve received everywhere. Having noticed a difference in pronunciation than what I had expected, I ask about the way the country’s name is properly pronounced. I’ve noticed two things: first, where we have always put the emphasis on the last syllable, Samoans emphasize the first. Also, some seem to pronounce it SA, with the A as in AH, and others SA, with the A as in AT. She says it is SAH moa, puts the emphasis definitely on the SAH, and almost throws away the moa.
She gives no sense of being in a hurry, but I assume she’s being polite and has important work to do so I briefly explain my mission. It quickly becomes clear that she knows little about the Second Optional Protocol and was unaware of the fact that her country’s representatives had committed Samoa to ratifying it.
I quickly go over the importance of the ICCPR, the reason for the Second Optional Protocol and its significance in the effort to promote abolition of the death penalty across the world. That, of course, requires some explanation of the retrograde position of my own country, the ongoing efforts of Death Penalty Focus and other abolitionist organizations and individuals and the slow but steady progress we are making.
She talks a bit then about Samoa’s history and its culture, her people’s evolution from a tribal state to a more modern one and the struggle for and attainment of independence. She describes a legal case that brought the question of the death penalty to the fore here. It included the Prime Minister’s refusal to allow the execution called for by the court, a decision that led to the subsequent abolition of the death penalty. Jacek writes something down, reaches over and gives me a note about the names involved in the case. This exchange allows me to again describe Samoa’s importance as an abolition state and why it is so important that all such states ratify the Protocol.
Happily, she seems to not only understand, but to agree. The only reason, she suggests, that they had not already done so was likely that the issue had, for some reason, not yet risen through the bureaucratic process, was probably in the Foreign Ministry, and had not yet reached her office. What she knew was that she had not seen it. Once it did get to her, she thought it could be quickly recommended for approval and presented to the Prime Minister. I ask if it would then require Parliamentary approval, another possible logjam, and she responds that it would not. It would simply be an executive action. So I then decide it would be worth the gamble to risk being impertinent and wonder aloud if it might be possible for someone to ‘reach down’ and ask the Foreign Ministry to move the issue up. She looked thoughtful for a moment and smiled.
After some further niceties, I thank her for her time, tell Jacek it was nice to meet him, shake hands and head for the elevator and the heat outdoors.
Back at the Vaea I get out of the suit, check to see if there is email to deal with, make some notes about the meeting, read, and later go ask the proprietor, a very nice, very accessible guy, if he has any suggestions about where I might have dinner since they told me last night at Giordano’s they are closed on Monday.
He does. Scalini’s, he says, is a bit more up-scale than Giordano’s, out in the same part of the city, a quick cab ride. Again, it sounds Italian so I know I can probably get the kind of food I want. And, after the cab wends its way through streets that show no signs of any restaurants, or businesses of any kind, the driver turns into a parking area next to a sign that reads “Scalini’s.” And it’s really quite nice. As it’s early I’m the first one here, but the lava lava-clad waiter quickly welcomes me, seats me and brings bread, water, some melon and a menu. The place is nice; it’s inside and not Polynesian-style decor at all. The seating areas are separated by open racks or shelves that hold flowers, art pieces, some ceramics. It’s quiet and very nice. I’m able again to have a vegan-friendly pasta with vegetables and a very good salad.
Well fed and happy after a productive day I get a cab back to the Vaea. This fellow surprises me after I give him a 5 Tula bill by giving me what turn out to be two 1 Tula coins in change. Surprise!
In the garden area the New Zealand group is huddled around a table, I assume going over what they’ve accomplished today. Once back in my room I decide to send the following note to Asst. AG Teueli, who, by the end of our meeting was simply Loretta.
To: Galumalemana Noumea Loretta Teueli
Thank you again for taking the time from your busy day to meet with me. You were very kind to do so. And a special thanks to your assistant, Jacek, for joining us. I look forward to receiving his email about the 2001 case involving the two MPs that, as you suggested, may have set in motion the decision for Samoa to abolish its death penalty.
I appreciate your helping me to understand the process through which a measure, in this case the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, must travel in order to be acted upon. As you indicated, something like this would have properly first gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I assume it would be processed there and then passed up to your level. Since you have no record of this having taken place, that Ministry should now be the proper focus of attention.
Since, as I indicated in our meeting, Samoa accepted the recommendations of Brazil and France to ratify the Second Optional Protocol in 2011 and again noted it when recommended anew in 2016 by France, Uruguay, Montenegro and Portugal, at that point declaring it would “undergo consultations with relevant authorities on the ratification,” I hope the process can be expedited in some way.
Would a query to the Ministry about the matter from your office be appropriate?
As you made clear, the final decision is not a Parliamentary matter but rather an Executive one. That being so, and given Samoa’s abolitionist history, once through the process ratification might come quickly.
As we discussed, every time a new signatory to the Second Optional Protocol is added it enhances the list’s power and helps build the momentum for worldwide abolition.
Again, you were very kind to meet with me and, may I say, quite gracious in our meeting. I do appreciate your thoughts about the culture of your country, evidence of which I was very impressed by in my short visit.
With respect and appreciation,
on behalf of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
(CC Aurélie Plaçais, Director of the WCADP and Speedy Rice)
And, as things happen, I’ve figured out how to tell what time it is. The clock in my computer is still showing Los Angeles time. Checking it against the clock out by the hotel’s desk, I realize it’s four hours earlier here than it is at home. However, just to keep my head spinning, it’s four hours earlier but a day later.
Time for bed.
Tuesday, May 1
Up early to shower and shave before going out to my pineapple, papaya and bread and jelly continental breakfast and am pleasantly surprised to find I can add peanut butter to the bread and jelly.
This morning I'm scheduled to meet Ms. Sara Moriarty, the Australia High Commissioner and Ms. Ulugia Ana Hall, Executive Assistant/DAP Coordinator, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the Australian Commission, again down on Beach Street.
The proprietor, whose name I’m never clear about, once again trots out his map of Apia and shows me that the Australian Commission is not in the big Chinese-built edifice with the AG and, I assume, other offices, but is rather in the other direction on Beach, across from the gigantic Catholic Church that sits on the ocean side. Turns out it’s not too far from the bank I visited yesterday so I could walk, but given that I’ll be wearing my trusty suit and it’s already hot, a 5 Tala cab ride makes more sense.
I’ve received no specific instructions with regard to this or the remaining meetings, but assume, given what transpired yesterday, I’m looking for some friendly words of encouragement to Loretta and company from the Aussies, New Zealanders and the UN reps.
Back in my room to change I check to see if the internet connection is working and get a delightful surprise: an email from Loretta!
On 4/30/18, Loretta Teueli <email@example.com> wrote:
It was a pleasure to have met you today. I apologise I gave you the incorrect year and facts of the case. Attached is the case where the man who pleaded guilty to murder was sentenced to death. The sentence was however never carried out as the Head of State had used his power under the old Articles of the Constitution to veto the death sentence and so Mr. Vitale sentence became life imprisonment.
I agree with you, as a result of our meeting, our Office will initiate discussions with the relevant agency as per the undertaking to carry out consultations on the Second Optional Protocol 2011; in 2016.
Having said that, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Samoa and should you need anything please do not hesitate to contact our Office.
Noumea Loretta Teueli
Assistant Attorney General/Chief Legislative Drafter
Wow! Can’t ask for much more than that. I shoot off a copy to Aurélie and Speedy and, armed with this information, set out for my next meeting.
As the cab stops in front of the Australian Commission, a full half hour early for my 10AM meeting, I pull out a 20 Tula bill to hand to the driver. He rummages around in the glove compartment, checks his pockets, realizes he doesn’t have the right change and then turns to me with a smile, an apology, and says, “It’s OK, no charge.” I’m stunned for a second. He’s so unwilling to make me wait while he somehow gets change that he’s willing to forgo the entire fare? I’m knocked out. “No, no,” I say, pointing to a 10 Tula note in the glove compartment, “give me that.” He’s unsure, takes out the note, looks at me quizzically. I take it and hand him the 20, saying, “Thank you very much. That was very nice of you.” He smiles and gives me a big thank you. Damn, these people are sweet!
The uniformed guard at the gate welcomes me with a smile. I return it, saying “It’s hot out here” before telling him I have a meeting with Ms. Moriarty. He agrees and opens the gate, then leads me up the steps and into the building. He signals to someone behind a glass and leads me up a flight of stairs to the second floor, saying with a smile that he’s happy to get inside for a moment. He gestures me to a chair in a waiting area, goes into a door, comes out a few seconds later, smiles again, says “She’ll be right with you.” I thank him, he smiles and heads back down into the heat.
Sara Moriarty, a pleasant blonde middle-aged woman in a simple dress, comes out, welcomes me and invites me to follow her. As we make our way through a couple of doors and a hallway, I note there has been a lot of attention to security: thick doors and electronic locks. Once in her office I mention the security and she laughs lightly, saying some changes are being made. I’m not sure in which direction, but it may be that this was once a higher security office than she feels the need for.
Not with us is Ulugia Ana Hall, Executive Assistant/DAP Coordinator, Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who is listed as being one of those who will be in the meeting, but no mention is made of her.
Ms. Moriarty instantly makes me feel comfortable and welcome. We chatted a bit about Australia, I mention our visits and how much fun Shelley and I have had there. Given her position with the government, I asked if she had by any chance knowledge of a friend of ours, thinking she might know of the family because the patriarch, Sir William Gunn, had been knighted by the Queen. The name was vaguely familiar, she said, but no cigar.
Getting down to business, Ms. Moriarty confesses she’s only been here a short time and isn’t completely up to date on the political situation but wants to know how she can help. I’ll copy here the note I sent to the WCADP about our meeting:
5 1 18 meeting with Sara Moriarty, Australian High Commissioner –
A very gracious woman, Ms. Moriarty has only been in place here for two months, so was unaware of Samoa’s situation vis-à-vis either the ICCPR or the Second Optional Protocol. I explained the reason for my visit and told her of Samoa’s acceptance of the ICCPR and their positive response, both in 2011 and 2016, to urging that they ratify the Second Optional Protocol. I told her of the very good meeting yesterday with Asst. Attorney General Loretta Teueli and said it appeared the reason for Samoa’s delay in ratifying the Protocol seems to have been a procedural issue rather than hesitance, interference or opposition.
When I explained that Asst. AG Teueli had offered to make contact with her Ministry of Foreign Affairs and do what she could to move the process along, Ms. Moriarty said she would give it a little time and then, since she is regularly in contact with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General’s office, “put in a word” on our behalf with regard to ratifying the Second Optional Protocol.
Ms. Moriarty was previously in Canberra with the Australian Government and has lived abroad as her husband was Australia’s Ambassador to Iran and also, she indicated, to Indonesia. Given their experience in those countries she is well aware of the difficulties associated with the painful issue of the death penalty.
Ms. Moriarty is easy to talk with and very accommodating, so having secured her offer of help I take my leave with thanks. Once outside the uniformed guard and I commiserate again about the heat. He’s philosophical about it. It’s apparently a good job as things go here.
Back at the Vaea, the lady of the house helps me locate the place where my meeting will be tomorrow. As it’s in Tuana imato, a community some distance off the road back toward the airport, she helps me phone Simon, the driver who brought me here initially, to see if he would be willing to pick me up here in the morning, take me to the UN meeting, wait while that takes place and then drive me to the airport. He agrees and will pick me up here at 9AM tomorrow.
That settled (I hope), I change and get a cab downtown to walk around a bit and see if I can find something appropriate to take home to Shelley or the grandkids. But the pickin’s are slim. So it’s back to the room to send off the above message about the meeting with Sara Moriarty and get set for the 2PM meeting with Mike Walsh, the Deputy High Commissioner of New Zealand.
Things at the New Zealand Commission are much more relaxed than I found them at the Australian Commission, though that may change if I understood Ms. Moriarty correctly. Another friendly guard guides me in and Mike Walsh, a friendly, fit-looking middle-aged man, meets me wearing the traditional lava lava and a shirt. He leads me into his office without passing any security barriers – which elicits a comment from me and a laugh from him – and offers me a seat in his office while pointing out the beautiful view he enjoys out a large picture window. The shoreline is right across Beach Street and the ocean beyond it appears endless.
Before getting into the particulars I mention how impressed I have been by the warmth, hospitality and apparent kindness of the people I’ve met in the last couple of days. I cite the incident this morning with the cab driver as an example. He smiles in acknowledgment and talks a bit about the Island culture. He is himself, he tells me, a Maori (the native people of New Zealand), which surprises me, and is married to a Samoan woman. Though distinctly different people, they derive, he believes, from a common source and share a great deal. The formal language of each is remarkably similar, he says, with some letters interchanged or left out of one or the other, but generally recognizable to those few who are conversant in them. In both cases, it appears, the formal languages seem to be of interest to elders, students and educators and not in general use.
As regards my observation about warmth and kindness, he acknowledges and agrees, but rues the amount of violence here. Most of it, he says, is domestic, intra-family, as in brother to brother, and primarily the result of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is a problem here, he says, aggravated by a cheap product produced and promoted by the Chinese, a kind of quasi-vodka. “But,” he says, for all the liquor and violence, “they’re in church every Sunday.”
The economy is a major issue, he thinks. The difference in wages here as opposed to those in American Samoa, the U.S. territory, is 10 to 1. A worker here gets about $2.00 per hour as opposed to $20.00 per hour there. But here, as much of a struggle at that portends, they take pride in their independence.
I liked him and sent the following note to the WCADP about our meeting.
5 1 18 meeting with Michael Wehi Mailetonga Walsh – Deputy High Commissioner of New Zealand
Mike Walsh is an easy-going, very accessible guy. He’s been here for 3 years in this, his second term in Samoa with the New Zealand High Commission, the first being from 1996 to 2000. A Maori, he is married to a Samoan woman and talks about the islands, the people and the culture freely and easily.
He clearly saw the delay in ratifying the Protocol as a function of bureaucratic sluggishness. He described the government here as a series of triangles where nothing happens if the person at the top isn’t focused on it. The Prime Minister has been in ill health, he said, and the woman next in line has tried to lighten the load by taking over his travel schedule, but the way it has worked out is the PM doesn’t easily let go so they are both out of the country a great deal.
Per the issue of ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, he saw no reason why they wouldn’t do it and said he deals with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the AG’s office regularly and will “recommend” that they get to it.
As was the case with the visit with Ms. Moriarty, he was open, cooperative and fully ready to be helpful.
So. Two for two – actually, given Loretta’s message, three for three – is not bad, so I head back to the Vaea, get out of the suit and relax for a while, then take a walk and look around. Lots of dogs here. Lots.
Giordano’s is open, so I head up there for an early dinner. Same nice people, same nice welcome. Even the chef comes out to greet me. Very impressive. Since I had such good luck last time I order the same thing and enjoy it just as much the second time. The “Do I know you?” woman isn’t around, nor is her husband – Pat Robertson, indeed! – so I pay up, get a cab and head back.
I’m hoping tomorrow’s schedule works OK. I’m hoping Simon shows up and Tuana imato isn’t too far out of the way and the UN meeting goes OK and I can get to the airport on time and that I have enough Tula to pay Simon at the airport, assuming Simon shows up. Other than that, no problem.
Having only fragile email access tonight I decide to try to follow up on the meetings today by knocking out notes to Sara Moriarty and Mike Walsh:
To: Ms. Sara Moriarty, Australian High Commissioner
Dear Ms. Moriarty,
Thank you for making the time to see me this morning. I appreciate your kindness and generosity.
Thanks also for understanding the significance of Samoa’s ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Your willingness to “put in a word” on our behalf means a great deal. As suggested, I believe Assistant Attorney General Loretta Teueli is supportive of ratification and thinks the problem is simply a procedural one that should be easily overcome. I’m sure a word from you in support will be welcome.
On a personal note, I very much appreciate your sensitivity to the issue. I’m sure your experience with your husband in both Indonesia and Iran was particularly difficult when dealing with the cold-bloodedness of those regimes in this regard.
For some reason I’m having difficulty this evening accessing my normal email, so if you will, please note my correct email address as firstname.lastname@example.org rather than this one, which is a secondary ISP I’m grateful to be able to access tonight.
If you happen to get a sense of how things are progressing when you do make contact with Loretta or her counterparts, I’d appreciate a word, if you feel it appropriate.
Again, my thanks for your time and your kind assistance.
To: Mike Walsh, Deputy New Zealand High Commissioner
Thanks very much for taking the time to meet with me today. I appreciated the relaxed and comfortable opportunity to chat. And that’s quite a view from your office!
I think your assessment of the situation regarding Samoa’s ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR is spot on. Certainly Assistant Attorney General Loretta Teueli’s response gave every indication of support for ratification once the issue finds its way to her. That being the case, your willingness to “recommend” that they get to it when you find a moment to have a word with them is very much appreciated.
Thanks also for taking the time to share a bit of your knowledge of the country and its people. As said, I have found the sweet simplicity, openness and kindness of the people with whom I’ve had the chance to interact to be very charming.
Your thoughts about the Maori/Samoan relationship, and particularly the points you made about the interconnections between the languages, intrigued me. The idea that the formal, or was it historic, versions of the tongues appear to be fading, if I understood you correctly, from disuse leaves me with a slight sense of sadness. I think we don’t serve ourselves well if we forget too much of where we came from.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into what you shared. If so, forgive me, please.
In the event you do have a chance to gently urge some action on the Protocol to those with whom you interact, I’d appreciate hearing any response you might think appropriate. In the event you have occasion to reach out to me, please note the email address to use is email@example.com. For some reason I’m not able to access it tonight but was able to get out on this secondary site. I just don’t check this as often as I do the regular one.
In any event, thank you again for your kindness. I wish you well.
Mike Farrell World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Wednesday, May 2
Wake up early enough to shower, shave and ponder what to wear. I’ve got to check out and carry everything and should probably wear the suit to meet the UN Rep, but don’t want to wear it on the plane. Can I get away with jeans for this meeting? Nah, probably not. So wear the suit, bag everything and trust I’ll be able to find a place or a way to change somewhere.
Grab some papaya, pineapple and PB&J and then settle up with the lady of the house. Trying to calculate what this trip with Simon will cost, assuming Simon shows up, I figure he charged 60 Tula to bring me here from the airport, so hang on to 140 Tula and put the rest of the room charge on my credit card. She reminds me that they have to add 3% when one pays by credit card, which I find very sweet for some reason, and I assure her I understand and thank her for her hospitality. These folks could not have been nicer. I ask if she’d be willing to call Simon to remind him about the 9AM pickup and she says there’s a cab outside.
As we load up and take off I make sure he understands that I’ll need to have him wait while I’m in this meeting. He does. I assume it won’t take long, but one never knows.
I’d been warned that the traffic would be much heavier at this time of the day, and it is, but we move along well, again passing lush surroundings, gaily painted houses and lots of churches, including a Mormon Temple with the gold statue of Moroni on high. I’d seen that one on the way down from the airport – (well, actually, ‘down’ is a guess. I have a good sense of direction but realized at one point that I don’t know what direction I’m traveling because I don’t know what is where. I don’t know if we’re on the north, south, east or west side of this island, and I don’t know if Apia up, down or sideways from the airport and vice versa.) – anyway I’d noticed the Mormon Temple on the way from the airport and had been surprised to see it. I shouldn’t have been, I guess, because they are busy missionaries.
But the point I was going to make is that there don’t seem to be easily evident delineations between one community and another as we travel along. There are brightly painted houses and churches of many different faiths (all Christian in some form) all along the way and it’s hard to tell when you go from one community, that may have a name, to another. Downtown Apia is clearly a city. So far, everything else looks like it’s all one big blended place. Maybe that’s a reflection of the society itself.
But soon we head off the main highway up, away from the ocean, toward higher ground. And before too long Simon says, we’re in Tuana imato. How one can tell that is beyond me. Nothing looks any different than it did a while ago and there’s no sign of a business section, no sense of a ‘town.’ After a few turns we are heading toward what looks like a school, a very large, kind of warehouse-looking structure with a huge grass playing field before it, all surrounded by a serious chain-link fence. We skirt it, passing a lane with a gate that’s apparently a way in, and keep going up and around to another gate that turns out to be an exit. So back we go to the lane with the first gate, stop at a barrier and are greeted by a uniformed man who converses with Simon, points at me, asks my name, checks something, smiles and lifts the barrier. In we go. Simon stops in front, lets me out, says he’ll wait and waves me up the steps to the only door I see.
Up and in, I’m on the concrete floor of a huge building that is peppered with offices and posters and no visible people. It has a kind of institutional feeling mixed with the energy of a building under construction. I head down a hallway and a woman comes out of a door and asks who I’m looking for. I say I’m here to meet Ms. Georgina Bonin. She says, “Hello. You must be Mr. Farrell. And you’re early. I’m Georgina Bonin.”
“Oh,” I said, “good. Nice to meet you. I’m sorry about being early, I just had no idea how long it would take to get here.”
She was kind, said “This is good. I have a very full schedule today, so it helps that you’re early.” She then led me away from the door she had come out of, further down the hall to a corner, around it and into a small office. On the way she waved an arm at the huge empty space that was the rest of the building, saying they – apparently the UN – are redesigning the entire inside of the place, going to have two stories of offices filling what from this vantage point looks like an empty blimp hangar.
Georgina Bonin is, I assume, from the South Pacific, perhaps she’s Samoan. She doesn’t say and it’s hard to know. A large woman with a kind face and a warm manner, she is the Assistant Resident Representative of the Governance and Poverty Reduction Unit of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). She is also unclear about the reason for our meeting.
Not with us is Ms. Desna Salofa, UN Coordination Specialist that I was told to possibly expect. Perhaps my early arrival and the aforementioned ‘full schedule’ explain her absence.
In any event, I quickly fill Ms. Bonin in on the ICCPR, the Second Optional Protocol, Samoa’s agreement to sign and the lack of follow-through. She is quick to understand and just as quick to identify the villain as legislative overwhelm. She says everything takes longer than it should here, not as a result of corruption or lack of cooperation, but simply because of the complexities involved in being a relatively new nation in a massive and confusing international system. Her area being development and poverty reduction, she has a ground-zero view of the ways in which progress on every level can become bogged down.
She points out a web app, SADATA (Samoa Data), developed by the UNDP and New Zealand Government, on which one can trace and/or keep track of legislation as it makes its way through the process here. She also says it’s good timing that we meet and discuss this today, because she will be meeting with the head of Samoa’s Foreign Ministry this afternoon and will be able to mention my visit and the importance of the issue in question.
It’s clear that she needs to move on, so I thank her for the time, the information and especially for her willingness to mention the issue in her meeting this afternoon. Heading for the stairs I spot Simon, who is surprised I’m back so soon but ready to go.
The drive out of Tuana imato again gives me no sense of its being a community separate from everything else we’ve come through. Other than the huge edifice we’ve just left I see no sign of businesses or offices. Oh well…
Simon has to pick up his daughter at school but can take me to the airport and still have time. He is, though, worried that I’ll have a long wait at the airport. I tell him the kind lady at the Vaea told me there’s a resort near the airport, so if there’s nowhere to eat at the airport maybe he can drop me there for a while. He says he knows of a place, and on we go.
We pass some sort of transit hub and Simon explains it’s the ferry that connects Upolu, where we are, to Savai’i, the second of the two primary islands of the six that comprise Samoa. Simon says many people work here and live there. Others often travel to Savai’i to vacation or relax, as, if I understand him correctly, life there is slower. Hmmm.
After quite a while we pass the airport, the look of which surprises and confuses me. It’s a quite modern two-story building with a parking lot and a paved approach, nothing at all like what I remember when arriving only two days ago. I’ll figure that out when we come back.
Soon we pass a Sheraton resort on the beach, but Simon says he wants to take me to a better one a bit farther along. “Too expensive,” he says of the Sheraton, and adds a couple of words I don't clearly get but understand the gist of: it’s not in synch with the island.
After a while we turn through a hedge into a little lane that passes through a lovely grove of palms and, after about 50 yards or so, Simon pulls up in front of a smiling greeter at the door to a very smart-looking islands-style resort complete with individual cottages, wonderful, lush, well-tended gardens, an open-air dining area, a wide expanse of beach facing what appears to be almost a lagoon where you can see waves breaking on a reef about 100 yards out.
Simon takes off, saying he’ll be back to get me to the airport, and I’m ushered in. They’re very gracious, seem to understand that I’m not staying and are fine with it. They let me hang my bags in their luggage room and steer me to the dining area where I have a nice salad and a pasta dish and watch the waves break, breezes blow and birds fly. Other than the staff and me there seems to be no one else around.
After eating and watching I’m able, happily, to change out of my suit. Then, after sitting for a while in the lobby area and having a bunch of people worry that I needed something, anything, and me insisting I’m fine and don’t want to bother anyone, I am persuaded to go into a little structure where another kind person turns on a TV and I watch a tattooed man and woman team of snake catchers rescue huge, deadly snakes that had gotten too close to civilization and are terrifying the locals. A couple of the snakes are Black Mambas, so I assume it’s set in Africa. Pretty daring stuff, actually, and a hell of a service, when you think about it.
Simon shows up, I thank everyone for their hospitality, we load up and head for the airport. I’m not sure, with all the waiting and backing and forthing, if I have enough Talas to pay Simon, so managed to change a few more bucks at the resort. At the airport, it turns out I hadn’t gotten enough, but Simon was delighted to take the rest of my Talas and a $20.00 bill.
The Apia, Samoa, Airport is a case study in schizophrenia. I assume it’s a question of making progress slowly, but the arrivals area is as Third World-esque as I described earlier, while the ticket counter, boarding gates and attendant shops and conveniences are clean, easy to access and quite modern. It’s very odd. One certainly gets a knocked-down sense of the place coming in, but just the opposite going out. I would think they’d have done it the other way around, but that’s for them to decide. I’m ready to get on a plane back to Fiji and on toward home. So I do.
A couple of hours later I’m back in Fiji’s Nadi airport with all its – compared to Samoa – luxurious appointments. The Business Class Lounge welcomes me and I can finally call home. NOT. Even here, the careful arrangements made before I left the States seem to have been for naught. “No Service,” my phone tells me. Of course I assume I’m doing something wrong so I ask a couple of people for help, but no one can make it work. I am fit to be tied. Then a wonderful woman at the concierge desk goes over the top. She tries and doesn’t succeed. She’s stumped, I’m stumped, all God’s children are stumped. So she takes out her own phone, dials a number and hands it to me! I put it to my ear and hear Shelley’s voice. I can’t believe it! I start to try to explain what this sweet woman has done, but before we can say too much there are some beeps and she’s gone. The woman has walked away, but when she comes back I explain what had happened and try hard to thank her. But when I mention the beeps and the line cutting off she is embarrassed. She apparently hadn’t re-charged the phone or done whatever was necessary to keep it from shutting down. It doesn’t matter, I assure her. What she did was an incredibly sweet and a phenomenally generous thing to do.
My computer, at least, is working here, so I send the below email to the WCADP about the meeting with Ms. Bonin:
5 2 18 Meeting with Ms. Georgina Bonin, UNDP
Ms. Bonin was very kind to take the time out of a very busy day. Once she understood the point of my mission she made sure we knew of the web app SADATA (Samoa data) that the government is putting into place. It will, at least in theory, track all pending legislation and may give you some idea of where the issue is.
When I told her of the point made by Loretta at the AG’s office, she mentioned seeing today the woman who, if I understood her correctly, is in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If not, she is highly placed, and Ms. Bonin will “mention” our meeting and the need to move the issue up to the AG.
The meeting was short and to the point. I didn’t want to intrude further because she clearly had a full day ahead of her.
And, surprise, I have an email from Mike Walsh!
Thanks Mike – likewise it was nice to meet up with you and hear your positive impressions of Samoa.
Just to clarify on the Samoan formal language. Both formal and informal are very much still alive. The formal language though is not fully known by all. It is reserved more for formal occasions and for people of seniority (Chiefs). It is treated as an art form and treasure. For us Māori on the other hand we do not have such a difference between formal and informal – ours is more about the depth you go into and references you make in your speaking.
Also fyi – I met last week with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and also a prominent Judge (who I have forwarded Aurelie’s letter to) and noted your visit and issue. They agreed that they could not see any reason why Samoa would not accede to the protocol – but thought it was probably more a priority/process issue and of paperwork working its way through the system
Well, great! We’re batting a thousand!
I do some catch-up until it’s time to head for the gate and the long flight home. Before too long we’re called and once aboard, oh joy! Thanks to the magic of my pal Kimber, I have the same little pod that’s all mine with the same array of buttons to push that make an almost-long-enough bed for little old me.
We’re quickly off and fed and provided all the comforts, but soon the young woman in the window seat beside me tells the attendant that her seat isn’t functioning properly. Where have I heard that before? She’s up, and first one attendant then another push, pull and yank things around to no apparent avail. Fortunately for her there’s an empty seat a couple of rows back, and as she collects her stuff to move she comments about being embarrassed that she’s apparently broken the seat. I quickly let her know it’s not her fault, that it’s clearly the same plane I came down on and the man in that seat had the same problem. If there’s a fault, it’s the airline’s not hers.
We fly all night and I’m able to sleep some and then just sit there and think about the fact that, because we’ll cross the International Date Line again, I’ll arrive home tomorrow on the same day I left Samoa today. That prompts more thinking about the life I’m lucky enough to lead, the craziness of the world in which we live - some of it fun and funny crazy, some weird and odd crazy, and some, especially given the political situation in our country, increasingly truly insane crazy.
As we land at LAX and taxi forever I’m able to get off an email to Ms. Bonin;
Ms. Sala Georgina Bonin, Asst. Resident Representative Government and Poverty Reduction Unit UNDP Dear Ms. Bonin,
Thanks very much for accommodating me yesterday. I apologize for being late with this note, but as mentioned I went straight from our meeting to the airport and from there to NADI and on to Los Angeles.
You were kind to fit me into your busy day, and even more so to accommodate my early arrival. Figuring out how much time to allow for travel can sometimes get the better of me, it appears.
Knowing of the web app SADATA will be very good for those at the WCADP in order to remain up to date on legislation in your country.
I hope your day of meetings went well. I especially appreciate your willingness to make mention, when meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of our hope for the imminent ratification of the UN's Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. As discussed, it appears to be only a function of moving it up to the office of the Attorney General.
Again, thank you for your kindness in making the time to see me.
Mike Farrell World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
It makes me laugh to think that according to the calendar and the clock we landed four hours before we left. That’s a hell of a trip.
Calling Shelley gets her voice mail, which tells me she forgot to bring her phone – or doesn’t hear it ringing. I want to tell her I’ll be a while. I have to walk forever from where they pull the plane in, then go through passport check and through customs what seem to be three times, swear I'm not a terrorist and then fight my way up to the international arrivals area. Not seeing her there and again not being able to reach her by phone I go outside and watch for her car in case she’s making the circle and hoping to pick me up. After watching fruitlessly for a while I go back inside in case we missed each other in the scrum. After a search, apparently not, so back outside. Getting to the curb I see what looks like the back of her car pulling away in traffic. I start running, see a traffic control officer stop her car to let a pedestrian cross and think I might make it. But the pedestrian goes by I still haven’t caught up and the officer waves her forward. This can’t happen! So I holler “HOLD IT!!” He hears me, she doesn’t. She is busily trying to obey his instruction and pull away. Quickly he puts his arms up to stop her and she jams on the brakes, confused. He smiles and points back toward me as I run up from way the hell behind, bang on the back door, scaring hell out of her and, when she understands and unlocks, get in. Thanks, officer!