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Our Long Journey Home to American Samoa

Aunty Otolose & Leonia on the bus in Hawaii
14 years old — a freshman at Samoana High School

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In July of 2020 my Aunty Oto told my mom that she was diagnosed with cancer. And my mom, who is the oldest in her family, had to make a huge sacrifice in order to save her little sister. We needed to travel to Hawaii because the doctors in American Samoa couldn’t help.

It was dangerous because of this corona virus being around and Hawaii has the virus so we were walking into the den of fire. But it was a huge sacrifice our family had to make in order to save my aunty. And it was up to my mom since she’s the oldest, and my parents and I travel to Hawaii every year to see my mother’s doctors so we know our way around. My parents and I go to Hawaii a lot because my mom has had three minor strokes and had heart surgery once.

We would go to Hawaii either around Christmas break or during summer. But because of this corona virus, everything around has changed a lot, and we were not planning to travel this year until aunty Oto got cancer. We also knew it was going to be hard for us to come back home and trying not to get the virus as well. My mom decided to take my dad, since he’s the only one that can drive in Hawaii, and me, their only child, had to go with them to Hawaii.

My parents and my aunty asked the LBJ Hospital for help in getting us on any medical flight that is available because Hawaiian Air is not flying regular flights to American Samoa because of the corona virus. I became my aunty Oto’s caregiver and my dad became my mother’s caregiver.

We started to prepare for our trip and spend time with our families and friends not knowing when we were going to see them again. Our family fasted and prayed every two weeks to ask for the Lord’s help. In October 2020 my parents got a phone call that our family got seats on the plane to Hawaii.

On the day we left after checking in at the airport we went to say goodbye to our family. We went to Manumalo to say good by to Suianapogi aka baby Pogi and Amanakilelei aka baby Naki.  Then we went to Tafuna High School to see my cousins: Sammy, Tevita, Kirita, Titi, and Heta. It was hard to say goodbye to them because we didn’t know when we were coming back — but we had to go to Hawaii for Aunty Oto’s health.

It wasn’t long we then left the Pagoda rented an apartment and found a high school for me, Kaimuki High School. The first week of my first day on school campus was alright. The school was hard because I didn’t really know anyone, but I did try my best at that school.

It was already time for Aunty Oto’s operation to begin. My parents and I dropped her off at the hospital saying goodbye and good luck to her operation. We then received word that Aunty Oto’s operation was a huge success, she was stage zero cancer, meaning she’s now cancer free. She stayed at the hospital for a few days. My mom contacted our family back in American Samoa to tell them the big news about Aunty Oto.

Aunty Oto came out and all that left was to find a plane home. Aunty Oto and my parents still went to doctors’ appointments and me as well. I still stayed in school because we still didn’t know when we were going back home. I also had early morning seminary done by zoom. Our Bishop (Robert Toelupe) back in American Samoa decided to do seminary on Zoom.

My dad and I got some time to go to the zoo during Christmas break. It was a lot of fun Mom & aunty Oto kept busy shopping & sending home things that we couldn’t find in American Samoa. We did get the chance to go see my Aunty Logo and some of our family members while we were there in Hawaii.We still didn’t know when we would be going back home so my mom and aunty wanted to do more shopping. Usually, I would stay in the car or go to the pet stores to see the cute little animals.

Kaimuki High School was stressful for me because of how I had to keep up and I’ll admit there were negative thoughts during those times, but I still was in contact with my friends back home and they did help me not to think any of those thoughts, told me to be more confident. After Christmas break, I asked my parents if I could just stay in our apartment and take my classes online because Kaimuki lets students attend online to stay safe from the corona virus. Sometime in January my parents got an email from the Kaimuki High School Principal that a cafeteria worker has got covid and that the school cafeteria was closed for cleaning. I was so happy I wasn’t on campus at that time.

On January 15, 2021 late at night while my parents were shopping, they got a phone call that we have seats on the first repatriation flight home. A family had tested positive for corona so we got their seats. Mom and dad called me and aunty Oto at our apartment and told us the good news — I yelled out and jumped up and down I was so happy.

Before the day of quarantine had to begin, we had to pack and we only had two days to pack. So very quickly we packed our suitcases and chose clothes we weren’t going to wear and packed them in boxes and shipped them to American Samoa. My dad’s friend Xavier & his family from FAX cargo helped out a lot. Those two days were very busy trying to get everything ready to go back home. Me and my aunty cleaning the apartment. My parents dealt with us moving out of the apartment and also taking care of my leaving Kaimuki High School.

On Sunday, mom and dad made sure we went to church so we could thank our Heavenly Father for these blessings.

On Monday, we were finally ready my aunt Liza and her husband and mother picked us up and took us to the zoo parking lot to see those guys that would take us to quarantine. Our quarantine was at White Sands Hotel. They disinfected our bags and checked our temperature before taking us to our room. Our room was small for four of us but it would only be for a short time.

 Two times we did the covid test there, painful but it was over and we tested negative. Our flight was supposed to be on January 29th, but they decided to postpone it to February 1st, because four people had to leave the quarantine, as they tested positive for corona. They didn’t want to take any chances that we might accidentally bring the virus to our home in American Samoa.

The principal for Kaimuki High School was kind enough to let me stay in online classes even though I was leaving & my parents still kept me occupied studying. For example, writing book reports or even this essay. In Hawaii all the people at White Sands quarantine worked hard and were organized.

We woke up at 2 in the morning on Monday Feb 1st to go back home. They put ribbons on our carry-ons to arrange us in our groups. Me and my family were in the blue group. We went on the bus to the airport. Our checked luggage had already been sent to Hawaiian Air on Saturday

After coming out of the bus at the airport, I saw news reporters. We were on Hawaii TV.  The plane ride was a 5-hour flight When I did see the islands and I recognized that it was American Samoa, we were finally home.

All the passengers on the flight were so excited to finally be back home. My dad, of course, did a prayer for us while we were waiting to go out of the plane.

Although we’re back home, American Samoa was really scared of us that they dressed up in hot suits for protection of course. We then got on the bus that had a “Welcome Back Home” banner on it and took us to the Tradewinds, where we would stay for quarantine. On our way to the Tradewinds, the adults in the bus were rather hyped being in there because we did feel special coming back home. Some of the family that came on the flight saw some of their families with a big banner and their picture on it saying welcome back home at the stadium.

Me and my aunty got our own room and my parents have theirs. It is comfy and it exciting being here knowing we’re finally home. The food here in American Samoa is so much better than the food in Hawaii.

After our first Covid-19 test with negative results for everybody we were allowed to go downstairs pool side for evening (lotu) prayer. They let us out of our rooms for fresh air. Our families are excited that we’re finally back and they drive by Tradewinds to see us since our balcony is on the road side.

We’re still in quarantine but after this week then next week, we’re finally out of quarantine. We’re back home with great news that Aunty Oto is cancer free. And through all my struggles back in Hawaii, I did learn from it. And it is great to be back home.

I really am grateful to the Lord for everything He has done for my family. He brought us home on the first flight and with great news that both my aunty and mom are both healthy. It was hard for us because we had to leave our home, but the Lord helped us through many obstacles that we had to face during our trip in Hawaii. I’m grateful that Aunty Oto is cancer free and that my mom is healthy thanks to the doctors at Hawaii. I’m also grateful to the Governor for making this happen and letting all the families that were stranded in Hawaii to finally come back home.

I’m thankful to all the people who have been helping us in Hawaii at White Sands Hotel and American Samoa at Tradewinds Hotel. Please forgive me I can’t name all your names know I am grateful to you all and remember you in my prayers.