Time travel and the lost luggage – return from Samoa

This article is a written transcript of an episode of theh podcast Linda’s Corner – 28 – Time travel and the lost luggage – return from Samoa

Time Travel and the Lost Luggage

‘Time travel and the lost luggage – return from Samoa’ may sound like a sci fi mystery, but it’s actually all true and the title will make sense later on.  It’s a message of hope that God is good and things are not always as they appear.  It is intended particularly for members of my faith, which is the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days saints, but anyone is welcome to read.

A few years ago I traveled to Samoa to visit a friend.  My lovely 12 year old daughter came with me.  It was more than just a pleasure trip, I had felt inspired to go.  My friend had endured some great difficulties and injustices in her life and our visit was in part to comfort her and let her know that we loved and cared about her and that God was mindful of her.  

Planning a route to Samoa

My husband is an airline pilot and we get travel benefits on some airlines so we can get a pretty good discount if there is space available.  However, it isn’t with all airlines, only those that his company has an agreement with.  We were trying to be economical in our journey so we planned a route that worked within the benefits as best as we could.  The route was to fly to Los Angeles which is about an hour and a half flight from where I live, and from there catch another flight to Honolulu, Hawaii which is about a 6 hour flight, and then catch another flight from there to Pago Pago in American Samoa which is about an 8 hour flight.  That’s as far as we could go with any airline discounts, but we weren’t on the right island or in the right country yet.  

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States while The Independent State of Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa) is an independent country and a member of the British commonwealth.  They don’t appreciate the term “Western Samoa,” anymore.  If I just say “Samoa” I’m referring to the Samoa which was formerly known as Western Samoa.  It’s kind of like referring to the ‘artist formerly known as Prince.’  But in this podcast, for clarification to distinguish the independent state of Samoa from American Samoa I’m going to use the old term Western Samoa and I hope my Samoan brothers and sisters will forgive me.    

Surprisingly different

American Samoa and Western Samoa are only about ½ hour flight away from each other, but I have never seen two places with so much in common in terms of geography, history, people, language, and culture that have made such an effort to be different.  

In American Samoa the currency is the US dollar, but in Western Samoa they use Samoan currency called the tala.  When you see posters for youth sports in American Samoa you’ll see images celebrating the champion football teams, but in Western Samoa the posters are for cricket and rugby teams.  

In American Samoa the cars drive on the right side of the road like they do in America, but in Western Samoa the cars drive on the left side of the road like they do in England.  Furthermore the cars in American Samoa have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, so the driver sits on the left like they do in the United States, but in Western Samoa the cars have the steering wheel on the right side of the car so the driver sits on the right.  So all the cars in American Samoa and Western Samoa have to be imported since there aren’t any car manufacturers in either country, but even though they’re only a ½ hour flight from each other, the cars have to be imported from different places. But to me one of the most confusing differences between these two countries is that they are on different days.  If it’s Sunday in American Samoa it is Monday in Western Samoa.   

Time travel

It used to be that Western Samoa had clocks and calendars that  showed the same date and time as the clocks and calendars in American Samoa.  But in June of 2011, Western Samoa decided to change sides of the international date line.   If you look at the international date line on a globe you’ll see a vertical line with a few zig zags, Western Samoa decided to create a zig zag around their country so they’d be on the other side.   They are no longer the farthest country in the world to the west, but the farthest to the east.  Perhaps that’s why they no longer want to be referred to as Western Samoa.  

I don’t know why they chose to change sides and change days, but it makes traveling between the two adjacent islands pretty confusing.  I left at 9:00AM on Tuesday for a half hour flight from American Samoa to Western Samoa and arrived a half hour later which was 9:30AM on Wednesday.  Tuesday was over, that was so yesterday.  

Discovering Samoa

My friend was there at the airport to welcome us and I was so grateful because I didn’t know if she got the message that we were arriving since my cell phone didn’t have any coverage there and didn’t work at all, and the hotel we had stayed at in Pago Pago the night before didn’t have very good internet but by walking around the lobby holding my ipad out like a water witching dowsing rod, I found that if I stood in a particular hallway near a particular door and held up the ipad about eye level, I could get enough reception to maybe send an email if I was lucky.  It was a bit disconcerting feeling so disconnected and vulnerable, but it all worked out, my friend got the email, and we made it to Western Samoa finally.  

I loved seeing my friend and I loved spending time with her and meeting her extended family and learning about the culture and history of the island.  

For example I was surprised to learn that Robert Louis Stevensen, the author or Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spent his last years in Samoa and was buried there.  Stevensen was originally from Scotland, but when his books sold well, he had enough money to travel.  He loved Samoa and moved there for his health and stayed for the rest of his life.  We hiked up a mountain to see his grave.  

Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave

Robert Louis Stevenson museum

Statue commemorating the end of cannibalism in Samoa

Museum

There’s a Robert Louis Stevensen museum there that is open to the public.  There is an impressive black statue on the outside deck of the museum. The statue is of two men.  One man is lying down partially bound and wrapped in palm fronds and a second man who is obviously in anguish. 

My friend shared with me the story of the statue.  It commemorates the end of cannibalism in Samoa. Long ago Samoans were cannibals, people were sacrificed as a tribute and eaten by the king or chief.  This sacrifice was called an aso which means “the king’s day.” One day the chief’s son, Polu overhead two brothers talking. He learned that they were from Savai’i on their way to the High Chief, as the younger one was to be sacrificed and served as chief Malietoa’s dinner that day.  Polu took pity on the brothers and had an idea. He commanded them to wrap him in coconut leaves and carry him as the tribute to his father.  When Polu’s father was ready to eat they opened the bundle of coconut leaves and the chief saw his own son. Immediately Malietoa was filled with grief and ended cannibalism all over the islands.  So the statue captures the image of Malietoa unwrapping the leaves to find his own son offered as the daily tribute and his anguish at the thought of eating his son. It’s a fascinating true story, and I’m really glad that there’s no cannibalism in Samoa today.  

Temple in Apia

We attended the beautiful temple in Apia and I learned about the fire that destroyed the temple in 2003.  Work was being done on the temple to prepare for the temple’s 20th anniversary. They think the fire had something to do with the remodeling project, but no one knows for certain. The Apia Samoa Temple is the only temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, besides the original Nauvoo temple, to be damaged this extensively by fire.  The fire and destruction of the temple was devastating to the people of Samoa. But the temple has been rebuilt and it’s beautiful in every way. 

A fire destroyed the Apia Temple in 2003

Beautiful reconstructed Apia Temple 

Time to return home

The trip was wonderful, and the time quickly came to go home.  I needed to get back in time for my daughter’s graduation.  

We naturally planned to backtrack the path that we had taken to get here.  First we’d buy a flight from Western Samoa to American Samoa and then from there fly standby to Hawaii, then from Hawaii to Los Angeles, and from there home.  We hadn’t had any difficulties getting there and we didn’t anticipate any getting home.  

The only crazy part was that we left Western Samoa on Tuesday to catch a flight from American Samoa that would leave on Monday.   It was a little like time travel. I’ll leave today so that I can catch a flight scheduled for yesterday that hasn’t happened yet.  That part felt so weird and uncomfortable because it messed with my brain and I really didn’t want to miss the flight. 

Our troubles began

So we started for home and flew in the tiny plane for a ½ hour flight back to American Samoa, and that’s where the problems began.  On that short ½ hour flight they lost our luggage.  Now to understand how unusual that was you need to know that the plane was small, really small.  Like a small bus.  We have a habit of packing light and usually we don’t check bags, we just use a small carry on and put it in the overhead compartment or slide it under the seat in front of us, but we couldn’t do that on this plane because there is no overhead compartment and there isn’t any place to put anything under the seat in front.  

So everybody has to check their luggage, but it’s more like throwing the bags in the trunk than what you might normally think of checking luggage and going through a huge process to get it on the plane.  What happened to us would be like riding the shuttle van from a hotel to the airport where they put the bags in the back and then when you arrive at the airport and they open the back of the van they said, “We’re sorry, but your bags got lost.  They were there when we left a few minutes ago, but now they’re gone.”  It is impossible to lose bags in that small of a plane, and yet it happened.  

We learn that we’re really in trouble

So we have at least 14 hours of travel to look forward to, bouncing through multiple airports, but we have no luggage.  I talked to some people at the airport and asked if they could send our luggage home after us on the next flight and they assured me that they’d take care of it.  So I tried not to panic and hoped for the best.  

While we were waiting for the flight, I noticed a young man who was obviously nervous and worried.  I asked him if he was okay and he said, “I’m just so nervous that I’m not going to make this flight.  I’m traveling standby and I’ve been trying to get home for three weeks now and my auntie that I’m staying with is getting tired of hosting me, and I don’t know what I’m going to do if I miss this flight too.”  

My heart sank.  It was then that I realized that I was in trouble.  This poor young man had been waiting three weeks for a seat flying standby?  There was no internet, no phone service, no computer screens, and no way that I could check if there were any seats available for me and my daughter or anybody else for that matter.  I talked to an airline employee, but all they could show me was the list of people waiting for a seat, a list that was very, very long, but they had no information whether or not there were any seats available for any of the people on that list.  

I changed tactics.  I needed to get home and I figured it would be better to pay for full price, last minute seats than to be stranded, so I asked if I could buy two tickets, but they said no.  It was too late to buy tickets.  

The plane left without us

So we waited with a sick feeling of dread while the plane loaded and then left without us.  I’ve had planes leave without me before, lots of times, it’s part of flying standby, but I’d never been left so far from home before and with no phone and no internet I didn’t know when the next flight would be or what to do next.  

We made our way to the same hotel where we’d stayed on the journey to Samoa.  I made sure my daughter was safely in our room and then headed to the lobby to try to find that spot in the hallway next to the doorway where I could get a little internet access on my ipad.  It was there that I learned that we were really in trouble. There are only two flights from American Samoa to Hawaii each week.  We missed Monday’s flight and the next flight wasn’t until Friday.  I didn’t want to be left behind again so I tried to buy tickets for Friday’s flight, but it was already oversold.  I tried to buy tickets for the following Monday’s flight, but it was also oversold.  I could not buy a ticket for any flights for at least 2 more weeks.  We were stuck, and I mean really stuck.  And remember that they lost our luggage so we were stuck with no clothes.     

I checked to see if there were any flights to Hawaii that left from the other island of Western Samoa and there was one that left in a couple days that had seats available.  It was with an airline that we didn’t have any agreement with so I’d have to pay full fare last minute prices which at this point is kind of like buying a small car, but at point I realized that was the only possible way to get home… ever.   Also going back to Western Samoa meant the advantage of having a friend, whereas here in American Samoa I didn’t know a soul and had no support whatsoever.  I sent an email to my family that we weren’t coming home, and figured that the next step was to head back to the airport in the morning and buy a flight back to Western Samoa and take it a step at a time.  

Stranded, scared and mad at God

I didn’t sleep very well because I was pretty stressed out.  I was stranded.  I was scared and I was mad at God.  You sent me here to show my friend that you love her and care about her, but what about me and my daughter?  Don’t we count?  You told me to come, you promised we’d be okay, and now we’re stranded with no luggage.   

In the morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to the airport to buy tickets for the first flight to Western Samoa. I was told that the flight was full, but there are flights that go back and forth from American Samoa to Western Samoa all day long so I asked about the next flight.  It was also full.  The next one?  Also full.  I changed my tactic and simply asked, “Okay when is the next flight to Western Samoa that has seats available for purchase?”

“Friday,” she replied.

“Friday?,” I repeated, “Are you kidding me? You have no seats available on any flight to Western Samoa until Friday?!”

“That’s right.”  

I took a deep breath and said, “Then I guess we’ll get two tickets for a flight to Western Samoa on Friday,”  I felt totally defeated. We were stuck. Stranded, alone, helpless and totally hopeless and we had no luggage.  

Where is our lost luggage?

I spoke again with the ticket agent, “We arrived yesterday from Western Samoa and they lost our luggage.  Can we at least get our bags?”  They hadn’t found our bags yet, so she told us to wait for the next flight in from Western Samoa and they should have our bags. 

So we waited. 

The airport in American Samoa is all outdoors, there are a few places for shade, but no walls.  They don’t need walls because there’s no winter.  There was a small building with a tiny office for reservations and customer service that had a desk and about three chairs.  My daughter and I waited in that tiny office for hours. We had no place else that we could go.  We were basically homeless with no hotel, no car, no luggage, nothing.  I was trying not to show my panic and despair for the sake of my sweet daughter.  I didn’t want her to panic and despair so we played “I spy” and the alphabet game and tried to entertain ourselves for hour after hour.    

The next flight came in from Western Samoa.  “Did you find our luggage?”

“No.”

“Okay, when is the next flight?”

“In a couple hours.”

“Okay,” I sighed.

We had no place we could go

So my daughter and I continued to play “I spy” and the alphabet game for a couple more hours.  The people in the office were getting really annoyed with these palagis, or white foreigners, who wouldn’t leave, but we had no place to go, so we stayed and played “I spy” tried to make the best of it.

When the next flight came in from Western Samoa a worker came over to me with a big smile on his face carrying a bag.  “Is this yours?” he said joyfully.

“Yes,” I replied.

And he walked away rejoicing that these annoying palagi would finally leave.  But we didn’t go, we continued to sit in the tiny office and play “I spy.”

After a while he came over and said, “Why are you still here?”

I replied, “You lost our luggage.  We had two bags, and you found one bag.  That means that we’re still missing one bag.  We are waiting for our luggage.”  

He rolled his eyes and said, “You’re trying to get to Western Samoa, right?” 

“Yes,” I replied.

“I will get you on the next flight to Western Samoa.  If your luggage comes we’ll put it with you on the flight, and if it doesn’t come, you can find it there.” 

“Perfect,” I said.  

Seats magically become available

Magic happened.  The next flight that was supposedly full, suddenly had two seats available and our tickets were transferred from Friday to the next flight out today.  When the airplane arrived, he held up a bag and said, “Is this yours?”

“Yes it is,” I said. 

“Okay, I’m just going to put it back on the plane.  It has a colored ticket that says it’s supposed to be coming to American Samoa, but you can deal with that when you get to Western Samoa.” 

“That’s fine,” I replied, and he put the bag on the plane.  We climbed aboard and made the short flight to Western Samoa.  

When we climbed off the plane, I saw a worker rolling my suitcase into a small closet.  “Wait, that’s my bag,” I cried.

“Oh no,” she said, “This bag has a colored ticket that says it’s supposed to be going to American Samoa.  So we’re going to send it there.”

“No,” I insisted, “That bag is mine and it’s coming with me.”  It took a while to convince her, but she reluctantly brought it out of the closet.  

Surprise, can we stay with you?

So we made it back to Western Samoa with our bags, but I still had no working phone, no internet, and no way to let my friend, who thought I was back in the United States, know that we were here.  We hired a taxi and fortunately I remembered enough landmarks so the taxi driver could find her house, where we knocked on her door and said, “Surprise, it’s us again.  Is it okay if we stay with you for a couple more days?” 

Eventually, we did make it home.  We bought tickets for the next flight leaving Western Samoa in a couple days.  I missed my daughter’s graduation unfortunately, but we were just grateful to be home.  

The lost luggage was the miracle that saved us

So we had an adventure and not all of it was pleasant.  On that memorable short flight back to Western Samoa, I had a distinct impression that God was with us, he was helping us, and I had a clear impression that help was the lost luggage.  The lost luggage was the miracle that saved us.

We were stranded, we knew no one, we had connections and no resources.  To the workers at the airport we were just strangers, palagis no less, and no one was going to help us.  But because they lost our luggage, we had a problem that was their fault, so they couldn’t send us away even though they really, really wanted to.  Getting rid of us by sending us back to Western Samoa was a win win situation.  It helped us, which they didn’t really care about, but it also helped them, which they did care about.  So they made it happen.  Having the airline lose our bags was the only way we were going to get off that island.  

What happened was impossible

What happened to us was impossible.  Remember the size of the plane and the location of the luggage compartment.  What happened to us would be like riding the shuttle van from a hotel to the airport where they put the bags in the back and then when you arrive at the airport and they open the back of the van they said, “We’re sorry, but your bags got lost.  They were there when we left, but now they’re gone.”  It is impossible to lose bags in that small of a plane, and yet it happened.  I saw the little closet where they held misplaced luggage.  It was a tiny little empty room.  It is impossible for two bags to not be noticed in that little closet, but they did not see them.  It is impossible for them to see only one bag where there were two.  Yet they only found one bag.  God hid our bags from their eyes.  They did not see them even though they were right in front of them.  

A matter of perspective

So we can look at this from two very different perspectives.  One miserable and one hopeful.  I made another podcast about faith and misunderstanding where I explain about how despair is related to a lack of faith which comes because we don’t understand the whole picture.  We don’t see things as God sees them.  I invite you to listen to that podcast.

That certainly applied in this situation.  I was filled with despair.  When we were in American Samoa with no luggage and way home and no way off the island, it felt like God and the universe had conspired against us to make our lives miserable in every way possible.  

But the truth was that God was with us, he was preparing a way for our escape before we had any idea that we were in trouble.  Now I will freely admit that rather than experiencing this miracle which wasn’t very fun, I would very much have preferred that he just warned us not to go take that flight to American Samoa in the first place and find another route home, but that’s not what happened.  In retrospect, I might not have listened because the tickets were so expensive, I might have thought, “Oh no, we’ll be fine, we didn’t have any problems getting here…” and talked myself out of it.  I don’t know, and since it didn’t happen that way, I guess I’ll never really know.  

God was with us in our trials

But here is my takeaway message, God was with us, even in our trials.  In fact in this situation he actually caused some of our trials, but they were ultimately for our good and everything worked out okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.

When we were stranded, I was trying not to give in to fear.  I can’t say I was entirely successful, but trying to deal with fear is a big deal.  Fear is one of Satan’s most popular weapons that he uses against us.  The most common lie that Satan uses to instill fear into us is that God is far away or absent from our presence.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  He has proven time and time again in the scriptures and even in our lives today that He is there, even when we feel alone and vulnerable and can’t see his Hand. 

Someday, when we see the big picture, we will see that he was with us all along.  He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us, and God can’t lie.  If he says it, he has to do what he said.  

In closing I’d like to share two quotes.  The first is from Deuteronomy chapter 31:6 “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

And the second is from Isaiah chapter 41:10 “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Today, I hope you choose faith over fear.

See you next time, on Linda’s Corner.

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