If you have read my last few blog posts or followed my recent activity on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, you know that I’ve spent the past week in Apia leading the U.S. delegation to Samoa’s 50th Independence Day celebrations. It was a great several days with a wide array of festivities, sports events, concerts, and even some serious business.
Demonstrating our more than century-long engagement as a Pacific nation and underscoring the Obama Administration’s ongoing regional rebalancing of resources, the United States had the largest, most diverse, and most vibrant foreign presence at the celebrations. I led an official President Delegation appointed by the White House which included Admiral Cecil Haney, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Other American dignitaries came as well including my friend Ambassador Frankie Reed (the current American Ambassador to Suva and former Chargé d’Affaires at Embassy Apia).
We brought with us the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Chafee (with 350 sailors on board), the N.O.A.A. climate research vessel Ka’imimoana, and several Coast Guard and Navy aircraft. We sent the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet Band and the acclaimed African American step group Step Afrika! on tours of the islands. And we held several dinners and receptions at our new Chargé Residence including for the Samoa Chamber of Commerce, the large number of fellow Americans from American Samoa who attended the festivities, and government officials.
In terms of substantive business, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and I signed a Shiprider Agreement which will allow the Government of Samoa to place Samoan law enforcement officers on American Coast Guard and Navy ships passing through Samoan waters. The officers will direct the interdiction, arrest, and fining of foreign vessels engaged in illegal commercial fishing, trafficking in persons, and trafficking in prohibited substances, serious problems in parts of the Pacific.
I very much appreciated the Prime Minister’s gracious attendance and kind words at various of our invents including the Shiprider signing on the foredeck of the USS Chafee and the reception that followed on the aft deck with the King of Tonga, Governor General of New Zealand, Governor of American Samoa, Deputy Prime Minister, and other distinguished guests. I was also grateful that Samoa’s Minister of Health joined us at another event to unveil plans for a new district medical center funded by Pacom humanitarian assistance funds that will serve villages in western Upolu and Manono islands.
All in, it was a great showing of friendship and engagement. Of course, as you would unfortunately expect, there are always one or two folks who essentially sit on the sidelines, shout or mumble epithets, and shake their fists at the guys in the scrum because things aren’t going exactly as they wish. That doesn’t get anyone anywhere. In fact, it’s counterproductive. I very much believe in standing up, sprinting onto the field, and joining the match in a positive, productive, tangible way. Which we have done. And which we will continue to do as our rebalancing proceeds.
The serious business, though, did not disrupt the festive nature of the anniversary. The Gov’t of Samoa superbly organized a wide range of marvelous events including a moving national prayer service, stunningly beautiful opening ceremonies, dynamic cultural exhibitions, elegant State dinner at the historic Robert Louis Stevenson House, elegant national Ball, exciting fautasi (traditional Samoan longboat) races and other sporting contests, national variety show, colorful street parade of floats and bands, glorious outdoor candlelight thanksgiving service and gospel music concert, and much more … all executed seamlessly. I don’t know how the Independence Committee managed to do all that.
As everything in Samoa always is, the proceedings were a vibrant feast for the senses. I can’t directly share here on my blog the sweet aroma of the flowers … or the fresh feel of the ocean breeze … or the heavenly tones of the choirs … or the beguiling taste of oka and palusami (my two favorite Samoan delicacies) … but I can — and will — share a few more photos to give you a sense of the celebrations:
I hope you can tell that we had a great time. Because we did. My team and I worked 15-hour days throughout the week, but it was the kind of work that puts a big smile on your face, gives you a sense of accomplishment, and contributes positively to the joy and celebration of your friends on their special occasion.
Big thanks to the Prime Minister, the Independence Day Committee, and all our Samoan friends for allowing us to participate, for including us so graciously in the festivities, and, as always, for receiving us with such warmth, hospitality, and affection. Thanks also to my colleagues — not just at Embassy Apia but also from Embassy Wellington and Consulate General Auckland — who worked tirelessly for months to organize and then execute our programs.
As the title of the post says, it certainly was an outstanding week in Samoa.