Around four the next afternoon I was wheeled into an operating
room. It was Saturday; no one works weekends, and I was lucky to get
a doctor. Around me stood men in rainbow luau shirts and blue skirts,
lavalavas: Saturday night, party time. But they weren’t the exotic ones;
I was, a disjointed old American in a Samoan OR. One man stepped
forward, beatnik goatee, a distinctive jolliness, and shook my hand. “I’m
your doctor. Done this many times. We’ll pop that sucker back in place,
no problem, man.” Another man fiddled with gauges and gases like an
anesthesiologist. When I woke they were gone, the hip back in its socket,
no pain, no problem, man. The hospital bill was under three hundred
dollars for three days.
This is my story, but it’s not the story I want to tell. I’ve told this story before, in Kenya—the pain, the worry, the waiting, kind strangers. Much
worse in Kenya, not the medical care—hospital clean, doctors and nurses
caring and capable—but the ordeal to get back, bad decisions—no hip
reduction, I’ll wait till I get home—no travel insurance, credit-card disasters, Mary wrangling for a week with airlines over seating for stretchers, costing a fortune, both of us wearing down. My friend Mike, back in
Massachusetts, saved us, put over $30,000 on his credit card, arranged
an escort nurse, all the stretcher transfers between planes and terminals.
There are other stories to tell, about birds, plants, people.
A downpour drives me into my room, where I read about Stevenson beneath a painting of a green, full-lipped woman emerging from fronds, her
silver-blue hair liquid as a jungle stream flowing from her eyes. The rain
stops, the birds grow lively again, and I’m back on the balcony in thickened air. After a sudden rainfall, wrote Somerset Maugham on Savaii, the
forest becomes “a hothouse, seething, humid, sultry, breathless, and you
have a feeling that everything about you, trees, shrubs, climbing plants,
is growing with an impetuous violence.” Samoa, like Hawaii, has an astonishing variety of endemic flora. After the pioneer plants colonized the
islands, they diverged, and now nearly a third of the forest plants are
found nowhere else. But the 1970s brought the wholesale destruction of
forests for timber. A logging company could clear a hundred acres a day.
In Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rain Forest, American ethnobotanist
Paul Alan Cox describes the stink of diesel and creosote from the logging
trucks, “the odor of rain forest death,” on the ferry from Savaii. “As the
rain forest dwindled,” Cox says, “erosion, flooding, and surface runoff