Posted by: monsonmadness | March 12, 2012

Guest blogger – Camping with the Monson’s

My friend Addie wrote this post about her experience living in American Samoa. I thought it would be nice to include something from someone else’s point of view. Remember though, most people don’t enjoy camping very often, some only tolerate it once a year to please the kids (like we used to!). If they do truly enjoy it, they love it for the short experience that it is, and then are thankful for their return to their nice homes, hot showers, good food etc. Camping in moderation is fun, but living that way? Read on…Thanks Addie.

Camping at the Monson’s. (… that is what I keep telling Helen living in American Samoa is like … “camping”.)

Over the years we have been camping with the Monson family a few times. Our families have swum in the lake, played in the sand, eaten s’mores, played games, enjoyed each other and delicious food. Great memories!!
I absolutely love camping!!! I love the separation from our normal worlds and the connection to nature. My favorite part (no surprise) is the opportunity family and friends have to be together (without the distraction of cell phones and TV) and truly bond. Anyone who has ever attended a girls camp has witnessed the magic of camping; faith and prayer overshadow fear and challenges, where walls come down, hearts are softened, laughter and games are contagious, and hate turns to love before your eyes.
Do you remember the last time you went camping? There are always similar things about camping no matter where you go. The stunning beauty of trees, mountains and nature at their best; the noises keeping you up at night; the heat during the day; the rain and other weather elements; unique access to water and fire; the amount of work it takes to cook and clean; you wear what you want; the bugs, mice and dogs; the fun of it all; time is irrelevant; the trance everyone is subjected to when looking at the campfire; four wheel drive is always better; no cell phones or technology; and the bonding experience can last a lifetime (or at least until the following Sunday for some YW)!! Although living in American Samoa has some modern conveniences not found while camping, most of the elements of life are comparable (in my mind) to the joys of camping. Take a look ….
The stunning beauty of nature: American Samoa is absolutely beautiful!! A tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the mountain peaks are dramatic and full of green lush jungle looking trees and plants. There are coconut trees everywhere, along with bread fruit trees, banana trees, and papaya trees! YUM YUM!! The scenes you drive by daily are similar to the North Shore on Oahu or Kauai. Very small town. Two main roads and you’ve got the island covered. The coast is definitely a highlight (fabulous ocean scenes!) and extremely beautiful at sunset and sundown. (Just like your best devotionals while camping are at sunup or sun down). Breath taking really!! They live by the sun, everyone is up early and in bed early.
The noises keep you up at night: The windows are always open so you hear the sounds of nature all the time! When you are camping, you hear people walking by your tent to go the bathroom. Here you hear trucks right next to your window going by, people walking by and talking at all hours of the night, planes going by that are so close they shake the house, crazy rain storms, and mad howling fighting dogs. You also hear the roosters, chickens, and birds calling. You can even smell the fresh perfumed outside.
The heat: Have you ever taken a nap in your tent during the middle of a hot summer day? It can be quite nice sometimes, but sometimes it feels like you are in a sauna. In American Samoa, it is hot and sweaty all of the time. I have never wanted a shower so badly in my life … because you feel dirty and stinky all of the time (like when you are camping). The problem is right after you step out of the shower, the heat and moisture hit your body immediately and you are sweaty before you have even dried off or gotten any clothes on. Crazy!! At night or when it rains, it cools down a little bit (but not enough – like when you are camping). But for those you who know me, I would still take the heat any day over being cold.
The rain and other weather elements: I always loved the rain in Hawaii, it is nothing like the rain I am used to. One of our first days in American Samoa we went to a secluded beach set in the middle of the jungle. It was a beautiful scene. We were enjoying the beach, the rocks, the sand, the coral, and the black crabs that look like tarantulas when the rain started to fall. It comes on suddenly, lasts just a few minutes and passes. The best part is that it is warm and delightful! There is no need to hide or run for cover, you let it hit you like warm shower water. It is absolutely AWESOME!! The next day we had a crazy rain storm and Jason got to drive up the side of this mountain with pot hole roads and a river of water going down the road. Jason absolutely loved the adventure!! When you are camping, you just absorb whatever weather elements come and you adjust if needed. It is like that here, the weather doesn’t throw too many people off their track – they know it comes and goes – and they don’t worry about it.
Unique access to water and fire: When you are camping sometimes you have access to clean water through a pump. Then you have to transfer it to your local campsite. Helen has a filter on her tap water that makes her water safe to drink. But many people do not. Daniel was throwing up one day because he had a drink of water from the tap (unfiltered) from a friend’s house during a playdate. Poor kid. That is how important the filter is. I also saw many locals transporting water to their homes. When camping sometimes you can build fires to cook food, but sometimes you can’t because of weather or fire dangers, so you have to be prepared to cook food with alternative sources of heat. Helen has on oven, but the stove top is so hot it is like cooking with a campchef. And her oven turns all of their food black when she bakes anything, like when you cook over the fire. The surprising element is that Helen’s oven is powered by a propane tank, and as you know they don’t have gauges to tell you how much gas is left so when her tank runs out she doesn’t often realize until the food is left sitting in the oven for an hour without any heat, completely ruining dinner!
The amount of work required to cook and clean: When you are camping, you adjust to working with a cooler instead of a refrigerator, a fire or camp chef instead of a stove, dutch ovens and rusty old pots instead of your nice kitchen ware, eating on picnic plates or mess kits, simple meals instead of complex meals, you hand wash everything after every meal, you have to adjust instructions for altitude and source of heat (and here your source of power cuts out all of the time – whether powered by your propane tank or electricity), and you can’t leave out garbage of any kind or you will attract unwanted company. All of these things apply to life in American Samoa. None of these things are bad, just like when you are camping … you enjoy using your mess kits, you are starving at every meal so everything tastes delicious and you have lots of helpers to get you through clean up. There is just an extra measure of effort for everyone involved in the cooking and cleaning process. It takes a really long time sweeping and mopping the floor after every meal.
Wear what you want: I always love how the social stigmas of designer jeans disappear when you are camping and everyone wears their most comfortable (regardless of style) sweatshirts and pants. When it is raining and you are huddled around a camp fire the last thing on anyone’s mind is how their hair looks or whether or not they look skinny in their jeans. In the islands, although they all look beautiful, it is not the center of their attention. Besides, why do your hair just to have it go frizzy from the humidity or stick to your sweaty neck, or why put on makeup just to have it melt off as you apply it? (this literally happened to me my first morning), and then you realize it is easier to pull your hair up, forego any make up, and wear as few layers as possible – it is just so hot! The beauty is in the simplicity, the rest just doesn’t matter!!! Gotta love that!
The bugs, mice and dogs: When you camp, you safe guard your food and keep your trash put away to keep the squirrels and bears at bay. Here you put all of your open food in the fridge (whether it needs it or not) to keep the mice and ants at bay. You also have to sweep and clean constantly to keep the bugs to a minimum, and even when you do your best you still have mosquitoes, cockroaches, mice, ants, and poisonous centipedes. Then you have the wild dogs …. which scare the Monson kids to death! They are everywhere they turn, including just walking out the door of their house or car. These are not trained urban dogs, these are wild dogs who run in packs, so there are usually 7-8 and these dogs are territorial … unfortunately for the Monson kids the dogs believe the island is their territory and the humans are trespassing! The local kids throw rocks at them and the older people yell at them in Samoan and they usually back down. The Monson kids may have to learn some self-defense tactics if they are going to beat the dogs or else they’ll just have to do what they do now and stay as far away from them as they can (which isn’t very easy)!
The fun of it all: The fun in being away is in being together and letting loose. The kids are having the time of their lives! Adventures around every corner! They’ve made good friends on the island, they are learning to play together really well, they play games regularly, they explore and enjoy the island scenery, and every now and again they get to indulge in ice cream outings or McDonald’s playland! Helen has found friends to enjoy game nights and has made some great friendships with some people from school and church. Michael was the most surprising of all. We’ve always enjoyed Michael, but let’s just say we saw his true colors in American Samoa. He is funny, laid back and really embracing the island style of life!! You see this a lot when you camp, people are more relaxed and comfortable … it allows them to be themselves, to laugh out loud and to have fun (regardless of who is watching).
Time is irrelevant: Even when you have a schedule at your campsite, you learn to adjust based on weather, or how fast the food is cooking or how long it takes you get back from your hike … you just roll with it. Time is different. You arrive when you arrive. You are done when you are done. Time moves slower because the pace of life is more relaxed and not rushed. When you are camping it is the often the same way. Oh the things we can learn from nature!!
The trance everyone is subjected to when looking at the campfire: It is inevitable if you stare at a campfire long enough, you will fall into a relaxed state or trance. Whenever we had down time with Helen and Michael we easily fell into a trance. Exhausted from the days work, so sweaty from the heat, and no energy left to do anything else but sit. We really didn’t want to move. Sitting and staring was all we could do. 😉
Four wheel drive is always better: As a camp leader I have driven my share of girls up to the mountains and there have been times when I was extremely grateful for Jason’s four wheel drive! Helen has a minivan full of little people and she gets around with pieces falling off occasionally, but most people have four wheel drive. There is good reason for that as the roads are full of pot holes, steep inclines, and even crater size holes on the dirt roads.
No cell phones or technology: The YW always have a hard time handing over their cell phones, electronic devices and curling irons. I have to admit, I missed having cell phone service in American Samoa. Their TV stations are limited, not on schedule, and often over ridden by local Samoan stations. I love the Hawaiian music and was so excited to listen to the radio in American Samoa, but they only have one station with Samoan music (all in Samoan), one Samoan talk radio station and one “American” station – which plays a wide range of songs. Thank goodness they have internet access so they can keep in touch in with all of us. But similar to when you are in the mountains, you get used to it and enjoy the separation from the world. We are able to connect more fully to ourselves and those around us. Most of the locals are used to connecting to other people with face to face interactions. There isn’t a whole lot of reasons to have hour long phone conversations like people do in the states. If they want to talk, they go see them in person. I do love this way of communicating and I hope to remember the importance of it!
The bonding experience can last a lifetime: To this day, I remember girls I shared experiences with at Girls Camp. I also remember times camping as a family or a ward. I remember bonding with people I hiked with in Hawaii as a college student. As an adult, I remember other leaders I have worked side by side with at Girls Camp or Youth Conferences. All of these people have become dear friends because we have shared unique experiences together in nature. The Monson family is having the experience of a lifetime, as they are closer than ever and have bonded in ways they could have not have expected, but which are natural processes that happen when you are alone together in nature. They didn’t need this bonding to be a great loving family. However, because of this opportunity they enjoy more unity and time to connect and that will bless their family eternally!!
As for Jason and I, we have been able to share an experience with the Monson family we have never before experienced. They were the connecting bridge which brought two families who didn’t know each other together to share in the sacred and special opportunity to trust in the Lord and move forward with the adoption of Malia. We are the adoptive parents and this sweet family in their ward is the birth family. Not only were the Monson’s our bridge, but mediators, host family, confidants, and intimate supporters of this adoption. I lived with the Monsons for 17 days with a newborn while juggling cars and schedules so that I could attend to our birth mother’s needs and collecting paperwork so that I could return home to my husband and 3 kids. It was crazy! But I will forever be grateful for Helen and Michael as they literally stood by our side and shared this adoption with us. I have cemented in my memory my departure from the island in which Helen and I marveled at how crazy it was the two of us were together in American Samoa (half way around the world) sending me home with my new little angel! The title of “Auntie” and “Uncle” will be forever how we refer to our friends the Monsons!! Welcome to the family!!
We had a great campout and look forward to the next time we get to camp!!!
Lots of Love – Addie and Jason


  1. That was a fun and interesting comparison. Good to hear from an outsiders view how your life is there. As one who only tolerates camping to please the husband and kids, I feel for you! I’m still amazed at this beautiful adoption story!!

  2. Gosh, Addie. Have you caught the blogging bug? You write so beautifully. Well done. Loved it.

  3. addie, you’re so positive! your post reminds me of the many things i’ve gotten used to here and the things that will freak me out when/if i move back to mainland life. things like curling irons…designer jeans…and trained urban dogs. ha! thanks for sharing your observations. it was wonderful to meet you and i wish you and jason all the best with your new sweet bundle.

  4. Addie, as I was thinking of you tonight (since tomorrow is your birthday!) and I remembered that when I started reading your American Samoa post I only got part of the way through it. So I found it again and really enjoyed the read. Your thoughts bring so many things into perspective for me. What an awesome experience this must have been for your family and the Monsons to become even closer.

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