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May 6, 2017

Several times when I have stopped by local stories or visited the McDonald’s drive-thru (Yes, I gave in and visited the golden arches here in Samoa), I either lost or gained a penny. In each case, my total was a penny over or under a clean amount such as 55 or 60 cents.  So the clerk simply gave me a nickel or dime in return; no pennies.  Not one of them made a big deal about it, or apologized when.  It just happened, probably because they didn’t have pennies, but I don’t know because I never bothered to ask.  Mostly I just thought, as I imagine they did, that it would work itself out in the long run.  Besides, the transactions were generally accompanied by kind words and very genuine attitudes.  If not from the clerks directly, then the people who let me cut ahead in line or excused themselves as they slid by in a tight aisle.

Simultaneous to this, I followed the story of the passenger forcibly pulled from an airplane because it was said to be overbooked.  Many comments and accusations have been made about that event and we all know that it will end in a lawsuit or pay out or some such.

I bring up the second incident to shine a brighter light on the first.

The penny exchange suggests what I so often feel when visiting here: a kind of ‘we are all in this together, so let’s be there for each other.’  A mutual respect permeates many interactions, people recognizing the commonality we share, regardless of that one penny difference.  Actually, it isn’t the penny. The penny doesn’t much matter when it comes to how we make the world better for each other.

Will the exchange of money make the airplane situation better?  A larger chunk of change offered to someone who may have given up his/her seat might have made a difference, I imagine, but it’s clear that such an offer would not have been made, nor ever will be made because we know the airlines won’t touch that bottom line.  Which is what lead to the incident.  A business more concerned about profits than people.  In this case, the involved individuals share very little in common, divided along financial lines.

Now I realize that much more money is a stake with the airline incident than with my penny exchanges, but the penny is simply a symbol.  People so often here in Samoa share food, clothing, money, etc.  Once again, it’s not about the cost, it’s about the gesture, the thought being almost “Yeah, so okay, we’ll spend a penny or dollar or whatever here and there, but what matter?  Our gestures, our interactions, our very shared existence is how we profit, a value without price.”

I profit by being here, by reveling in the local atmosphere and participating in the life of here.  I count my change much less and bank on the changes to my life much more.