Monday, December 17, 2007

The South Pacific Scientology Road Show

A dashed vote in a far-flung colony of New Zealand in the depths of the South Pacific had left us scrabbling around for any, literally any, story to sell as we hung around waiting in Samoa for a few days before our return flight to Sydney and on to Hong Kong.
Gleaming plastic yellow tents on the grass lawn in front of parliament in the capital, Apia, looked like offering a chance to make our money back.
We’d noted that from the airport to Apia there were more churches than you could shake a crucifix at. Missionaries had well and truly done their job here from the 19th century onwards and a rainbow of Christian denominations lined the streets. Sundays were dead – nothing happened, bar citizens dressed up in white flowing clothes gathering in the countless churches across the island. They don’t even sell booze on a Sunday – the outrage!
Anyway, I digress. Back to the prominent yellow tents. The Scientologists were in town and had set up camp with the blessing of the prime minister in a prime location as part of a road show across the Pacific Islands. A regional commentator, Michael Fields, had told us earlier that in Samoa, “There’s a hell of a lot of competition for people’s souls.” The religion of Ron Hubbard was looking to muscle in on this act.
The taxi stops opposite. I set my mobile on to record and slip it into my pocket. We stroll across the road. The play, I say, will go as follows: We’re down and out, in search of salvation and interested in this Scientology malarkey. In the end I don’t have the cahonas, nor acting skills to play this role, but we go in looking for a wacky religion nonetheless.
A slim, attractive, black-haired lady in her mid-40s with a glistening white set of gnashers greets us. Mary, a former model from New Zealand, signed up to the sect that boasts stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta as her modeling career faded. She now promotes the religion around the region. Inside lots of funny fake smoothie looking models posed in photos – the typical tale being how when depressed or out of sorts Scientology gave these folk a lift.
All along our tour round the tented sect, Ron Hubbard blaring out of a TV in the centre, Mary was depressingly sane, offering absolutely nothing in the way of wacky, funny, scary Scientology pastiches. I probed, I pressed, but to no avail. She was all too normal, and what she was saying was nothing extraordinary whatsoever.
We left on favourable terms, though I was annoyed I couldn’t get anything out of her. Outside, in the fierce midday sun, the photographer turns to me, pointing at my expanding midriff. “It’s hardly surprising,” he says, “Look what you are wearing.” I gaze down at my bright green tshirt. D’oh! It’s the one I picked up in Tokyo a couple of years ago – The Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club one!
In the end, we make do with schmaltzy wedding destination stories.

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