Time in the Tuomotus - Part Two
We tied up to a mooring ball in Anse Amyote in a false channel. From the sea, it looks as if you can enter into the lagoon between shallow coral reefs, but as you get through the cut, you realize that you are encircled by a horseshoe-shaped ‘cul de sac’ of even more reef. The diving here is good along the outer steep wall, but the people here are what captivated me.
I have wondered what local folks think of the sailing nomads that drift in and out of their villages, pillaging the grocery stores for any fresh eggs, produce, or baguettes we can find and then buzzing in swarms at the internet cafes, jabbering endlessly about the wind and weather. I honestly think that we are like aliens, landing on their planet to explore and reprovision our UFOs, clad in flip flops, visors, and backpacks. They just sit on the docks, rolling their eyes and shaking their heads as we clamber onto land, wobbly and worn. Do they want to know about us, like we want to know about them or do they get irritated by our invasion? Are they intrigued by us or just downright annoyed? I imagine it’s a bit of everything jumbled up. Because of this mix of emotion, I always feel so privileged when people go out of their way to make us feel welcomed to the beaches that are essentially their backyards.
|Sailing alongside SV Adina|
|Tom and Mark|
After our four-legged welcoming committee, we met the two-legged inhabitants, Gaston and Valentina. Their greeting (and their beer, unfortunately) were the warmest we’d had in a long time, but we were grateful for the hospitality. As we sat and caught up with Tom and Susie, Valentina set down a stack of well-worn notebooks and albums. Each was filled with photos and personal letters from sailors who had visited before us - pages and pages of memories and heartfelt thank yous. Three days later, I would be tearfully writing my own note in one of these albums, recalling the sweet friendship that would develop in such a short period of time.
|Beach combing with kids from Remi De and Moxie|
The following day, Mark was going diving. The kids and I got school finished and headed to shore to collect shells and play with some other boating kids we’d met. I brought in a book to read and my diary, but secretly I hoped to have some time with Valentina and Gaston. I wanted to learn about their life and have deeper understanding of the Tuomotus culture.
I found them in the shaded patio area, preparing a large meal for some of the sailors. Gaston stood near the water’s edge scaling fish for poisson cru (raw fish marinated in coconut milk) while Valentina chopped carrots, onions, and garlic. It was only noon, but it would take all day to have the meal ready by dinnertime.
|Cracking the water-filled nut|
|High tech coconut grating machine|
|Coconut bread-making lesson|
|Humble, yet functional, outdoor kitchen|
|Pick a piglet for dinner, anyone?|
During all the preparation, we chatted like old friends. Valentina told me about her daughter and newborn granddaughter who live on an island near New Zealand. She cried as she told me how long it has been since she’d seen her daughter, and hoped to take a trip there someday to hold her grandchild. I wondered how many of the local folks had ever traveled away from these isolated islands. How many local teenagers opt to get the heck out of dodge when they get old enough, leaving their families behind? Do they see this as the paradise we do, or does it become a sort of palm tree-lined prison from which they yearn to escape? Grass is always greener, sand is always whiter, sunsets always more golden…
I shared with her about our journeys, and how I missed seeing my family, too - my sister, especially. I said that in spite of the homesickness I also feel so blessed to see such faraway places. At the word blessed her face lit up, she leaned forward and asked excitedly, “Do you know Jesus??”
“Yes, He’s with us wherever we go!” And we shared stories of how our lives have been changed, redeemed, and purposed through Him.
“You are my sister,” she giggled as she wrapped me in a hug. I silently thanked God for bringing me here, halfway across the world to this tiny atoll, to see Him and feel Him in such a real way.
Gaston had built a church on the island, just steps away from the shoreline – the only protestant church in the Tuomotus. She guided me down a sandy trail to peek inside. A table stood at the front of a simple one-roomed hut, set with a vase of fresh tropical flowers and a religious statue. Bibles were stacked on a corner table, in both French and English. It was obvious how much she cherished this chapel and took special care to make it beautiful. She opened her Bible and read some of her favorite verses, then handed it to me so that I could show her mine. We were both excited to share our faith.
|Kids' collection of discarded pearls along the shore|
|Natural, unseeded pearls|
According to the weather reports, it was our time to head to Tahiti. Although I wasn’t ready to go, the weather window decided it was time for our departure. The next day, I came ashore one last time to say goodbye. I brought a few more goodies to them, knowing they had no easy way of getting supplies. I learned that Valentina and Gaston wouldn’t accept gifts without giving something to us in return, because Valentina pulled a batch of that yummy coconut dough from her refrigerator and told me to bake it on the journey. Then, as we were getting ready to pull out, they zoomed over in their fishing boat and gave us 10 coconuts that Gaston had husked for us! We were overwhelmed with gratitude. That people would be so generous with what little they had.
As we sailed away from that tiny spit of sand, I realized how many memories I was taking with me. My proverbial treasure chests were overflowing with the pearls of friendship and connection that I often find hard to develop as we hop along. In so many places I feel like a visitor, an invader even, but in Toau… I have a sister.