Mola Village, Reef Islands

When we picked up anchor and moved to another portion of the Reef Islands, we were pretty ‘villaged’ out, meaning we’d been spending a lot of time trading, fixing, teaching, and tok-tokking.  It is such a privilege and adventure to come to these far-away places and see such remote communities who welcome us with open arms, but it can be overwhelming and exhausting, too.  It is pressure, knowing we are representing a community of cruisers and possibly forming ideas and assumptions in
the minds of these people of what all foreigners are like during the few days we’re here.  We are careful to leave a good impression, show kindness and share what we can with them.

We try to smile at each canoe that comes along offering more shells or coconuts or snake beans to trade (even though we’ve had to throw so many papayas overboard after dark, because we can’t eat it all fast enough!)  When they come to trade and are not asking for something without offering something in return, then we want to honor that effort, so even though we’re turning orange from all the pawpaw, we still trade for a notebook or a pen or bath soap because we have what they need and it isn’t a lot, is it?

Fresh Produce
Now, some guys come by asking to trade green beans for a dive mask - and we say no.  I know they need the dive masks desperately for spearfishing, but I also don’t want to create inflation and unreasonable expectations either.  The next cruiser who comes along won’t appreciate that.  We also say no to those who request alcohol of any kind.  It’s just not a contribution to their community we feel good about making.

Trading is just plain tricky.  But we try to do right by them and by those who may come after us.  We won’t please everyone, but we will do the best we can.

Party on Beach
Trading isn’t the only thing that’s been tricky during our time here.  We’ve spent a lot of time with our friends - celebrating Marky’s b-day, snorkeling, playing Mah-Jong and Minecraft.  It’s been fun!  But I realized today the price of that time - the lost connection with the locals.  These people are some of the kindest we’ve ever met, and the ones we’ve taken the time to chat with are genuine, warm, curious, and interesting.  Our time is always enriched when we spend it with the people who live in these places and can teach us new things.  But here, we’ve been sucked in to the cruisers club.  The kids, even when we’re on the beach with local kids around, will stay to themselves and not invite the others to play.  I get it, it’s hard and uncomfortable sometimes to reach out to new people, especially ones who don’t speak your language, but it is necessary and right.

Building forts with driftwood

Playing games with village kids
Mark has commented about how annoyed he gets at the cruisers clique that happens when we go ashore.  We have come to visit the village and end up in comfortable conversation with each other while the local folks sit on the outskirts.  The adults aren’t much better than the kids, actually.  What kind of legacy are we leaving?  Mark has tried to force the interaction (which hasn’t worked every time, but does get the locals excited) like not allowing the white kids to play on the paddle board, but instead giving the local kids rides behind the dinghy.  Or when he started a game of “catch, catch” (aka tag) with the local kids which turned into me playing PE teacher and facilitating about 6 games of Sharks and Minnows and numerous Relay Races with all the village kids and some of the boat kids.  It turned out to be a fantastic afternoon, and even the teacher came paddling out to ask when we’d be coming back again.  It matters to these people.    They desperately want to talk to us, to interact with us, to be seen by us.  Don’t we all want that?

But we haven’t done well this time.  It was clear today when our family went to shore in two villages.  In one village, a teacher, Lily, said she’d heard about my game day with the kids and was so excited that I’d finally come back to say hello!  She walked with me and we talked about our travels and about her life.  She kept saying how lucky I was to see so much of the world and seemed genuinely interested in my story.  While we talked, another woman brought a bowl full of namembo, the breadfruit pieces they preserve here by drying and then eat plain or by dunking it in their tea to reconstitute it.  She smiled broadly when I tasted it and liked it, and hurried back to her hut to fetch more for me to take back to the boat.  I said we’d munch on them tomorrow while we sailed to Santa Ana.  The ladies were surprised. “You are leaving tomorrow???” they asked.  And I regretted not giving them more of my time.

In the other village, we sat with Alice and Hutley.  Alice is a woman who paddled out with her family and the 2nd chief, Winston, on the day we arrived.  She boldly asked to come aboard and see our home, which kind of rubbed us the wrong way right off the bat.  They came aboard and I showed them around on deck.  I know they wanted to see inside, too, but Mark and I had already decided to keep the inside off-limits for various reasons.  Instead, we talked in the cockpit for a while and she made sure we knew that we could come to the village any time we wanted to come!  They were so excited to have ships in their lagoon!  I realized that they didn’t know quite how to act or what the etiquette was, and I should have explained it to them for future reference, but how?

We promised to come into the village later in the afternoon, and when we arrived, she humbled me with her hospitality.  She had snacks (fried banana chips, sweet potato fries, fried plantains) and fresh coconuts ready for all of us and woven mats set out on the ground.  I hadn’t even offered her a glass of water on our boat!!!  Anyway, I hadn’t come back to the village since, although Mark had gone in to work on more machines.  And we’d even moved over to another part of the lagoon to get closer to a dive pass without thinking about how the village might interpret it.  Turns out, the chief had been very worried that he’d done something wrong, that we’d left because he hadn’t taken good care of us.  He told someone that he was responsible for us while we were anchored near his village, and he feared he may have run us off.  I hated hearing this.  We’d moved to get closer to the reef for diving, and hadn’t realized we should have told him why we were moving.  Ugh.  I felt awful.  I still feel bad!  We explained when we went to say goodbye that we were sorry and we didn’t understand the expectations.  It matters to these people!  I want them to know that they matter to us.

Village waving goodbye as we leave the Reef Islands


  1. Really appreciate your honest take on meeting new people and new cultures. Not easy and perfection is not possible but you two are clearly making a great effort. Very much appreciate your sharing of the inevitable missteps. Allen Dobbs, S/V Big Papa Lulu


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