May 28, 2011

Stuck in Ua Pou

Almost all the boats that we know out here seem to be stuck somewhere in Polynesia right now (except for a couple of intrepid souls who seemed comfortable passage-making in the kind of weather that can only be described in terms like howling wind and mer agitee forte…).

Our little band of merry travellers is still huddled behind the breakwater—as best we can be. But despite this, boats are still bumping and dragging, and yesterday two dinghies were flipped in strong gusts. Strong wind is an exhausting thing to live with. I’m not sure if it’s the motion, the anxiety, or the constant din that leaves you hyper alert and a bit irritable but it’s not that peaceful to sit out this kind of weather aboard. So yesterday we took advantage of an open house at the College (basically the equivalent of a Junior High) and did a little cultural immersion time.
sewing races at the college
The College, we learned, is the only secondary school on the island and it serves kids until they are about 14-years-old. A number of the kids board at the school (as they’re coming from remote villages or smaller islands) and after they graduate they have to continue their education in Tahiti.
We learned all this as we wandered through the grounds talking to the kids (who practiced their English on us)—and seeing the classrooms where they learn practical skills including construction, welding, sewing and cooking. The open house was a fundraiser to buy the school some computers—which it doesn’t have.

This was actually a bit surprising. While it is expensive here, and we know unemployment is extremely high, people don’t strike us as impoverished. The teens have Ipod boom boxes, their parents drive newish Toyoto pickups and the stock in the stores turns over at a fast rate. But we don’t see much excess or waste. What we do see is a very leisure-driven society; every sports field is filled with teams in action; someone is always paddling by in a canoe or surfing at the break; and most nights we hear the rhythm of the drums—indicating there is a Haka (mens) dance happening somewhere.

It was the drums that pulled us back to the stage area at the open house. When they began to beat it let us know a dance performance was about to begin. The dancers were blushingly awkward and it certainly wasn’t the polished performance we’re sure to see at events down the road. It was more the equivalent of a high school play—the kind you feel privileged to see.

Ev and Michael were bad students...
From the school we headed to the town hall—where, we’d been told, there was an excellent display of traditional attire. I’m not sure what I expected, but what we got was the 3rd mayor touring us through the hand-made tappa costumes—explaining the provenance and meaning of each item. She also showed us all how well the old tools worked (like a sharpened shell as a cucumber peeler). Then she posed with us for a picture—Michael and Maia decked out in head dresses.
With the mayor at our disposal, Michael decided to ask how he might find a massage therapist for his injured back. So the mayor summoned him one—and his complimentary treatment occurred in the back room. And she also told us about a Mother’s Day fĂȘte that occurs tonight (one we have been hearing about from everyone). There’ll be music, food and dancing.
And so we remain stuck—whether by will or wind it’s hard to decide. But we’re making do.

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