When sailed from Panasia to Brooker Island, we gave a ride to Ronnie- one of the local guys who had gone diving for crayfish for us the night before. He wanted to go back for a feast with his soccer team to celebrate the end of their season. We were happy to offer a lift and his local knowledge came in very handy for navigating through the reef into Brooker’s lagoon.
As we turned coastwise along the island to the main anchorage, the hoots and calls from the hillside were our first cue that things would be different here. People working in steep gardens facing the water yelled and waved, and those walking along the rocky shoreline back to the village broke into a trot to keep pace.
The anchor as barely down before the first boats arrived in our unofficial greeting committee. Almost all were piloted by children, and few would meet even the loosest definition of a sound vessel. Pieces of foam, half of a barrel, a chunk of wood- anything that offered floatation and might be aided with a paddle. “Dim dim! Dim dim!” they call out, hailing us with the local term for a foreigner.
Once it was clarified that we didn’t have candy and balloons to give them (things the rally yachts are strongly encouraged to bring- but candy, really? and balloons- let’s kill some turtles, shall we? UGH), they were just plain curious about us and happy to play with our kids. These children were unfailingly polite: and nobody came on board without asking, and they got very strict with each other if one child perceived another was getting out of line. At one point we had about two dozen children age 10 and under (the older primary kids attend school on another island) on Totem, and more in the water.
I was busy down below making lunch for us and for Ronnie, and was headed for the toilet when I realized there were many eyes peering through the ports down below…the head included. Whew- just in time! It seems funny, but what we have here is just wildly different. Pressurized water that comes out of a tap, shelves and shelves of books, various electronics and screens (there’s no power, much less a computer, on the island of 600+ residents).
They sit next to me in the cockpit and rub my skin- maybe that white stuff comes off? Are those freckles and spots permanent? We put on sunscreen, and dab a little on them to the eruption of peals of laughter and some very funny lotion smearing (zinc doesn’t blend in as well on them).
Walking through the village later, children were our entourage. School is over at midday and based on the throng, we’re the biggest entertainment around. They laugh and help with my attempts at Misima dialect, teaching me words for things they can share- flower, canoe, baby. Niall is charmed by the little ones who vie to hold his hand. Our girls are shy to start, but soon doing shadow puppet hand games. The boldest among them become our junior handlers, asking one question after another to try and ascertain what they can offer to us for trade. Do we want tomatoes? papayas? sweet potatoes? bananas? Do we have rice? flour? sugar? soap? laundry powder? The kids always seem to be smiling, and if you catch their eye, break out in blinding grins.
We have become the entertainment, but it’s fun for everyone.
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