Cultural Persuasion

There can be no more doubt: The people of the Marquesas love to dance! Once the flyers for the Latin Dance classes were posted all over town we visited the primary school for a short demonstration of what we planned to do in the class. With our inflatable globe of the earth in hand I explained to maybe two hundred little people assembled under the roof of the court yard, where the Mexican dance of La Raspa comes from. A little girl had escaped the control of her teacher, came up to me, took the globe out of my hand and ran away with it to the general amusement of everybody but me. Beatriz’ demonstration of the dance and its sweeping steps went quite a bit better, soon the students were on their feet, trying out the steps themselves and crowding around her and her colorful dress. Our week of free classes turned out to be quite a success, attracting sufficient numbers of students for us to look into the formalities needed for continuing the classes on a paid regime.

The islands of French Polynesia are ruled by a double administration. The structures from the French colonization of days past are still largely in place, but some autonomy has been achieved so local government entities are slowly gaining steam. We thought it prudent to start out in the colonial building of the French administration with its thick medieval looking walls. In a very friendly manner we were instructed in all the bureaucratic hurdles we would have to overcome and were soon on our way across the street to the more modern looking building of the Marquesan government. The local chamber of commerce had us fill out some paperwork and before we knew it we were in possession of a copy of our application for a license to do our cultural activities with official approval. There was only one piece missing to complete the puzzle. Our stay within French Polynesia was still limited by our original visas for 90 days.

The next morning we headed back to the colonial lords to inquire about ways to extend our permission to stay. Unfortunately there we hit a wall that dampened our enthusiasm significantly. Neither my Swiss nationality and the agreements the stubborn Swiss had wrought from the surrounding countries of the European Community, nor Beatriz’ Colombian charm where enough to move what apparently was literally written in stone. Our stay in this island paradise will be limited to the 90 days granted to us when we had first set foot on this blessed land. Not only that, it also turned out that the French were not happy at all about our sudden ability to become economically active members of the local society. We were told that we would have to send a letter to the minster of labor, explaining the purpose and extent of our planned activities and then do many other things. When informed that we already had our license, their eyes rolled around in disbelief and calls were made to the ministries in Papeete, capital of the overseas territorial I don’t know what. Apparently there things had been already smoothed out for us. A lady at the other end of the line patiently explained to the French officials, that they had been duly contacted about the issue and since our activities were not strictly commercial, in fact they were deemed unclassifiable, they did not have any hesitance in approving the permits for us so that we could freely go about our ways. Some more mumbling about the caveats of the double administration followed after hanging up the phone and while shoving us out the door we were instructed to be happy for having fallen through the cracks. Well, fact is we have not fallen through the cracks, the lady on the phone was right! What we do is not a commercial activity. We’re coming here with a gift in hand, with something we want to share. Of course we will take something with us when we leave, something of probably much greater value if you look at it with the right frame of mind. And we do hope to be welcomed and fed while we’re here, but we’re making a darn big effort to keep that exchange in the fair and the possibilities for us to actually steal something of significance or to take that one and only golden opportunity away from the locals are truly minute. We are in fact unclassifiable!

Now back to work! The flyers all over town had to be changed. We crossed out the sentence that said that the classes are offered for free, as well as the specific dates, then added in handwritten scribbles the French administrator’s biggest nightmare: the price. Would anybody still come to the classes, now that they had to pay? You bet! Eight kids in the afternoon and just shy of twenty adults for the evening class was the tally after the Wednesday classes. Just to grind that wheel a little more and make our point crystal clear: All the money we earn with our unclassifiable activity will be spent here on the island. Four dollars for a pound of tomatoes. Ten dollars for a simple meal on the streets. French Polynesia ain’t shy when it comes to prices!

On a side note, I’m just about sure that not all the participants will have the money to pay us what we would like. While the French elite here certainly does, the less fortunate locals seem to have to with quite little. So here’s another chance for you to admire that pretty donation button at the left from up close. I’ve always been quite shy when it comes to ask for money for my personal needs, although we’ve had to do that too just recently, simply because there was the need. But I have learned to overcome all reluctance when asking for support for our cultural activities. Begging is simply one of the many things you need to do in order to make it all work, as long as our society does not accept and value the work that is needed to keep the soul connected to body and spirit. So if you feel so inclined, you are allowed, and invited to make ample use of the donation button. $15 will sponsor one of the girls to take the class for free for a month. $30 will do the same for an adult. They, and we, will be deeply grateful to you for doing whatever is within your reach!

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