The Second Day

It’s good we tried to get up early to get a head start on what’s promising to be a busy day. The gendarmes are on the top of the list, having displaced the dentist’s visit, which now figures on the number two spot, still maintaining its importance, of course, as our number one plausible excuse! As I pop my head up the galley’s companionway while preparing our daily dose of oatmeal, I realize that we’re not the only ones going to be busy today. The Aranui 3 comes steaming around the breakwater with all its might. She is the supply ship, doing twice monthly runs from Tahiti to the main Marquesan islands. Every port she touches transforms into a hustling and bustling ants nest for the day. While chewing through the mango and banana infested porridge we follow the spectacle of organized commerce. Outboard-motored skiffs carry lines ashore to pull the beast of a ship sideways to the jetty. As soon as she is fastened her two yellow cranes start pulling all kinds of things from her deck and then from inside her belly too. Forklifts are lowered and soon zip around with pallets and containers full of stuff: construction materials, cars, boats, drums full of petrol, certainly all kinds of food items, tools and hardware, appliances nicely boxed in cardboard, in short, all of the goodies of capitalist society are unloaded and soon hushed away on the backs of an army of pickup trucks.

We have to pull ourselves away from the excitement if we want to get anything done. Aluna is anchored so close to shore, we could almost wade through the water to get ashore. During the morning low tide I felt the skegs digging into the sand with a crunching sound a couple of times. It’s still better to get to land dry, especially with all our important papers ready for official deployment in our bags. So Alunita brings us through the mellow surf and we’re on our way up the main drag of the town to face our friends in blue.

After an exaggerated grin to greet I throw my gears into preemptive mode. There must be after all some practical, everyday use of United States foreign policy doctrines. “We’re having a little problem here and I sure hope that you guys can help us solve it,” is my way to start it. I then explain the urgency of my need for some serious dental maintenance that forced us to remain beyond our permitted stay in this tropical wonderland and promise that we will leave right thereafter. The young officer diligently makes photocopies of our passports and boat registration, then wants me to fill out a customs declaration, which we have already done way back when arriving at Nuku Hiva in July. He asks if I have a copy, which I do. Of course he now wants to make a photocopy of that as well, then he retreats to the desk of an older officer in the back of the cramped office. He briefs his quite obvious superior about our situation, and finishes with “and they wonder if there’s any problem with their exit.” The older officer does a quick glance in our direction and then shakes his head, which makes the younger officer come back towards us, explaining: “No, there’s no problem with your exit.” “Well, thank you so much, you’re ever so kind,” I mumble while packing our documents back into my shoulder bag. Once back out in the sunlight, Beatriz and I look at each other and there is no need to say the obvious “What, this is it?” It is never easy to figure out the workings of officialdom, but usually our efforts are spent in trying to understand the many obstacles it throws our ways. For once we’re tempted to try imagining why we’ve just been let off the hook so easily. But there’s really no time for this, as number two on our list of chores is coming into focus fast.

Right after the church and cemetery, where yesterday night the congregation had lit candles on the graves full of flowers, remembering those who have passed away peacefully and those who have been torn away from life by brute force, right after this holy site on the same side of the road there is the place where people are wrought away from the begging hand of death. At the community clinic we witness the usual drama of elderly ladies sitting on benches, pregnant ladies pacing up and down the hallways, big eyed children chasing flies on the walls and busy nurses shuffling everybody around, before being told that the dentist’s office is right around the corner. The young Frenchman, dressed in clean surgical slacks, his face defaced by a surgical mask of matching colors, pokes around my mango tooth, places some spray frozen cloth on it to check sensitivity, fingers around the gum line, taps the tooth with the handle of his metal tweezers, then asks some leading questions and finally pronounces his verdict: The inflammation seems correctly healed, the bag of pus is clearly in recession, no intervention is necessary at this point. What’s more, after looking around the rest of my big mouth, he finds no other urgent matters to be taken care of. We’re good to go into the wilderness!

With our two biggest worries having evaporated into thin air without any major effort from our side, we decide it’s time for a stroll out of town to explore the neighborhood. The concrete paved road leads along the waterfront, then leaves the houses behind and starts a switchback course up the mountainside. Soon we’re overlooking the little bay, where the now tiny Aranui is still being gutted next to our even tinier little floating home.

After a little marital argument about me always walking too fast and the sun being way too hot, we arrive at a pass, where the road starts its decent to the airport, which lies at the foot of the neighboring valley towards the sea. We have no intention of visiting airports. We came up here for the view. To the North at the far end of the curved surface of the sea sits Nuku Hiva, now visible from afar as a serrated strip of dark blue under puffs of cotton cream.

To the East lies the Bay of Hakahau, our temporary home. While to the South the towering pillars continue to scrape the sky enshrouded still in the mysterious vapors of airy condensation. The lush green up there contrasts with the dryness all around us down here on the coast.  While letting my gaze wander back out towards the horizon over the sea the mind takes flight and becomes aware of the vastness of our blue planet. 70.8% of the surface of the earth is filled with this life permitting fluid, gingerly held flat but evenly bent around the globe by grave forces of gravity, impossible to understand by busy modern day Western scientists. Much less busy modern day Polynesians however seem to fear this vast face of blue so prominent in any picture of our planet taken from space and so clearly present all around their island homes, severely limiting their range of motion. They have all but forgotten the tremendous feat of maritime conquest their ancestors had brought about not too long ago and nowadays content themselves with the more comfortable means of petroleum powered travel, navigating their big boy pickup trucks over the dusty roads of the islands.

One Response to “The Second Day”

  1. Thomas Says:

    How great officialdom is when all are content and the papers are pas probleme! The tooth, it behaves as the mysterious. Like my waterheater that went through two months of barely working every second day and then gave up giving us problems, it looks like the problems have worked themselves out no!

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