A Man with a Vision

Rio’s full, round face has always been a mystery to me until last Sunday evening. The few short conversations we had with him since our arrival had always been kind of weird, of a very cynical connotation most of the time. You’ve read about him suspecting that we had messed with the language setting of his Skype account. His standard greeting goes somewhat like this: “Hello! I think you are better than me!” To which you cannot answer otherwise but with an astonished: “Why?” His explanation: “It must be, because otherwise, why would I have to work so hard?” Try to figure that one out!

Last Sunday was White Sunday, which is what the locals term the first Sunday of every month and they faithfully dress up in white for church. Men get out their impeccably tailored suits of deep bleached shining white and the ladies dress from toe to hat in broidered white. There’s a succulent kai kai after service and in late afternoon another gathering where those who dare take part in a contest of interpretation of selected verses of the Holy Word. One by one they stand up, mostly the members of the older generation. Holding the Bible in the left hand the right gestures wildly, imperatively raising the index finger without pointing at anybody in particular. Some speeches seem to be moral lectures of fearful urges to righteousness, while other’s end apparently in a more humorous note. Apparently I have to say because unfortunately my dominancy of the local language, a close relative to the Maori New Zealand’s aboriginals speak, is way too far away from allowing me to make literal sense of it, but I certainly love to busy myself reading the subtext, the emotional undertones, the winding musical lines and the tender subtleties of the changes in rhythm of those verbal tirades. It all ends peacefully with the serving of yummy baked goods with coffee and tea just after sunset.

We’re just about to board little Alunita to paddle back out to our watery home, when little Rio Junior calls us, gesturing with his skinny arms to come over to Rio Senior’s house. The family sits on white plastic garden chairs along the edge of their private concrete wharf. Already twice father Rio had explained to me the ingenious way he had managed to build it in only two weeks time and with only two tons of concrete, and he would go at it for a third time tonight, adding the detail of how he got the rebar for it from the Kwai, the Hawaiian supply boat, for a mere $250. After all the dressing up of the day I’m surprised to see him sitting there shirtless and totally relaxed at it. If you think nothing of that, keep in mind that you never see a man bare-chested in public here in this bastion of Puritanism. Rio is big, heavy set, so during the following conversation my gaze wanders along his Buddha-like body with upper arms shaped like other people’s thighs. They fly wildly sideways, mostly the right one, when he explains important points. His colossal silhouette is mildly illuminated from the houselights behind my back and set against the starry sky with the Milky Way rising out of the South in a long arc and touching down in the Northwest. There’s the usual small talk about the supply boat maybe coming tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then maybe the day after tomorrow, about a Korean fishing boat that was anchored off the beach some years ago, the crew of which had a special preference for pig testicles and acquired a bunch of those from the islanders trading them for Japanese fishing line, the best available at the time. Then we divert to the most favorite talk of all: the corruption and hypocrisy of the politicians. Rio is doing his second four-year term sitting on the Island Council, the governing body of the village. There are two members to that body here in Tautua, and three over in Omoka, for a total of five on the island. The other member here in Taututa is Papa Saitu, so Rio, probably in his early thirties, carries the burden of forging feasible ways for a next generation. He takes pride in edging out a different path by “doing the right thing”. He’s a straight shooter, not afraid to speak up for his people with the government in Rarotonga. He ended up on national TV last month when they videotaped his call for transparency when some funds for the new school building had gone missing. All of a sudden there’s a passionate gloom on his face, radiating into the dark.

“You know, before I was called to sit on the Island Council seven years ago,” he sets out, “I had a dream! I saw my people slandering about each other and behind each other’s back all the time. You’ve seen how they are. So I asked God a question one night before going to sleep. What shall I do with my life? How can I bring my people together?” Ben, his brother-in-law comes around and pulls up a chair. The story of the dream is suspended for a while until Ben has finished his cigarette and leaves. “That’s what I always do,” Rio now continues, “if I have a problem I can’t solve myself, I ask God to help me. So when going to sleep that night I concentrated on that question. When I started dreaming I sat right here on the beach, looking out over the lagoon towards the North. A giant tornado came down from a dark grey sky over there. It swept over our village and ripped everything up into the air. All the buildings, in fact, all man made things were sucked up and I could see them flying through the air in a giant spiraling whirlwind. As soon as the weather cleared there were a great many white birds flying towards me. So many of them and they came flying straight towards me. I got really scared and started to run, the birds shrieking and coming after me. Finally I could run no more, I fell down to the ground and when I turned around I saw the white birds where actually angels, you know, with white wings spread out, real angels! They asked, why I was afraid of them and I didn’t know what to say. Then I was sitting again at the beach and this time I looked towards the South. Over the big motu you can see from here, the one over there!” his long arm and enormous hand swings out yet again, almost hitting his wife Kula, who sits next to him telling Beatriz about the many ordeals in her life, “There were two big heads of animals looking over the horizon, one was a sheep and the other was a goat. Underneath the sheep head masses of people were moving up into the sky while underneath the goat head another mass of people was moving down from the sky to the earth. It looked really biblical but I didn’t know at the time what it meant. I just kept looking at the sight until finally I turned my head towards the West, where you can see Omoka during the day. In the sky above it I could see a beautiful mansion, splendid looking, white and pastel colored and two stories high. This was the end of the dream and I woke up. It was maybe three in the morning and I woke up Kula. I wanted to tell her the dream since I was afraid I might forget it if I fell asleep again. I told her the entire dream and we both felt that it was something special, special enough to get up and walk over the Pastor’s house. We wanted to tell him the dream and ask him what it meant. But when we arrived at the veranda of his house we could see him sleeping there on a mat. We did not want to disturb him and went back home to wait for the morning. We were not able to sleep anymore and as soon as the first light of dawn broke we went over to the see the Pastor again. When he saw us coming he looked at me and told me: ‘You are bringing me important news! Tell me what it is!’ It was like he knew what I had been dreaming, but I went ahead anyway and started to tell him the dream. I hadn’t been able to say more than a couple of sentences, when he interrupted me and asked, why I had not told him all that when we had come by during the night. I replied that we thought he had been asleep and didn’t want to disturb him. ‘I saw you coming,’ he said, ‘but then you turned around and went back. You should have come and told me right then.’ It was so strange. We had been sure the Pastor had been asleep when we came by, but now it was clear he was not and he had been watching us. I continued telling him the dream, and he told me to make sure that I tell him everything. When I was finished he once again reminded me that it was important to tell him everything and asked me if I had really told him all there was to tell. I thought I had, but he kept looking at me as if I was holding something back. When I told him that I had asked God a question before going to sleep, he said: ‘Ah, you see! This you hadn’t told me before! This is the important part!’ Then he set out to explain the dream to me. How the tornado meant that all man had made will become undone, how the white birds tell us that many times we’re afraid and run away from what should be our guiding light, the sheep was Jesus and his followers rising up to the heavens and the goat was the devil and his followers falling from the sky and descending into the inferno. The beautiful mansion was the Kingdom of God that awaits us once we have understood and followed the path.

“That dream put me on a path, I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The pastor insisted that I had a special gift and that I should work as a leader for our community. The following months I was proposed for the vacant seat on the Island Council and won. God has been my guide ever since. Whenever I need to know something I ask him and I do as he tells. We started out moving the pigs away from the houses. Before people would keep the pigs right next to their houses in the village. There were so many flies. You wouldn’t believe it. There are still many flies today, but back then you were covered completely by flies, really! When we asked the government for construction equipment nobody listened to us. So I said to my people, let’s do it a different way. We went to New Zealand, me and Papa Saitu, and to Australia. There are thousands of Penrhyn people living there and we asked them for donations. Within a month we had enough funds to buy a tractor and a truck, so we put them into a container and shipped them back over here. We asked the government to waive the import tax, but not even that they were willing to do. I look at all those officials in the government and even some of our own people here. They know what’s the right thing to do, but they don’t do it. They are playing favorites. Because you helped me get elected, I’m giving your son a position in the government, even if he doesn’t know a thing about the work to be done. So people in the government offices are inefficient. They are not selected because of their talent or capabilities, but because they belong to such and such family, you see, and corruption continues unchecked. No wonder things don’t change around here! Now, you know,” the gloom in his face intensifies a notch, “There’s talk that they want me to become mayor of the island, once I finish my term on the Island Council. I’m not looking for it, but if they ask me to, I’ll do it. Somebody needs to do the right thing. That’s what I will do, not for my own benefit, the right thing for my people!”

There’s a long stretch of silence, the Milky Way has fallen towards the Western horizon and it has been cut in two by a dark cloud floating away from us. The feverish building boom in Tetautua village now starts to make sense to me. Not only houses are built. Hope and the whole potential of a livable future for this anachronistic outpost of humanity are crafted one brick at a time, one two by four at a time, one plywood sheet at a time, one tin roof panel at a time, one bucket of paint at a time. During this past week the waterfront has been remade, the chaos left behind by last year’s cyclone is reorganized into nicely stacked slabs of limestone that make up seawalls and wharfs all along the waterfront of the village. Areas of obvious neglect become man made order, esthetically pleasing and functional. The next time I’ll look at the village from out on the water I will be able to see a new notion of the big picture here. With all this building, nailing, cutting, cleaning, trucking, stacking, shifting, sawing, painting, hoisting, leveling and moving the master plan of the splendid white mansion up in the sky starts to shine through and our miserable existence down here on the hot dry earth starts to take on the undeniable scent of a little, tiny piece of the Kingdom of God set between the coconut trees swaying in the wind. All this because of a simple man with a vision and the gift of awareness that it is not his own belly that needs filling, but the common good that must be nurtured and cherished in any possible way.

I for myself have, of course, my doubts about the reality and usefulness of this almighty three lettered father figure sitting righteously up there somewhere amongst the puffy trade wind clouds. Once freed from its yoke man might stop looking in awe at perfectly built mansions up in the sky. He could live happily down to and on earth in simple huts made of local materials, and the Kingdom of God could mutate into a participatory and all-loving co-ownership of Life. But who am I to judge!


2 Responses to “A Man with a Vision”

  1. Michael Rudolph Says:

    Just in case you missed it. God already came down to earth and dewelt among us and said that He would build a new haven and a new earth for all who believed that He would return once again in fullfilment of prophecy. It’s all in the Word of God. He was born in a straw manger in a barn no less. Does not get much more basic then that but the house that He is preparing for all those who love Him will not be made of straw as it will stand the test and time of all eternity…. …. … …. …. …. …. …. …. Want to go for a “Ride???”

    Great Dream and seemingly a good transulation. God’s leaving you love notes all across the pacific.


    • alunaboat Says:

      I knew you would like that one! Strange though that I’m able to understand your world to the point of being able to recreate it, while you seem to have difficulties with understanding mine, to the point of pushing for a conversion…

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