again from the Big Blue!
imagine life on a small, sleepy island is all about drinking coconut water and
wiggling ones toes in the sand, think again. Yesterday was the Big Meeting
about the controversial Sunday flights. Action! Adventure! Romance!
there really wasn’t any romance…that I know of. But I have a rich imagination.
on Aitutaki, unless they occur on a regular, say weekly or daily, basis tend to
be slapped together with all the precision of a Russian automobile. Sometimes
you will receive an email but more typically it is Nga, in the grocery store,
asking, “Are you going to the really, really important tourism meeting this
afternoon?” that alerts you to a function you should be attending.
know when you are supposed to be there, the next challenge is where.
Ask five different people where the really, really important meeting is and you
will, inevitably, receive five different locations. Prez and I have developed a
strategy to deal with this, we drive around town until we see someone who looks
as if they’re dressed for a really, really important meeting and then we follow
them. You’d be surprised how well this works.
you have the when and the where. (Forget the what, it is
always a mystery.) You arrive at the correct place, take a seat, and then wait
for the next forty-five minutes for everyone else to show up. You are on island
time, get used to it.
functions on Aitutaki begin with a brief introduction, usually in Maori and
English, followed quickly by a prayer to bless the function. This is the part
of the program I like to call “Spot the Atheists”. I scan the room and take
note of all those who are not bowing their heads with a look of divine
contemplation. These are the people I want to know better.
someone in a fancy shirt, with a flower ei, stands up and says, “Blah,
blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…blah. Blah, blah, blah-blah.” Everyone claps
politely. Another fancy shirt person stands up and does the same. This is
repeated a few times. Then the closing prayer – time I use to contemplate
whichever short story is lingering in my brain, or what I might have for
really, really important meeting breaks up and you mosey over to the snack
table to chat with the people you know. “Well, that was a load of bs,” you say
as you munch on your cookie. “Yes, yes, quite,” everyone else agrees. Then you
least, that’s how most meetings go here but yesterday’s was an exception. I
have already spoken of god’s hatred of airplanes but, boy oh boy, I didn’t
realize just how many locals were channeling his anger until yesterday. We
arrived at the hall about fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, took
our seats, and forty-five minutes later the meeting started. The Mayor
introduced the Deputy Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, whose name is Mr.
Something-or-Other, and that gentleman, with all the charm of a used teabag,
proceeded to tell the audience of locals how stupid they were, (well, he didn’t
use those exact words but that was the gist).
moment, it seemed as if we were about to get yet another version of the “Blah,
Blah, Blah” meeting but then a man in the back of the room shouted something in
Maori. “What did he say?” I whispered to Prez, who whispered to our friend
said, ‘Speak in Maori!’”, Fred whispered to me, after Moana whispered to him.
Prime Minister Something-or-Other proceeded to flip back and forth between
Maori and English, detailing the cruddy state of Aitutaki’s economy and how the
Sunday flights are a necessary evil. Aside from the pasty white speaker
representing the banks of the Cooks, that would be the last English we heard.
Occasionally, we prodded Moana for translations but it wasn’t hard, from the
body language of the speakers, or from the jeers and cheers of the crowd, to
understand what was being said.
Fancy Shirt people opened the floor for discussion, the fun began. Queen Manarangi
was first to speak, (yes, we have one queen and three kings here). Her speech
had the most eloquent finger pointing, and she also had the nicest hat, so I
liked her best.
was Freaky Pig Farmer who owns the Para-Trooper Motel. How freaky is this guy?
Well, he cuts one leg off all his chickens so they can’t run away from his
property…because chickens are so hard to find here. The slogan on his
sign, painted in a Kindergarten-student font, is “Cut out the middleman!”
Sometimes I wonder if he actually meant “Cut up the middleman”. In any
case, his speech had a fair amount of arm lifting and torso bending. Prez and I
reckoned his idea to save the economy of the island was to cut one leg off
every tourist so they can’t run away.
Preacher stole the show. He’d raise his fist and then SLAP it down into his
open palm, shout in Maori, raise his finger high in the air and proclaim, “God
is number one!!”, followed by a James Brown-esque round of body tremors. This
he did repeatedly. He was the crowd favorite, hands down. Even Prez started
shouting, “Amen!” at the end of each punch. I only wished I had one of those
big foam fingers so I could help him punctuate his “God is number one!” cries.
you top an act like that? Well, it wasn’t easy. One fellow proclaimed that
Aitutaki is the most blessed of all the Cook Islands, which caused more than a
few heads to turn, but failed to elicit any “Amen’s”. Still, the crowd was
frothing, worked up into a plane-hating frenzy. There would be blood!
Prez and I had an airport pick up so we had to leave right as the entire hall
broke out into a rousing chorus of, “God hates airplanes, this I know, for the
bible tells me so”, in Maori, of course.
fun! I wish all the meetings were like that.
the Sunday flights are going through whether god likes it or not. It was a done
deal, apparently, even before the Big Meeting. It’s kind of a shame, really, I
love having our Sunday’s free to drink coconut juice and wiggle my toes in the
sand. But, in the words of our wise mayor, “You can’t stop progress. People
need new motorbikes, new televisions, and new stuff.”
Can you argue with logic like that?
QUESTION: Do you miss having the world shut down on Sunday?
next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy and lovin’ life!