17 Jun Tearavero, Kauehi, Illes Tuamotus – 10 June to 17 June 2001
We spend over a week at this village in the Tuamotus. Sunday morning we go to church and record the singing. The music is wonderful; the people of Tearavero sing like angels. We record the music again on the following Sunday and make a cd for our friends here that incorporates the music of both days.
While we are in Tearavero we become good friends with Edward and Rosina Temere. More with Edward than Rosina, as he speaks excellent English and while Rosina understands alot of what is said, she does not speak much. On Wednesday we have them to the boat for dinner. We are a little concerned about overwhelming them with the comfort and luxury of Starr, but it can’t be helped. We try to be conscious of the huge gap between the simplicity of life in Teravero and the fact that Starr is a very fancy boat. We want to get to know them better and to have them on board for dinner is one of the few ways to do this. There are no pensions or restaurants on Kauehi and it is unlikely that we will be invited to their home for dinner. When they arrive they come bearing gifts, as this is the Puamotu way. Edward and Rosina bring both shell and palm frond leis, a woven hat shaped like that of a Gendarme, a beautiful carved paddle made by a friend in Ua Pou, and three pearls. The gifts are too much, but it would be rude to turn them down. We must reciprocate before we leave Kauehi. We learn much about them over dinner. Rosina is quiet, but Edward is lively and talkative. He went to school in Tahiti and has a much larger world view than many of the residents of this isolated atoll. We ask him about what he would like to accomplish during his six year term as mayor of the only village on the atoll and he tells us that he would like to get some low income housing for the village, a cold storage house to hold fish to be shipped to Papeete (the Tuamotus are the primary supplier of fresh fish to the Tahiti and its surrounding islands). Most of all he would like to get a quay built so the supply ships that come into port would be able to unload at a dock, instead of hauling everything to land in a whaleboat. All things seem possible; the new airport will open early July and with the new airport come eight telephone lines. The village has not had any telephone service before. All communication has been with single sideband or vhf radio. Kauehi is moving into the twnety-first cetutry, even though we have already enterred into the twenty-second century.
We also became friends with Xavier and Tania Chebret. It was obvious to us that Xavier and Tania are respected leaders in the community and it was no surprise to us to learn that Xavier is Edward’s uncle. We have learned that in most of these small communities people are all related to one another. This is why many wives come from Tahiti. Young people must go off-island to find their husband or wife. Anyway, back to Xaavier and Tania, neither spoke English yet we still managed to communicate. Both Xavier and Taniz are warm and loving people. It is almost impossible to explain how much can be expressed and how deep feelings can be communicated outside of verbal expression. This happened with Xavier and Tania and I left Kauehi feeling a great love for Tania I vowed that I would return and be able to talk to her in French. While we were in Kauehi, we repaired four of Xavier’s radios, the only form of communication on Kauehi and from this remote atoll to the outside world.
While Kauehi is remote and isloated with an extremely quiet pace of life, there was much to to. We visited two pearl farms and learned about the process involved in growing black pearls, French Polynesia’s most important industry after tourism. The pearl farms in Kauehi were typical in that they were located in buildings built up on piling of wood, over the lagoon. One was off a point near the village where a person could wade out to the building at low tide. The other was a collection of several buildings on an isolated motu (small island) in the lagoon. We visited each several times and the people at the pearl farms were happy to take the time to show us what was happening that day and to explain the process. The intricate grafting of the nucleus into the oyster is done by young Chinese who come to Kauehi and to other islands on an annual work contract. They are already trained to the job because they have worked in the fresh water pearl industry in China. Their room and board is included and they send most of the money they make home to their families in China. The rest of the work is performed by Paumotu and there has been a resurgence of young people returning to their family homes in order to work in this relatively new industry. While the population of the Marquesas Islands is diminishing, in the Tuamotus it is increasing.
Out on the pearl farm on the motu, Don and I became friends with Patrick who is the nephew of the owner. He had graduated from school and then had to decide to continue or to go into the family business. He was from Tahiti and had been on the motu for nine months. In his tiny room on the motu he had a sophisticated computor setup, complete with dvd and the ability to burn cds. As far as we know, it was the only computer on Kauehi. Patrick spent a lot of time playing with his computer and reading computer magazines. It was pretty high tech. We also became friends with Elvis, from Huahine in the Society Islands. On the pearl farms they don’t really call any one person the boss, but Elvis was the closest thing to the manager of the operation. He was a hard core outrigger canoe paddler and was actually competing as a member of the team from Huahine, his home island, in the competition in Tahiti in late June and early July. He went out in his single man outrigger and paddled at 0500 every morning, irregardless of weather. He was good example of the pride and determination we discovered in many of the young men in these islands. Our last Saturday in Kauehi we went to a birthday party for Patrick, in the dark in a tropical storm out on the motu. Patrick turned 20 years old. We gave him a Titan AE dvd as a birthday gift and he was thrilled. Patrick and Elvis came over to Starr and tried out our kayaks before we left. They were intriged with the double ended paddles and raced around Starr like a bunch of young men on steriods, which they greatly resembled. We left exchanging addresses and promising to keep in touch.
Perhaps our most satisfying experience was the morning we went ashore to visit Edward’s class at school. Edward was teaching in the City Hall, actually in the Mayor’s office, as the schoolhouse could not accommodate more than three classrooms and the number of children on the island (50% of the population of 400) required a forth classroom. We sat in on the class and then took pictures of Edward and the children and then took a picture of Edward with his medal of the Office of Mayor. After school we went to our own class on Tania’s front porch. Tania, Rosina and several other women of the village taught Donna and I how to make palm frond leis and how to weave chapeau (hats) out of palm. It was like an old-fashioned quilting bee, all of the women gathered on mats on the floor on the front porch with their children playing all around us, working with our hands and talking about what was happening in the village. It was a deeply satisfying experience; one that I will never forget. Before we left we were all wearing leis and hats that we had made ourselves. While Donna and I learned handicrafts, Don and Rob were inside the house repairing broken radios for Xavier..
We became the family photographers of Kauehi. We took family pictures of Edward, Rosina and their four children. The children have beautiful names with lovely meaning; the boys are named Moana (the sea) and Raitui (blue sky), and the girls are named Hinano and Hinetea. I fell in love with the little girls, ages 3 and 2, and wanted to take them home with me, but Don said that we will have to wait until we have our own grandchildren. We also took pictures of Tania and Xavier, of the young Chinese women who do the pearl grafting, of Mathilde and Isabelle, Edward’s cousins who helped Rosina with the children during the day and of Nanu and Pierre, who we never did quite figure out how they fit in, except that we think that Nanu is Edward’s younger half-brother. We printed all of the photographs and gave them to our many friends of Kauehi
During our stay in Kauehi we also had a really good time getting to know our new friends from on Chewink. We miss out boys and loved being around a matched set of twenty-three year old identical twin boys. We couldn’t tell them apart until we realized that Alex had two hoop earrings and Drew didn’t. Together, we all went snorkeling in the pass and Don rigged the double kayak to sail so the twins could try it out. Another sailboat, Argonauta from San Diego, came into the anchorage. We had met Howard and Susan Wormsley in Tenacatita in Mexico in early January, so we invited Cabot, Heidi and the boys and Howard and Susan all over for a movie. The boys chose Galaxy Quest, our guests brought deserts and we had an old-fashioned night at the moveis in the South Pacific. A little unreal to be watching Galaxy Quest at anchor in a isolated atoll in the Tuamotus, but fun.
The hardest part about staying a longer time in one place is that you have to leave your new friends. It tore at our hearts to leave, but it was time to move on to the next adventure and to meet more new friends.