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Sunday, August 05, 2007
The Reception at Rapa

It was a harrowing passage through multiple coral heads, but the reception was warm and friendly. Say language barrier, however. Rudimentary high school French was all I could muster, and even that was pathetic. With lots of smiles and gestures, we realized that our arrival, and subsequent tying up to the dock, was the day's entertainment for the Rapa Itians. Historically, some Easter Islanders were enslaved by maurauding Polynesians and taken to Rapa. This island became known as Rapa Iti, or little Easter Island. This historical tidbit was told to us by one of the local school teachers who invited us to her home to chat. The locals speak French and a generic Tahitian.

We hit it off as fellow teachers and this bond was to carry us through an amazing four day visit.
First of all, however, the local officials paid a visit and took our passports. That is never a good sign, but we agreed to meet with them in their government building the following day to discuss our arrival and departure, and the reclamation of our passports. All this was in broken French and sign language and took a long time to negotiate, dictionary in hand.

Our evening visit with the schoolteacher and her husband was a lesson in culture shock. Although the island grew coffee for Tahiti, the coffee of choice was Nescafe instant crystals served in bowls with canned milk and lots of sugar. Steve and I snuck a glance back and forth to see who would take the lead in drinking the coffee from their bowl. Should we spoon it up to our mouth or sip from the bowl? Our hosts were politely waiting for us to start. As I was thinking it over, I spied a gargantuan cockroach creeping up the wall behind Steve. In fact there were several lurking specimen of the palmetto bug or roach watching the action on the table from many vantage points. You see the homes here had no doors, only doorways with a tapa cloth curtain. The critters and varmints crawled in and out at will. Back to the coffee. I ventured a guess that coffee was to be sipped out of the bowl and gave it a try. Steve followed suit as did our hosts. Whatever the correct ritual, we were not to know until the school picnic two days later that we had chosen correctly.

With our new friends using their English/French dictionary and trying their English, we stumbled around in a French/Spanish/English stew. One item of animated discussion was about lobster. When I used the Spanish word "langosta" it rang a bell and out came a giant spiny lobster from their freezer as a gift. Well, that meant giving them a tuna or two, which gave us the idea of putting on an open house the next afternoon. We told our hosts of this plan and they agreed that the town's curiosity would bring many visitors. First we were to deal with the only dour personality we had encountered on this beautiful island; the gendarme, or chief. Only he and the impending storm had control of our immediate future and as we were later to find out, the storm was not only of the weather kind.


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