Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Editors Note

This is Eric, bearer of messages from Renee. I just wanted to let you all know that we don't have internet access at our home in Punaauia yet. In order to post on the blog Renee writes the posts and I then transfer them from a memory stick to my computer and then upload them when I'm at work.

Renee can't respond directly to your comments yet but I do cut and paste them into docs that she see's when I come home each night. Hopefully we she will be able to comment directly in a couple of weeks (things move slowly here in Tahiti!).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Impressions-The First Two Weeks of Tahiti Life: Completely Random

First Moments
Walking down the stairs of the plane onto the tarmac while shepherding sleepy, confused boys who had just been woken up. The cacophony of ukuleles, foreign tongues, foreign sounds. Salty sauna. Waves of hot humidity. Tropical. Sweat pouring down my back. It was dark, but the small airport seemed lively. Confused. Anxious. Trying to carry multiple bags, backpacks and two fussing children—Isaac and clinging Dylan. Thankfully Benjamin slept walked with Eric, but he walked. I didn’t know where to focus. Someone handed me a Tiare flower, but I didn’t have hands to put it anywhere properly. It smelled lovely. I worried about getting through customs and what they might demand or reject. Eric was fussing about getting through immigration. He had a packet with all of our visas and paperwork, but you just don’t know things like this until its over. Flutters in my stomach. This is it. What will this be like? Can I do this? Comforting children. Yelling at Eric who had gotten to a different spot without us.

We became part of a mass of travel-worn people moving into lines. Suddenly this woman was beaming a thermometer at me and chattering something. Health department officials. Checking for swine flu symptoms. Thankfully none of us had a fever, although because Eric was already hot, flustered and worried with beads of sweat on his forehead, they repeated the scan a couple of times to get an accurate reading. Had we shown signs of illness we would have been like the poor girl in days earlier who ended up in quarantine, tested positive for the H1N1 virus and missed most of her honeymoon. Maybe with such caution and the heat, we have escaped that flu.

Now we’ve schlepped, pulled carried everyone and we’re standing in front of a box with windows. An immigration official in uniform sits behind the glass and examines our documents. Shuffling. Typing on the computer. It seems to take forever. Others have scooted through and have already retrieved their baggage. It’s all right Isaac. We’re in Tahiti. It’s all right.

Then Bienvenue we’re through. We’ve been accepted and processed. Now Benjamin and Eric get over to the carousel to collect our eight bags and duffels plus the box for the lab. We make a train of the rickety luggage carts. A duffel tumbles to the ground. We pick it up and rearrange. I finally get my stroller again and settle the two little boys and our mountain of carry-ons into it. I get the bag with our food commodities and practically have the customs officials laughing at my eagerness to disclose all. They just keep waving me on. They see us, the three little boys, the tower of bags. They’re amused by our fluster. We’re practically the last people to get it all gathered and go through customs. They’re ready to be home. They wave us through. No questions. No worries. We must have looked honest—or they took pity on two frazzled parents.

We get out the automatic sliding doors. Journey over. Eric’s colleagues are graciously waiting to drive us to the house. Bethany and Eliane have already been to the house and left us some basic food supplies and made sure everything is in order.

Heat. Hot. Waiting for Eric to get the baggage into Herve’s truck. The boys and I will follow with Bethany in the university Land Rover.

Down the way in the open air of the open airport building. Drums, dancing, singing, whooping celebration. Flashes of yellow skirts. Men and Women exhuberant. Frolicking rhythms leap, surge and invite shouts and affirmation of the joy of being. Being together. Being here. A group has gathered to welcome someone home. Embraces. Laughter. Glee. Drums. Dancing. Swift hips. Happy hands. Joyous voices. A fete on the spot at the airport. Cheering. Even the disgruntled boys watch and smile. We are entranced and calmed by their enthusiasm and liveliness. Drums. Singing. Dancing. Jubliant. Heart-pounding, heart-lifting, light-hearted. We are here. We’ve passed through that gate. This will be our home too. Drums beg dancing. Tap your foot. Boys start swaying. Our hearts drum; our souls sing; a memory dances. The boys mimic this the next day. We are here. Bienvenue. Maeva.

What’s Like Camping
1. The grated with a criss-cross pattern perpetually open windows at the top section of each of the bathrooms. When we first walked through the house I was stunned. “Eric. I thought there was a mosquito problem in Tahiti. So why are the windows in the bathroom OPEN!” He muttered something about mosquitoes not entering the house at a point that high. I muttered something back. Can’t change those windows anyhow. We for sure couldn’t change those windows at midnight Tahiti time and even much, much later on our old time. I suppose it helps to dissipate smells. And moisture. Wouldn’t want that smell of a camp latrine in the house now would we. (Eric says to make sure and let you know that we do have running water, hot water, flushing toilets and the standard household ammenties minus a toaster, tv, microwave, dryer, radio, cd player, and until the city employees get around to us internet and phone). Besides, the screens we do have in the house are nothing to write home about (even though I am) and screens are hardly common here. We see many wide open sans screen windows—church, schools, home.
2. The smell of everything wood in the house. You know the smell of wood that just never gets completely dried out? That smell. Like a camp cabin. Dank.
3. The cabinets in the kitchen that have multiple doors but are completely open to each other on the inside. I just don’t know where I’m going to put onions so that they won’t smell up everything else. Only one set of cabinets right above the stove do not have some kind of funny cleaner, air freshener smell. I’ve stashed anything that might take on odor (like boxes of cereal and the flour) there.
4. Black feet and the dirt, dirt, dirt. Sand and dirt. It doesn’t matter how many times you sweep the tile floors of the house and take off shoes before entering the house, the floors are gritty and our feet quickly turn black. I don’t think they’ll lose this black sheen until we live somewhere not here. It mostly doesn’t matter, except that I wish we didn’t end up with grit and sand in our beds as well.
5. The primitive look of too many of the houses that we pass on our way—more cabins than houses—constant reminders of how grateful we are for our accommodations. We have a lovely, roomy, airy, modern house.
6. Chaotic development, pock-mocked roads, rough and tumble yards.
7. Campfires. I mean fires. Every day. Different spots. Different yards. Very, very common. At some point in the day, that smoke smell drifts into the house. Sometimes you cough on it as you’re out and about. I guess it’s the easiest way to deal with rubbish. Trash, fast-growing vegetation, etc. The garbage gets picked up twice a week and yet the dump fire acrid smoke is a constant.
8. The being somewhere in between a vacation and living here feeling. It is home for us, but not our permanent home. We get to play here, but we’re also here to work and learn.
9. Creative cooking. I made Snicker Doodles with my mom’s recipe but without any correct measuring apparatus. We burned the bottom of the first batch in our propane oven but succeeded with the rest. We celebrated with fanfare those cookies make with multiple variables—different flour, heat and guesstimation. I’m very proud of this and all the other culinary successes I’ve had without any help from Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart.
10. Geckos in the closets. Do geckos chirp? If we had internet we might know.
11. Incessant crowing with the occasional riff of ambulance sirens.

What Makes This So Much More Than Camping
1. A consecrated period of time. We have certain, specific goals and a dedicated amount of time in which to achieve them. There will be a beginning and an end to this experience. We wake up each day present and aware.
2. An assurance that it is right for us to be here.
3. We like it here and we’re happy. We’ve got everything that is essential and more. We’ve got no complaints. Some things are just different.
4. The joy and delight we daily experience with our boys and as a couple—the intensity of a new beginning and vastly different experiences.
5. We are our own best companions here having left our loved ones on a far distant shore. We share in the joys and trials together. We are learning a new language and the culture of this place together.
6. We daily witness the hand of God in our lives.

Viva la Beach

June 18, 2009

So it costs at least $8 for a gallon of ice cream and $6 dollars for 20 eggs. Perhaps for good reason. This living close to the ocean part—it is more amazing than I had expected. I am a Midwestern girl so I haven’t always given much stock to sunshine and water. I can change my mind.

Tuesdays and Thursdays for now are our beach days. We’re still doing “calendar” and “school” each morning along with chores. We’re getting used to walking kilometers to places. Benjamin easily covers the whole kilometer and half without complaint often adding a skip and a lusty arm swing. He even manages some of that distance on the way back and recognizes landmarks. Dylan revels in his stroller. Isaac walks a bit of it just fine. He’s been known to cover the distance with his little legs, but he becomes discouraged. I cajole and coax him past his whining several hundred more meters and then he gets a ride. Our “single” stroller is glorious. Again Graco gets my endorsement. When the need arises, Dylan sits in the seat, Benjamin stands on the front foot rest and holds onto the canopy and Isaac sits on the console attached at the back to the handle bars. Even with the extra load, the stroller handles well and the wheels chug on down the road. I keep it going at a pretty good clip. It’s the best sit-and-stand-and-sit ever. We’ve even figured out a system for when both Isaac and Dylan are tired and falling asleep. We recline the seat completely, lean Dylan in the back and then Isaac lays on part of Dylan. Apparently, when they’re tired enough they can make it work and they sleep away. It’s nice to own something that was actually built to last and withstand heavy use. I can’t say that if I had any other choice, I would recommend walking with small children along Route 1 next to large, rumbling trucks, diesel fumes, commercial busses, a constant stream of cars and motorcycles and past the requisite barking dogs and wild roosters, but it is not inconceivable—we’re also not the only crazy people that do this. I feel less daunted by it all now and not as jumpy. I will never like it, but I can cope and not jump ten feet out of my shoes every time I hear a motor just an occasional twitch and veer. So, prayers for safety have taken on new proportions and off we go hugging the side of the road—the bit of concrete left for cyclists and pedestrians. (Yes. Mom. I know. This is not what you want to read about. I’ll be VERY careful. At least the speed limit is quite low and people obey it).

We spent most of our morning and part of the afternoon contentedly lounging at the beach (PK 18 in the direction of Paea). I’m really glad to know that the beach and I just got off to a bad start last week. We’re learning that there is not really a daily high and low tide, but the depth and intensity of the water changes with the moon. Last week the moon was full; now it is waning. Today the beach and ocean again exceeded all expectations. Gorgeous. An adult would be hard pressed to find a spot where the water is more than chest deep in the large swath of beach around us and for quite a ways out towards the coral reef where you can see the waves breaking. It was like a giant wading pool with that beautiful clear water and calmly lapping waves. The wind was blowing a bit, but while it was cool, the day was warm and we were never chilled. As we floated in the ocean, we could look back at the island and see the peaks and valleys of the lush vegetation wealthy mountains behind us with palm trees and coconut trees softly swaying in the breeze, while the shadow of the island of Moorea has become a constant friend of a landmark. I should also mention that the temperature of the water—perfect. At least during this time of year (the cool season) the water is so pleasant.

We’ve decided that while we liked our Tuesday beach because of our little friend (Isaac wondered if we would see him again today) and all the fish, the Thursday beach was much better for swimming and for playing in the sand. There weren’t nearly as many rocks under the water. I was encouraged that there would be far fewer places for things to come out and surprise me that I didn’t really want to see close to me.

Adding to our fun today was a school group enjoying a field trip to the beach. They looked like first, second and third graders. They had partitioned off a portion of the water with floats so that the teachers could keep an eye on all of their charges. Most of the children were playing happily in the water, while some of the boys were conducting large-scale sand excavations on the shore. We positioned ourselves near them and enjoyed their antics and laughter. What proved most helpful for my boys was the line of floats in the water. They grew a lot in confidence today because those floats made the ocean seem less vast and gave them a guideline. They were more likely to swim further (still waist-deep) and explore because they didn’t feel so lost. It added to the easy-going mood of the day to have the company of this nice group of children and their teachers—it felt familiar and friendly.

I later talked with one of the teachers whose English was very good. She told me the group was from a school in Papeete—a private school and that you could tell by the way they were swimming that they were “city” kids. She had grown up in Tahiti-iti and Moorea. She currently lives in Moorea and commutes via ferry to Papeete every day to teach. She substantiated my belief that Moorea would be a more pleasant place to live. Tahiti is heavily populated—a bit crowded and Moorea is more quaint and kept pretty for tourists. I enjoyed the friendly chat and it felt good to communicate with another adult other than my own Eric.

We played the day away. We swam, snorkeled and never ran out of things to do. This is good. This is our Tahiti version of a “going to the playground.” The beach is our new playground and a great one at that. I hear that there is a children’s playground in downtown Papeete. I hope to sometime figure out how to get us all on the bus and there and home again, but that’s a few weeks away.

Our expedition to the beach has earned me the unprecedented leisure of sitting in the garden of our porch without any boys asking me questions or looking for me. They are back in their bedroom dressed in engineer pants pretending to be driving on the Canadian Railway. Dylan is slightly distressed that he does not have a pair of engineer pants, but everyone is so mellow from all our beach time, that even that can’t mar this late afternoon lull.

Except it took only about 14.5 minutes and here they are. Where I am. But they’re running races around the house and still happy and calm. They even have their lanes figured out. They line up “small, medium, large.” It’s pretty cute. Wait. Pause. They have to go change from the engineer clothes to “running” clothes.

It’s dusk now. It’s great trying to put kids to bed here. It’s always dark when you want them to go to sleep. Of course it’s dark by 6:30 every night. That’s a bit too early for bed. Still we get the boys to bed around 8:00 after reading and talking. They usually fall asleep very quickly after our full days here. We’re very soon to follow. We just collapse in our beds at night. Tired!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I say Bonjour!

June 17, 2009

Eric was reading “First Thousand Words of French” (Usborne) with Isaac and Dylan this morning. After they had been reading it for a while Isaac says, “Dad, you learned a lot of French!” Eric asks, “Isaac, are you going to learn French.” “NO!” Eric: “How are you going to talk with your friends at church?” Isaac: “I say BONJOUR!”

Peter Pan of the Plage

He just appeared. With an impish eye and the sun glinting off his satin brown skin and his tawny hair holding golden rays captive, there was no doubt that he had come up sans clothing from the reef where perhaps he lived in his Neverland cavorting with the tiger striped fish and hiding behind rocks—a magical creature. He wanted to play. He was curious about the three little blond boys he could see dipping their toes in the water—new oddities with all their gear.

With a grin and a chortle, he bounced up at our feet dove down into the water again and splashed at us. We sent the sparkling water spraying back in euphoric arcs. The sea sprite had befriended us. He chattered to us and we didn’t understand him. We chattered to him and he didn’t understand us. It didn’t matter because in the universal way of playing, we understood each other perfectly. He spent all morning with us showing us all the creatures of the reef swimming near us—so much to see. “Poisson! Poisson!” I would catch to which I would throw back, “Fish! Fish!”

The water was so clear it was as if we were swimming in an aquarium. We were surrounded by several varieties of fish and our patience was quickly rewarded with more sightings. We even caught sight of a long eel—shimmering with aqua, green and yellow highlights lounging through the water. Only our movements put waves into the glass and marred the view into the underworld of the sea. Only our feet could unsettle the sand and cloud the water. The sun sat high in the sky and warmed our backs. The subtle waves crashing over the coral reef at the edge of the lagoon were barely perceptible on our shore.

This is the kind of beach experience we had been expecting—part of our compensation package we promised ourselves for the change of address. The full moon waves and depth of the water of last week had left us disgruntled and disappointed—surfers delight perhaps, but misery for the little guys who would get kicked into the slippery rocks on the shore and dragged out to sea on a whim. The beaches had seemed dingy and gray and the water uninviting—so very different than the water world presented to us on this morning. This time we were in our on own postcard utopia—rejoicing, reveling, relaxing.

To the right of us our eyes caught the ephemeral outline of Mo’ orea. A cluster of thatched-roof bungalows down the way sat lazily in the middle of the lagoon. To the left we could run our eyes up the coastline of Tahiti Nui until it bended out of sight. In between the stunning clouds sat suspended in midair layers until they seem to drop off the edge of the world and you felt as if you were looking down on the clouds instead of looking up. The fish paraded and preened around our feet. The sea sponges sprang up to greet us. We could float on our backs in the gentle bed of the lagoon and lose ourselves in time.

Isaac and I liked to lie on the soft sand at the edge of the water and feel the water lapping around our legs and our heads. Isaac would let the water float him a little distance and then he would stand on his feet—the water barely reaching his belly. The water was so shallow that we could have gone out quite a distance and it still would not have covered even Isaac’s head unless he had ducked under.

Dylan moved rocks from the holes in the exposed rock and played in the sand. Gradually, even he was won over by the beckoning sea and he found his footing in the ocean—testing his own limits and gaining independence.

Benjamin built sand trenches, tried to get our friend not to cover up his sand trenches, jumped and splashed in the ocean and did his fair share of snorkeling. He had no complaints.

All morning long our new sea playmate twinkled his eyes, grinned and teased us. He made himself at home with us. He was somewhere in between the ages of Benjamin and Isaac or no age at all. He seemed to be alone, but for adopting us. He must have wondered at how protective I was of my three boys as I wondered that he seemed to be so by himself. He beamed and bounced with happiness and cooed Dylan into the water and chased Isaac around the rocks. He would spring up out of the water right into Benjamin’s face and grin. When we sat in the water, he would sneak up behind us and nibble at our shirts with his hands—trying to surprise us. It was obvious that had he wanted anything of ours, I would have been hard pressed to deny him. He helped himself to our masks—the little prince of the sea—and squealed delightedly to see the fish through them. When he was tired, he came in from the ocean and lay down on his stomach on Benjamin’s towel with a little shimmy to gather in the sun drops and to shake the ocean off his back in his own little gleeful way. He politely accepted our Ritz crackers and then continued his games.

Then our sea sprite made the discovery of the morning. I looked over to see that he had found a rock—just an ordinary black rock like one of the other millions of volcano crumbs around us. The little boy held it up gleefully and that rock sprayed me. It wasn’t a rock at all. The sea boy had found his own sea toy in the variety store of the ocean. The black thing was shaped like a small cucumber and about that size. It was soft and squishy—and the poor thing got squished a lot! The skin was bumpy on the outside and it was a bit slimy. It took some convincing for me to want to touch it. I feel even less versed in the language of sea life than in French and it tends to make me a bit skittish. The little sea toy proved its versatility as a gun, a ball, a pet. The little boy would squish it, poke it towards us, put in the sand, wash it off again and let it float in the ocean only to catch it all over again; he experimented with it very much the same way he experimented with us. Finally after some time, he grew tired of it and laid it in the sand next to him. While he lay in the sun, his creature baked in the sun and gave up its insides to the outside by way of a natural dissection. Fascinating in a way, but it made me sad that it had been flung away and died discarded away from its home.

It was time for us to leave before we too had turned our skin inside out and red. We gathered up our things and headed towards Route 1 and home. We left our miniature Tahitian guide to the seas getting ready to climb up into a tree. He waved to us from the fence and we waved back. We each shouted “Au Revoir.” As we walked away I wondered what tales he would tell about the cautious land lubbers that crossed his way and their silly gear and ways. Perhaps the next time we walk to the beach, we’ll pack some of the snickerdoodles we just made as a good will offering for the spirits of the ocean and our little sea man will come out and play again.

Growing up, I could spend an entire afternoon walking through page after page of the past editions of National Geographic stashed on the bookshelves in our upstairs hallway. The glossy, mesmerizing pictures of foreign places, people and animals vastly different from our Maple tree yard, the faces of strangers gazing out from small villages, the women with the bands of gold elongating and thinning their necks, the men with the bones through their noses, small children on dirt in front of huts. Why did they live there and why did I live in comfortably carpeted farmhouse with my mother in the kitchen canning peaches and dinner roasting in the oven? I would stare into the eyes of people from all over the world and wonder what they were thinking. I would visit that house on stilts and think it might be a great place to stay for a night or two. Some part of me wanted to be in each of the adventures of those pages. In reality, I’m too skittish to deal with a raw National Geographic world face to face. The Amazon in a canoe—I think not. In fact, swimming in large bodies of water unnerves me and I feel squeamish about what could be swimming with me—not exactly the qualities of a person destined to travel off the beaten track with New Guinea tribes. But I’ve always held out small hopes of Nepal, thought about South Africa and lots more of Europe.

Now here we are living our own National Geographic adventure. It’s not perfect. It’s interesting with children. But it’s incredible. Amazing. Each time we explore beyond our wooden gate, we encounter a new story.

“Je sui enfant de Dieu.”

Within biking distance of our house are an LDS stake center and four church buildings. They are right near the main road and even before we had had the opportunity to attend church, those buildings that mirror in style and construction other buildings on the island still pop out at us—we’re part of that. Those are familiar. Those are LDS chapels. It’s as comforting to a stranger in a strange land as the smell of a turkey roasting on Thanksgiving morning.

Our first Sunday here, we drove to a building down the street from us where Eric had attended meetings when he was here previously. The parking lot was empty even though two wards meet there. We looked at each other and said simultaneously, “Stake Conference.” So we drove a few kilometers in the other direction and arrived at the beautiful Stake Center. Sure enough, we found people there. Except when we peered through the windows, it became clear that it was the priesthood session. We walked around the building and found a sister who shyly admitted to speaking some English and between a scout leader in charge of ushering, a new missionary who barely speaks more French than we do, and this sister who spoke and understood far more English than she would admit, we learned that Stake Conference, a regional broadcast, would begin at 11:00 and that in all likelihood, our ward was the Puna’ruu ward that met in yet another building.

We came back at 11:00 and seated ourselves in the room for the English broadcast. Most of the stake attended the French broadcast in the chapel and some were listening in Tahitian in another room. When we arrived it become clear that there had been a mix up with the time. The broadcast was in full swing even though the majority of the people were still arriving. We sat there fully expecting to see maybe at least one other American family like us in the Paea stake. Instead, as people arrived the room filled up with all Polynesian looking people—some young men who might have learned English on their missions and a few families with children. We had the most people with blond hair in that room.

Afterwards we chatted with a couple who had lived in New Zealand for a time, so they spoke English with us and we enjoyed talking with them. They were quick to offer help and talk of having us over to dinner.

Many of the buildings here are structured so that there is an open area in the middle with classrooms and the chapel on the sides. Fans and lots of open windows allow for as much circulation as possible. The stake center happens have air conditioning. We had been melting away gradually from the heat we were not conditioned to experiencing, so it felt wonderful.

The broadcast soothed our souls as well. Elder Hafen had already spoken when we arrived. The first speaker we heard was in the Primary presidency. Her talk centered on having a gospel centered home and all that you can do to teach your children. Then Elder Condie stood up to speak. He was also conducting the meeting. He has always been a favorite of mine. He had just returned from being a mission president in Austria when he was my Book of Mormon teacher my freshman year at BYU. I liked him so much the first semester that I signed up for the second half of the Book of Mormon with him as well. He has a way of looking you in the eye when he taught and you would feel love, the spirit and sense truth. The first thing he did every semester is to learn all the names of the students in his class. That was his last year teaching at BYU. He was then called to be a seventy. I went on to serve a mission in Austria. He served in the area presidency over Austria. That meant that I had the pleasure of shaking his hand again at a zone conference. He gave me that look in the eye and said, “Yes. Sister Jenkins. From Ohio. How are you doing?” Just the way he said it and looked at me, I knew that he remembered me. It a singular feeling to be remembered—especially by one who has so much to remember. I’m grateful to him for that.

His talk for the regional conference was also infused with love for the people to whom he was addressing his remarks. It’s his gift. His remarks were compelling and uplifting. At the end of his talk, he bore his testimony in a tear-choked voice in three different languages. I was moved by the spirit of his testimony, but also touched by his compassion for all people.

Elder Cook was the final speaker. Again, I felt my tired jet-lagged, disoriented self hearing words of peace and wondering at the opportunity to be living here with the Polynesian people. He used stories about people from the islands to illustrate the points he wanted to make. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the feeling.

It is a privilege to be a member of a worldwide church. We are very grateful for that privilege and know that here more than ever it will provide us and our children with rich experiences.

That air conditioning sure felt good!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Merci My Velo

Seven Days
One Week

We’re no longer trying to pour an ocean of water and juice down our throats to combat persistent feelings of internal drought. The traffic is murmuring—annoying still—but more of a dull din than a deafening drum. We have figured out a few things and maybe by the end of the month, there will be a phone line and internet at our “compound,” Chez Chambers, our gated and fenced piece of Tahiti, with completely obstructed views of everything, the place where temporarily our only source of news and most of our contact with the outside world enters through our gate sometime in the early evening. As soon as Eric’s chirpy step hits the tile of the porch at suppertime, we’re all there clamoring for stories, information, updates. And then it is almost dark. And then it is dark. It gets dark here between six and six-thirty.

We have learned a little so far:

1. Geckos are cute, but they sure do leave lots of signs of their existence. Namely lots of something that has to be swept out of your closet. Yuck.

2. “Don’t stand under the coconut tree with anyone else but me…” No really, you shouldn’t stand under coconut trees. The boys were posing under one at one of the public beaches. One of the young guys hanging out there with other young guys—the only type of persons we seem to see at the beaches right now (school is still in session) made a point of coming over and telling me that the coconuts could fall on my little boys’ heads. And hurt them. Bad. I listened. I got them to move. Quickly.

3. French words for turkey, blackberry jelly and ice cream. All very important.

4. Government subsidized commodities. Very important. Look for the red tag so you know that you’re not paying completely ex-pat induced incredibly inflated prices for things. The good thing is that most of the basics—everyone gets some help with. The down side. I have yet to find any non-refined flour. Yet. We did find a small can of instant oats. Like about two cups worth. You guessed it. Not a government subsidized commodity. Fruits, veggies. Not much help there either. It may just be more work to get my kids to eat whole and healthy than even in snack-ridden, high fructose America. Probably more on this later. Six dollars got us 20 eggs. It is an island, but if you love white, fresh baguettes, then you’ll never be hungry. They’re always around fifty cents.

5. Even though I instinctively start thinking in German the moment I hear someone speaking in French, English is still more useful. Somewhat. Got to learn a LOT more French.

I’ve managed to wash several loads of laundry and hang the clothes. I think most of the clothes were mostly dry when I put them in our closets. I even snuck in an extra load of things today and was quite pleased because it was sunny and I just knew those towels would dry in record time. Well, it just couldn’t be that easy. The neighbor with the perfect paradise house and the ocean view with the hammock to lie on while listening to the waves. Yeah. That neighbor. He turned on his sprinkler. When I went out to check on the clothes, I took a full jet of water in the face while standing under the clothesline and discovered that my neighbor was watering my laundry as well. Even on the sunny days, the laundry has issues!

But you can’t rain on my parade or sprinkle on my laundry to sour my mood today. I have a bike! Pedal power. Freedom. There is more to this island than the mere kilometers I’ve jogged or the small distances I manage with the boys. Eric brought me home a bike yesterday. Hallelujah!

I woke up ready for my wheels. Lucky me, it was a gorgeous day. It was the kind of day you would order from your weather catalogue under the heading perfect. Not too cool, not too hot. Pleasant breezes. Sunshine. That blue in the sky that says happiness. Maybe THIS is the island dream that everyone thinks of when they think of living somewhere tropical. Maybe you get thrown a few days here and there like this so that you don’t completely give up on the volcano mountains. I’d begun to feel very skeptical. Most of my week had been spent being barked at or spent in our enclosure.

So I got away. As far as I wanted to pedal. I saw things. An amazing Catholic stone cathedral. A father going on a morning baguette run with a baby in arms and a toddler in tow. A girl selling bags of oranges (for $25) and mangoes and papayas. A man cutting shrubs with a machete. One our churches with signs out advertising a genealogy open house. The shimmering white city hall in Paea with it’s blue trim. Schools embracing the open air. A couple working on the concrete outline of their new home. A favorite place for people to ride waves. Smoke from trash fires. Houses clear up on the tip top of the mountain. A man tending small plants in his garden. A teenagers flirting while waiting for the bus. A school. Graffiti. It felt so good to move. To feel the wind lift my hair. To go past bustling neighborhood stores with Saturday morning shoppers. To catch a smile here and there from someone. I might like this place yet. At least sometimes.

I bought two mangoes from the girl with the fruit stand. Five dollars. My perfect day breakfast. I love mangoes. It’s probably my greatest love of all things orange that I love. I have a very long list of orange loves. These mangoes. Decadent. Juicy. Delicious. I ate both of them sitting outside on our porch. I scraped every last bit and squeezed the skins for any extra juice I may have missed. I slurped the juice from the plate and licked my fingers. In my heaven there are ripe mangoes like that. I’ve only ever had mangoes that good once in Germany when my friend Matthias had somehow gotten hold of an entire box of mangoes delivered somehow very ripe and fresh from somewhere where they grow those little golden mangoes. We sat outside in the sun and ate the entire box of them for lunch that day. Just the two of us. One sitting. I’m constantly looking for that variety of mango in the states and they’re very rarely to be found and the most common mango are the harder green-red skinned variety. But today again, after all the packing, flying and waiting, those mangoes were meant just for me. Perfectly delectable. A pat on the back along with the extra slice of sunshine to let me know that come what may—language barriers, diesel fumes, funky smells in the new house, I can have my moments and lick my fingers for the sheer utter joy of it all.

The day is ending with a sparkling stars reaching for us while from a neighboring house, the gentle sounds of ukuleles, drums and voices harmonize with the ocean waves. Between songs the wind catches the congenial laughter of friends at ease and twirls it into the palm leaves. I will rest my head on the arm of the man I love and drift into my own dreams.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tahiti Journal

Day Five

Part of me likes the feeling of being startled and shaken. It’s why I’ve been attempting to record it all raw as I initially experience it. I know that by degrees, I’ll grow accustomed to many things, oddities will become commonplace and the things I can’t change, I’ll accept in some form. In some ways, this is the allure of travel—that change of perspective and fresh eyes on the world. Acute awareness—all senses alert. Even over alert. But you know then that you are alive and existing in a whole new way and that already you are being changed by the place you now get to be.

By Monday evening, we realized that the low rumble we were hearing was the ocean breaking of the coral reef that forms the lagoon around the island of Tahiti. It had taken that long for all the extra weekend and Mother’s Day traffic to die down enough for our ears to pick up this new tone. We are incredibly close to the ocean. Our neighbor behind us has that ocean we’re hearing in their front yard. I am taunted every day with a glimpse of the ocean I can see through their open passageway between their garage and their house. I have to go to a certain place on my porch and stand on my tiptoes to see it. Then I get this thimble sized view of blue. Then I stand there and can’t believe how far I have to walk pushing the three boys in our five star five year old Graco stroller to actually put my toes in that ocean. We can’t just wander through people’s yards accidentally to get there. Houses are surrounded by fences. Locked gates block strangers like us from entering. Little alley ways ultimately end with a fence. When I have internet access, I’m thinking of using google translator to find some way of writing out a request to the neighbors to please, please, please just let me walk those three boys through their yard to their beach. But I don’t even know how to get past the gate. I haven’t seen a doorbell on them yet!

And then there’s the problem of dogs. Big dogs. Little dogs. Lots of snarling, barking dogs. We’re holding our own walking the road next to passing car, passing car, passing car, but if it weren’t for those fences, I don’t think I’d walk anywhere ever without Eric or a big, big stick because of the dogs. I’ve been using my morning runs as scouting expeditions—where to get food close by, where to take the boys to see something. Different paths that will take us to public beaches. It hasn’t been a week yet. But, we have managed to touch ocean three times in spite of dogs, gates and fences.

No worries. We had a baked chicken, rice, tossed salad and fresh bread for dinner. It has taken us until today to be able to enjoy such luxury. It took some finger pointing and nodding with the landlord to accomplish this small feat. We couldn’t figure out how to get our propane oven to work. Until today with his help. Thankfully, I remembered to ask about la cuisenere this time when he stopped by with the contract and I feel wildly successful with my Tahitian homemaking. It makes me feel a little better about the laundry that has been hanging three days and still is not completely dry yet. Wet clothes may be the new fashion if I can keep it from going moldy in the closet.

I can’t decide if this is like camping or being on a mission with kids or both. What I do know is I’m already very happy for our family. It’s hard to say what kinds of specifics the kids will remember about their time here, but I think they will remember a feeling of it all—a happy family-centered, good feeling even though there have been times when tears well up and fall down your cheek because that pizza you so wanted turns out not to be the pizza you wanted. It is already clear that while some things are more difficult to accomplish, some of our family lifestyle is much less complicated. We have nothing but time to spend with each other. We often have no where to be, but with each other. So this day ends with Benjamin and Isaac giving Dylan raspberries on his belly, Eric reading Fergus Crane to Benjamin, me snuggled with Isaac and Dylan reading about trains and salty breezes tickling our skin. There is no television, dishwasher, bathtub, dryer, car—except for occasionally—or places to run around to be. There is the five of us together.

Cultural Experiences

Air Tahiti Nui

If ever flying with three children ages five and under could be made enjoyable, then Air Tahiti Nui is the key to that successful experience. We were quite giddy with the accommodating treatment we received. I think I may have even teared up a bit as I bumped down the aisle with loads of backpacks nudging Dylan along in front of me when a flight attendant kindly grabbed some bags and gave him a smile as if to say, “It just wouldn’t have been any fun to fly today without a toddler like you.” This is far from the quiet pleas one often sees in the eyes of people, “Please don’t let that kid kick my seat and DON’T let me hear him screaming because being confined in this space in the air for this many hours is already more than I think I might be able to handle.

Our seats were also perfect. That means they were right next to the bathrooms. That meant that Benjamin could pop up utilize the facilities any time and as often as he wanted. And he could do it by himself. Amazing. We were seated right in the middle behind one of the bulkheads right over the wing. The legroom was unprecedented and there was no one in front of us to bother or really to the sides either because we were right by the emergency exits. I was beaming with glee over our good flying fortune.

Our seats also gave us an excellent view when the flight attendants did the pre-flight show. Yes. Show. I have never been so fascinated by seat belt and safety instructions. The beauty of the Polynesians extends to their very motions. As the two attendants smiled and pointed to the various features, their movements captivated me—a lilting, graceful dance.

Once we were in the air and I let the tears fall as I watched the edge of California fade behind me and I wondered when I would see a Target or my family again, the dance of the flight attendants continued. But first, a costume change. Gradually all the flight attendants went from wearing formal aqua fitted skirts and jackets to wearing long floral, flowing dresses. Then there wasn’t anything that they could not do for us. They brought each of the boys a little child sized backpack filled with fun things for them. They brought me a mother and baby care kit with an extra diaper, wipes and to my delight the best part of all—our own giant liter and a half water bottle! My favorite in flight commodity—WATER. Then came the blankets, the pillows, the bags with headphones and eye covers and ear plugs. They attached a bassinet to the wall for when Dylan might fall asleep. It just kept piling up. We hardly knew where to put it all. It was fun. We had fun flying. Then the food. There was plenty of food. And if you didn’t get enough, the attendants offered you more. They would walk the plane after the food service holding baskets of rolls and offering more water. Then just at the end after the second meal/snack, right before they changed back into their formal uniforms, they even walked around offering candy.

Kill them with kindness, bags of stuff, and their own personal television screen I suppose. It worked. The kids were great travelers. They toyed with all the novelties and did not scream. Best of all, they slept a good portion of the trip, curled into their seats or in Dylan’s case in his little bassinet with his toes sticking out the end. Yes, we had a great flight and we’ll proudly sport our Air Tahiti Nui visors.

The Carrefour

Carrefour is the biggest super store on the island. Not only is it the biggest, it is the only store of it’s type on the island. It has just about anything you could possibly need for living. You can even buy Breyer’s ice cream for thirteen dollars. Enjoy some the next time it’s on sale at your local grocery and raise a spoonful for us, we’ll be favoring something at a different price. We hope. Eric and I had talked about the expense of things in Tahiti, but nothing prepared me for the true sticker shock. Nothing. Gasp. Still on our first day in Tahiti, it was the logical place to go to get us started with some things to eat.

After my first many hours in the sauna of living in Tahiti, the first thing I noticed about the Carrefour was the air conditioning. For that amenity alone, I would have stayed there several hours. However, that good airplane behavior of the boys? Gone. Isaac removed his shoes and refused to put them back on. We were too jet-lagged and hot to argue, so he enjoyed running around barefooted. Actually, there’s not really any reason to argue with him about shoes here anyway. He was in good company. Running around is what all the boys wanted to do. So it is possible that there is a bar of soap for under a dollar. I didn’t find one, but it also could be because we were chasing children down the aisles while doing price comparisons. When they weren’t running around, they would all fall to the floor and roll around on it. We can’t explain this. I would never want to roll around on a dirty tile floor. They had lost it. Completely. I was close to follow after about Dylan’s third screaming fit and searching three aisles for salt. I did not writhe on the floor or scream. I just put a big bottle of Nutella in the cart and gave Eric that look that said, “Don’t even question me on this.”

It was a mad house. You can’t even imagine it. We could hardly even negotiate through it. Apparently we had arrived on the mother’s day weekend of the island. Apparently, procrastination is universal. The place was packed with shoppers. We were stumbling around trying to find things to eat that didn’t require cooking and wouldn’t eat up all our cash for the month, while surrounded by masses of fellow shoppers. Masses.

Yet, we were together and I smiled. Plenty. The cashiers were completely decked out, happy and smiling. One wore a straw hat decorated with flowers. People were helpful and kind and pardoned our disoriented state and our insane children. And some of the experience was just too funny to not just look at each other and laugh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Strangers in a strange land

June 7, 2009
Day Three

I feel foreign and confused. Isaac managed to wake up before the wild roosters that roam the neighborhood by a mere hour. So did everyone else. That was at 4 am this morning. Now the roosters are in full chorus and we’re enjoying the coolest moments of this next day our bodies still trying to fall into new rhythms and our minds trying to make sense of our world in which our twilight is now our dawn, all the letters of the words are jumbled and we are without words nodding and smiling and pointing.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Other people are up and moving too. Whoosh. How do I know? I can see a sliver of the ocean through our bedroom window but what I heard is cars, scooters, motorcycles and the neighbor’s sprinkler—the constant contamination of people’s noise. The rooster and the cars are incongruous with postcard expectations of Tahiti. The roosters sound lost here crowing where they don’t belong. The dull rolling wheels replace the soothing sounds of the ocean waves.

Our house is spacious and wonderful. Benjamin “loves this house.” We have a large patio and yard for playing and it is very comfortable. We settled in quickly and all the suitcases are empty and put away. However, the location next to the main road---the only paved road leading from here to there for most of the island is terrible. It was an impossible decision to make state side and so I’m praying that I learn to accept the constant doppler of the wheels as simple background noise. Whoosh.

Whoosh. Yesterday morning before we even unpacked, we took to the throbbing artery of the island to try to find where we were on the body of the island and see if we could find the heart of it all—the ocean. I pushed Dylan and Isaac in the stroller and Benjamin walked next to Eric. There is a decent amount of clearance on the side so we managed nicely. We walked less than a kilometer. On one side of the road, the houses grab whatever flat land they can find on the streets named for the first predominant family of that area. At the back of these houses, the middle of the island seems to pop right out and shoot straight up: tree and vegetation covered volcanic rock projections keeping us all hemmed here together. On the other side of the road, everything leads out to the ocean. We passed “Fares” (Houses) that had amazing expanses of lawn and palm trees behind which a house and the ocean would peek. Benjamin says the mountains are gorgeous. I wish I could say that I was looking at them as much as he was. I kept watching to make sure some vehicle wouldn’t swerve at us.

I don’t mind the walking and I’m already looking forward to my bike, if only it weren’t for the constant roll of adjacent wheels. By the end of a walk or any day for that matter I feel jostled and juggled and pounded. It makes me even more tired than the heat. It’s certainly no gambol through Blackhand Gorge or Flint Ridge.

That road. Paved as it is, the minute we get Isaac in the car, he begins to get sick. It must be a combination of the diesel fumes, the rough and rumble of a Land Rover and the heat. He’s being a champ about it. I just don’t think I can give him Benedryl every time we go on forays for food and people. He got to pick his very own barf bucket at the Carrefour. Pink, of course. I also gave up on sitting in the front seat. After I saw a baby in an infant seat buckled in the front, I decided to opt for general family sanity over apparent safety. I moved to the back to sit next to Isaac (and point at things with Dylan). Even if I can’t keep Isaac from getting sick, at least I can hold his head. Benjamin is delighted with this turn of events and gladly commands the keys to open our gate and our doors.

Day Four

In many ways this is what I expected. I didn’t think it would be easy or like being on a perpetual vacation. When we would tell people that we were moving most commonly the response would be something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Wow. That must be tough.” I knew they were thinking, “Hey you’re really lucky to be going to an exotic place with lots of beaches.” I on the other hand would think, “You have no idea how tough it will be and how far the close beach will be.” While I was excited to accept the opportunity of an adventure and embraced the idea of disconnecting from the typical life in suburbia, I had a whole list of fears—most of them centered on protecting and nurturing my children.

I have been foreign before so I know that I will adjust and adapt to many things and I won’t always feel raw and exposed. For now I’ll try to focus on the beautiful flowers and the birds that aren’t crowing. There are several of the true tropical variety that visit our yard and entertain Dylan. I am very grateful to them for that.

We enjoyed telling Benjamin the story of the gorgeous mountains and this island and the birds. How many boys live on a true volcano? We talked about how the volcano erupted long ago from underneath the ocean, rose up and the lava burst down the sides to form the edges on which we and all these lots of other people live. Then birds flew by and dropped their seeds on the black mountain. Those seeds became trees and plants. Then wave by wave came people, animals and living. It is amazing how flame and fury became habitable.

I teased Eric this morning by telling him to enjoy contact with the outside world. Despite our long walks in Ohio in which we would pretend to walk to the grocery store, to church or the beach, all of that is one and a half to two kilometers or more away. With the constant traffic on the main road and no real detours for pedestrians, I’m loathe to venture on expeditions by myself with my little ones. Yet. And we have no phone, no one to call yet, no internet. He said that he would know we were in trouble if comes home and finds the boys naked and their faces painted. Me and my lords of the flies. It’s not too far from our truth today. The boys had a great run in the rain. Gone are the days of running all over by whim in the Caddy to the library and parks. I haven’t seen one slide yet and the library? In our wildest dreams right now.

I’ll see Eric again tonight when he comes. Hopefully he will have news about our boxes that every day are worth more and more to me. I’m glad for every pound and penny of those boxes. When you hear that it will be expensive to buy things and live here is nothing in comparison to looking at the prices at the Carrefour and having your heart skip beats not only trying to find palatable but affordable options for the kids as well—guessing that what you’re looking at in that package is acceptable ham. Checking the dictionary to make sure we really did get butter. Eric and I have decided that all we need and want is gallons/liters to drink. We may spend half our grocery budget on fluid. We’re still not drinking water from the tap. The jury’s out on that and I for one don’t want to add troubles to my troubles. Yet.

It is true however that there are many things that just taste better in places other than the States. I don’t know what we do to yogurt but we don’t’ get it right. Benjamin brought me his vanilla yogurt and wanted to know, “what those specks are.” They were from actual vanilla beans. That is good yogurt. And I haven’t met a juice I didn’t love here. It is all that and so much more.

The evening rush must be starting. There are cars virtually parked on the road next to our house. We had heard about this. Since there is only one road around in and out, it gets packed in one direction of the other in the morning and in the afternoon. We’ve heard three ambulances in the last hour.

I would start dinner in hopes of seeing him soon, but there are no pots and pans to use on the stovetop. (In the boxes) And I still can’t get the oven to work. I had planned to bake a chicken. That plan is on hold. I’m not sure what we’ll feed the kids tonight. We have no car to go anywhere. Walking them somewhere would take a significant amount of sweating and effort. How many meals of sandwiches will they take? For that matter how many meals of sandwiches can I make with my last loaf of bread?

I also can’t get the washing machine to work. I’m desperate for language and appliance tutorials.

I am becoming convinced that we will be dirty and moist for as long as we live here. I put some clothes out on the line to dry today. They’ve been rained on twice and even with their moments in the sun, they were still moist. As am I. There are about five minutes after my shower that I am clean and free of a sheen of sweat. No matter what I try, the boys go to bed with black on their feet. Even when we shower them right before bed. The black of our volcano dirt may just have already stained their little feet.

And hot. It is hot. It makes for short tempers at times and frazzled parents. Perhaps that’s why there were so many admonitions to parents at the stake conference yesterday at church reminding parents not to hit their children.

Fortunately, there are breezes and lots of windows. And ceiling fans. I love, love, love our ceiling fans. I want to put my head under one and never leave, but it’s back to trying to make sense of the washing machine.

Why do worms crawl onto sidewalks when it rains? I’ve always hated that. Now I want to know why they all crawl up the side of our porch when it rains. Not only does that take a bit of effort, but don’t they know that they will die when the water is gone? Don’t they know that I don’t want worms all over my porch?

Make that a three times my clothes on the line have been rained on today. Not to mention that the clothes line which is perfect in it’s own right has the terrible disadvantage of being placed over a pad of dirt. First I have to manage to hang the clothes on the line without dropping them in the dirt. Then I have to get the dirt off my feet and change shoes before I come in the house to minimize the dirt I track back into the house. The brown dirt under the clothesline becomes mud when it rains. It’s rained three times today. There’s also a rainspout in the corner of the house by the clothesline. As it rains, the wind then blows this water into the clothesline as well and pools into a big puddle at the bottom. The downspout doesn’t actually go all the way down. This is great for little boys who want to cool off in gusting sprays of cool rain. This is terrible when you’re trying to keep the corners of the house dry. So the combination of the rain spout on the corner and the rain and the mud--it all spatters up onto the clothes hanging on the line. Again I say, our clothes may never be dry or clean again.

But I conquered the washing machine. It was running. That is until Dylan moved the knob. Everything seems to be at Dylan’s height. The light switches, the knobs on the stove, the door handles. Everything that we don’t want him to touch. Benjamin has been given the assignment to follow Dylan and turn off that which he turns on.

Since we’re waiting for the majority of our things in the boxes, the boys have spent most of the day doing the sticker book that the Frandsens gave Isaac for his birthday (in February). THANK YOU Ashley. You have no idea how much you and stickers mean to me right now.

Ba-boom-boomp. Thunder? “What’s that?” Isaac asks again. No it’s not thunder, it’s just the sound of a truck. Maybe if we hear it every half hour, we’ll finally get used to hearing it. That beats the alternative.

I meant for my tone to be descriptive rather than grumpy. I’m sure I’ll succeed at that better when I can roast that New Zealand beef that we have in the freezer.

What an adventure! Turns out I’m still not clear on the washing machine. It’s been churning the clothes for an hour now without moving on to the rinsing and spinning. It turns out that the short cycle for the washing machine is 39 minutes. So in theory, the clothes should be really clean when they come out of the washing machine even if it’s hard to get them dry and it’s even harder to keep them clean.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

From our Family Home Evening discussion:

Benjamin: “I like Tahiti because our house has a gate. It’s nice and hot. I like my new bike. I like the mountains. I like the clothesline at our house. The hardest thing about being here is keeping my puppy in my room. I like the Tahiti bungalows.

Isaac: “I like it when the people play the drums. I like the Tahiti ocean. I like the banana trees. I like playing in the rain.

Dylan: “I like the airplane. And running around in just my diaper. And the ocean. A lot! I like it when it rains. I like hearing the ambulance siren.”

Dad-Eric likes: the beach (added by Benjamin—“being by yourself at work”), work, his extremely patient wife and he looks forward to taking his family to visit all kinds of places in French Polynesia.

Nee-Mom: I like having all of my family under the same roof. I like waking up next to Eric and having him home at the end of the day. I’m proud of the way that Eric has been taking the lead here. He’s been great at talking with people, using as much French as he knows and getting us around. He’s staying calm and nice even while hot. I like our little house and I’m hoping to learn to deal with the noise because I really like our house. I like learning French. I am very grateful for our uneventful and very safe trip here. I’m delighted with our boys who are just running around having a lot of fun and not making too many fusses about things. I’m proud of the way they’ve held up under extreme situations—planes, jet lag, new food, new language, everything looking different. They’re happy. They make it all worth it and keep me smiling and remembering that above all we’re a family and together. I’m grateful for small smiles here and there from people we see. I’m thankful for church and for the great love emanating from Elder Condie as he spoke at Stake Conference. Love can reach out and touch you from even such distances of space and time and it makes all the difference. I love that God gives us the gift to give and feel love.