Monday, January 08, 2007

Tales from the toilets and other things part 1

From Briar:

We have been on Takuu for over one week, but it feels more like one month. You couldn't possibly compare the last seven days here to a normal week back home. Today is Monday, Christmas day and the first time I've felt able to take a break. Finding space from people in this over-populated place is just as challenging. I've walked to one point in the triangular shaped island. This is near where the men go toilet, but not exactly. I plant myself down in a nice possie where I can see the reef and the larger island of Takuu in the distance, to realise that I am sitting right next to somebody else's shit! This must have been from a lazy man who couldn't be bothered going all the way to the proper place in the middle of the night or something. Then I notice another pile of faeces to the right of me and a swarm of flies approaching. So I get up and walk to the other side of the point making sure I'm an extra few meters further away from the toilet location than before. Then I notice that the mentally ill boy who I've been warned to stay clear of is walking about two yards behind me. When I stop, he stops. So I walk to the waters edge and attempt to wash my sandals and laplap and then try sitting down again. Thankfully the boy has lost interest. It feels slightly wrong that I've been in this beautiful place for over a week and I haven't had a chance to properly take it all in. Since we arrived we have been filming non-stop, mostly because it is the time in the year where there is much festivities and customs. We've been trying to capture it all as we know its our only chance. My mind has been focused on the film and I haven't had much time to actually enjoy the place to the degree I know I could.

To explain what it is like to be here is to perhaps compare it to a life camping. For those of you who enjoy camping (the way we do these days in tent cities which are clustered around beaches up and down the country) then you would love this place. Just like my memories of camping I wake up feeling hot, sticky and have sand in my hair. The heat and glaring light
from the sun wakes you up around five am each day. It reminds me of the feeling of sleeping in a small tent in the middle of the day. The air is stale and you wake with an awful lethargic feeling and sometimes a head ache from dehydration. I may as well liken it to a hang over. That is pretty much how it feels waking up here (but each day is getting easier). In the night you can hear people coughing, spitting, laughing and quietly talking to one another. Just like camping the walls between the houses are paper thin - well they are only basic woven mats attached to a wooden frame. Lighting is provided by Kerosene lamps, small bugs and silent mosquitoes swarm around them as if the lamps have a fuzzy halo.

Just like camping one feels incredibly connected with the environment. Here the land and sea is a food source, a matter of survival, a spiritual place and an identity. The stars have names and map the fishing roots away from and back to the island. The many little islets surrounding Nukukoa (wherethe community lives) have specific roles. One is for growing taros, another holds wild pigs, and the last to the far west is a wild life reserve.

At this place there are many beautiful birds, my favourite are called Kina Kina (pronouced the same as the Kina Kina sea egg in Maori) and look like white doves. There are also many dark-coloured birds which include Lakeha (meduim sized black bird with white markings on face), Kapana (frigate birds) Kanapu (ganets) and Te Kivi which looks a bit like a pipin, it has a long beak for digging into the sand, about 15 cm tall and flies.

On the topic of the wild life I might as well mention the crabs and other walking sea shells. These cute little creatures crawl into our house at night. In the morning when I'm going to the maru (toliet) there are hundreds of them creeping around the rocks. They have tiny beady eyes darting about. Inside our house are giant geckos that make noises similar to canary's chirping. It is a very pleasant sound. Zane can't complain about one getting stuck in his underpants yesterday, because the geckos help keep our house insect free.

Running madly through the streets, sometimes through our house, and waking us up in the early hours of the morning are the roosters and chickens. They like to live on our roof and crow on our roof too! There are so many of them there might be one to every three people living here. The owners of the birds are determined by a cut in their feet. I looked at a chicken's foot today and noticed that half of it's two talons were cut off. I asked a man how the cutting system worked as I figured there wouldn't be that many options for a group of 400 people owning this many free range birds. The man said only the women knew and that he himself was mystified. The poultry is sometimes eaten on special occasions but they are also used to scare the rats and mice away. At night you will see wild cats creeping through the streets but they are never there in the day and I guess the cats also manage the rat and mice problem.

The days are controlled by the tides. So far, in the mornings the tide has been rapidly going out and this works conveniently for the women as it is also the time most of them flock to the toilet. On the opposite point to where the men go the the maru the women wade out in the fast moving current and squat in the water. Just with a lap lap strung around my body I do the same. This is now a morning ritual. I sit facing the sunrise over the east while other women around me gather in little clusters gossiping and chatting. It must be true that everywhere in the world women like to hang out in bathrooms and toilets. It is almost one of these spaces women have claimed for themselves, and here it happens to be in a lagoon. If I am brave enough to turn around I might see my excretions floating merrily away against a pristine aqua blue water.

As I write this two boys are sitting next to me. One boy is voluntarily holding my diary so that I can write easily on my lap and the other older boy is reading over my shoulder. Where ever I go the kids like to follow me. I almost attract a gang of children as I walk down the streets. The girls especially like to hold my hand or stroke my hair. I have made some great friends with some of them. For a child living on the island life must be so wonderful. You have hundreds of kids to play with, big sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles to take care of you and endless swims in the sea. One of my favourite children is a boy called Manonie. We met him pretty early on as on the first day of arriving his little head kept peeping through our fish net window. Peering into our house with hungry curiosity he would just stare at us. After a while of doing this we soon found him inside our house, and I even had to cope with him watching me get changed. In the end I gave up caring. I have learnt a little of the language here but unfortunately he now thinks that I can understand every word he says and he repeats sentences to me earnestly hoping I might reply to him. I just love Manonie, he is constantly happy and singing on the top of his voice. In fact, I think this boy is the epitome of youth. Carefree and always laughing, softening adults where ever he goes with his sweet pleas and funny little games. I only worry that perhaps the attention he gets from me and others is a little too much for his ego, but it doesn't appear to be affecting him this way so far (he is also the youngest in the family so I guess it is hard to escape this kind of thing).

One night I joined a men's drinking party. They had a generator set up playing disco music and even mid night oil and ACDC. It was great fun drinking Kareve (fermented coconut a bit like Kava) and dancing around in the sand. I couldn't believe that there were no women there. I kept asking the men why, and they explained that firstly the women were busy with the children and secondly they didn't like to drink as most were strong Christians. I could talk more about this but it is another story I'll leave till later. I had a fabulous time with the men and I have to admit it was quite nice being the only women to dance with. Every boy at the party asked to dance with me, and well I did enjoy the attention (he he). Later that evening I had a long conversation with one man in particular. I found that he liked the same music to me and so I brought out my ipod and we listened to Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Dave Dobbin, Katchafire and Bob Marley. I was impressed at his wide knowledge about the world and music. This is impressive since he doesn't even have his own stereo here, just a guitar. Most people like himself however, have spent some time away from the island and so for many Mortlock people they are very aware of the world around them and the things going on outside their little paradise.

I have often been asked if I am married. Here people get married in their early twenties. Marriages are arranged too and usually will be within their own clans (there are five different clans in the island). All the nice men around my age, whom perhaps I could fancy are sadly taken and usually already have one if not two children!

Zane and I are staying in the house opposite the Ariki and we are being looked after by his family. I think we are getting first class service. Both of us have been given beds (instead of grass mats). Our meals are huge and people are always thinking of us. One time we had a visitor for dinner and Sini (the women who serves our meals) immediately brought in an extra chair and bowl of food.

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