Wednesday, June 10, 2009


According to our Cruising the Marquesas guidebook, "kai" is the Marquesan word for food and "kaikai" means meal. But there's a lot more to it than those simple definitions.

Brian and I were walking home from St. Etienne, the Catholic Church last Sunday. The flowers arrangements in the women's hair, the colors of clothing, the harmonious singing, the haunting crucifix carved from Rosewood, and the after- service tables of homemade pre-prepared food for purchasing fresh in our minds. I was disappointed that we'd had no money with us to buy some local food. We were headed back to the dinghy to return to Nomad to decide what our lunch plans might be.

From the road above the beach we heard a yell and saw a man we'd met two evenings before standing in the back of a truck motioning us over. His family was having a gathering and did we want to come eat with them. Despite the fact that we couldn't even remember his name, we agreed. We were dropped off at his house where he lives with his mother who wasn't home. We sat and looked at his pictures of his world travels with Catholic church groups while he made forays into the large yard collecting fruit for us. We received about 10 pounds of oranges, 5 pounds of mangoes, a stalk of green bananas, 2 fruits they call apples but which I've never seen before, and a "corazone" (spiky green thing shaped like a human heart and slightly smaller than a volleyball).
After two hours of this, Calix (not sure the spelling, that's what other people called him) said it was time to walk to some other family member's house. We gathered our fruit and walked through backyards, across mud puddles, and past multitudes of fruit trees. Pop music in French and English was playing. Under some banana trees and another large unknown fruit tree were three tables spread with table cloths. Two had chairs around them. We were seated, offered beverages and sat smiling and trying to speak to the various relative. Over the course of the day we met one brother, three sisters, and multitudes of nieces and nephews. He has a total of 16 siblings so this was a small family gathering. Calix's English was sufficient and other relatives had smatterings and we got by.

Since there weren't enough plates for everyone, it was quite informal, but after Hugo prayed for our meal we were urged to fill up our plates. Here's an inventory of the dishes we got to choose from:
Plate of raw pieces of octopus
Plate of raw chitons -those segmented shells you see on rocks in tidepools
(there were limes for squeezing on the raw stuff)
A large pot of very tiny crabs cooked in some sauce that had coconut milk in it
Another coconutty sauce full of unknown seafood (cooked), kind of like a curry
A 2-foot diameter pot of a tangy red sauce with chicken, mutton, garbanzo beans and canned tomatoes.
Huge serving bowl of couscous
Platter of cooked white rice
Pot of sliced goat meat with savory seasonings
Ma (breadfruit cooked in its skin on a fire until soft and fluffy, a little denser than mashed potatoes)

After the meal, we washed our dishes behind the house and soon another couple of people were serving up food for themselves. Brian and I kicked a soccer ball around with Joselin, a 12-year old girl, I chatted with a 16 year old girl, Haapu, who spoke better English than her identical twin sister, Tevaiotemeama. (yes, that's her real name and yes we bonded over being twins).

Seven hours after our visit began, we dropped Calix off next to the beach for his bocci ball session (it's pretty popular here and called something different which I can't remember) and told to pick him up in two hours so we could all go back and eat some more for dinner. I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and Brian copied some music CDs of Jack Johnson for them, and back into shore, and to the same yard for more sitting around, talking, music, and the same table of food. So now we really know what kaikai means.

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