Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life in Vavau

July 21
We are currently anchored on the north side of Nuku island where the sand is clean and soft, and the water turquoise. We anchored last night right before 5pm which is usually the start of our pre-bed baby hour. We've been in Neiafu for two days to buy groceries, extend visas, use internet etc. but there is no clean water, no beaches, and only grimy sidewalks and restaurant patios for Eloise. Our times in Neiafu are cooped up times for our energetic goer. So, we quickly rowed ashore to Nuku so Eloise could have some clean fun. She was ready for it, reaching for the beach as we rowed closer. She played happily by herself with us watching for about half an hour. She finds small crab holes to stick her arms down, sorts seashells at the high tide line, picks up sticks and broken coral, stands up and claps her hands, then crawls to the next interesting collection the high tide has made and then starts again. It is a huge relief for me whenever there's a mosquito-free play area like this for Eloise. She excels. I relax from the constant vigil on the boat or in town of redirecting her to good play areas.

Last night she took another step unaided. This morning on the beach again, another unaided step and a two legged stiff hop.

Last night while nursing, Eloise asked me a question, "Daddy outside?" using sign language. Yes he was. She asked again. I answered and explained he would see her in the morning and then she relaxed and kept nursing until she waved good night to me, her hat, the fan and other interesting objects and I placed her in her bed. Sign language has been a joy to experience with Eloise. Her pointing finger is deft and her "uh uh uhing" is easy to understand. But when she squeals and signs, "bird" we can engage in a conversation with her about the birds she sees. Her spoken language is limited to ma and dada but we are gradually learning more about our little girl's needs and interests through sign language.

In other news, we are excitedly awaiting the arrival of Justin, our nephew. As soon as he arrives in Vavau we will show him a couple of our favorite spots and then check out of the country to head to Fiji. Once we arrive and complete formalities we hope to make a trip down to Ono Island inside of the Astrolabe Reef. Marine Reach, the organization we volunteered with last time we were in Fiji, is setting up a 3-month miniature Bible training school on Ono Island. It is quite remote, despite its location about 90km from Fiji's capital city, Suva. The only means of transportation to Ono is by boat. It's exciting to us that we can use Nomad to help our friends at Marine Reach.

Another exciting development is our acquisition of another gecko. When we crossed the Pacific in 2009, we had a gecko from Panama, all the way to New Zealand. It was entertaining when he/she occasionally hunted fruit flies on our ports in the mornings. So far, this Tongan gecko is not as cute as our previous hunter but we are not interested in cute, we're interested in the depletion of our small beetle proliferation. They are about the size of small ants, but they had been exploding in population. I put out a call on the cruiser's radio information net that runs daily that I would trade a batch of cookies for a gecko. An employee of one of the restaurants overheard my request and collected 4 geckos for us that night. They arrived in a Nescafe can with holes poked on top and large beetles inside for the geckos to eat! Brian selected the smallest of the geckos and tipped out the others on land. We have no desire to run a gecko breeding program aboard. One hungry bug eater is all we wanted.

A few days later….July 23
Eloise had a play mate yesterday and the day before! Hurray! When she sees pictures of kids or passes kids about the age of 6 and down, Eloise squeals and squirms and tries to get to them. She has a favorite picture of her cousin Naomi before age 1 that makes her squeal also. So, it makes me happy when Eloise meets a real kid to play with. Alex is about 4 years and from another cruising boat. He didn't hold still and didn't seem interested in interacting with Eloise except for his two quick kisses offered when his mom told him to say hi to her. But Eloise enjoyed chasing him and climbing the large mound of sand that was his sand castle.

Then yesterday, outside of the town of Nuapapu we passed a bright eyed, smiley boy on a horse with his dad, collecting firewood and coconuts. Later, we stopped at the grassy lawn in front of the Wesleyan church so Eloise could stretch her muscles. The same boy looked over from the gate of the house next door. I waved him over and he came. We recognized him as one of the children of the primary school we visited 3 weeks ago. ?He recognized us as well. Instantly Oneone was crawling around herding Eloise, chasing her tickling her and doing all the things a good big brother might do. At 6 years old, he's an experienced big brother with an 18 month old sister, and a 6 month old brother. By the end of their play time, Oneone and Eloise were standing next to the wooden pew on the cement verandah of the church, banging banging banging. I wanted to hug him for being such a good playmate. I look forward to the time in Santa Cruz when playmates will be easier to find, and Eloise's cousin Elijah, just a short drive away.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Birthday Baby

As Kaleidoscope, my favorite store for buying educational toys and books, is far away in Capitola CA, I made Eloise two string dolls for her birthday.  Her other birthday present was an afternoon at a beach resort.


After we landed the dinghy on the beach at Ika Lahi Resort a few days before the birthday, I saw into the lodge through multiple open French double doors.  I saw a few large wooden sculptures, one or two strategically placed couches, and a floor that looked easy to clean.  The double doors opened out onto a wooden deck only a few feet above the sand beach, and a green lawn to the side.  "This looks like a perfect place to have Eloise's birthday party," I said.  And indeed it was.  It had everything we needed for a successful party…lots of places for Eloise to climb and crawl and stand, no other restaurant goers to irritate, lots of fish items on the menu, shade, breeze, animals to chase, and a birthday cake with a #1 candle on it.  . 

Other than Caroline and Steve, the owners, we were the only people at the resort.  Nevertheless, we were treated with warm hospitality and served with thoughtfulness.  We ate smoked marlin pate and homemade sesame crackers; mahi mahi fritters with papaya mango chutney, Thai Beef salad and three different kinds of dessert…make that 4! Caroline brought out a heart-shaped birthday cake decorated with pink hibiscus flowers for Eloise after we had eaten the other three desserts (passion fruit custard was my favorite).  The afternoon was relaxing since I didn't have to cook or coordinate anything.  We ate a course, took pictures of Eloise and walked her around with our fingers, ate some more, took more pictures of Eloise, watched her, chased her, ate some more, then sat around talking to Steve and Caroline while Eloise played with a large bucket of clothespins Caroline got out for her.  Then it was past bed time for our little one-year-old so we scooted home in the dinghy. 


One other highlight is that Eloise took her first unaided steps.  We knew it would be soon but Brian and I both missed seeing them L  Luckily Caroline saw and announced it.  Eloise had been standing behind my chair and then toddled 3 steps toward something on the ground before going to a crawl.  Today, she took two more unaided steps and we got to see them. 


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tongan Food

I first heard the term spoken with full nuance by Ane as we flew into her home country. She wasn't going to eat any of the KFC chicken she'd brought from New Zealand for her husband because she was waiting for some Tongan Food. If you grew up in a home like I did in which the preparation of holiday family meals is a ritual of delicious anticipations and the preparation of far too much food for the number of eaters, then the term Thanksgiving Dinner might conjure up similar fullness, similar home comforts as the term Tongan Food seems to do for Tongans I have met.

In the Ha'apai Group of Tongan islands we were repeatedly asked if we had enough Tongan food. By this, the asker meant items such as cassava, limes, coconut, cassava leaves, taro leaves, canned corned beef, papaya. When invited to the umu at Lucy's house on Ha'afeva, we had a combination of all of those items. Here is the menu, apart from the lime drink, all items were cooked in coals in the buried half of a rusty 50 gallon drum.

Lemon Drink
Tongan Bread
Lu is a dish in which any type of meat is mixed with coconut cream wrapped in many taro leaves, and then baked in an underground oven. We have eaten canned corned beef (very common), salted fish, chicken, and sorme sort of gristley pork all prepared this way.
Hefe is the closest thing to a potato that grows here, except it grows on husks akin to chestnuts. After roasted a long time in the umu, the husks are split off and out comes a roasty, firm potato tasting item.

Tongan Bread Recipe:
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup coconut cream
As many pieces of shredded fresh coconut as you like

Beat this together into sticky dough and place into the empty halves of coconut shells. Bake in the umu until the moist and dense bread is lightly brown on top.

As can be imagined, smoke is a necessary condiment for almost all Tongan food.

One other umu dish we had on a different day was papaya chunks, onion, coconut cream, wrapped in aluminum foil and baked for an hour. This might have been my favorite item.

As there was no refrigeration on Ha'afeva, Iwas told to "eat like a Tongan." If food is prepared, it has to be eaten that day because the humidity, heat, and small ants destroy all food over night.

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This week Brian sat in the cockpit sewing webbing onto the end of Eloise's safety netting. The strings on that netting feel like small threads to hold in this life that we love so much.

The safety netting will be hung on the lifelines of the boat…more strings to hold her, and us, in.

From sails to halyards, from engine hoists to electrical wiring, so many of the securities of this boating life are fabricated with strings and cords and threads. This reality occurred to me this morning after a night of nursing a sleepless baby with tummy troubles. My sleepiness makes the frailty of our tiny floating universe more salient. None of those lifelines would have made a bit of difference if Eloise had been quite ill.

Nomad is 45.something feet LOA (length overall). The fiberglass, brass, bronze, wires, hoses, paint and strings that move us through water and time are tended to daily by Brian. That's how boats are. That's how all of life is, it tends toward decay, even if we fight to maintain. A vivid example: we hiked up to a resort touted as an "excellent dining experience" in one of our cruising guides. All that we found were two cement water tanks and a small slab of tiled cement with a toilet sitting on it, entwined with vines, overgrown fruit trees, and spider webs. That resort used to be someone's livelihood, now it is almost gone, destroyed by the jungle.
These structures we entrust our lives and our family members' lives to - whether boat or house or other establishment- are easily overrun, easily taken from us. Some days they feel fragile, these safety catches, and other days we rest in them confidently as if they would last forever.

Two days ago, Brian assisted a sailboat with engine trouble as it was towed into harbor. He came back and said, "I guess we're pretty lucky that hasn't been us yet." It's true, Nomad has crossed the Pacific easily, with much good weather, and minimal breakage to parts. When we sit around with other cruisers comparing crossings, broken gear stories, etc, we very much realize that our journey to this point has been unusually simple. It could be luck, but luck is also a frail, unreliable safety net.

I have come to believe that the prayers of our friends and family are more powerful than the strings, the fiberglass, the luck. Not because we are special, not because we deserve it, but because people have asked God on our behalf for safety and for him to take care of us, he has. I'm grateful today for the continuous kindness of God and for the ongoing prayers of our friends and family.

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