Despite that I miss my family during the holidays, I certainly don’t miss the consumer madness that shrouds that of year in the U.S. My gift gathering was limited to one trip to town and as many gifts for the kids I know around the boatyard that I could fit in my bike basket. But after a spontaneous email from my older brother, it looked like I would be getting the best Christmas present of all…my big brother aboard Swell!! And so I hustled to get Swell ready to tour the islands before he arrived and in doing so, neglected to go shopping for food until I was down to one piece of cheese and a limp carrot. Finally, it was Xmas eve and I knew all the stores would be closed for a few days, so I hustled to town to stock up before he arrived.
Cars whizzed past me in both directions on the ride into town. The day was sunny and still–baking hot. Not a breeze enough to tip a blade of grass. When I turned onto the main street, drenched in sweat, I saw it was lined with traffic and people and even a policeman controlling the intersection.
“Oh boy,” I thought… “This looks a bit frightening?!”
I walked sheepishly into the main supermarket to find that a good percentage of the island’s population was inside. The smell of sweat and monoi oil and butchered meat and baguettes swirled around my nostrils. I picked up a basket, sighed, and went for it–there was no other choice. I made my way through the far aisle to get chocolate bars and soy milk, backing up flat against the stacks of crackers as a Tahitian mami passed with a full cart and kids clinging to either side. Two more steps toward the aisle end, and another family pressed me vertically into the cake mixes.
I contorted my way to the vegetable aisle, put down my basket, and delved into the chaos of people loading taro and onions and cabbage and carrots. The heat and stale air was already making it difficult to think. I cursed myself for having smugly thought that I’d entirely avoided shopping malls and parking space hassles this year. Deciding that getting to the onion bin was altogether too difficult, I turned and headed to grab a bag of brown rice…but the aisles were so completely lined with people who were waiting to checkout, that finding what I needed entailed shimming up through the entire row of hot, impatient people with my already heavy basket knocking into them.
“Excusemoi!” As I bumped and smiled my way to the rice bags…
When I’d finally decided that we could live on what was in my basket, I made for a line and made myself comfortable next to the stacks of corned beef. An hour later, I was standing by the pickles, nearly to the front of the aisle, where my line merged with the other before making it to the checkout. Everyone knew everybody else; cousins and relatives merged baskets to whomever was closer to the front and then the people behind them glared and scowled and ranted under their breath in Tahitian. The scene was too ridiculous, all I could do was giggle except for that the kid with the mother behind me had some sort of chicken pocks or something and he kept rubbing up on the back of my legs. I just knew I was going to have a new skin disease for xmas…
Finally I neared the front, but an old Tahitian mami in her best Xmas mumu looked tired and I decided that by the look of her fierce scowl, she needed out of this mess more than I did. So I let her go ahead, her and the two massive carts she had with her…and for a brief moment, she let go of the scowl and flashed me a genuine holiday smile.