…I decided I’d hang out with the kids from then on. Although they still looked at me googly-eyed from time to time, they usually just wanted candy. As school was out for ‘winter break’, we held geography and eco-talks aboard Swell, rewarding good answers with “bonbon Californie” (Californian candy) as they liked to call it.
After nearly a week at the quay, the surf was fading, and I readied Swell to make the crossing to the check out the rumored haul-out yard.
“But you can’t go today,” Tumata pleaded. He was one of my favorites. Bright, polite, and soft-spoken. “There’s a party at school tonight.” Later when his mom came by to round up he and his cousins, she explained that, yes, there was a fundraiser for the school.
So when I heard the singing commence, I wandered the 100 yards down to the school and peered in the gates. Some of the kids recognized me, pulling me inside, where I sat on a bench among them, watching the families and friends all take their turn on the stage. I didn’t quite understand the format–it seemed a bit like karaoke night–as different groups and even a few solos went up and took their turn singing or playing ukulele for the crowd. No need for a screen with the words floating by, everyone knew the words to the local songs. I imagined it to be a bit like their version of ‘American idol’…a chance to show-off their talents for the other townspeople. It was all in fine humor, too, and the microphone refused to work from time to time. Laughter and cheers filled the still night air.
Then an official-looking woman took the microphone, and speaking in Tahitian, pulled a prize off of the raffle table, shuffled her hand into the ticket stubs, and called out a few numbers.
“Huit, quatre, zero!”
A young woman raced up to claim her prize. So it was a raffle! Of course!
Once the singing got going again, I wandered toward the back, finding a woman at table with loads of home-baked cakes and a sign saying: Gateau (cake) 300F, Coco Glace (cold coconuts) 200F, Ticket Tombola (raffle ticket) 500F.
“Bonne soir, madame. Cinq tickets tombola et un coco glace, sil vous plait.” I said. (Good evening, madame, five raffle tickets and a cold coconut, please.)
She looked at me apologetically. There were no more raffle tickets. “C’est bonne (it’s ok),” I said, passing her the equivalent of the raffle tickets anyway. “Pour l’ecole (for the school).”
At first she didn’t understand. She turned to her friend uncertain of what to do. It was the equivalent of about 30 dollars. She was shocked. She handed me the ice-cold coconut and insisted I take a piece of cake, too, thanking me profusely.
It was the least I could do, really. I’d wished I could give more, but with no ATM machine for a few hundred miles around, my cash was limited.
I stayed to watch a few more singing numbers, and then snuck out the back, waving goodbye to Tumata and the little group of scholars. The next morning, I woke up to find a stock of bananas and papayas on my deck, as precious as gold in a place with hardly any arable soil!