“Don't want to hear from and cheerful Pollyannas,
Who tell me love will find a way, it's all bananas.”
George Gershwin, But Not For Me
The way back from Vai’oa Beach was shorter. A small red Citroën 2CV pulled over to give us a ride.
“You must be Robyn and Wink.” Said the driver, a finely spoken thin gracefulness, with Nefertiti’s face and air of nobility. She wore her hair piled in a bun, high towards the back of her head, and drove like she was in Paris. If Julie was the Pollyanna of Polynesia, Sanimeli Maraf was the Rotuman Eleanor of Aquitaine; they were both goddesses in their own way, one chalk and one cheese. Talcum and Tomme de Savoie.
“Call me Sani.” She said.
“How was the beach?” Julie asked, on our return. I swallowed the word I was thinking.
“Very friendly.” I said. Her smile came on twice as bright, until Sani got out of the car. It was the first time on Rotuma I felt anything like a chill.
“This is Sanimeli.” I said, not believing, on reflection, that they wouldn’t have previously met. Sani told Julie that the Hospital Board had arranged a luncheon for us for the following day, and what time she would pick us up. But, for a brief movement, I saw a sag in Julie’s smile. And then I got it. Sani was about to introduce us to the rules. Julie had already introduced us to their transcendence.
The Hospital Board was ready for us on the lawn next morning. There were tables with tablecloths, with lemonade and little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and the lone physician. Sani introduced us to him and the three other women board members, and they talked to Robyn, and I talked to the doctor. He was younger than I was, and there was fatigue in his eyes, and a weight on his broad Polynesian shoulders. We spoke of the frustration he experienced at watching people die, for lack of a reliable air ambulance evacuation service. He was an Old Testament minor deity and, for all his frailties and faults and failings, the people loved him all the same, for he was still a much better chance, than they used to have. We discussed the high incidence of diabetes and heart disease, in a population with thrifty genes, and pork fat as intermediary metabolites. There was a lot of premature death from heart attacks. I was surprised to learn that he didn’t have a defibrillator, shocked even.
“What do you do if their heart stops?” I asked.
“Have a funeral.” He said. I promised him I would find him a defibrillator, as soon as I got back to Canada.
Sani drove us on the Bennett’s at Itu'muta, and introduced us to Samo and his wife and two children, Rotumans home from New Zealand, for Fara. We drank lemonade and green coconut on their veranda, and promised, as travelers always do, to keep in touch.
On our tour around the rest of the island, it was along the southern coast, entering the districts of Juju and Pepjei, that things got a little strange. As we entered the village of Upu, blowing up like Notre Dame in Paris, was the Marist Catholic church of St. Michaels.
“Do you know about the wars?” Asked Sani.
“The wars?” I asked.
“Between the English Wesleyans and the French Catholics.” She said. I told her I had heard about them but not much. I knew that Rotuma had experienced the usual ravages and interbreeding from the whalers and ships deserters, including the only blackbirders that hit the place on the Velocity, all 40 sailors from which are now represented in the gene pool. I knew that the, and other fafisi off the Unites States Exploring Expedition in 1840 brought grog and measles and influenza and dysentery and venereal disease. But I didn’t know that most of the death and destruction was brought by the God’s door to door salesmen.