We all have something in us that makes us different to one another. One person..
| The old bus in London had been serviced well, but still squeaked and the suspension overcompensated every time the bus driver used the brakes. It well after eight in the evening, when most people are well and truly home in front of the big screen or whatever makes them finish their day. People half filled that bus, all tired like me, after a long working day. What begins my story and why I remember that day is a small group of rather young and rowdy passengers.
It was kind of a girls versus boys situation. A fine lithe school chit slagging off a youth about his soccer teams' performance, or rather lack off. Every time an emotionally charged loud retort, made either by the boy or girl, followed hysterical laughter by the whole group of teenagers, the more clever or funny, the more in volume the gang ridiculed the other.
I had seen her many times before. She was always alone, hopping on a few stops after mine. Her petite serious and downcast eyes had never interested me before. She was a brunette, and something gave me the idea that she was more at ease in the upper class of society.
Her clothes gave the impression that she was working part-time after school. I would have assumed, if asked why she needed work, she would have answered something petty like, "A girl needs credit for her phone, doesn't she?"
The youth and his handful of buddies were typical teenagers, at the age when adult problems like mortgages were not even yet considered. He would mouth off in decent French that "this girl is crazy", when her barbs hit home. Finally he boasted in a loud tone that he is a "Khan" in Algeria, and by rights "a Khan of all people".
I chuckled and startled awake the stranger next to me, who did a quick check of the location of the bus before returning to his soft snore.
I thought philosophically to myself, that if he is a great "Khan" then what is he doing in a bus? He could go around in an expensive vehicle, being chauffeured everywhere.
In London, you can brush past a famous person from your own country without even seeing them. To survive here, everyone is equal. Well almost. It pays to have the right skills/physique/experience/looks for the job you want. I know. I am here.
A friend the daughter of one of the largest orchid owners in the Southern hemisphere, once struggled for a job with me. She could have easily asked for money to be sent from home, to help with her rent and expenses, but chose to go the hard way, or the only way for some of us. With her skills and looks, she is working in an office.
I too am someone. I am the third of four sons. Years ago, my father, by privilege of birth was awarded a scholarship to study at a foreign land and then bring back his knowledge to develop his village. He never passed the exams in this foreign land, that I call home. He did find a woman, my mother - another native of the old country, and they under some scheme managed to land citizenship.
When my father was called to be the chief of the old lands, he was too much in love with tar sealed roads, and the city way of life to return. Or as some have snidely gossiped, he is too afraid to return as a failure from his studies. My father's argument to this day is that he was right in all the answers, it is just that the lecturers were biased and never taught him the "right" way. Anyway, he forwarded his title to his eldest son once the boy turned twenty. Until then, the stewardship of the village would rest on the elders.
My eldest brother, when he came of age declined the role. He had married someone out of his culture and had completely focused his life away from tradition.
The second older brother gets angry quickly, and has too many brushes with the law. The village elders know of this from stories that reach them from other people who have emigrated here.
My young brother is spoiled, used to living for the moment and he will always be "Mommy's boy." He is not a leader, he has no ambition, and likes to pout when he doesn't have his way. He prefers the company of shallow people. The biggest concern of his life is that his clothes (what hip hop latest fashion is currently out) are not new enough. My mother dotes on him, and can spend her entire week's pay on his whims. He loves to dance and can't wait for the weekends when there are classes and events for these dances.
That leaves me. I can't pass the title on, there is enough infighting at the village as it is. Maybe I also am selfish, or not confident to survive the western world and want a place to call home.
I head back once every three years. There always is a ceremony for me that lasts three days before the order of business begins.
The last time I went, I was approached by a middle aged European woman at Heathrow airport. She was a bit tipsy from alcohol and struck me as a librarian or some sort of organised professional. Her clothes were loose to hid her overweight body and I knew she was single, the sort of woman who would struggle to find a sober handsome man.
What she saw in me was a tall, exotic and fit man, quite in his prime. I had been working outdoors the last year as a labourer with long hours, so I can imagine her thinking that she was in for an adventure especially when she discovered that we were heading to the same destination. She hung close to me throughout until check-in, small talking, and fortunately for me, we had far apart seats during all four plane changes when she vanished into the capital city, or to be honest I hid away from her.
It takes four planes from London, and then a ferry ride to get to my traditional home. Oh I forgot, and then a decent two hour walk, all up hill.
During the feasting ceremony, I took some time to walk with an elder to see his quarter acre plot of sweet potatoes, in a secluded hideaway that was supposedly shown to an ancestor of ours by a birdman.
The bird people are real, they are small, about waist high, and wear feathers for clothes. They are shy and will only deal with our people. Legend says that they will fly off and live in the clouds forever, if the secret of them is told to others. I have never seen them, they are mentioned enough in talk for me not to inquire more.
The elder went around barefoot, unlike me in flip flops. I always have to wear a collared t-shirt at the least as my security blanket, but faded shorts from the eighties is all he needs in the heat. He is a relative of mine, although I can't place exactly how. I don't know how old he is, but I guess he is in his eighties by his white hair. He looks half his age, his dark sinewy body carries no fat. Numbers mean nothing to him, but he has said he was already a grandfather when a great tsunami washed off an entire people from the closest island to us. By that famous recorded event, my calculations place him at just over a hundred years old, and then, he is one of the younger elders too.
We don't hound elders with questions, it is bad and unforgivable, and according to belief, is one of the many things that will cause a spirit to bring bad luck, illness and death to a curious person.
It is a good spot next to a football sized lake that never dries up, surrounded by untouched forest.
I asked him if I should move back for good. He told me that it was good as it was for now, because always before I came, there was big cleaning and tidying of things. And things got done. If I stayed, then there would never be this cleaning and tidying. This has been discussed before by the elders, and agreed on. They put forward an argument that their faraway chief has lost his roots, but can still function as a figurehead, as long as I keep my distance.
So I guess, I can't really call this place home. I have been given the cold shoulder by my own people. I will always be a visitor, someone to be impressed, but not much more. If I really wanted to, I could throw a tantrum, but I would lose everything I stood for here.
He told me that some of my cousins and extended relatives were jealous of me, but rivalries and squabbling between them had them agree that I was the best option to be chief for now. Any issues they couldn't solve was left in the too hard basket for me to sort. The lifestyle of this place means that there is nothing that can't be sorted by themselves, so there really is nothing for me to decide on, or even do.
The earliest written record that describes my village goes back to the early sixties when an American missionary and one native convert ventured here after some rumours of the "far above people". They were cooked "all the different ways", which is a compliment. This means that there was enough food is to be cooked to satisfy all sorts of taste buds.
As the story goes, when the policemen came from the town to collect the missionary, my people then were unaware that cannibalism was not acceptable. So they bragged about the meal, and that was confession. My people got roughed up to be taught a lesson, and there has always been mistrust of outsiders by many here since, through memories and stories.
One other issue the elder mentioned was the lake itself. It is a huge body of deep blue water, fed by springs. A small stream runs off this past my village, our source of water.
Some Americans came via helicopter and had tested the water nearly a year earlier. They now wanted to bottle and market this overseas, negotiations were underway, but with only the government. It was like my villagers had no input in that discussion.
I saw jobs and roads coming here. Of course I too had no say in this matter. However, my people talked about this here many times, and all views taken into account. The impression I get is that the villagers think the matter is completely in their control, I know otherwise. I understand that the government is too involved, so what weight will my lone voice carry?
Most people here never had to work for money. Everything they own is a gift, or hand me down. Food, water, and shelter can all be obtained from the land, although tin corrugated shed like houses, are standard. People here are all concerned in their own affairs, that a mundane someone said something in jealousy is of more importance than what happens elsewhere in the world.
Some people have left for towns, and even left the country. I meet them sometimes. But they never show me respect that the villagers show me here.
There are empty beer bottles in rubbish piles at some of the homes, it's easy to carry them when full, up, but too much effort to return them empty. I also will be told of those in my village who have binged on alcohol, and the poison from this this that has rendered them lazy - a serious charge here. We have to work together, but when one person doesn't carry their weight, it leaves a bad atmosphere. In days long gone past, we would have exiled that person, and curse them to be eaten by other tribes. We can't do that anymore.
So that's me.
In London, a face among others. I have met Nigerians, Arabs, English people to mention some. When asked about me, I always say that I am Polynesian, and leave it to people to decide what they want. Some will want to know more. I will share a little bit more about myself, but it will take a full day to tell everything. No one has a full day in London. Unlike one speck in the Pacific Ocean, an island, and a village, one that holds an anchor to a drifter like me.