The ugly, beautiful world we live in.
|We sailed into Rapatu Hoi late in the day on September 11 and, just as the guidebook instructed, we anchored on the south side of the tiny island. We were all exhausted. It had been a long seventeen-day upwind beat to weather and heavy chop. We were now all too aware of why so few sailors made it here. We were the only boat in the little cove.
Bob said, “I hope to hell this place has a bar.”
The four of us were standing in the cockpit gazing at the Island forty meters away. Everything was shrouded in a gauzy haze, but we could see well enough to appreciate its beauty. The quiet of the place was almost eerie.
“It’s not Sunday, is it?” I asked.
“It’s Tuesday,” the Wilson twins said at the same time.
“Well, where is everyone?” Bob asked.
We were all silent then, staring at what we could see of the shore and the empty narrow beach. None of us mentioned it, but what we were looking at seemed strangely vacant. Not even a seabird was anywhere in sight.
“Well, we goin’ in, or what?” Bob said.
“Oh, we goin’,” I said. I wanted off the boat.
We lowered the dinghy and motored onto the beach. The Wilsons hauled the dinghy up onto the high sand as Bob and I stood on the beach looking toward the village. Small shacks, palm fronds, an empty, narrow, dirt street. Not a person to be seen. No cars or scooters or bikes. No dogs.
“The book said the natives were friendly,” Jamey Wilson said.
“What did the book say about a bar?” Bob asked.
We walked toward the village. When we climbed up over a berm, we stood on the dirt road and looked up and down and finally headed toward what might be called a business district. There were some brightly painted carts with plastic awnings flapping in the breeze. Still no people. Still no noise.
“Why do I have the feeling I’m about to become somebody’s dinner?” Lanny Wilson said.
We all might have smiled at the remark, but I, for one, didn’t find it very funny.
We came to a little store and finally saw people. Lots of people, all men, perhaps the entire male population of the village, all crowded inside the little shoebox shaped dwelling made of cinder blocks. A loud, male radio-voice was coming from inside and a language we couldn’t understand was blaring out of crackling speakers.
We stood in the doorway, not sure there was room for us inside. The people inside were all smaller than the four of us, and dressed much like we were, shorts and tee-shirts. Sandals. Some wore straw hats. We could see easily over all their heads. They were listening to a radio which looked like something out of World War II. No one inside was yet aware we were standing behind them still in the doorway.
“Something big happened,” Bob said loud enough for two men to turn around and notice us. Seconds later, everyone inside was looking at us. Still nobody said a word. The radio went on blaring rapidly in excited, almost frantic verbiage we couldn’t decipher.
Two men headed our way. We stepped back from the door so they could come outside. Both looked up and down the street as though expecting there were others of us. Finally, one spoke what might have been French. Might have been Swahili.
“Do you speak English?” I asked.
The way the man stared at me it was clear he did not.
His attention was now focused on me alone. I pointed toward the doorway and raised my arms in the universal question of What gives? It was the best I could do. Somehow the question made it through. He pointed his index finger at his hand and made a zoom sound as the fingers opened and his hands spread aart. He said, “Boom-boom!”
Bob said, “Boom Boom?”
I said, “What boom boom?”
“A bomb?” Bob asked him.
“Mareca,” the man said.
“Mareca,” the other agreed. “No Yuke,” he added.
“Na Yuke, Na Yuke,” the other said.
“New York?” I asked and now his head was nodding yes.
More men came outside to stare at us.
The first man turned and spoke loudly to the others. “Mereca!” he said.
A great babble of hushed voices followed. They looked at each other and looked at us.
We tried for more information. We got more “Boom Booms” and exploding finger- pantomimes, and those that would make eye contact with us seemed sad, maybe apologetic. They brought us inside and sat us at a table and served us beer and a fish stew and wouldn’t let us pay for anything. We remained silent as all around us they tried to tell us what had happened in New York, New York earlier in the day. We still were not sure what they were trying to say, but it seemed clear it was something horrible.
We left for the boat quickly and managed to make some satellite phone calls and found out what happened.
People can be horrible. And at the same time, they can be quite nice. In the course of an hour, we found both kinds that day.