Mutual Aid

Mary and Arthur pulled up to Anthea in their dinghy with a bucket of oranges from their trees. We invited them aboard and soon learned they lived on the banks of Naqaiqai Creek, just across from Anthea’s anchorage. The wind was howling down the creek and a storm was moving in, so they, as we, were confined to the shelter of this small bay. They asked if we might have medicine for Mary’s headache, congestion and cough, as they weren’t able to dinghy to the nearest clinic on a nearby island. Mark offered them slices of the holy sacred pumpkin pie baked the night before while I searched our medicine cabinet and put together a care packet of Tylenol and Sudafed. With little to no fever, no stiff neck and no difficulty breathing, we figured our medicine, delivered with careful instructions and warnings about dosage, would do no harm, and that tincture of time would heal Mary’s cough. We shared our tried and true practice of steam treatments for coughs and talked about life on the water and land. The trade of fruit for medicine was mutually beneficial: we were swimming in medicine, but fruit poor, so their oranges were a delightful addition to our provisions.

Life on the creek was quiet for those final few days of Andrea and Anson’s time on Anthea. We baked, watched movies, and swam around the boat, all rather mundane activities after the ecstatic snorkeling trips, beautiful hike to the waterfalls on Taveuni, thrilling spinnaker run to Rambi and walks along Albert’s Cove’s glorious beach. Yet magical moments were still to be found, this time up the mangrove lined creek.

We first ventured into the mangrove forest to offer kava to the family who resides above its head. The tide was rising as we motored through the winding waterway, finding deep water in the center, and giving the curves a wide berth. Soon we were paddling in the shallows, listening to the calls of the parrots and barking doves in the soaring mangrove thicket. The current propelled us forward, and side streams beckoned with their bushy mangrove lined banks, mahogany colored roots reaching out like curved stilts into the briny waters. In the main stream tall mangrove trees soared and arched to form a natural cathedral. The forest engulfed us and we were mesmerized. Gently, slowly we drank in this newfound beauty, all of us silent as we reveled in the mystery of this liminal space between water and land.

Finally we ran gently aground and disembarked on the roots and mud. After securing the dinghy to a tree we searched for the path and made our way up a gentle slope, past grazing cows, and on to the homestead. The kava presentation was anticlimactic, consisting only of handing the bundle of roots to the elder women of the house and saying a quick hello and goodbye. But the mangrove journey, and the sight that was yet to come, made the trip entirely memorable.

By the time we made it back to the dinghy and began paddling through the shallows, the storm clouds had gathered and the wind rushed through the old growth mangroves. We maneuvered through the winding creek, paddling into deeper water. With no warning a sudden gust of wind rousted thousands of bats from their sleep, and, as one, they lurched into flight, screeching and calling in deafening droves. We stopped all movement and immersed ourselves in the spectacle of storm clouds darkened by wings beating and bats soaring. Some circled low overhead and sought out branches for hanging, landing awkwardly and swinging upside down until another gust whistled through the trees and rousted them again. We paddled under the cathedral and sat, our eyes gazing skyward, awestruck by the density of life and the drama of storm and flight.

The following day Anson, Andrea and Devon inflated the kayaks and ventured into the side streams of the creek. Devon maneuvered the dinghy with a kayak paddle from the bow, while Anson and Andrea paddled their orange inflatable pods into the shallows. The rain began in earnest while they were exploring, and with the wind on the nose for their return, Devon revved up the dinghy engine and towed the two to Anthea. He couldn’t resist a Mr. Toad-inspired slalom run at the end, and the drowned rats, equal part elated by their excursion and exasperated by Mr. Toad’s wild and wavy return to Anthea, leapt aboard, soaped, shampooed and rinsed in record time, before plunging below into the warmth and comfort of the cabin.

The next day, as the storm cleared and the wind died down, we set out for Taveuni, and that, of course, is when Mr. Perkins ran away. You know that story, and have read of Mark’s truly heroic deeds. While he worked nonstop to bring Mr. Perkins back to life, Devon and I took care of the mundane. Day one we accompanied Andrea and Anson to Taveuni and provisioned for the expected sail back to Nadi, where we planned to seek the services of a mechanic and access machine shops. Day two we went ashore to Mary and Arthur’s to do laundry. They had visited our boat again and wondered whether we had any glue for their dinghy. We said we’d search our spares and asked whether they could direct us to fresh water for laundry. They invited us to their compound to use the water from their taps.

Devon and I landed the dinghy with bags of dirty clothes and sheets and a small vile of glue for their boat. Arthur and Mary live in a delightful compound with extensive roof water catchment systems, an outdoor covered kitchen, and a rolling lawn dotted with coconut and breadfruit trees, many of which house chicken coops in the lower branches. Bamboo poles serve as ramps for the chickens to reach their roosts at night; during the day the birds scratch and peck in the lawn until the tide sucks the water off the mudflats, revealing crab-filled shores for feasting. Arthur and Mary fish the seas and farm the land, intermingling crops with lush tropical forest. By burning small sections of dense growth, they create fertile soil for planting their subsistence crops. Breadfruit, coconut, orange, mango and papaya trees are interspersed among taro, cassava and sweet potato crops. Their pigs forage the forests during the day and wallow in their large fenced enclosure during the night. Hundreds of coconut husks in one corner of the pen reveal the rich diet which fattens them up.

Devon and I were directed to the bathing and washing tanks behind their home. We set up camp and began to wash weeks of salty, sweaty laundry. With rotating buckets for soaking, agitating, rinsing, wringing and re-rinsing and re-wringing, we powered through the mounds. Nearby Mary and Arthur were smoking the fish they had caught in the evening, placing banana leaves over the fish to keep the flies at bay. Devon duly noted my slacker pace as I struck up conversation with Mary mid-wash cycle. When she saw the stains and grime on Mark’s, aka Axle-nut’s, shirts, she offered the board and brush to bring us up to Fiji standard for clothes washing.

Once again our lives intertwined with Arthur’s and Mary’s in ways that served both parties. The dinghy repair glue would only be found on Viti Levu, and then with great difficulty and substantial cost. And on our side, fresh water was scarce, especially with storm clouds blocking our solar panels for days on end and no engine to charge the batteries to run the watermaker. We certainly couldn’t spare fresh water to clean our clothes under these circumstances. But we did have enough power to charge their cell phones (their generator was under repair, and their small solar panel only ran their lights). On board we plugged in their phones and turned Anthea into a speed drying factory, harnessing the brisk breeze and elusive sun, while catching flying clothes and rescuing clothes pins from the sea.

One morning Arthur delivered two lobsters, cooked the night before, after returning from their night fishing trip; we rinsed off their plate and piled on three banana pancakes. Their lobster was divine, served over pasta with a touch of olive oil and salt; I only hope they found the pancakes a treat as well. The giving and receiving of support was good for our spirits during these troubled times. Ultimately we knew there were people to turn to, people who knew not only how to live, but how to thrive off land and sea.

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