Last night was a fun night. The company sponsored a happy hour/welcome reception in a fancy room over the ocean. Towards the end I got pulled up and the entire firm sang Happy Birthday! Embarrassing but so fun! Afterwards my boss and his wife took us out to dinner. The resort has two sit down restaurants, a Chinese one and a French one. I chose the French one. We ordered bacon-wrapped veal to share and had a good time catching up over good wine. We were pretty tired by the time dinner was over- we had been up since 4am, hadn’t slept that well on the plane, and even though it was only about 8PM local time, it was 1AM in Kansas City time, so we called it a night.
We slept with the glass doors wide opened and listened to the waves, the wind, and the rain all night. Heavenly. We woke up at 3:30AM but managed to fall back asleep.
When we travel we like to immerse ourselves in the local culture as much as possible. This island really doesn’t have any other industries besides tourism; everything is very catered towards their visitors. I wanted a taste of what the local life was like. The people on the resort are so friendly and I wanted to know where they went home to at night. There aren’t really a lot of opportunities for that; we decided the best way to get that would be to attend the local church. I am a religious person, but the decision to attend today was less driven by religion and more driven by a desire to see the natives in their element. So after breakfast we headed to the main island and burned some time walking around before the service. As I described yesterday, the motus the resorts are on are nothing but high end luxury. Everything is fancy. This is not the case on the main island. It’s like any other shanty beach town. As we walked around we heard roosters crowing, saw dogs walking around, and tried our best to avoid the water-filled pot holes and motocycle drivers. We went to the grocery store where a can of Sprite was $1.65 instead of $10 at the resort. It made me wonder where that $8+ mark up is going? Back to Hilton, who owns the hotel? Are the workers paid well?
The main island has two churches that I’m aware of- a Catholic church and a Protestant one. We got to the Protestant one a bit early. I envisioned sitting in the back, but someone led us up to one of the very front rows. Turns out that was the visitor section, as a handful of other gringos joined and were seated nearby. They rang a bell every 15 minutes leading up to the service, and again to signal the beginning of the service.
The church was just one big sanctuary, no fellowship hall or kitchen or classrooms. Stained glass windows were open along each side, and dusty ceiling fans hung from the wood ceiling. Most people were dressed in head-to-toe white, and the ladies wore hats fancy enough to rival any Kentucky Derby hat! The men seemed to sit together and the women seemed to sit together, though there were several exceptions to this. It was a vibrant church, with maybe 250 people taking up most of the pews. They ranged in age from young babies to elderly couples and everyone in between.
As the service started some people wearing formal clothes filed in and greeted some other people with a double cheek kiss. The service was in French, so we didn’t understand a single word. But after some talking, someone from behind us started singing, and then everyone joined in! No music, just a chorus of voices praising our same Lord halfway across the world from our home. The music was tribal and beautiful. In surrounded us and all I could do was close my eyes and take it in. Words are inadequate. I wanted so badly to take a video (which would still be inadequate) but felt it would be disrespectful. The Husband did manage to discreetly get an audio file, so if you see us be sure we play it for you!
The rest of the service continued in the same way- talking and singing, singing and talking. There was a woman who would talk sometimes. At one point someone, I think he was the head pastor, motioned over to the visitor section and asked in English where we were from in. Someone said “Australia”. Continuing in English, the pastor gave a genuine thank you for coming, told us how much the people from Bora Bora love visitors, and gave us a short summary of his message from Matthew. He explained the phase “Iaorana”, which we’ve heard many times since we’ve been here and assumed it was a greeting like “hello”. He told us it meant something like “We recognize the spirit within you and hope that you live forever.” He then switched back to French to give the message.
It was a really beautiful service. We were ready to go by the end- you can only listen to a service in an unfamiliar language for so long- but I’m really glad we went.
We came back to the resort after that- thanks to The Husband, who tracked down the boat after I waited in the wrong spot- and spent the rest of the day hanging out poolside with my coworkers. Pretty amazing day!