Seasonal storms affected everything from mail to crops. I arrived during a dry and dusty period, and a year later, the island was a green, soggy, mosquito-laden jungle.
Flights were canceled for a month, ocean swells were too large and too rough for cargo skiffs, and the rough seas made fishing impossible. Despite this, celebrations went on as planned.
All teachers received multiple Christmas celebration invitations from both villages. Adopted into my headteacher’s family since I could not be in both celebrations at the same time, the family unit split. Children, I included, celebrated in the southern village, while Uriane and Tienari, celebrated in the northern village.
Typically, I received honored guest invitations. At first, it was fun, but I quickly grew to detest these invites. As an honored guest, I sat alone in the center of the maneaba. I was given the first choice of foods and expected to offer speeches and gifts. The one saving grace was that Corey was also a constant guest of honor. That night, she celebrated in the Northern village. It seemed I was on my own.
At 5 pm, my headteacher asked if I could go as a member of her family. For the first time, I would be able to sit in the crowd, out of the spotlight, and with a family. Christmas had arrived early!
Tauro yelled as he honked the horn. I was ready by the time he arrived and ran out to wish him a Merry Christmas. Smiling like he always did, he wished me a Merry Christmas and told me he would be back for southern village guests soon.
I waited at Biita’s house for his return. From there, I heard my adopted siblings receive instructions. “Make sure you watch what he eats! Don’t let him eat fish! Don’t forget, he needs to bring his own cup, plate, and spoon!” My eldest sister exited the house, “do you have everything?” I nodded.
We waited for my younger sister and brother. Both girls drenched themselves in body spray I brought back from Tarawa, and my brother doused himself in cologne I brought from the states. We smelled him from two houses away. We walked through the bush, smelling like a department store.
Our pace picked up when it began raining. By the time we made it into the maneaba, my youngest sister’s meticulously placed hairpins and delicately positioned flowers were a mess. My brother’s pressed shirt was soaked, and my oldest sister’s lava-lava was caked in mud. Everyone still smelled good though, which ultimately seemed to be the only thing that mattered.