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  • Michael Roman

A TABASCO SURPRISE

The village came to life in the evenings when temperatures dipped into the high 80s. The youth played volleyball, and children played with toys made from old tins and foliage. Men prepared canoes for fishing, and women gathered to play bingo in maneabas.


At 6:00, I woke to the sounds of pigs, chickens, cats, and dogs. By 7:00, sun rays pierced the walls of my kiakia, pulling me from my slumber. Smoke billowed from the family’s cooking house as young girls swept, and boys fetched water for morning baths. Angeteiti, my eldest sister, was busy bringing trays of food to my new father on the bwia. I was taking it all in from my mosquito net. Again, I questioned if this was real. The sounds of pigs, chickens, dogs, and crackling fire quickly reassured me I was where I was.


Groggy and somewhat apprehensive, I rolled out of the mosquito net, grabbed my Nalgene bottle, toothpaste, toothbrush, and headed to the roki (bathhouse). To my surprise, a full basin of water, a new bar of soap, and a fresh towel awaited me! The first cups of water were a shock. However, I soon became accustomed to and a fan of bucket bathing.


My brother, sister, and father were waiting for me to change and join them on the bwia. Instructed to sit where I sat the night before, three white linen-covered trays of food awaited me. There was no way I would have been able to eat all they had prepared. Tokantekaai instructed Angeteiti to fetch two more items, a thermos filled with hot water and a mug. Teresa (my host mom) handed me an unopened tin of Milo (powdered chocolate drink). Smiling, my host father lifted the linen, revealing bananas, pandanus fruit, and a large dead fish. Startled, I turned away and frantically began making morning tea.


The Peace Corps transport showed up just in time to take me away. Excusing myself, I knew what I did was not the right thing to do, considering what they prepared for me. I didn’t know how to explain my allergies towards seafood and asked my trainer to help explain. After a couple of days, they understood, and life was better.


I taught my host mom how to make tortillas, and fried bread (which I lived off for the rest of my time in service). One night, Angeteiti brought me a plate of spaghetti. She got the recipe from her cousin, who had just recently returned from Australia. I suspected she contacted relatives in Tarawa for this treat. The sauce was spicy. It consisted of tomato sauce (ketchup) and Tabasco. With tears running down my face, I smiled, saying how delicious it was.




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