Rollin’ Round Rarotonga

Remember the John Candy movie “Planes Trains and Automobiles”?  If it had been filmed in Rarotonga it would have been called “Buses, Scooters and Pick Up Trucks”– and we rode them all.

Where else does the bus driver stop to pick up his breakfast and come back with a load of bananas for everyone on the bus?  The food stand owner knew we were all going to church, so she wanted to show us a little love.

"Superman",  one of my favorite bus drivers--with our gift from "Mama"
“Superman”, one of my favorite bus drivers–with our gift from “Mama”

There are two bus routes on Rarotonga.  The Clockwise bus leaves from the center of Avarua on the hour; the Anti-clockwise bus leaves on the half hour.  Their only route is the circle around the island that is Rarotonga’s one main road.  Although technically there ARE bus stops, standing anywhere by the side of the road and waving enthusiastically works too. And there if there is one thing I have plenty of, it’s enthusiasm!

My other favorite driver was Bob Hopeless, who turns a bus ride into a bona fide tourist attraction.

Bob Hopeless
Bob Hopeless

If you’d like 30 seconds of the Bob Hopeless experience,  click this link. If you want more, you’ll just have to visit Rarotonga.  And yes, the road was that bumpy, which is one reason I decided against renting a bicycle.  The other was bus rides were so bloody much fun!

Maybe in Boston, (at least according to “Cheers”) everyone in the local bar knows who you are; on Rarotonga, it was the bus drivers.

Because we are workers, we get a special red bus pass–10 rides for $20–which almost functioned as an ID badge, differentiating us from the other Pakeha (non-Maori) on the island.  Our Global Volunteers fee covers transportation to and from the worksite; any non-work related travel (even going to church) we fund ourselves.   Anyway, before too long the drivers were greeting us and they knew exactly where we were headed.

But buses were only one method of transportation.  This is a VERY friendly island.  Sometimes we’d decide to walk back from school. We’d start off but before we got too far, we’d hear someone shouting our names and we were hopping onto or into one vehicle or another.  One day a pick up truck, the next a scooter.
Niki and I jumped out to get ice cream while Patrick (in the front seat) and Willy continued on the last few “blocks” to the KiiKii Motel.  My seat was right over the left rear wheel.

Note the water bottle in Willy's hands; note the disappointed look on the boy;s face.  Willy had promised to squirt Niki and me, then thought better of it.
Note the water bottle in Willy’s hands; note the disappointed look on the boy’s face. Willy had promised to squirt Niki and me, then reconsidered.

No photos exist of my rides on the back of Engia’s (the principal of Takitumu) motor scooter, but Niki did take this one of me hitching a ride with Bud before our hike up the mountain.
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We also got offered rides in regular cars, but what made those trips memorable were the conversations with the drivers.  Tora is a Maori who emigrated to Australia and joined the army.  He was a military attache to the US army who had served in Afghanistan.

Tora
Tora

Tora clued us in to the controversy surrounding the upcoming coronation. It seems that a former king had three wives and some thought that the wrong line had been selected to replace the prior queen. He explained that the dissenters would be letting their feelings known at the coronation.

Okay, so NEXT post will be about the coronation. I promise!

There was ONE more method of island transportation that us “three weekers” experienced vicariously. The 10th Annual Vaca Eiva went from November 23 until November 29 and drew rowers from all over the Pacific region: Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, even one team from Hawaii, and of course The Cook Islands. The racers rowed right by my hotel room, giving me great opportunities to capture the action. Because they all wore event tee shirts and not their team shirts, it was a little tricky to determine who was who. Fortunately, the KiiKii was also home to a Kiwi team and when their supporters started cheering wildly, I started shooting.

The young Kiwis staying at our hotel came in third!
The young Kiwis staying at our hotel came in third!

The Tahitians were #1 and 2, but our Kiwi friends did quite well, and were thrilled I had managed to capture the moment for them. And I was thrilled to be able to show MY appreciation for the warmth, friendship and hospitality I experienced while visiting their country by giving something to them. And isn’t that what Global Volunteers is all about?

Global Volunteers, Cook Islands

Let me introduce you to Global Volunteer’s Vaca 139. Why “Vaca”?  Because it is the Maori word for boat, and  it serves as a reminder that we are all in the same boat–we’re in this together.

The 139 is self explanatory:  we are the 139th group of Global Volunteers to serve in Rarotonga. Of Vaca 139’s ten volunteers, six have been here before, which speaks volumes about this assignment. Half of the group will be staying for two weeks.  I am one of the five that opted for three weeks.

Standing:  Dave, Larry, Willy Middle: James, Lynda, Shelley, Bud Front: Robyn, Patrick, Sally, Niki
Standing: Dave, Larry, Willy
Middle: James, the country manager,  Lynda, Shelley, Bud
Front: Robyn, Patrick, Sally, Niki

So what were we going to do during our stay?  Larry and Sally split their time between the prison and the high school.  When she was not in jail, Sally was a one woman “beautifier”, sprucing up the exterior of Tereora College.  She was leaving HER mark in flowers, while Larry, a former math teacher, gave his students practical skills, such as learning how to calculate nutritional values and convert celsius to fahrenheit.

Robyn and Dave worked in Titikavaka College. Bud, an Ob/Gyn, returned to the hospital to offer his assistance, and Lynda worked with the Ministry of Education, developing plans for special needs children.

Willy and Niki, Patrick and I were delighted to be assigned to an elementary school.  Papa Patrick, an artist from Florida, very thoughtfully brought along a suitcase full of watercolors and paper.  He spent the first two of the three weeks at the school, helping the children make cards; the last week he taught disabled adults at the Creative Center with Lynda.

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Uncle Willy worked with the third graders during class time.

Uncle Willy with the third grade class.
Uncle Willy with the third grade class.
Can you see why it required more than one attempt to photograph THIS group?
Can you see why it required more than one attempt to photograph THIS group?

Once the drums started beating (yes, that’s right–there are no bells, there are drums that mark the start and finish of school periods) he was out in the field, playing soccer with boys of ALL ages, regardless of the heat and humidity.

Time to get into your classroom!
Time to get into your classroom!

If you would like a more vivid drumming experience, Just click on this YouTube link.

Niki and I preferred more sedentary (and cooler) ways to interact with the children during “free” time.  During the school day, she worked one on one with fourth and fifth graders.
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My first week was spent helping out in the office.  Their secretary had abruptly quit right before we arrived, leaving a mountain of unfinished paperwork.  A basic principle of Global Volunteers is that you do whatever you are asked to do, so I got busy copying, doing excel spreadsheets, data entry, and report cards.   James figured that my years in the insurance industry would mean I was good at office work.  I didn’t bother to tell him that wasn’t quite what I did, and once I left the world of paid employment, I said goodbye to PCs to become an Apple devotee.  I was shocked at how much windows and excel had changed in just a couple of years!  Fortunately, speed was not important, and I was able to figure it out–although the copy machine WAS a bit of a struggle.

The best part of my assignment was I shared the principal’s office, so I got to know this warm, gracious, interesting woman. Because she had recently married, she generously shared her wedding photos and the stories about people in them, her extended family.

In the principal's office
Engia, the principal, and her new secretary

Of course, I was able to take several breaks during the day to play and read with the children, who LOVED to have their photos taken, AND to take photos.   Here are a few schoolyard shots.

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Stay tuned for the next post–the coronation!