Don’t Ponder Others
After an overnight passage, Swell and Octobasse ghost along, side by side, in light following winds at dawn. The next island, one hundred and fifty miles north, welcomes us around midmorning with a slack tide at the pass, a pod of leaping dolphins, and local men criss-crossing the turquoise waters in one-man sailing canoes, out for their morning catch.
I navigate Swell through the pass and into a little bay, then circle around looking for the best place to anchor. The water is a silty turquoise, making it difficult to judge its depth. As I’m preparing to drop the hook, a blue dinghy comes charging over from a sailboat tied to the sunken barge with a slender middle-aged woman driving. She introduces herself as Loreen and before I can get a word in, she launches into informing me that she and her husband have been here for over a year, telling me what the island’s like, and advising me on who I should and shouldn’t talk to. Swell is drifting into shallow waters before she’s even taken a breath.
“Thank you, Loreen. Now I need to get anchored,” I say.
She races off toward Octobasse and I hear her repeat her spiel to Gaspar. I’m relieved when my anchor sets, so I can go rest; my stomach is still in knots from a bout of food poisoning the night before. I wake to the sound of violent splashing an hour later. Baitfish? A shark? I scurry topside to see Loreen in a pink, full-body rashguard and matching swimcap doing a grossly exaggerated butterfly stroke beside my boat. I duck down, pretending not to see her, and quickly retreat to napping.
When I launch the dinghy the following day, Gaspar and I head off to check in with the officials and explore the main village. The island has no running water, no phones, no Internet, no airport, no toilets, no doctors, and certainly no Target or West Marine. There is a modest cement government building, a post office, a basketball court, and some shaded benches and tables belonging to the cruise liner that stops in for a few hours once a month. There’s also a dark, musty little “store” with one row of shelves offering sugar, soy sauce, some scary-looking cans of beef, weevil-filled bags of rice and flour, and Australian beer. Supply ships pass even less frequently here. I’m not complaining. This is why I wanted to come here. To simplify. Get away from it all. Work on myself. Find some peace.
Surfing on Hawaii Photo Gallery
I sit outside the immigration office staring down at my scarred and callused feet while Gaspar completes his paperwork. Finally, a towering, barefoot man calls me inside and I hand over my passport and boat documents. He eyes me suspiciously.
“Not same boat? Only you?” he questions, furrowing his tall, tanned brow.
“Yes, sir,” I reply respectfully.
He retorts with an exaggerated exhale. I look back at him blankly and shrug my shoulders. His brow relaxes and his full lips part into a giddy, half-moon grin. He prattles off something in Gilbertese to the two men sitting cross-legged on a table behind him. They both turn and stare.
“Mauri,” I offer. Gilbertese for “hello.”
“You the first girl come alone on yacht,” he explains. I accept the honor with a nod, pleased to provide them with a new perspective of a woman. Here, a female captain is about as common as a dog flying a plane back home.
After we’re done, Gaspar and I wander around the village, admiring the thatch-roofed homes, communal seaweed and fish-drying systems, and handcrafted canoes that line the lagoon. By chance, we meet another Spaniard. He runs the generator that provides electricity to the government buildings and a few homes and is married to a jovial Kiribati woman. They invite us to a barbeque that evening. After our tour, we help them prepare food and sip their homemade coconut toddy. By the time night falls, a dozen local friends have gathered around playing music and chatting merrily.
And then Loreen and her husband appear. Loreen, wearing a shockingly short skirt, snaps at me for not having come to see her yet. I start to explain that we’ve been taking it easy because of the food poisoning.
Before I can finish my sentence, she cuts me off and starts pummeling me with questions about how I got my boat and where I have sailed. When I begin to answer, she looks away uninterested. I escape as soon as possible, and watch her attach herself to Gaspar, rubbing her body on his and throwing her head back with laughter. For the rest of the evening I hang out with the kids, slinking to the other side of the room every time Loreen nears. Gaspar sees through her quickly, but his social cunning is better than mine. He knows it’s better to keep the dangerous ones close.
After we’ve eaten, Gaspar and I walk out to the village basketball court to shoot some hoops in the moonlight. We start a game of one-on-one, but halfway through, Loreen appears. She runs around the court trying desperately to block the ball, all the while asking us inappropriate questions and insisting we come to her boat for dinner the following night.
Without Melanie’s influence, I would have quickly made it clear that I wasn’t looking to be friends, maybe even let an elbow fly at her irritating mouth. I refrain, though, wondering how this clearly difficult person fits into my path to enlightenment.
The next evening, I drag my feet getting ready for dinner. I am dreading an evening in a confined space with that woman. Gaspar convinces me to consider it entertainment, and so off we dinghy to the South Wind. Loreen comes out of the boat in a shirt that she’s wearing as a dress. A necklace of enormous pointy urchin spines hangs around her neck. She cracks a witchy smile through excessive compound, eyeliner, and mascara. Dinner is leftover quiche and octopus salad.
As a conversation about sailing ping-pongs between Gaspar and Richard, Loreen’s husband, she somehow always finds something negative to interject about her “evil sister” or the exorbitant slip fees in Hawaii The Kiribati people are ignorant and have terrible hygiene The weather here is unbearably hot It’s impossible to get any decent food Richard is pleasant, though, and even offers me one of the Kiribati fishing hats he was given.
As the evening winds down, questions start to come our way. How long have we been together? Where had we met? What are our plans? I let Gaspar do the talking. He pulls me onto his lap, elaborating about how wonderful I am and how we’ve found true love and decided to sail on together.
“We both want to have ninos (kids),” he carries on, exaggerating. Loreen grows visibly displeased. I’m fairly certain she hoped we’d join them in some sort of sexual group escapade.
I begin yawning profusely and thank them for the meal. Clearly disappointed, she offers tea or more wine, but we repeat our thanks and stand up to leave. As we say goodbye she dives toward Gaspar to kiss him on the lips and he turns his head just in time.
After that, I decide to politely steer clear of Loreen. If she’s a spiritual teacher, I’m not ready for that class. But the more I avoid her, the more she forces her way near. While Gaspar and I are on a drift dive in the pass, she shows up hunting for octopus. We wave courteously and swim the other way, eventually drifting up onto a strip of sand to bask in the sun. Not more than five minutes pass, and here she comes with an octopus on her spear, beating it madly on the rocks nearby. She continues her daily butterfly swims
alongside Swell, crashes our potluck dinner with some newly arrived cruisers, and always tries to head off any sort of exploratory mission that Gaspar and I set off on.
Finally, I’m fed up. Maybe I’m taking the wrong approach? Maybe, instead, I should just go talk to her? Gaspar tries to discourage me.
“She’s loca (crazy), Lissy. Nada (nothing) you can do,” he says. But Melanie’s wisdom has already helped me so much. I’m convinced it can help her, too. So I dinghy over to the South Wind one quiet afternoon.
“Hello,” I call. “Anyone here?”
“Yes, hello,” I hear Loreen say. “Come in.”
I step aboard and push through the screen with a sinking feeling. I reach the bottom step and she comes around the corner stark naked. I realize my mistake too late. I want to turn and run. She looks as bitter and shriveled as a rancid Slim Jim. I pity her, but she scares me a little too.
“Hi, Loreen. I just wanted to see if we could talk. But if you’re busy, I can come back another time,” I stutter, backing out the stairs and staring up at the ceiling.
“No, no. It’s fine. Have a seat.” She ushers me toward a seat and sits down across from me still totally nude. Sweat beads form on my forehead and upper lip.
“It’s just well I feel like there’s an odd tension between us. We are both going to be here for a while longer, so I was hoping we could clear it up.”
“Oh re-e-e-e-e-ally, what do you mean?” she says in an exaggerated drawl.
I mention her passive-aggressive comments, the way she acts toward Gaspar, when she pulled up her skirt on the basketball court, and how it feels like she shows up wherever we are.
“What are you talking about? I haven’t done anything wrong. How could you accuse me ” Her volume climbs to a yell.
“Sorry, no, I didn’t mean that you had done anything wrong, it just seems like hmmm well I don’t know Is there something troubling you?”
She bursts into tears and between sobs launches into stories from her youth, her bare chest heaving. It turns out that she has been depressed for years and was hoping I would be her friend.
“Please,” I break in. “Let me just share some wisdom that a friend recently told me.”
I explain Melanie’s ideas as best I can, and how she might try to apply them. But Loreen continues, as if she didn’t hear any of it.
“Everybody goes through hard things,” I say. “But we have to find a way to get past them. If we can see our hardships as what got us to where we are now, it’s easier to accept them as part of our journey. You’re somewhere pretty good now, right? I mean, people only dream about doing this kind of exotic sailing, and Richard is such a nice man.”
“How can you tell me to be happy?” she says. “You’re completely free and a rich guy gave you a boat. You can do whatever you want.”
“Well, that’s not exactly the case, Loreen. And I’m not saying I’m good at being happy either. That’s probably why I recognize it in you. I just thought I’d share what’s helped me recently.”
A couple of hours later I leave feeling confused and drained. No matter what ropes I tossed to her to help her climb out of her misery, she found a way to dismiss them. I guess Gaspar was right not everyone is looking to end his or her suffering. And it’s clear that I’m no guru yet. I must focus on myself.
That evening, I pick up the Pema Chodron blog that Melanie had given me. And as if the universe is sending me a message, I open to a list of Buddhist wisdoms; the first one on the page reads: “Don’t ponder others.”
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