Tafa Tafa Beach, Samoa
The whole paranormal feeling of what I was calling “My Mermaid Encounter” really threw me off. I’d never even imagined things like that…well, maybe back in my college days, but not since I stopped smoking that stuff. Doctor Me prescribed some S.A.N.D. (Sitting Ashore – Nothing Doing) and I filled that prescription in Samoa. I was recommended by my recent employer to his friend’s yatch heading out the next morning back to Apia and I jumped at the job. Once there it was a quick bus ride from the port to where I was chin deep in the sun and sand filled Paradisical world of hospitality and beauty that carried a seriously contagious detachment from time. Tafa Tafa Beach was where, in exchange for cooking duties, I was granted a beautiful little cottage just off the sand.
The slight rustle of palms in the Trade Winds and the occasional distant hiss of surf breaking on the reef were the only sounds in my world. Sky Father Rangi had provided another beautiful day and I, for one, was eternally grateful with vague plans to honor His gift by enjoying every minute of it on this beach. I’m not sure if it was day 3 or maybe 5 but it was the type of afternoon where all time had simply, gradually, gently slowed to a complete and utter stop. The type of day only a true Paradise can create. The Cosmic Clutch had been engaged and my brain had happily slipped into neutral. I was Zenly becoming one with the sand when a shadow enveloped me and the scent of sweet ginger flowers danced on the breeze. As I slowly lifted the hat from my face I recognized the silhouette of a woman straight out of a Bond movie. Wild tightly curled hair that fell into long spirals over the frame of a goddess came into focus. I’ll admit to a second or so of not again thoughts about Kapua racing through me, but my brain snapped into gear when I heard her say “Sefu told me I’d find you here. I’m his sister, Ailani.” You learn to know and trust shipmates at sea and Sefu had more than earned my respect and deep friendship long ago so I was prepared for whatever Ailani wanted. Mainly I prayed she wanted me. Judging by how fast she was talking, I deduced this thing she was asking me to do was a hurry-up thing. Also the title Matai kept coming up, and was said with respect, so I figured this was all about a big party thrown in his honor. Matai is Chief, or Elder among the traditions of the people of Samoa. I had heard good things about his island pride, love of his people, and how he and was big on symbology. I was totally jazzed to be helping.
First stop was to be the local market. Ailani disappeared into the crowd, madly gathering the things she needed. Making my way through the crowded market was hard enough without using most of my brain trying to think of what amazing thing to make. Finally, right before panic set in, planning took over from caution. I plugged along so blindly that at one point I nearly ran right over a small boy selling local flag t-shirts. That’s when the idea hit. Not the kid, but the flag. Featured on one of his shirts was a design I had seen all over the island. It was a coconut palm with a pineapple superimposed on it resting on an island surrounded by a green sea. It was explained to me that the design represented sources of food, Island pride, and hospitality. Pure Alofa, Samoan Aloha. Insert cartoon idea light bulb here. Things were falling into place. I’d make Matai’s Island! It seemed so simple now. Rum was a given, and coconut is everywhere here so that part was easy. It was a short jump to a seafood stand where a beautiful mound of shrimp awaited. My coconut shrimp is always a hit but I still needed to make this Matai-kinespecial and find the perfect pineapple connection. Not only is pineapple an international symbol of hospitality, but I had been told it just happened to be Matai’s favorite taste. Easy score. I decided to cut the top off of the pineapple to use as the centerpiece. I’d surround it with a bed of lettuce covered in coconut rum shrimp with grilled pineapple slices and a hollowed half pineapple serving the guava dipping sauce.
I had an instant New Best Friend when the Matai saw the result of my efforts. He instantly recognized the pineapple top in the center as a palm topped island providing the sweet fruits of the land, surrounded by a sea of green lettuce topped with the shrimp looking like his home azure lagoons filled with Mother Ocean’s food. Pineapples were everywhere! I truly felt honored by his reaction and probably blushed a bit when he told Ailani “ Your man has our Islands in his heart” The rest of the evening was rum, dancing, meeting new people who’s names I’d never remember, and way too much laughter. The beach was so quiet again.
The slight rustle of palms in the Trade Winds and the occasional distant hiss of surf breaking on the reef were the only sounds as I walked Ailani home. Her couch seemed to realize we had been standing all evening as it softened just a little extra when we sat. We talked and laughed about things from the party as the attraction between us grew quickly. All thoughts of Kapua disappeared as a new sort of magic took over. I didn’t want to presume too much and was suggesting something about us going for a sail tomorrow when Ailani was suddenly on my lap facing me, my face cupped in her hands and as she looked deep into my eyes and said “ Matai said that you are MY man tonight…” Her kiss was hot and deep…with just a little hint of pineapple.