I wrote this postcard to my late grandmother in January, 1989.
I’m in Tahiti and will be here for another 2 1/2 weeks! Today we are going to see waterfalls like the one on the front of this postcard. It is pretty hot here and humid! I haven’t done much sightseeing because we spent last week at the beach. Happy New Year!
Who wouldn’t want to spend winter vacation in Tahiti, walking the black sand beaches and visiting waterfalls?
When my high school French teacher asked if anyone wanted to participate in an exchange with her niece in Tahiti, I jumped at it.
That winter I arrived in Papeete at 5 am, jet-lagged and grimy. My mom taught me to acclimate myself to the local time, so I forced myself to stay up all day. The family–a mom, younger step-father, and 16 year-old daughter–greeted me at the airport with a gardenia lei. I can still picture the delicate fragrance. Mmm.
Although I was 18, I was years behind Alexa, the daughter.
The week at the beach I wrote about in the postcard was a vacay from hell. Alexa and her boyfriend and a few of their friends (all 16 year-olds) got drunk every night, smoked pot every day, and one guy even locked himself in a bedroom for hours, listening to the same Pink Floyd songs over and over. I found solace at the retired neighbor’s bungalow, talking to the old French guy there and sharing his pineapple banana juice in a quart carton. He was the only adult around.
When Alexa brought me to school with her one day, the French kids sized me up and then ignored me, but the few Chinese and Tahitian ones slipped me sympathetic smiles.
Then there was New Year’s Eve. The custom in Tahiti, among the French at least, was to stay up all night. I almost begged Alexa’s mom and step-father to let me to stay home, joining them next door at their friendly neighbor’s whose pool I used during the day when Alexa went to school without me. But no one likes a party pooper, so I went along with Alexa and the beach crew.
At midnight, the DJ played U2’s New Year’s Day and a twenty-something guy flashed a vial of a white substance in front of my face, asking in French if I wanted some. Are you f*&@ing kidding me? I wanted to say. But I just turned my head and continued to sit alone. Alexa and her boyfriend were nowhere to be seen.
That month passed as slowly as a year, but I’m glad I went. When else would I’ve had the chance to stay in Tahiti for a month? And when I returned to college in February, I aced French class.