May 21, 2014

Mexico vs. French Polynesia

A traveler without observation
Is a bird without wings.
Moslih Eddin Saadi

Either Mexico or French Polynesia - Ready, Set, Go...
From the continual road, sidewalk, or porch sweeping of Mexico, everyone handy with a broom; we are now in the land of rakes.  Everywhere you look you find people raking leaves, needles or trash off roadways and yards, keeping the islands quite pristine.  Gathered materials are burnt in metal drums under mango or breadfruit trees helping to keep some tree pests or bugs away.

Tifaifai - type of quilting in French Polynesia
On wall in Papeete's Town Hall
Road cleaning crew on bicycles - even one wearing a hard hat!
In general, cleanliness seems a higher priority in the South Pacific than it was in Mexico.  Not sure if living on a small more ‘finite’ piece of land gives you a stronger sense of ownership and pride or is it due to education or smaller population.  Either way it is nice not coming across the countless dirty diapers and plastic trash littering what could be a much more beautiful Mexico if they only tried a little.  To date, the only exception to this has been Moorea, an overly touristic island missing the friendliness and pride most Polynesians commonly have of their land.
We find many similarities between Mexico and French Polynesia, another warmer climate area of the world.  Many, if not most, of the plants we have seen in Mexico exist here, giving us a head start in recognizing them.  The names and usages may be slightly different but the plants are nearly identical.
As said earlier, most people here grow their own food making it difficult to purchase in markets.  We miss the ease of finding fruits and vegetables we had, albeit a little overripe at times, in Mexico.
Work seems to be seen the same way as in Mexico.  They take a laissez-faire attitude toward it.  It will eventually get done.  Island time is quite the same as mañana por la mañana. We are finding however that money here comes too easy; people aren’t that hungry for cash so many times when you are told a tour has been set or someone is coming to do something for you, they will not show up – never apologizing for the inconvenience it causes you.  It’s interesting to think we MISS Mexican work ethics here in French Polynesia.
On the other hand, you have to be a Jack/Jill of several trades to make ends meet.  People do many things to stay busy all year round since they are so dependent on an agricultural and touristic economy.
People are friendly in both places despite what the US government may say about Mexico – in over two years, we’ve never encountered problems there.   People of little means tend to have bigger hearts and time for other people than people with lots of money and/or schedules to follow.   
Using 55 gallon drums as retaining wall material
Speaking of little means, they are very ingenious at repairing or making things with whatever they have on hands, very little goes to waste. 
They are as proud of their culture and ancestors; knowing more about their history than most folks in North America.  This however does not stop either one from wishing for the American way…  How little do they understand the true cost of living that American Dream.
Stray dogs are prevalent and not treated well in both cases – something that will improve with education and free clinics that are slowly but surely starting to appear.  This is one place where I don’t mind the American/European influence…
They use machetes for everything – opening trails, getting fruits, cutting trees/branches for building or firewood, etc…  They are very handy with that precious tool.
Potable water is an issue – you cannot find it everywhere but it seems easier to find here than in Mexico’s remote areas. 
If you find something in a town or valley, you will not necessarily find it in the next one even though it may only be a few kilometers away.  Just like micro-climates, each town has its own specialty and they don’t seemingly want to expand too far outside their boundaries with it.  Things like food, art, liquor purchase (they do have dry valleys or villages right next to wet ones) can be extremely localized.  Buy when you find something you like – you may never see it again.
Each live in open-air concept homes where most of the activities are done just under roofed not closed areas.  Most homes have no locks unless you are in big cities….
Each has a nickname for us…  Mexicans call us gringos or papelillos (a tree with reddish bark that peels just like white people’s skin peels when burnt).  In French Polynesia, popa'as mean European but it also means skin that burns easily.  Of course there are many more but the expression pertaining to the light (clear) colored skin that burns easily is interesting. 

Things that surprised us in South Pacific:
  • You cannot get plastic bags when you check out at a grocery store unless you buy them at about $1.20/piece!  If you put your baguette in a bag that will cost you $0.25…  They are very conscious of wastage.
  • In the Marquesas, flowers are used for decorations only.  In Tahiti they are used in teas and food as well, a concept that even when explained to Marquesans didn’t seem to sink in.
  • Although warm, the water is not as warm as when we were in the Sea of Cortez during summer time.
  • Some sons, especially if eldest of the family, have been raised to help their mother with all of her house chores.  They, in the process, have become very effeminate and that has been socially and culturally done and accepted for generations.  These men (mahu – or third sex) are not to be mixed with gays or transgenders (rae-rae).  It is a part of the upbringing and culture that is dying out but still there.  Many pluck their eyebrows and wear makeup, while others are more flamboyant, wearing feminine outfits and jewelry. However, these behaviors don't always mean these men are homosexual.  They are usually warm, friendly, very lively, and nearly always hanging out with women and children.
New foods or plants:

Blue flower from a plant nicknamed rat’s or ray's tail that tastes like mushrooms.
    Yellow fruit that tastes and feels like cooked egg yolk called canistel. 
Another fruit that tastes like white custard called rolliana.
  • A fruit nicknamed chocolate mousse for obvious reason – unfortunately not ripe until July - - - we won’t get to taste it.
  • The corn of Mexico is the breadfruit of what we have visited so far in French Polynesia.  Breadfruit is like potato – you can eat it as chips, fries, mashed, fermented, etc…
Uru (breadfruit) chips
  • Fafa, their version of spinach is delicious but can only be eaten cooked, not raw.
  • Pota, their version of bokchoi – usually a little smaller.
Pacay or the ice cream bean – bean with seeds surrounded by a cotton-candy
like substance that tastes like ice cream…
The white inside of the pacay
  • The flower of the wild hibiscus only lasts one day.  It is in the shape of a badminton cock, it is born yellow with a burgundy heart, turns pink in the afternoon before it falls off the tree and is burgundy the following day.  You can use the pistil like lipstick, turning your lips burgundy.  You can use the petals to take away makeup or to stop your diving mask from fogging up.  Leaves can be used to make the equivalent of paper plates, 1” diameter branches for nasal flutes; can cover potatoes or meat before baking (somewhat like tamale are covered by corn husks).  It stops the enclosed food from drying out and gives it a good taste (natural aluminum paper), bark is use for cordage or making skirts dancers wear at native/tribal dances. 
  • Banana leaves can also be used for baking – we have purchased banana bread that was baked in its own leaf.
Green bean with wings on three sides called winged beans.  
  • There is a nut called ‘mape’ that tastes a bit like chestnut but is much larger and needs to be boiled before it is eaten.
Truffle potato chips!  Only the French… 
  • Bordeaux in a box (it's not only cheap wines anymore).
A fern called tattoo fern.  Its underside is white/silver and when applied strongly to the skin
leaves the outline of the fern in white. 
  • Vanilla beans grown here are a mix of Mexican and Madagascar plants. Unlike their counterparts they do not have to be boiled, just dried in the sun before selling. 
Manuia = Cheers in the local language!

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