TROPICAL GUILT

By Scott Richards

 

cabo_san_lucasIt was a moonless night with only the stars to guide us. The uneven path was fraught with peril at every turn. Mangy dogs half wild from hunger and dangerously insane from the three hundred years of inbreeding prowled the underbrush growling and snapping at the wind. Thankfully we only dared such a risky undertaking into the village once a week, our nerves couldn’t take more.

Anxiety dripped off our brows like a monsoon rain and our hearts beat faster as we neared the clearing. All was dead quiet now save the cicadas and the pounding of the blood in our ears. A few more paces and our objective was in sight, silhouetted against the blue-black sky, dark, huge and silent. But with no cover, we had to approach with the silence of a cat stalking its prey. Under no circumstances could we be caught. The social and religious implications would be drastic for our continued presence in the community.

From the relative safety of the palms, we waited for the clouds to cloak the brilliant stars that illuminated our tiny South Pacific Island. Everyone in the village of Toula knew everyone else’s business so discretion was paramount. In our typical Tongan village consisting of about thirty-five homes and five churches of different denominations, the inhabitants, were, needless to say, pious to the max. Save for a handful of other lost ex-pats blown off-course, my wife’s long blond hair and our European features invited sufficient scrutiny as it was. Identification would be simple. We had to strike fast, in and out, guerilla style.

In the darkness of our momentary cloud cover, we made our move. The heavy plastic lid creaked louder than anticipated on its jungle-rotted hinges causing us to hesitate, freeze up in fear of discovery. Too late, the trashcan lid was off, no time to rethink the mission, dump the empty bottles of Fosters beer, dark rum and wine and sneak back through the under brush to the safety of our home on the hill.

Giggling like kids that had gotten away with something naughty, we finally slowed our pace and heart rate as we gained distance and innocence from the crime scene.

The truth was we didn’t have a “wheelie bin” of our own, as our house was too high up the face of the jungle-covered hill. The one, local trash truck could not make it up the dirt path that wound a quarter mile through the bush to service us forcing us to become covert trash depositors. We always burned what paper products accumulated in true island fashion in a rusted, cut down oil drum. But due to our unflagging, California-style devotion to recycling, we were forced to properly deal with our empties. At first, we began dumping our breakable waste down the hill in the closest can, but then figured the village elders might suspect our immediate neighbors of alcoholism as the clanking and crashing of bottles embarrassingly came tumbling out on collection day. This fear of injustice caused us to devise a new nocturnal strategy for dispersion of our heathen refuse. We would share with the whole village dropping a few empties in all the cans, thereby diluting the evidence of our sinful ways in this extremely religious community.

Our sanctimonious diversion had all the ear-marks of genius till one Sunday morning after the daily five am beating of the log drum to waken the village, all hell broke loose down in the churches. Our home, over a thousand yards away, was filled with fire and brimstone from the palm frond pulpits. Could this be about us?

The nine Wesleyans in their church were attempting to out preach the eleven Mormons in their place of worship, who were vying for top volume with the handful of Catholics. Not understanding Tongan, or for that matter, the divine message in any language, we feared the Trinity alarm had gone off and each minister was ferociously barking reminders of his flock’s covenants as he chastised the wicked. Our worst fears had materialized. The evidence of our debauchery was no longer guiltless. Innocent devotees were now under the lash.

It was then that it dawned on us that the unusual abundance of glass products, so uncharacteristic of the natural village waste, might cause a town meeting to address the almost over night, widespread drinking problem this poor, fanatically religious community was obviously under going.

Even at just a couple of bucks, beer was still a luxury that most could not afford, nor desired, as Jesus was their rock and salvation. My wife and I, on the other hand, found little comfort in prayer preferring island rum for our sacrament and in amounts that we found refreshing. So to stem any possible recriminations to innocent parties, we planned on extending our nightly deposits to include several distant, but walk able villages to minimize any real local damage our western, Godless appetites might incur.

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