Stop and Smell the Umu

Written by: Jessi

 

Living on the mainland in the Western world, it’s easy to get caught up in the cacophony of city life. Most people, including myself at many times during my life, get consumed by their normal nine to five day jobs. If you’re lucky enough not to have to take your work home with you after hours or on the weekends, those “free” hours are often spent with chores typically barred by the hours spent at yer jerb. Laundry, bills, doctor’s appointments, cleaning the toilet… you know, the glamorous stuff. With whatever personal time is left, we often want to turn our brains off in front of the television, or browse the internet, or listen to our You go, Girl! mix as we pound out yet another mile on the treadmill. Quiet time can be hard to come by in this modern world of ours.

The hardest things are the seats.

The hardest things are the seats.

Not so on a rock, my friend. Many of our island homes are unfettered with modern conveniences such as movie theatres, reliable internet, or even – Gasp! Say it ain’t so! – Starbucks. What is one to do with all these spare hours? Cocktails? Why, yes please, glad you asked. Where was I? Oh yes… Taking my cue from islanders from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, I’ve come to appreciate the slower pace of life here and learned to savor the small moments.

Hard at work, or hardly working?

Hard at work, or hardly working?

On my current rock, Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga, it’s literally illegal to do work on a Sunday. Practically everything is closed, except for the bakeries, which open at 4pm to start baking bread for Monday. It’s a day for church and feasting with your families as everyone gets together to prepare the umu (an underground oven). Even doing home chores is frowned upon. We’ve heard a story from another palangi (foreigner) yachtie who was working on his dive gear aboard his boat on a Sunday. Apparently, his boat was a little too close to shore, so he was surprised when a Tongan rowed out to his boat to tell him to stop looking so damn busy. And would he like to come to his aunt’s house for some freshly roasted pig?

Harbor Reflection

Similarly, Samoans have a nightly custom called . Around six o’clock in the evening, each village will ring a bell (usually a metal pipe on an old industrial acetylene tank) and everyone, wherever they are, must stop what they’re doing and spend fifteen minutes reflecting on the day and/or thinking about God, if you’re so inclined. If you’re walking in the street, the nice men with metal pipes or old golf clubs will tell you to sit down wherever is closest. No walking, no driving, no purchasing anything in stores, just your fifteen minutes of zen.

Lightly used

Sa Bell – Lightly used

There have been two conclusions garnered from these moments of enforced reflection and relaxation: 1) Plan ahead. If you can’t buy anything on Sunday, make sure you get your beer on Saturday before noon because everything closes early; and 2) Take a breather. Even living without a regular job, it’s easy to get immersed in boat chores or staring at a computer screen. We’ve got to look up every now and then and appreciate the terns surfing on the wind over the water, or the smell of fresh bread wafting through the kitchen window. This lesson is important whether you’re in Abaco or Albany. A cool nightly reminder to appreciate your day may help you make it through one of those hellishly hot ones. A literal Sun-day of rest reminds us to enjoy life and spend time with those important to us, even if those loved ones are far away. Sometimes these moments come at inconvenient times (“Ugh, 15 minutes and no Candy Crush!”), but I wouldn’t trade all the internet in world for such a lovely lesson.

Tern Contemplating the Void

Tern Contemplating the Void

Print Friendly
This entry was posted in Culture, General, Jessi Johnson's posts, Lessons Learned, Lifestyle, Reflections and tagged by Jessi Johnson. Bookmark the permalink.
Jessi Johnson

About Jessi Johnson

Lo these many years ago, Jessi Johnson (née Hall) was born unto a Californian mother and a Bahamian father, thus beginning the on-again off-again life of an island girl. She had a wonderfully wild barefoot childhood in the Bahamas, then moved to a landlocked farm town in California, where she pretty much stayed until she met her next island man, Dane. Dane reeled (pun absolutely intended) Jessi into the sailing life after a weekend trip to Catalina Island from Southern California. Hooked, Jessi soon met Dane in French Polynesia, where she adjusted to life on a slender sailboat with no shower (that’s what the clear blue ocean is for!) or refrigeration (just makes you drink the beer faster). It doesn’t take long to adjust to cramped quarters when one is looking at a sky full of more stars than you’d ever see on land, swimming with manta rays, and gorging on cheap fresh baguettes with brie and a non-breakable glass of wine. You can read more about their adventures on their blog, www.cadenceofthesea.com.

After a brief hiatus back on the mainland for work and to get lawfully wedded, Jessi went back to the boat and her new husband, this time parked off a different rock, American Samoa. With the original intent of taking a belated honeymoon and traveling on to other islands in the South Pacific, island time soon set in like a thick Mai Tai haze, and several months later, Jessi remains in what one guidebook has described as “fjordlike” and she likes to describe as “stinky” Pago Pago harbor. While waiting for the next puddle jump, Jessi delights at the arrival of the container ships with fresh foods from the US, snorkeling among some of the most amazing reefs she’s ever seen, and tasty sundowners while watching the daily mynah bird commute to the giant banyan tree by her boat. Stay tuned for more rocky adventures from the Friendly Islands of the Pacific!

CURRENT ROCK OF RESIDENCE: Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

ISLAND GIRL SINCE: Inception

ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: The Bahamas / California, USA

Subscribe Here

14 thoughts on “Stop and Smell the Umu

  1. Thank you for your story. It has been too many years since everything was closed on Sunday on my rock ( St. Thomas) Now that you mention it , those days were so much better, a slower pace and you are so right buy your beer on Sat.
    We all need to slow down and reflect on why we are living here. The sun, sea and the beaches and a slower life. Stop and look up and smell the sea…

  2. So great, Jessi! So nice to read your writing. It felt like a little moment of zen to read your article. Hope you’re well!

    • Thanks, Kyle! Yep, we’re great, tan and pretty zen. Coming back for a visit stateside in June. It will indeed be pretty weird. But awesome!

  3. Indeed, miss! Wonderfully put. We all forget to stop and smell the umu sometimes, and I appreciate your wonderful reminder. This lesson is important not just on rocks, but in life in general; as variety is a major spice in life, people always think the grass is greener, until they’ve been on the other side long enough and “home” sounds like Shangri-la. It’s all good. Breathe deeply…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *