Editor’s Note: Everett Redus, 21, of Baytown, Texas, now one of four surviving brothers, has been traveling south to Patagonia, carrying and spreading the ashes of his slain older brother Cameron, a senior honors student at the University of the Incarnate Word who was fatally shot by a campus policeman outside his off-campus apartment on Dec. 6, 2013.
The Rivard Report has invited Everett to publish periodic dispatches as he makes his way south and awaits word on a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family against UIW and the police officer. Read more about Cameron’s life, death, and the aftermath here. Donate to Everett’s trip via his GoFundMe campaign here.
Dawn was breaking on Hiva Oa, and the drums were booming in preparation for the festival. Their vibrations resonated through the forest and out to the bay, bouncing off fiberglass hulls and skipping over the water to reach me in the galley of the catamaran. The PoeMiti would shortly anchor with Armmand and I as her two new mates, setting a course for SW and letting the Marquesas Islands fade into the horizon. I watched until the very last speck of green was no longer able to be seen peeking over waves, still unsure if I was truly ready to leave those islands.
The next five days held better wind and weather than we could have ever hoped for. I was falling back into the routine of life at sea. Each morning I helped JP, the oldest of the five men onboard and the only one who spoke no English, let out his fishing lines and take them in again at night, having caught nothing. He had come all the way from France on the PoeMiti and caught all manner of fish, but never a tuna, and that was what he wanted most. Every morning he would swear, “This will be the day I will catch my fish!” We spent long periods of time playing cards on deck, always keeping one eye on the lines, but nothing so much as nibbled.
On our next to last day of sailing we made an unscheduled stop on the Tuamotus island of Tuao. The reason for the stop was that Armmand, as skipper, was in charge. He and I had dreamed of exploring those islands, and since they were basically on our route, I talked him into it. We anchored just outside reef pass and dove over for a snorkel. The Tuamotus have one of the healthiest and most diverse reef systems on earth. Unlike the Marquesas and Society Islands (Tahiti), which were formed volcanically, the Tuamotus are coral islands, meaning that they are low islands with just sand, palm trees, and extensive coral reefs. But after a few hours of collecting shells and spying on moray eels and other reef fish it was time to continue on.
The last day of sailing came, and we were nearing our destination of Tahiti. The twinge of pain I felt about leaving the Marquesas was gone, and I now felt the excitement of arriving on new shores. Ahead on the horizon we spotted a flock of birds above the water. We all knew what this meant. A slight alteration of our course steered us directly toward the frenzy. JP was ready at the lines. The tern and frigate birds were eating the bait fish that the big fish had corralled up to the surface – you find the birds, you find the fish.
We passed straight through the tumult and for a second it seemed like nothing would take the bait. Then, the line drew tight and a bonito tuna shot five feet into the air. JP let out a howl as he reeled it in, and it was all smiles around the dinner table that night as we congratulated him on his long awaited tuna.
In the morning, on Dec. 23, we arrived in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. I pulled the boat in by the mooring lines, cleated it off, and turned my gaze towards the island. I had no pre-existing idea of what Tahiti would be like, no reference for what I would find there. But I was shocked beyond words, standing on the dock in the drizzling rain as the city flooded my senses. Buildings soared 50 stories high, sirens wailed, fancy cars squealed around corners, and the people walked by, smartphones in hand, makeup on faces. Everybody’s clothes fit perfectly. I felt alien. So much time had passed since I had been in a commercial society. It seemed like I’d returned to a place I left long ago, but I no longer felt comfortable or welcome there.
Armmand and I were allowed to stay on another boat owned by the charter company, for whom we had delivered the PoeMiti. It was a dilapidated, old catamaran, spinning endlessly on its anchor in a marina outside Papeete. Every morning we hitchhiked into town, usually taking two rides, one if we were lucky. Coffee came first, then a cheap shopping run for food. The best place to sit and eat was in the park under the shade of a palm, where we could watch the schools of va’a (outrigger-canoes) paddle out to the barrier reef.
It was the heart of the holiday season, with families out and about, shopping and laughing. But I couldn’t feel the holiday spirit. Thanksgiving had passed while I was immobile in Nuku Hiva, listening to the rain under a leaky tin roof. Now it was Christmas and I was sitting in Tahiti with a knot in my stomach. The human mind and body crave habitude and tradition. Comfortability comes after familiarity, but everything I knew seemed so distant. I was missing my family, our home, our food.
Christmas morning Armmand presented me with a leather sewing palm and some sail needles. My gift to him was a bottle of wine. Together we enjoyed a traditional French dinner with a fellow crew member from the PoeMiti and a few other friends. We dined, they told stories and laughed, and I sat in my chair feigning interest, paying attention to the speaker even though I had no idea of what was being said, just as I had done ever since I entered French Polynesia.
On our way to the house for dinner, Armmand and I had witnessed a man being arrested. We were waiting for a ride and the man had called us over to talk with him, an enveloping smile on his face and bottle of Heineken in his hand. In the process of wishing us all the good will the world could afford, he jubilantly tossed his empty bottle over the fence at his back, reveling in joy upon hearing the satisfying shatter of glass. Within a couple of minutes he was thrown face-first onto the pavement, handcuffed, and carried off by all fours by the Gendarmerie, who had been just around the corner. These policemen then threatened us when we tried to defend the man. It didn’t help that as they were handcuffing the man, the paper bag that Armmand was holding ripped, and the 3 unopened wine bottles went clinking and rolling across the sidewalk. The whole scene was over in a matter of minutes, and we sat brooding on the bench where the man had sat.
This episode thrust me into an awful mindset. No place is free of police brutality, not even “paradise.” Hate begets hate, and I felt it brewing inside of me. A feeling, once felt, does not disappear. It may lie dormant for some time, but it is always a part of you. Our task is mastering these emotions, but at this phase of my journey I felt no control over them.
A few days later, due to a sudden change of plans, Armmand returned to France. Now alone, I deemed it imprudent to continue sleeping on the boat. After unsuccessfully looking for a place to camp, and passing an uncomfortable night on a park bench, I crossed paths with a friend whom I had met before on Hiva Oa. He lived in the nearby town of Pa’ea and offered me his couch. I stayed with Steve for a week, and after New Year’s decided that I would rather leave Tahiti and take the ferry to Moorea, an island just to the north.
Steve put me in contact with a man who lived there and rented a house. Surely he would be able to help me, Steve said. Whatever preconceptions I had were shattered when I arrived. The house looked to have been abandoned for years. To enter I had to either climb the wall, or walk into the ocean and enter that way.
Clive was standing there to meet me. He was in his 70s, the fact betrayed by his wispy white hair and beard. His skin hung loose on his tall, lanky figure and his only garment was an old sagging pair of white underwear. Originally from England, he had spent the last 30 years of his life in Polynesia. He lived calm and content with his Tahitian girlfriend, Maria, in that house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. After only a few minutes of talking I could tell that he highly enjoyed the company, and I would be welcome to stay for as long as I needed.
He offered me the best accommodation he could afford. It didn’t quite deserve the word “shed.” It had a corrugated tin roof and was backed up to the concrete wall. A piece of plywood partially covered another side and, other than that, it was exposed. A metal, spring bed frame was topped by a thin, foam mattress. I found only one position to situate the bed so that it was safe from all the leaks; however, it was drenched everyday by the two “infectious” dogs, as Clive called them, that came in from the ocean to dig more holes in the mattress and spread sand all over the sheets. As my stay here lengthened I slowly worked out solutions for these inconveniences, and soon my sleeping quarters were mosquito, rain, and sea-dog proof.
Clive was a very interesting character. I would help him tend his small garden while he mesmerized me with tales of his adventures. He would finish telling some profound lesson that he learned throughout the rough parts of his life, and then say something like “But you’ve got to forget about all that shit and dance! You know?” He would then hop around playing an old Catholic hymn on his ancient harmonica. He could have counted all his possessions on his fingers and toes, but he was genuinely happy. And generosity means so much more when coming from someone who has so little.
We ate every meal together – buttered baguettes, canned peas, canned tuna, and whatever meager vegetables from the garden that the crabs hadn’t destroyed. We made fresh coconut milk to cook with, and after eating we sat to listen to Clive’s favorite radio station that played hymns all day long.
Moorea was much more suitable to me than Tahiti. But I spent much of my time alone, still governed by the same species of melancholy. I was as susceptible to these feelings as I was to the elements. We have this idea that our emotions should reflect the environment we are in. For me this was not the case. I was on a palm-covered beach, on a beautiful island in the rolling Pacific, but I couldn’t shake off my listlessness, or the disconnection from reality that hovered about me. I couldn’t fully assimilate with the purity of the moment.
There is a place, though, that I discovered, a place where I could go to escape from my own troubled mind. Armmand had left me with his mask and snorkel, and with these I found peace. Underwater, in that other world, there is no thought. Under the surface there is no past, nor future. All that exists is the present. For hours I would swim, my mind clear of everything, my ears focused on the exaggerated sound of my steady breathing. There was no need to look where I was going, because I was exactly where I wanted to be.
The schools of fish continued nibbling around the coral heads, the anemone waved with synchronicity in the current, and the light rays danced all around me. The indifference gave me comfort. I hadn’t solved any issues, or rid myself of anything, but rather learned to own my feelings and accept them as factor of my being.
The sun was setting on my time in that part of the world. So much was given to me during my three-month stay in French Polynesia. Kindness and hospitality had paved my way, and kept me from ever having to pay for accommodation. I was taught about happiness from other people, and learned things about myself by the lessons of solitude. My last two weeks were spent with Clive, in a time of healing. Ultimately, it was with great fondness that I looked back on my time on those tiny Pacific islands, and a quiet contentedness accompanied as I gazed out of the small airplane window, being carried away by time’s constant spiral into the present.