I believe that at some point, life brings us back to our roots. My siblings and I grew up in the South of France. Our dad is French and our mom is from a tiny atoll located in French Polynesia called Takapoto. Thirty-two years ago, my dad, an ardent traveler, fell in love with this heavenly place and found his Vahine. From my parent’s love, two of my sisters were born in Tahiti, while the other five children were born in France. We never had the opportunity to go back to Tahiti as a family, but it has always been our ultimate dream to do so. Last summer, my sister Abish, her husband Jeremy and I decided to make our dream of visiting Tahiti come true. We wanted to give life to all the amazing stories we grew up with. Believe me when I say that my wildest dreams couldn’t come close to Tahiti’s reality. The experiences we had are almost indescribable…but it’s worth a shot.
After two hours of flying from Papeete to Takapoto, we landed on a tiny parcel of sand, surrounded by the ocean on either side. The atoll is home to an average of 400 people and a lot of them were waiting at the airport to receive weekly packages of groceries from the main island. Nothing other than coconut trees grows on the sand there so they rely heavily on exports. As our cousin welcomed my siblings and I, local children surrounded us with eyes full of curiosity and contagious smiles. We were there. I couldn’t believe it. This is the land of our roots. The land of our ancestors. And we could feel it. Wherever we looked, we saw home. We visited where our parents met, the house where my mom grew up in and the place where my dad dove for pearls. My mom was so excited for us to visit a specific side of the island called ‘the sector’. No one lives there because it’s too dry but it’s breathtaking. Miles and miles of white sand covered with shells and coral stretched before us. My mom used to walk there looking for shells while my grandpa was fishing. It was one of her favorite things to do. Abish and I loved finding these treasures along the way and it was so cool to think that our mom was doing the same thing years ago at the same exact place.
I think the funniest part of going to a small atoll is that everyone knows each other. All we had to do was mention our grandpa’s name and suddenly, we were family with whoever we were speaking to!
One of the most emotional moments of the trip was when we visited a place called “the village.” The village is composed of houses, small stores, the town hall, the pearl factory, etc… This was our mom’s land years ago. And now we were walking the very streets that she used to call home. The first person we were dying to see was my grandpa, Papi. This 85 year-old man is my hero. He is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s a fisherman, he’s a gardener and he works non-stop despite his age. He taught us how to hunt coconut crabs at night, and to catch fish by day. From the big things to the small, he left me with experiences that have touched my heart forever.
I fell in love with this place. I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with the beauty of each side of the atoll. I fell in love with the simplicity of the life they choose. In general, people on Takapoto live in harmony with nature and have learned to understand it. They awake with the sun and rejoice in the rain. They feel storms coming, can read the stars at night and predict the next day’s weather. My sister is going to make fun of me, but I was really impressed with the men there. They are incredible! They all know how to fish in a variety of ways and they work hard with their hands. Whether they are building houses, working in the coconut fields for hours under the scorching sun, or meticulously cultivating pearls, they were always smiling! In Takapoto, people will welcome you with a smile wherever you are from!
I will always remember a particular discussion with a local family. I was talking about my desire to continue traveling and discovering other islands and countries when the father gave me a confused face: “Why would you like to go somewhere else? We have everything here!” I didn’t have an answer. It’s not that they have everything, because they don’t. It would be hard to rely on weekly exports for food and on the rain for water to shower. The people of Takapoto don’t have the easiest life. Most of us live in places where access to food and water is easy and immediate. However, this family showed us their ability to see the bounty they have and to be grateful for all of it. They have learned to recognize and cherish the blessings they have. I have so much to learn from them.
It was a privilege to visit Takapoto. Even if we were thousands of miles away from my parents, being there made me feel close to them in a new way. I’m not sure when we will have the opportunity to go back, but I know that the next time I stretch my neck to see Takapoto’s shape through the cramped airplane window, I’ll think to myself, “It’s so good to be home.”
— Written by my sister Aloha.