Picture the street scene...
There are dogs wandering up and down the streets, searching for food scraps and sex from the various bitches around, whose reaction to the males' interest is to sit down violently, turn round and try to bite the male's neck; it's an effective prophylactic. The same dogs are chasing a black pig down the main street, if 'street' is the right word for the single dirt track that carries the one communal car; the pig squeals and cries, unhappy as the dogs yelp and snap around it, like cats cornering a wounded rabbit. The pig escapes back into its pen, where the owner shuts the gate and stops the canine invasion, much to the pig's relief. If only the pig knew what its owner was planning for it, it might not be so keen to go back home.
The main square in Amanu is not very large, but it's big enough to house a volleyball court, and this is where some 20 young people have gathered for the daily practice game. Angelo saunters up to ask for a cigarette; I have bought some tobacco as something to be able to offer to the islanders, and besides, it enables me to have the odd toke myself. Between drags, he informs me that there is a training session here every day, in preparation for August's competition in Hao, which lots of the islands attend (including Mangareva, Amanu, Makemo and other islands on our itinerary). The standard of volleyball is very good: with such a hard, dusty pitch there are none of the crazy dives that you see in beach volleyball in Miami or California, but instead the shots are accurate and bullet-fast, with the atmosphere friendly rather than too competitive.
Around the volleyball, competing with the dogs and pigs, are the children. Polynesian children are as cute as cute can be; seeing the adults, it's sometimes hard to equate the children with the parents, with Polynesian women tending towards the large and the men tending towards the tattoo. The children seem to have one love in life: the bicycle. In a world where television hasn't yet tightened its socially stifling grip, the Victorian child with his hoop and stick lives on in the form of the Polynesian child riding his bicycle along the dusty motu streets. There are old bicycles with plastic bottles stuffed in the spokes to make a racket as the protagonist peddles past; bikes with flat tyres, that manage to grip perfectly well nonetheless; bikes with millions of kids balancing on top, making circus troupes look positively uncoordinated. It's a joy to behold, as well as making sure you keep your eyes peeled when crossing the main drag.
This is Amanu life: work starts at 7am, siesta starts at around 12 noon, and volleyball starts at 3pm. It's relaxing, healthy, and about as far from life in a London bedsit that you can get. After obtaining information on various islands in the area from the local mother's meeting on the corner, stretching my French to the limits in the process, I return to the boat, wondering at the simplicity of life on the Pacific islands, and saddened to know that I would probably go out of my mind with boredom if I had to live it. But a little bit of paradise is very, very good for the soul, especially on a remote paradise like Amanu, and it's a world away from Tahitian tourism. Long may it remain so.