The first day of mural painting was so much fun in Nauru. Young people with the National Youth Council were informed well in advance and it felt like a celebration from the start. There were actually too many names to learn that day, but there were some standouts in the crowd. Aquinas showed up wearing a cowboy hat. It was not the style of choice that I expected in the South Pacific. So, his was one of the first names I remembered.
Aquinas looked nothing like a Catholic saint. Actually, he looked like a football player. No, not the soccer kind of football that is played throughout most of the planet. He was built like an American football player. He may also look like an Australian rules football player. That, along with weightlifting, were the two favorite sports in Nauru. But, I know nothing about Australian rules football so I have no preconceived notions what that kind of athlete might look like. I never really learned if he played any of these sports. When I learned he was a dancer in a cultural troupe, my interest was captured.
There were no performances scheduled during my stay in Nauru. I was only there five days. But, I didn't get the impression that the troupe performed very often. That didn't stop my interest and it certainly didn't stop my begging him to dress up for a photo shoot. It really was no small request. Some cultural troupes have costumes made from dried grass that can last a long while. That was not the way it was done with the Eamwit people. Their traditional costumes were made from fresh green leaves. If I was going to get photos, Aquinas would have to spend a day making his costume. He knew how to do it. His grandmother passed the skills along to him. But, it was still a day of weaving leaves, shells, and cords of orange, black and white.
Amazingly, thankfully, Aquinas agreed to do this for me. Maybe he was part saint after all?
Everything was scheduled for late in the afternoon of my final day in Nauru. The final strokes of paint were applied around four in the afternoon and then Aquinas showed up wearing his traditional costume called an ekirira. The final step in preparation is to spray up with coconut oil. The body glistens and the air has a delicious fragrance. It must be a tradition throughout the islands of the South Pacific because I noticed the flag bearer for Tonga in the Olympics did the same thing.
I took photos for about fifteen minutes. I snapped every angle I could think of several times. Aquinas patiently let me take every picture I wanted. He never cracked a smile. I suppose when you dress in traditional clothing, it is a serious event. Smiling tribal warriors didn't really make sense.
But, Aquinas had a killer smile.
The next morning, I left Nauru. Only one of the young people who painted on the mural project joined me at the airport. Yes, of course, it was Aquinas. Gone were the shells, leaves and the delicious smell of coconut oil. He was back in his comfortable daily clothes with his cowboy hat. Before leaving, I snapped one last photo of my young friend, with the smile I told you about.