Monday, May 9, 2016

Pig on a Pier
By Michael
VAVA'U, TONGA


Frances and Eleanor, my little sea stars.
A string of fronts had delivered nothing but wind and rain, and this morning dawned clear and still. The sun was low and the colors were rich and the water reflected it all. I had a mundane chore to complete: get parts to the welder, at the north end of town.

I dinghied past the small boat wharf and pulled up to a concrete pier closer to my destination. “Mālō e lelei” I said smiling at the Tongans offloading a bright yellow boat. I pointed to their boat and then to my yellow dinghy. “They’re like older and younger siblings.”

“Be careful,” a man told me, pointing to the pier I was tying up to. “It’s very slippery.”

Mālō ‘aupito” I said before climbing gingerly from the dinghy, parts in one hand. The surface, submerged at low tide, was covered in black algae. In my flip-flops, it was like walking on an icy, pitched roof. But the pier is stepped and I was sure footed on the dry concrete of the next level.

About an hour passed before I returned to the pier. Nobody was around, but ahead, sitting on the top of the steps before my dinghy, was a chainsaw and something in a dark burlap bag, the size of a large carry-on suitcase. I noticed the bag move. I saw a pink and white snout poke out a hole in the bag.

Now, you have to understand that pigs are everywhere in Tonga. I’ve never seen one tied up or in a pen, they just roam. Huge pigs root around in any available patch of dirt around town. Juvenile pigs surround them. At night they knock down trash cans like dogs. Mother pigs cross the streets in front of cars and tiny pink piglets run after them, a scene that never fails to delight the girls. Yet, the pigs are fearful of humans. You can’t summon one and if you move towards them, they scatter like hens.

Here we're descending a portion of 178
steep steps from the highest point in Vava'u.
So there is a snout poking from the wiggling bag 20 feet in front of me. I stop. Please don’t keep moving. The pig knows I’m close, it’s getting more agitated. Please stop. I glance around, there is nobody in sight. The bag is moving. No, no, no. It goes over the edge, falling two feet onto the next level. Stop, stop! I run forward. It continues wriggling, off the pier, into the water. I race down the stairs to the next level, eyes on the pig in the bag in the water. There is nothing for my feet to grab and I’m on my back, sliding, scrambling, toward the water. I stop.

Now I’m desperate to save a drowning pig, but just to get across to him on this slick surface, I’ve got to move at the speed of an astronaut on the moon. When I can finally get a fistful of burlap bag, the pig is still struggling, but I’m overwhelmed by how big and heavy it is. I lower my center of gravity and try and wedge a foot so I can reach down with both hands. The bag is ripping where I’m pulling and now a leg pops out of another hole. Like the 100-pound wife who lifts the family car to save her pinned husband, I somehow managed to get the pig onto the pier with me. I’m crouched, streaked with algae-slime, and holding a shredding bag filled with a panting, angry, and terrified pig. There is still nobody in sight.

I hear a loud whistle and lift my head. A fisherman in the small boat wharf 200 feet away is aware of my plight. He is yelling urgent Tongan to someone I can’t see. He turns and waves to me. I nod lamely.

It was another minute before the young Tongan guy rushed up to relieve me of the pig. In that time, the pig and I both calmed. I’d saved his life, but I knew there was only one reason he was in the burlap bag. By tonight he’d be the main course of a family’s feast. Our brief adventure would be his final act.

--MR


The girls at the overlook. That's Neiafu, center left in the photo.
Del Viento is someplace on a mooring in front.

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