Monday, September 22, 2008

Ghetto Child, A Pááfeng Wedding, and the Fall of Troy

She looks so innocent. Don't be deceived. This child is twenty-five pounds of trouble. Daddy went AWOL Saturday morning, and Emily and I had a wedding to attend. We threw a dress on her and assumed custody for the day.

Emily is now living in another ghetto, but it's just like all the other ones: rows of concrete walk-ups on a barren hillside, this time in Kalihi. I don't know what slum lords have against trees on this island; a touch of shade would make everyone's life here more bearable.

I went inside their hotbox to use the restroom. The child had a "progress card" from her social worker taped to the door. K- uses two hands to drink her bubble drink. She handles the straw well. Goal for next week is to have her continue to manipulate objects.

Social Workers certainly set the bar low when they deal with the poor. The child is wild, but she is not mentally challenged. If this is the most we expect from her, then she is pretty much doomed.

But expecting more takes energy. Lots of energy. The Ghetto Child threw her first tantrum when I wouldn't let her get a press-on tattoo at Longs. I told her that she was not going to win an argument with me, so she could just save her breath. That didn't work. The tantrum continued when she wouldn't hold my hand to cross the parking lot, and escalated into full blown war when I told her that she absolutely would wear a seat belt in the car.

Ten minutes into this and I was over it. I went from vaguely empathic to declaring martial law. You will sit here, and you will wear the seat belt. No threats, no begging, just one scary-daddy voice. She froze, and spent the next hour crying softly to herself.

Fine with me. She behaved the rest of the day, and asked to move in with me by the end of it. So: I won.

On to the wedding. I never did figure out exactly who the lucky couple was - just that they were part of the clan and therefore family.

Emily, doing alright once Child was taken care of.

There was lots of dancing and singing. One of the things I like about the Pááfeng is that they haven't been completely Christianized. The other Chuukese communities seem to spend all their time praying. It's non-stop Church for them.

The Pááfeng Islanders thank God, and then bring on the dancing girls. I like this style better. Adult women will sit cross-legged and call out the beat. The younger girls dance Tahitian style - most of the traditional Chuukese dances have been forgotten here. And I guess that's ok; Micronesians re-taught the Polynesians how to navigate by wave and star, and now the Polynesians have re-taught the Micronesians how to dance. The adults will also spray the dancers with perfume, and stuff dollar bills into their clothes. I don't think that last part is Tahitian.

And then we ate. This was serious business. Notice how no one is carrying a normal paper plate - these guys bring troughs to their picnics.

Maruchu with lunch.

So after that I was ready to hibernate. I'm still not very good with the language, and between being a dad and not speaking English all day I was beat. That, and I had just finished reading Fagles' translation of the Iliad, and I was hooked. It was slow going, and at times too bloody to really enjoy ... but there was also some beautiful and stunning poetry there. It's basically the story of a holocaust, of how the Achaeans and a few angry goddesses united to destroy the sacred city of Troy. I never realized that the Iliad was a tragedy; I never realized that the Trojans were the more civilized, and the more tragic., of the civilizations. These new translations of the Odyssey and the Iliad have really opened my eyes to why Homer is so famous, and so immortal.

So I was feeling overly inspired, and went to Borders and grabbed all the 'sequels.' The rest of the great epics have been lost, but the Classical Greek dramatists - Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides - all wrote plays detailing what happened after the fall of Troy. And my plan was to disconnect on Sunday, to turn off my email and phone, and to curl up on the couch and disappear back into the Bronze Age and find out what happened to Andromache after she was sold into slavery, or how the doomed queen Hecuba took her revenge, or how the curse on the house of Atreus played out.

I started with Euripides. And I remember why I was so bored with these guys in high school. The poetry of Homer just soared; these guys - at least in the Penguin Classics translation of Euripides - just plod along. It's painful. I'm familiar with the characters, so it's just barely interesting enough to read. I just wish we had poets to translate these works instead of a bunch of dry professors of classical lit. Next up is Ted Hughes' translation of the Orestia, and I have higher hopes for him.

I picked up the Aeneid too, and I heard this is a great translation. I want to save it until I travel - it would make a nice heavy book for the plane. We'll see if I have any self control.

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