I am leaving tomorrow, with an adventurous woman friend, for first Santiago, Chile, and from there to Easter Island.  For some reason I have always been fascinated with Easter Island...or Rapa Nui, as it is called by Polynesians...but never thought I'd actually get there, since it is the most remote place on earth. That means, I guess, the farthest from any other land. But one day some months ago when I was talking about my fascination with it, my frined Kay said, "Hey, I'd do that!" And so we are.

Just for the record, here's where it is:


...and of course everyone knows about the mysterious structures there, which date back (the earliest ones) to the 12th century:


There are also caves with wall paintings and lots of interesting cultural phenomena. Few roads, and most of what you see is accessible only on foot...so we will be doing a lot of hiking.  Kay says she won't do caves. I won't do cliffs.  It's the old Jack Spratt and his wife thing.

People have asked if I would set a book there. And the question makes me think of a trip I took not long ago. Last spring I was in South Africa and while I was there, I visited an elementary school in a small village with an unpronouncable name. One little boy of seven or eight, in a crowded classroom, had a strip of bright blue cloth tied around his upper arm, over the sleeve of his school shirt.  You can see him here, in this snapshot, in the front desk.

SA second grade


I asked the guide about it, and was told that it meant the child had recently had a death in his family. He would wear the blue armband for a period of mourning and it would let others know that they should not say things to him like, "How are you?' which would remind him of his sadness.

I found myself in my "what if...." mode, the one that all writers sink into now and then. Earlier in the day I had been watching a couple of very large beetles waddling around in the dirt near the cottage where I was staying. Now I began to picture an African child who yearns for a pet (don't all children?) and who secretly, privately, decides that one of these huge beetles would be that for him. Maybe he gives it a name, and feeds it, and builds an enclosure out of twigs and grass to keep it safe.  But..what if?  One morning he finds it dead. And so he ties a strip of blue cloth around his arm and trudges sadly off to school. (I could picture the illustration) And then...

HALT. Stop right there.   Fortunately I realized, before I went one  step further in my mind, that this was an impossible story for me to write. I didn't have a clue about this culture. All I knew was one little tidbit of information give to me, a tourist, by a guide. It could have been mis-information. It certainly was incomplete information. Was the blue scrap of cloth a religious talisman? If so, what religion? I didn't even know what tribe this child was part of, or anything about its history or customs.

And so no, I am not going to set a book in Polynesia, not until I get my doctorate in anthrolpology...unless I were to write of a young person taken there as a tourist...and even then it would be fraught with potential pitfalls.

I'm just going to hike around (with a guide)...caves okay; no cliffs...and wonder and daydream.