The Magistrate By AtlasD Part One - Paradise Haley The airplane was nearly silent except for the noise of its engines as I flipped page after page . Noronga is an archipelago of some 300 islands scattered over some 250,000 square miles of ocean roughly 800 miles northeast of Australia. A former French colony, Noronga declared independence in 1958 while France was preoccupied with yet another crisis in her colony of Algeria. Off the byway of most Pacific tourist destinations, it led a leisurely economy of mostly local commerce until oil was discovered beneath its territorial waters in 1977. The influx of foreign workers touched off a major cultural and political crisis 10 years later. Noronga then confined oil workers to restricted areas of the main island, expelled a number of foreigners and began investing heavily in its own infrastructure, including water and electrical systems. Automobiles were severely restricted on the main island and banned altogether in the rest of the archipelago except for government emergency vehicles.. As technology has developed, Noronga has accepted selected elements, heavily supplanting its oil fired electrical power plant with wind and solar. Today 73% of Noronga’s electricity comes from non-fossil fuel sources. However, even today, Noronga has no cell service except for emergencies, internet access is extremely limited, western television shows and fashion magazines are banned as is most western media content. The Norogolese, like many South Pacific peoples, are known for their robust stature, and have a different perspective than the United States on what constitutes beauty. They take this aspect of their culture very seriously, and vigorously enforce their local laws that protect the integrity of their culture . God this is boring, I thought. I looked over at Jerry who had reclined his seat and was sleeping. I never could sleep well on airplanes, and this flight from San Diego to Sydney was going to be a killer. I turned back to the “Noronga Cultural Handbook for Visiting Foreign Employees and Spouses” supplied by Jerry’s employer about our ultimate destination. The Norongalese legal system consists of three magistrates, one stationed permanently on the main island of Noronga, the remaining two travel a circuit in the islands of the archipelago. There is no appeal process; judgments can be overturned only by act of the Norongalese parliament, which rarely does so. In addition to criminal and civil matters, the Norongalese magistrates also hear cases that involve infractions of Noronga's cultural integrity laws, which are unique among the Pacific islands. The magistrates have extremely wide discretion in rules of evidence as well as sentencing . Blah, blah, blah. I tucked the spiral binder back into the seat pocket, closed my eyes and somehow managed to drift off. Jeremiah Haley and I first met a mutual friend’s pool party in Houston. I was attracted to her eyes, her smile, and her sense of adventure. We hit it off. We discovered we had a lot in common- we were both only children and had both lost our parents- mine to an auto accident, Haley’s parents were killed when a tornado leveled their home in the Texas panhandle while Haley was away at college. I had just started working as a geologist for an oil company prospecting in the Gulf and had been doing it for three years when what looked like a big break came. An American-Australian oil consortium was checking into oil leases in the South Pacific nation of Noronga, and wanted a marine geologist to assist in the surveys. It would mean a lot of time at sea- three months out, alternated with one month on Noronga, but housing, health care, and all supplies were on the company’s ticket. When I broke the news to Haley she was as excited as I was -a tropical paradise, sandy beaches, warm surf. There was practically nothing tying us to the United States, and we were both waiting for an opportunity to come our way. We had to go through a “pre-deployment” physical; the company did not want employees or spouses to develop issues with undiagnosed medical problems after they had settled in Noronga. Transport to and from Noronga was intermittent and ad hoc, usually going to Sydney and finding which island hopping charter services would get you close. Our itinerary- subject to change at the whims of weather- was Houston to San Diego to Sydney, then east again to Tahiti, and if luck and timing were in our favor, a supply ship back west to Noronga. Haley The plumpish woman doctor ran through findings with me. Blood pressure good, pulse good, heart strong, bloodwork normal, height 5 feet 7 inches, weight 132 pounds, BMI 20.7, outstanding. Whatever you are doing keep doing it. It seems like most young ladies I see here are averaging around 165-170. I eyed the doctor who was a little on the heavy side. “Yes” she said smiling, “I guess you could say I’m above average.” I laughed lightly and said, “Well that’s why you are a doctor”. Still smiling she said, “Have a safe trip Hon. It sounds wonderful.” After we landed in Sydney, we waited 5 days for a charter flight going to Tahiti, then transferred to a supply ship to Noronga and after 10 days at sea we finally arrived. As we disembarked I saw an Australian merchant marine at the bottom of the gangway, waiting to board. His uniform seemed awfully snug, and a pudgy roll of fat peeked out from the bottom of his shirt and over his belt. “Hey Tommy, looks like you had a little run in with the law, eh?” shouted a sailor from the ship’s deck. “Two fiver’s and came awful close to having a tenner slapped on top of all that. That’s what happens when you get drinking and express your opinion of what the local ladies look like. Anybody that comes here needs to have their mouth zipped and an elastic waistband in their pants.” “Best be careful lad- you’re not off this island yet.” What the hell was that about I wondered. Well there was no time to find out; Jerry was asking me to help check through our baggage to make sure we had everything. Then he loaded it all into an electric golf cart, and we drove off through narrow palm lined lanes toward our new quarters. “What do you think?” Jeremy asked. ”It certainly looks exotic.” “The locals certainly seem well fed.” I said. All the locals-male and female, young and old were definitely on the heavy side. “That’s how they are Hon”, said Jerry, “Some of its genetic, some of its cultural, and some of its diet.” “Well, whatever, the food here must be fantastic.” “Did you read through the information packet?” “Most of it Jerry, it was pretty dry stuff.” I didn’t tell Jerry I had left it on the plane in Sydney. Our new home was a small but cheerful cottage painted a light pastel blue outside. Inside was open concept, bright and airy. Large windows let in the cooling ocean breeze. There was a patio out back where the shower was located behind a privacy screen of woven bamboo. There was also a small tiki hut containing a tea table and four chairs. Low coral stone walls surrounded the property, and were covered with bright tropical blooms. It sure did feel like paradise. But Rain. Three days of rain, and no letup in sight. Some tropical paradise I thought. Jerry was at the office working out the logistics for the upcoming survey. I had gone through two novels and most of a third, and was staring out at the dripping palm fronds when there was a knock and an “allo-oh” at the front door of our cottage. When I opened it, there was a large Norogolese woman, standing under a full size canary yellow umbrella that was barely big enough to provide cover for her hefty frame. She was wearing a full length, generously cut and loose fitting white beach style sarong patterned with bright red hibiscus flowers. “Bonjour,” she said cheerily, “I am your neighbor, Maba Eloise. “May I invite you for a cup of tea?” I was a coffee drinker- in fact I had already complained to Jerry about how impossible it was to get a decent cup around here. But I was so bored I was more than happy to take up Eloise’s invitation. I grabbed my umbrella- big as hers was, it was not big enough to protect her and me- and followed her as she slowly but gracefully waddled next door. Instead of going into her cottage, we went through the gate to her back patio where a table and chairs were waiting under her tiki hut shelter. A nearby table held a small propane stove on which a huge kettle was steaming. “Thank you for inviting me Maba Eloise” I said, “I was getting so bored-“ “Please call me El,” she replied. “Nobody calls me Maba Eloise except small children.” She produced two cups with matching saucers, placed a tea ball in each and poured. As the tea steeped in our cups, she reached to a small shelf and put a plate of what appeared to be shortbreads and a creamer containing a pale milky fluid. I am not a tea drinker, and my face must have showed it after my first sip. “Oh, try this cheri-” El said as she pushed over the creamer. I poured some into my tea and sipped- it was coconut milk! I added more- much better. “Have a shortbread cheri. Oh you foreign girls are all so thin! You need to eat more .” I learned her husband Daniel made fish nets the traditional way from palm fiber, a craft that had nearly been lost but Daniel had preserved through the teachings of an elder uncle who had since passed. “We nearly lost so much of who we were.” said El. I babbled excitedly about our plans, that after Jerry had done his field work here he would go back to Houston and work up the corporate ladder. “Oh cheri!”, she laughed. For a big woman she had a delicate tinkling laugh that was extremely charming. “Your head is so stuck in the future, you are not even living the present! We have a beautiful island here. Get to know it, let it become part of you.” I asked El about the cultural troubles. “Oh it was bad, all these foreigners brought in so many problems. Their food made us sick with diabetes and other ailments; there were problems with alcoholism, drugs, venereal disease- so many bad things. Finally our government said enough. Because of the oil we have enough money now, the government sees that we all have a cottage, medical care, enough to eat. No one really needs to work in Noronga because of the oil money, but most do. Many went back to the traditional ways of fishing, net making, making boats, raising taro, harvesting cocoanuts. Going back to our traditions solved so many of the problems with the alcohol, and our traditional diet made our people healthy again. All the magazines and TV shows and movies- they were making our young people forget who we were, and what we valued. We accepted some things- electricity, running water, medicine. But we value the traditional ways also.” El went on to talk about her two young grandchildren, and the afternoon passed pleasantly and quickly.