Many people don’t know that I was in the Peace Corps when I was younger. I sometimes think that Peace Corps itself is somewhat embarrassed by the fact. Personally I don’t feel they should be. After all, most of the things I did were repairable.
I bring up my Peace Corps service because the people in my office got to talking about ghosts and they were surprised that I put some credence in the concept and it goes back to my time in the Peace Corps.
I was on the island of Wottegai (pronounced “What a guy”) Woleai (“Wole e eye”) in Micronesia. It is a tiny speck of an island in the Pacific. If you draw a line between Hawaii and the Philippines and Japan and Australia, it is roughly where the two lines intersect.
It is on a coral atoll and is about a mile long by 70 yards wide (absolutely true). There is one path that runs its length. It was so in the middle of nowhere that the only outside news we got was an Australian radio broadcast that would only come in during the late evenings.
Soon after I arrived on the island, a major chief died (I had nothing to do with it) and so the whole funeral process began.
To begin with, the women of the island, continuously wailed for a week (they did it in shifts) and then the final two days all of the men of the island and nearby islands gathered near the dead chief’s hut, dug his grave and commenced two days of drinking the local island brew made from fermented coconut tree sap called tuba (be wary of any drink named after a musical instrument).
We would drink a little bit, dig a little bit and sing a little bit and drink a little bit and….
This went on for about a day and a half. No sleep was allowed. The funeral began about noon, and it was fascinating. He was buried with all his belongings. The belief was that if anything were left, he would come back to get it and haunt whoever was in possession of the item. His personal canoe even served as his coffin.
But I sat there and watched people put in all of his lava lavas (a kind of elaborate loin cloth), a baseball cap I gave him, and gifts that others gave him including lengths of cloth, shell jewelry, carvings and even a deck chair and boom box that a visiting navy ship once gave him while anchored at the island. They even turned on the radio before putting it in the grave.
Before the men of the island started putting the sand into the grave, everyone was asked if we had anything else that belonged to the chief and we all swore that we did not, but since communal property was so common on the island, I imagined all of us wondered if it were the case.
After the burial, the women went back to their wailing and the men, predictably, went back to their drinking. I stayed with them until about 9:30 or 10 p.m. before I said I was going back to my hut.
They objected very vigorously saying that since ghosts come out at night I should wait (and consequently drink) until dawn.
I told them I had been without sleep for three days and I didn’t believe in ghosts anyway and started off.
I must admit I was a little wary as I approached the spot where the chief’s hut was on one side of the path and his grave was on the other side, but I bucked myself up saying, “You are a civilized American and you don’t believe in Gh..”
It was at this point that a voice literally from the grave said very loudly, “Hey there, how would you like to buy a Ford Anglia?”
I jumped into the air, took 12 steps, came down, and ran full out until reaching the beach at the other end of the island setting numerous land speed records during the run. If it were possible, I would have probably continued to the Philippines.
Intellectually, I now know it was just the radio getting that station from Australia at that moment, but still…