A hush consumed the entire maneaba, a Kiribati meeting hut. My lovely wife, Heidi, and I sat crisscross on the dirt floor, fidgeting awkwardly, keenly aware that all the villagers were staring at us in disapproval. A few moments earlier, Heidi and I had been chatting enthusiastically about our previous day’s fishing catch, and how we had enjoyed cooking it up over a beach fire in the nearby cove.
A villager had asked, “Where did you get your wood?”
“From the beach. There were plenty of sticks,” I responded. And now here we were, in an awkward silence, our sins about to be conveyed to us by one of the elders. What had I done this time?
I admit, I had a particular aptitude for faux pas when it came to Kiribati culture. A clear example occurred the first time we were invited to the island’s Catholic church service. The preacher finished his sermon and invited the congregation to lie down for a siesta. “Wow, Heid, I’m diggin’ this church’s style,” I said, as I quickly adjusted my position from cross-legged on the floor to flat on my back, hands behind my head, toes in the air like I just don’t ...