Dora from Bora Bora

The hospitality in Bora Bora is exceptional. The Tahitian people are warm, friendly, humble, generous, forgiving, and grateful. They love Americans visiting and are passionate about sharing aspects of their culture. The island itself is only 22 miles along the perimeter surrounding a dominant volcano, Mt. Otemanu. The lagoon is encompassed by beautiful coral reefs and luxurious resorts with stunning overwater bungalows. I met Dora upon arriving at Vaitape, a town adjacent to the airport which is accessed by boat. Her salutation was warm and familiar. It was as if we had been reuniting as friends who had lost contact over the years, yet picked up as if no time had passed. She spoke to me in English, but explained certain parts of the island in French or Tahitian. She wanted me to know that she was familiar with the United States, and specifically San Diego. She spoke of Sea World and other details as if she was a part of the community, a reflection of her need for me regarding my understanding of Bora Bora. 

Dora had a deep understanding of human connection. She was named after her paternal great grandmother, who she spoke about with admiration and apparently had particularly high expectations for comportment. She said her father “loosened up” a bit as a result of her mother, but that the tradition of her great grandmother was still present in her home. She described dinners in which every child (even to this day as adults) has a duty. The children are not allowed to leave the dinner table without permission from the elders and must maintain a particular stature while eating. She spoke with pride about her generations of family being native to Bora Bora. Her family has respect among the community and she has often served as a moderator for families who have not “held up their end of the bargain” on the island. She took me to her favorite coffee shop and was greeted by the locals as if she was mayor. Her mind was rich, wise, and reflective. She had a strong sense of individual identity that seamlessly blended with her sense of community. She was proud to be a woman, a strong woman at that. She said that she “invited” her husband “to take {her} coffee” that morning because “it was delicious” but in order to do so he would have to wake at 4AM (which was most convenient for her and her entrepreneurial spirit). She was happily self-employed because it perpetuated the sense of agency that was instilled in her as a child and that she passed onto her children. She laughed, held up her cup of coffee to cheer and said, “because I can do this, with you!”

We were running late, or maybe not; maybe we were just on Dora’s time – the sense of time in Bora Bora. As she drove me around the island and took every turn to show me the homes of her family, I anxiously noted the time (technically I was already 5 minutes late). I said that I was worried about missing my scheduled boat to the Four Seasons, and her response was simple: “no need to worry, they’ll come back.” I was sliding into my American mindset and not-so-directly insisted she take a few less detours because “I had a class to attend in a couple of hours” to which she responded that I should have no work while I am on vacation. She was right and there I was stuck between two competing cultural agendas. 

By Day 3, the Tahitian staff were calling me Emily, refrained from using Ms. Kierce, and brought me gifts of coconut and vanilla. They were also arriving at my Bungalow unexpectedly and entering with their key to check on me. They did not knock. At first I was alarmed, but quickly adapted as I was greeted with a pleasant sing-songy “hello” as the door opened. The tone and cadence of their voice was genuine, upbeat, and had a ring to it as they departed, “mauruuru!!” The treatment was not a 5-star service that could be paid for and provided by the “corporate” Four Seasons, it was a free service provided by the Tahitian people.

Dora and Dr. Kierce in Bora Bora