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First connection

Dorothy Lubin-Levy at her home in Pape’ete.

I wrote Dorothy Lubin-Levy a month and a half ago on Facebook messenger. I didn’t know her, but I wanted to. She was the first person recommended to me, and she wrote back within a couple of days:

“I am very honored to find your message. I am looking forward to have a cup of tea and talk story with you. . . Dorothy.”

So my mission on Day One was to find her apartment in downtown Pape’ete where the streets are full of bustle and exhaust and re-mixed music. Once I entered her courtyard and started climbing the stairs, I knew I had found an oasis.

Dorothy’s place was full of art, most of it by her children or by Bobby Holcomb, her dear friend who became a cultural ambassador for this part of the world, even though he was not originally from here.

Dorothy’s whole place, her pied-a-terre here in Tahiti, feels homespun, and it was somehow cool even without air conditioning. Dorothy hugged me immediately, and I sank into the couch as though I’d been there a hundred times before.

Dorothy's home in Pape’ete.

For the next two hours, Dorothy gave me a crash course in both Tahitian history and her own. Dorothy’s father was Tahitian, and she really felt her roots when she came here for the first time at the age of 12. When she returned as a young woman, she dedicated herself to a cultural resurgence in art, music and language, and she fought against France’s nuclear testing.

“Tahitian people were the beautiful people,” she told me, and she has worked with this message for many years.

Our conversation sprawled from her children to Moana to environmentalism and back to her great grandfather who came here in search of a pearl for Queen Victoria’s crown.

Speaking of the 1980’s, when cultural resurgence began to take off she said, “We were looked at as revolutionaries.”

Dorothy took me out to meet people in the neighbourhood, and then we ate fish burgers for lunch. She seemed to know everyone. “Unity is our survival,” she said. “We will only survive if we are one village.”

I promised to come visit at the end of my journey to tell her all of the stories I would find over the next six weeks. Then she reached up and took out her earrings – a homemade set of tiny, dangling pearls – and gave them to me. “These will keep you safe,” she said.

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