I'm not sure what either Patrick Morelle or I was planning for when I landed into Fa'a'a International Airport in Tahiti, French Polynesia last Monday night.
Four weeks ago in Boston I ran into a squash friend who said she had once played in Fiji, which led me to Googling "squash Oceania" that night, which, a month later in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, led me to Patrick.
Patrick is the first President of the newly minted Tahitian Squash Federation that he helped form. He doesn't really speak English and I don't speak French, but he loves squash and with the help of his wife Rebecca, arranged my visit to the island to train and compete in local matches at his club in preparation for my three pro events later this month in New Zealand.
And so Tuesday morning I found myself waking up underneath a misquito net in Papeete as an adopted member of the Morelle family and the small but passionate squash community in Tahiti.
I learned early on day one that I held the unique distinction of being the first American to play at the club. During every training session, each member of the club would come over to shake hands, each giving me their best "HELLO MIKE!" greeting in English.
Every day brought more "HELLO MIKE!" greetings, impromptu group lessons and taped video sessions, and matches against the best players in Oceania- all in 100 degree heat inside a facility without A/C (yikes).
I lived with a school teacher and the newspaper editor. I taught backhands to the airline pilot, shared beers with the Italian restaurant owner. I was invited to join two different birthday dinners, helped hold down the regular table at L'Apizzeria, serrenaded neighbors with a terrible karaoke rendition of the Backstreet Boys, shared the backseat with the two youngest children during lazy Saturday morning drives. For the past week I've been a lucky fly on the wall of a squash-playing, French speaking family in Tahiti.
After my last match on the island tonight, I was given the microphone to address the standing room-only crowd that had gathered for it. Through a translator, I tried to thank them for everything. Among the crowd, I saw the pilot and the restaurant owner and the newspaper editor smiling back.