Sep 7, 2007
SPIDERMAN, SPIDERMAN, DOING THE THINGS A SPIDER CAN
KOROR, Republic of Palau: Hollow-eyed after two days of travel, Steph and I still don't hesitate. "Swim before breakfast," we chant, then plow into the peacock-colored waters of Palau.
We met three years ago on assignment in the Middle East. To Jordanians, our pale skin, blue eyes and fair hair made us "twins". Men sprinted through the souk to absorb the spectacle (Steph, I should explain, was once a CNN anchorwoman and remains broadcast-caliber gorgeous).
As editor of travelgirl, she's sent me to Hong Kong, Venice and Milan. But we haven't hung out since the Detroit airport in 2004 (where we bunked in a grotty hotel with steady allegedly the longest continuous corridor in the world: slow down my beating heart...).
Giddy, we scull above the reef. "I'm supposed to be launching a Silicon-valley company," I confess.
In turn, she admits: "I'm running a national magazine, filming a new show and, um, weaning an infant."
Steph stiffens. "A lot of people don't understand..."
"No, no. If I ever have a baby, I'm going to another hemisphere to wean. Brilliant."
A few hours later, we discover the Palauan new-mother ceremony.
In ancient times, legend claims they sliced open wombs with sharp bamboo sticks. Unsurprisingly, few survived.
Spider God, in human form, impregnated a beautiful girl. Too late, he discovered that his beloved would probably die. So he cried out to his mamma, who told him to birth the baby himself, naturally, in secret. Though the villagers menaced him, he stood firm. And the babe's first cry converted them from C-sections
Palauans now throw a big party for newborns. If the families agree to a union, the bride purifies herself for days, then appears bare-breasted and smeared in yellow ginger, wearing a grass skirt. Her relatives supply the food. His: dollars, plus some of the island's traditional money (beads).
"One bead can cost up to $10,000," our museum guide explains.
"Beats a Tiffany's locket," someone mutters.
"And a bamboo stick," I add.