Last week my good friend Deb invited me and Daniel to something called a "first birth ceremony." I had only ever heard a few things about this, and immediately the moment that I did hear about it I knew that I was not to leave the island until I was witness to one of these.

When the typhoon warnings came through in December, my first thought was, "NO! I HAVEN'T BEEN TO A FIRST BIRTH CEREMONY YET!" Oh. That thought, of course, actually came after all of my thoughts about hoping that everyone was going to be safe, etc.

The reason I have felt so strongly about attending one of these is because this is the explanation I got about what it is:

After giving birth to her first child, the mother is treated to all sorts of allegedly painful therapy treatments, including getting splashed with boiling water. This apparently goes on for days and days. At one point her skin is painted and she is dressed in traditional clothing. She is then presented to family and friends who dance around her and give her money at a huge vibrant feast.

Guys. Who the heck WOULDN'T want to attend something like that?

Ok, and first of all, all of you Palauans and Palauan culture know-it-alls. I recognize that what I've written and what I will continue to write here probably contains all sorts of inaccuracies. GUYS. BACK OFF. I'm not writing the encyclopedia on Palau here. I'm writing for Stranger. People don't read this to learn things.

Apparently these ceremonies go on all day and since none of us even knew the new mother, we showed up very late, hoping to just catch a peek of the main event from the background. And what we found was not what I expected.

The ceremony takes place outdoors and two large tents had been set up to protect the hundreds of spectators from the rain. We were immediately enthusiastically welcomed by the very large and kind group, who placed us in chairs right at the very front. I love Palauans. And while I'm no expert on their culture, I am actually enjoying learning about it while I live here.

The new mother had yet to be presented, so instead the pre-ceremony entertainment was happening.

Karaoke, of sorts.

LOUD karaoke.

Like, so loud I can't believe you guys didn't email me from the U.S. and ask me what all the noise was about.

I think it might have been the loudest sound ever created by humans.

The songs were all in Palauan. And rather than just listen from their seats, several people from the crowd would slowly Westside Story walk-dance up to the singer, stick money in the singer's clothes, and then dance around him or her until the song ended. Then the spectators would take their seats again and prepare to do the same thing on the next song.

I felt like I was living that movie Goundhog Day. Or, like, a really weird sequel to that movie that went straight to VHS.

The karaoke went on for at least 2 full hours after we got there. And guys. Did I mention we were very late? This had been going on for the Queen of Colors knows how long. And NOBODY (other than us) seemed to hate every second of it with a hot passion.

Finally the karaoke was cut off and the new mother was presented to the crowd. She was decked out in full body paint and costume and was directed to walk on woven leaves that were laid in front of each of her steps. Because there were only three of these, this procession took a very long time.

While she was walking I couldn't help but think this was a pretty cool tradition. And it made having a baby seem like the hippest thing on the planet. I seriously wanted to get pregnant just for the attention. But then I remembered that this woman had been assaulted for days on end with boiling water. Oh, and also I'm a man.

Eventually she got to the small center stage. New music began to play while the largest man who has ever lived sang. The song choice?


People danced around her while she stood and smiled.

Eli: Really??? This song?

Daniel: Yeah, they should do Birds of Prey or Blackbird or something. And who is that girl with all the body paint?

Eli: Uh . . . the new mother . . .

Daniel: The new mother of what?

Eli: The new mother . . . for whom this first birth ceremony is being held . . .

Daniel: Ooooooooooohhhhhh. First birth ceremony. I was wondering why there weren't any birds.

Send help. Someone.

~It Just Gets Stranger