SELDOON

A little game? Any guesses at the most common snack for the people here? It also makes for a common lunch meal for most staff in the office I Volunteer at.

People can be seen munching this at any time of the day, while walking, riding on the bus or waiting. It has a crunch but can be smooth. Has a curl and it twirls being slurped. Best if cooked but enjoyed raw all the same by the people of a nation where foreign influence stretches back in time.

The answer lies in this post itself 🙂

IMAGINE

It’s quite difficult to explain what Kiribati is like so I wanted to give you some imagery to ponder upon (my grammar teacher would cringe at my long, comma filled paragraph :D)

Houses made of any material available (tarp, corrugated iron, iron bars/grill, wood, leaves, any kind of metal, car doors, plastic etc), taking shortcuts through stores because the alleys have water blocking the way, sleeping dogs, barking dogs, fighting dogs, hungry dogs, muddy puddles, cars parked (with sleeping driver) on the kerbside on a bend at an intersection, car parked on the footpath, food stalls made with a temporary tent like structure on the footpath,people gathered at Bairiki Square for a function/celebration or an educational campaign, empty concrete structures, the whoosh whoosh sounds of firm brooms used to clean the sandy ground, fish stalls giving out a smokey fume as I drive by in the super fast local bus, the occasional stall made of natural materials selling the only colourful produce I note along the street side (paw paws, cucumber, cooked fish and rice, breadfruit, some cherry tomatoes, green peppers and massive pumpkins which taste very different, coconut sap, local sting, coconut candy and sometimes bags made of two minute noodle wrappers), rusting wrecked cars missing most essential parts, a large rusting shipwreck, small fish vendors sitting with large cooler boxes and a weighing machine often showcasing a large fish on top, children (some in school uniforms, other half dressed and some butt naked), people disappearing into the low tide walking to find fish and setting traps, the sea wall populated by intoxicated men and giggling women as I walk past at night (i once nearly walked on top a guys laying on the road completely passed out), men up in coconut trees cutting todi or off loading coconuts often singing tunes, loud music playing in shops and in local buses passing by, people indulging in paint bucket showers with well water (the public-private boundary is astonishingly thin here), people tossing buckets of water on the road to keep the dust settled, the dust flying around as a car passes by, the fishing boats and commercial ships in the distance, the colours of the setting sun and silhouette of children playing on trees, the sounds of someone giggling or singing in the distance or a child crying, the ubiquitous holes in the road, the orange cones and washed aways bags from seawalls, rubbish washed back onto the shore revealing some interesting items (one wonders the harm all this plastic and non-biodegradable items must be having on the sea life around here), the strong smell of the landfill as you drive past, trucks piled with people on the back, the ubiquitous ‘mauri’ (hello) whenever you pass anyone walking on the street or a “where are you going” (my answer to which is usually – “that way” while pointing in the direction I’m walking- I realised they don’t really want to know where you’re going but it’s more like a figure of speech like ‘hey, how’s it goin’), the oddly matched clothing, bright- sometimes dull lava-lavas, the bare chested men walking around, bare feet walking on the road and on the coral, the signature black and black/red jandals that all i-Kiribati seem to wear, the occasional i-matang driving past or a honking local you acquaint with, the sometimes grey and stormy clouds in the sky, the bright white coral sand/rocks (bright enough that I struggle without sunglasses), the turquoise of the lagoon, the deep blue of the ocean and the white of the crashing weaves on the reef break, the dancing coconut leaves high up in the sky, the buzzing mosquitoes, painful red ants and the stubborn flies, the occasional frangipani tree and the ever smiling faces.

Words really don’t do justice but neither do pictures so try a little bit of imagination why don’t you 😉

SAFIES

Thank you for all your messages of concern. I am safe and well here in Kiribati. Pam came our way but veered off before too much damage was done. The road has more pot-holes than the stars in the night sky at the moment with traffic travelling at little more than 10-20Km/hr. The Journey to and from work has doubled in time and I tend to get to my destination with rattled up organs. Not far from my house makes for an interesting sight. Half the road has just fallen in. It looks like one of those 3D paintings that look good enough to fool you. The causeway from Betio to Bairiki has copped most of the damage and last I heard was down to one lane and a 2 Tonne maximum capacity. A dear friend lives in Betio which right now probably makes for a lonely place to be with the minimal transport options. The winds and the rain was impressive to say the least. I told you about the leakages in my last post. Did I mention the flooding in our driveway (I use the term loosely)? Well, the water has dried out and the sun has been shining these last few days but the clouds are still lurking around. Hoping there is no more of the crazy weather we saw last week and that the people of Vanuatu get through this safe and well. Heard on the news this morning that the death toll was upto 24. Living in a fragile ecosystem like Tarawa makes you realise how vulnerable life is in these parts of the world. We are expecting a high tide this Friday. The resilience of people here doesn’t seize to surprise me. Life really is lived on a day to day basis.

While things have been a little grim on the weather front, life has been fairly lively in the volunteer corner here. A number of gatherings, local boutaki (party) and lovely dinners have kept things interesting. There was an impressive local dance performance and nice Kiribati food at the boutaki I attended last night. The rest of us, honoured with garlands on our heads and being sprayed with perfume, boogied to a fast Kiribati song as the MC decided we needed to lighten up the mood before dinner. It is customary for the audience to come up to the dancers and spray them with perfume in appreciation. I’m sure my dance partner would have got into trouble when he gets home as he reeked of women’s perfume by the end of the dance. Giggles.

My Japanese flatmate, 2 Japanese neighbours and another Japanese friend have brought the Japanese influence back in my life. We drank Shochu and ate rotis the other day making for an interesting cultural experience enriched by a semi local friend (Kirbati ancestry, Solomon born and raised). Oh I should mention that one of my Japanese neighbours is trained in traditional Thai massage and my semi-local friend is a trained masseuse. How cool is that!! I was lucky enough to experience both their talents :D. I have also started taking local dancing lessons and by the end of my assinment, I should be able to move like Shakira ha ha ha.

On the weekend, my flatmate and I went shopping and found pears, apples, oranges, cucumber and onion. Jackpot!!! Life is good right now. I am still coughing away at night and early in the mornings and look like a bandit with my scarf covered face when I’m on the road but a bit of an apple/orange at the end of the day makes it all better. Comfort food has an altered meaning here in Kiribati. My chocolate supply is still intact but fruit before chocolate here it seems!

On the work front, things are on an upward motion. Yesterday, I photographed a staff member striking a 10 on the happiness-metre! Felt great :). Our whiteboard looks like a war plan and I guess it reflects us trying to declare war on the chaos around. Finding a black space on it nowadays is a tricky task and every time we talk, we seem to refer back to the board. Success! We are a functioning team now.

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Our infamous whiteboard!

COLD HOT

Mauri my dear readers,

I will not apologise for the delay in my post this time as I have realised a number of things and needed time to process them in my head. For starters, I’ve managed to catch the flu which at home would mean hot drinks and curling up in bed with a couple of blankets. Here it is somewhat different, confusion of which is escalated by cold showers and beads of sweat running down my body and when it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Episodes of a chesty cough combined with minutes at the bathroom sink ridding my body of the build up (i shall not describe any more to avoid loosing you). 7th day today but it feels like I might just be coming out the other way. Piece of advice- try not to get sick. Ha ha ha. A number of my fellow volunteers are also fighting exotic bugs! Atleast we are not in this alone.

Weatherwise, it has been rather cool and stormy since I fell ill. Last night and this morning in particular lead to leakage through the windows of my house. My flattie and I spent the morning moving furniture and mopping the floor. Looking around at the local houses, I can assure you, they aren’t so lucky. I understand that the road is particularly bad at the moment. Nothing new for the people of Tarawa eventhough it seems crazy to us. Water leakage inside the house is something they deal with even with light rain.

I’ve started to notice that things don’t seem to surprise me as much anymore. It is more of a surprise when things happen as they are supposed to. Perhaps because my mindset is shifting, expecting nothing to go as I expect so when it does, I am pleasantly surprised. Am I becoming more tolerant or are my expectations changing and aligning with the locals? Back home, we seem to stress out over little things and those matters seem trivial now. A bus being ten minutes late would drive me up the roof because back home it’s expected to be on time. Half an hour, an hour or more spent waiting for the bus here is normal, the internet not working is business as usual, a power outage is part and parcel of life, no fresh fruits and veggies is an accepted truth, death is as much a part of life as is life here and patience is core to the culture.

Is this the right way of living? Perhaps yes, perhaps no but it certainly feels like the right attitude to have. Stress is reserved for special occasions 🙂

On the work-front, it is going very well. I feel like things are happening and they are! My colleagues are very hard working and have lots of energy which is a blessing for a volunteer. It certainly has taken time but little successes are all it takes to make it all worth it.

Here’s a quote from a book I’m reading which makes much more sense being here- “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars” – Persian Proverb