Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Our top 10

The top ten things we look forward to when we return to Aus...

1. Eat a Hungry Jacks burger and KFC chicken, at the sametime
2. Drive a manual car, faster than 80km
3. Drink a pint of cold beer from a glass while watching the cricket
4. Listen to commercial radio ads
5. Get a haircut, just a small trim
6. Go and watch a movie at the cinemas with Nicole
7. Stay overnight at mums place
8. Catch-up with family and friends at the Winston
9. A swim at the beach
10. Read some junk mail

1. See family and friends
2. Meet my new nephew Spencer
3. Eat yummy food (e.g. scotch fillet steak, chicken breast, lots of cheese, salads, desserts, roast lamb etc. etc.)
4. Drink water straight from the tap (no more collecting rain water, boiling it, cooling it and bottling it)
5. Have warm showers
6. Have access to a car 24/7 that I can drive on smooth roads without worrying about stray pigs, dogs, chickens and children wandering on the road
7. Get hair cut and coloured
8. Go shopping to buy new clothes
9. Wear what I want, instead of what is considered to be culturally appropriate
10. Being comfortable, knowing that I understand the cultural norms and what people are talking about (especially when they're talking about me).

Living in a developing country gives us a new appreciation for the things we take for granted back home.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

October-November happenings

Wow, it is mid-November already. Time is flying by.

I went to Abemama for work on the last weekend of October. The Project Office organised funding for 2 projects there, a cement mixer and a maneaba (a more traditional version of a school hall). I went with a colleague to take some photos and get updates so I could report back to the donors on the progress. The cement mixer update was simple. It is there and being used- project completed. However, the maneaba has taken over a year to build. Donors often want a local contribution for projects, so labour has been committed for free by the school. Students and teachers have been working on it on their Saturdays and early in the morning on school days. That explains the slow progress, but they have done a great job. The work processes would make our OH&S people back home flip their lids, but it is the I-Kiribati way. For example, students were up on the high, slanted roof with bare feet in the heat of the day, holding onto a rope (or looping it around their waste in some cases) to stay up there, while they cut, positioned and nailed sheet metal onto the maneaba with no gloves on. They lost grip and dropped sheets off the roof a few times- I'm glad noone was standing underneath! Other students were just standing on rafters with no harness while painting other beams and rafters. Coming from a large steel company back home, I see a huge difference in safety standards. A big cultural change would be needed if a company like mine wanted to set up here and maintain safety (and other) standards.
The weekend away was good, but it would have been more fun if I had another English speaker with me to keep me company. Not many people bothered to speak English to me, so I did a lot of reading and a bit of exam marking in between the feasts of bread, fish, rice, noodles and pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, I did befriend the 13 year old girl I was staying with. She had lived in Fiji, so had good English.

Our honeymoon picnic
Our 2nd wedding anniversary was on October 31st. We decided to do something romantic, so we packed a picnic of wine and chicken crimpy shapes (the default snack in Kiribati) and headed to the causeway. We sat on the causeway to watch the sunset. Despite the group of guys jumping off the bridge into the water just to our right and the bloated dead dog floating by to our left, it was lovely.

The Australian High Commission hosted a Melbourne Cup afternoon. We went along in our hats, some a little sillier than others. There were sweeps and a fashions on the field competition. Pete one first place (out of 2 entrants) for the stallions. Go Pete! We all crowded around a TV with fuzzy reception to try and work out which horses had come which place. Apparently there is normally a crab race too, but someone had complained about animal cruelty (although I'm not sure why it is cruel to see which is the fastest- no fighting involved), so it was cancelled. The proceeds of the afternoon will go to a charity in Kiribati.

Class photo- minus some students, plus Pete
The theological college has finished for the year. My students put on a picnic for me to celebrate the end of the college year. It was lovely of them and made me feel special, being the only teacher invited. They hired a maneaba at a school in Buota, right next to the turquoise inlet. We had the formal bit with a couple of speeches, some dancing and gift giving, and then we played games and went for a swim. My students are fun. It is sort of strange teaching to people my age and older.

The college graduation and farwell were 2 nights in a row. There were LOTS of speeches at the farewell, each about 20 minutes each and in I-Kiribati. The farewell started at 7:30 and we didn't eat dinner (after speeches) until about 10:30. Peter, a visitor from the Uniting Church in Australia, commented that it really shows that they have an oral culture. Everyone is really good at speech-making and telling stories (well, I guess we don't know if it is interesting, but they have a lot to say). It is lovely to be invited to botakis, but as an English-speaker, it is a little bit like sensory deprivation, having to sit still for hours doing nothing, while trying to look interested in speeches that I don't understand (a little like white noise, or listening to AM radio in Aus).

On the boat to Tabuki Retreat in North Tarawa
Pete's Mum Margaret and Step-Dad Michael visited recently. It was really great to see them. They brought lots of goodies for us, so we're well-stocked for a while now. We took them to a few places on South Tarawa, including our workplaces. On Saturday night we went to Tabuki Retreat/Broken Bridge with some friends for the night. They seemed to enjoy that, being able to swim and get away from Tarawa (the big smoke).

On their last night here Pete organised a traditional dancer (above) to come to our house so they could get a taste of I- Kiribati culture. She brought garlands for them too, which was nice. We got them to spray perfume on the dancer to show their appreciation, as is done in I-Kiribati culture- sometimes talcum powder is used instead. It was sad to see them go, but the end of our time here is in sight, so we know it won't be too long before we see them again.

People fly in and out of Kiribati all the time. Joy's (who works at KIT with Pete) daughter Penny was here for the last week or so and flew out today. There were also some AusAid people here for a review, so last night after soccer at the Australian High Commission we went to dinner and then to a kava bar. The photo above is of us all singing at the kava bar. The 2 girls on the right are Penny and Megan, from AusAid.

With Christmas fast approaching, there are a few decorations starting to show in the shops. There is nowhere near the amount of hype in the shops in Aus, and I haven't seen anyone dressed up as Santa yet- I guess it is too hot. It will be nice to escape the commerical lead up to Christmas so we can think about what Christmas is really about.

Until next time... Tiabo (pronounced sabo)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

I-Kiribati culture, snorkelling and... rugby

It has been a while since our last post. We’re on island time now- and we’re just lazy. We’ll try to get them happening more often so that you don’t have so much to read each time.
There was a week about a month ago when we were both very sick. We had tummy problems, headaches, aching bodies and exhaustion. I had it initially and then shared it with Pete. That was the sickest either of us has been in Kiribati, so we’re very glad to be over that. Illnesses spread like wild fire here, especially when sharing crowded buses with snotty-nosed, coughing kids and rarely seeing toilet paper or soap in toilets. We’re pretty lucky to have not been sick more often. The vitamin tablets from Tolar Pharmacy must be helping us out.
Weaving at the Catholic Women's Centre. The 3 of us on the left are Aussie volunteers.
The girl on the right is a British tourist. Yes, occasionally people come here as tourists!

Grating coconut

I decided to get a little more culturally aware one day last month. I started my Saturday morning with weaving at the catholic women’s centre. I try to do this most weeks, but the ladies who run the classes are rarely available. In the afternoon I went to Tearatu’s (a work colleague) house. She taught me how to make coconut cream from scratch. Step 1. Cut coconut (already de-shelled and oldish) in half. Step 2. Grate coconut into a big bowl using a cool metal contraption they use here. There is a part to sit that sticks out with a round-shaped but jagged end, perfect for coconuts. Step 3. Collect some nice-smelling leaves and flower petals. Step 4. Squish the leaves and petals into an empty coconut shell until they break into dark, juicy bits. Step 5. Combine the flower bits and grated coconut in a clean cloth and roll it up. Step 6. Squeeze the juices out of the cloth into a bowl. Voila! Once prepared, we put it through our hair, combed it and waited an hour or so. Then we went for a swim at Buota to wash it out. It is supposed to make your hair healthy, thick and shiny. I was told not to wash it with shampoo for a while, but I washed it the next day because it just looked dirty. I think it was in a slightly healthier condition though, so maybe there something in it. If I do it again, I think I’ll just use a can of coconut cream or a bottle of coconut oil- much faster and easier.
Some female students dancing on World Teacher's Day

Some young dancers on World Teacher's Day. The 3 on the right are triplets. .
Their names are  Their names are Te Mauri (health), Te Raoi (peace)
and Te Tabomoa (prosperity), the motto of Kiribati. How patriotic!
On October 3rd we celebrated World Teachers Day. It was a Public Holiday and we had a botaki (celebration) at the college, where we were entertained and given a lot of food. I often find that I-Kiribati botakis go on for too long and get a bit boring with lots of speeches in I-Kiribati, but this one wasn't too bad. The students looked like they were having a lot of fun, and it was good to know a lot of people there.

Some of my students in the last class for the year.
The maneaba where is is our classroom. We often have dogs, cats and chickens roaming around.
The semester at the theological college is pretty much over. It is currently reading week. I have been busy marking assignment and now I am writing an exam. It will be sad not seeing my students regularly. I like them. Some have added me on Google Talk (a chat program), so at least I can talk to them there. If anyone is interested, I might do some tutoring during the break to pass the time, help them out and socialise a bit. Even though I won't need my Wednesdays for lesson planning during the break, I have grown fond of having a day at home to get organised, so I will probably continue that and just pick up an extra 2 days doing something at the church headquarters- maybe just more days in the Project Office.

The beach at Naa
Phil showing off Phoebe's big fish.

A couple of weekends ago we went to Naa, the furthest North tip of North Tarawa. Some friends were camping there overnight but we were too woosy, and just went for the day. Our friend Phoebe caught a 15kg giant trevali on a hand line. She had burns/cuts all over her hands and arms. What a tough chick! It was nice to have a swim and do some snorkelling away from where people use the beach as their loo. This beach looks like paradise.

Wendy, David and Pete at dinner

Wendy, the newly appointed Regional Manager for the Pacific Region for Austraining volunteers, visited last week. Pete is one of two Austraining volunteers in Kiribati, and the other (Chontelle) was in Fiji when she was here, so we had a dinner with just her and David (the In-Country Manager).

Last weekend we went on our friend Glenn's boat to Bikeman, a sand island in the lagoon. The water was so smooth, it was like glass. We could see all of the pretty fish underneath us, so we hardly needed to snorkel. We snorkelled anyway, around the reef and a ship wreck. Not many people here seem to know about the ship wreck. We only knew about it because Glenn knew where to find it. We were expecting a small ferry, but it was pretty big. We saw the name, which was something like "Nautica". The ship was on its side. I stuck mostly to the hull, which was sticking partially out of the water, because the water was quite deep and I found it a bit eerie. Looking over the side, we could see cabins and a tower with stairs. If it was better lit and I knew there wouldn't be any sharks (there always are on the movies around ship wrecks), it would have been interesting to dive under and explore.
It has been really hot here lately. There was no breeze or rain for about a week. Thankfully the breeze returned yesterday. I hope it sticks around. It is hard to cope in the heat with no breeze.
We have had a leaking water pump. Our only source of water to the house is from our rain water tanks. They kept emptying because of the leak. It was quite stressful. A few people had a go at fixing it without much luck. I had to pay $60 to 1 unsuccessful guy, that I'm hoping to get refunded. Our landlord managed to fix it. We are so glad because now we can stop having to turn the water on and off when when need it, and stop worrying that we will run out any minute. Thankfully we have been able to order water deliveries from the Public Utilities Board, but they take their time getting here and often need reminders. It also gets expensive. We take it for granted in Aus that there will be plenty of water in the tap when we turn it on. In a place like Kiribati where we constantly sweat, the thought of possibly not being able to have a shower is not pleasant.
I'm not sure if I have updated you all on my role change. A while back I moved from YCL (youth) and RAK (women) to the Donor Coordination Office, AKA Project Office, where I am a Project Assistant. That mostly involves me filling out funding applications in English for donors, but also involves a bit of email correspondence with donors, letter writing and organising of the office. The Manager of the Project Office has just left to go and work for the Red Cross. A few people have said that I am now Manager, and I’m not really sure if they’re joking. Let’s hope they are, because I’m not there full time and I don’t really know what I’m doing. Imatangs (foreigners) seem to be considered experts here. Some are, if they're here as consultants on big bucks, but us mere volunteers are often helping out in a field of work we're not experienced in. It is nice that people have confidence in my ability. I just hope they don't expect too much.

Watching the rugby at Ambo Lagoon Club
We have come to one of the most isolated countries on Earth and I still can't escape the footy. Rugby has been the focus of Pete’s spare time for the past month or so. Although we don’t have Sky TV to watch the World Cup, there are a few places that do. It has become pretty social gathering with other ex-pats, and locals who have acquired a taste for rugby through travel, at Ambo Lagoon Club with a projector and screen (white bed sheet) to watch the games. Last weekend was a bit of a downer losing to the Kiwis. The big game this weekend was the play off for 3rd and 4th place between the Aussies and Wales. There are quite a few Aussies here, and at least 2 rugby-crazy Welshman, 1 being our neighbour. Things could be awkward around our place next week.

Karaoke at Captains Bar after the rugby
I was supposed to be in Abemama for work this week to report back to donors on a couple of projects over there. However, after waiting about an hour by the road to be picked up on Wednesday, I called my work to see where the driver was, and I was told that the flight had been cancelled. It would have been nice to be told that before I packed, bought drinking water for 3 days and waited for so long in the heat. Since the cancellation on Friday, I have since found out that all of the inter-island flights were cancelled because there was a shortage of fuel in the country. A ship arrived yesterday, so flights are going again now. We have re-scheduled for next weekend. Hopefully that goes ahead.
We’re missing quite a few weddings and baby births back home, which is sad, but I guess that’s part of being away for a year. We can’t expect others’ lives to be on hold while we’re away. Sorry to those whose important events we are away for. Hopefully we can make it up to you when we get back by babysitting or sitting for hours looking through all of your wedding photos. That sounds sarcastic, but I really am keen to see them.
We are still enjoying our time here, but we're also starting to count down how long we have left. We've been here more than 7 months now, so only 4 and a bit months to go until we can eat lots of cheese, salad, chicken breast and steak again... oh, and see family and friends too of course :).

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Weekend in Maiana

We spent last weekend in Maiana, the next island south of Tarawa.  This blog update is about our adventures there.
The plane we thought was ours

We sat in the departure lounge waiting for our plane to arrive from another island. Finally a 28-seater, 2-propellor Air Kiribati plane turned up (above). We could see the luggage (mostly small bags and buckets) in the boot of the plane lightly strapped in. We thought- wow that’s a small plane.  Then along came our plane- an even smaller, 17-seater propeller plane arrived. Once we climbed up the 3 stairs, someone took the steps off and put them in the aisle, next to the back door. So much for keeping the aisles clear in case of an emergency. Noone showed us how to do up seat belts, put on a life jacket or use an oxygen mask. The pilot got on last and walked up the aisle to the open cockpit and off we went.

The plane that was ours

Photo taken from back of plane, showing into cockpit

It was a 10 minute flight. As soon as we were up we could see Maiana. We were met at the other end by the parents of the people we were travelling with, Bobo (Pete’s IT trainee), Rere (his wife) and Bibi (their 3-month old baby). After a 1 hour ride in the tray of a truck we’d hired, we arrived at other end of the island, to Bubutei, the village we stayed in.
Taking in the sights of Maiana from the truck

We had thought we’d be staying in the guest house, but it was too far away from the family without transport to take us in between. We ended up staying with the family instead. It was great to experience how I-Kiribati people really live. It reminded us a bit of camping, but this is permanent arrangement for most.
We slept in a buia, a hut on stilts with no walls made from coconut trees and a thatched coconut-leaf roof. There was no mattress- we were on mats woven from pandanus leaves. Luckily we took our mosquito net with us because they didn’t have a spare. With insect repellent, a mosquito coil and a mosquito net, we still managed to get bitten on our feet. They’re persistent little critters.  

Our sleeping buia

They have a cinder block house, but they don’t sleep in there. That’s where they keep belongings and have a room for a little store. The Dad bakes bread in a funny oven that just looks like a cupboard. He sells buns for 10 cents each and makes about 200-250 every day, so makes $20-$25 a day. That’s a pretty decent amount for a retired seaman on an outer island. The main source of income, if any, for people living on outer islands is from selling copra (coconut), dried fish or pandanus leaves or mats.
The family cook on a 2 burner gas stove. At night they use a torch to see the food, as the kitchen area has no light. They don’t have a fridge or freezer, so everything needs to be fresh or long life (e.g. canned corned beef, rice, canned mackerel- yumo!).

The kitchen
The dining room/living area is another buia. We sat around there a fair bit, looking out over the water, watching kids stare at us, eating, playing cards and taking everything in.

The family we stayed with eating dinner in the 'dining room'

One small concern we had when we found out we’d be staying with them was that we thought there might be no toilet. We’ve seen so many people on Tarawa using the beach as their loo, that we assumed it must be the norm in outer islands too. Thankfully, they had a ‘bathroom’. They have a toilet which gets flushed with water from a bucket. The same room is used for bathing with water from buckets.
The water comes from a well. The Dad made a pretty cool manual water pump that they use to fill the buckets with water for washing, toileting, and boiling for drinking. It is a pretty clever idea. We don’t fully understand the physics, but there is a pipe with a smaller, hollow pip inside it. You pull out the inside pipe, and when you push it back in, it displaces water out the top into the bucket. They should have those on Tarawa. People here use open wells, where animals can get in and small children could fall in. This seems like a much safer option.
Using a manual hand pump to fill the bucket for showering

On Saturday it was pouring with rain all morning. We had planned to go out on the boat to an island where we could go snorkelling. We ended up going out in the rain anyway. The ‘island’ we ended up getting dropped at (while the guys on the boat went fishing off the reef) was a big sand bank in the lagoon. Although it was pretty, there was no shade and nothing to see or do there other than swim. We had a swim, went for a walk up and down and were ready to be picked up by the boat. Bobo, Pete’s work colleague who we went to Maiana with, told us about how his now wife has been planned for some other guy, and they sort of eloped and he sent his parents to tell her parents that she wasn’t coming home. I started to think maybe his father in law was taking revenge by stranding him and his friends on a deserted island to drown. Then we thought the boat’s engine might have konked out. Finally we worked out that the tide was too low for the boat to get back to us. After 3-4 hours of getting sunburnt on the sand bank (the sun had come out by then and, thinking it was raining and we wouldn’t be out long, we didn’t have sun cream on), we grabbed our stuff and waded a couple of hundred metres out to meet the boat that they were pushing along from the water (it was too shallow to use the engine). We finally got to deeper water and got back to land.
In the afternoon we went to see the village chief who gave us permission to go for a walk through the village and take photos. We gave him tobacco as a thank you gift. We weren’t keen on the idea of encouraging smoking, but it seems to be an expected gift. He gave us a head piece made of coconut leaf to wear around. If you are new to Maiana, you need to wear it for the first 3 days until the Maiana ghosts (who I think are ancestors) get to know you. After the 3 days the ghosts will know you, so you can get around like a local.

During our walk we passed plenty of men singing from the top of coconut trees while they cut toddy (sap that they drink- it tastes a bit like new coconut juice). When we passed what used to be a cinderblock house, Bobo pointed it out and said it had been burned down on instructions from the elders. The guys who lived there was a trouble maker who didn’t want to abide by the rules set by the elders in the village, so they punished him by burning down his house. I think that guy now lives in Tarawa. I wouldn’t be too keen to stick around either if that’s what people thought of me. 

 I (Nicky) didn’t notice it, but Pete commented afterwards that on our way back to the airport in the truck, he had noticed the village with only women. I had heard about the village in Maiana that has only women. Apparently they had a trouble-maker man at some point too, who wouldn’t obey the rules set by the elders. The elders decided they wanted to get rid of him, so they ordered all of the men in the village to take part in killing him. They figured that way there wouldn’t be one person to take the blame, and probably thought they would get off more lightly. They were wrong. Now the whole male population from the village (other than a few male kids) are split between 2 gaols on Tarawa. I guess the women must have learnt to fish and get toddy and coconuts, roles which usually belong to the males of the village. Males do the building and roof thatching too. That’s probably why Pete said the buildings looked a bit run down.

The family who welcomed us into their home for the weekend- and a couple of neighbours, who seem to spend a lot of time there.
In the background is the house that they don't sleep in.

Garlanded on our farewell at the airport

Pete on the runway

 Our plane to go home was late, so we waited at the airport for a couple of hours. There isn’t much to do in an empty cinderblock building (as opposed to an airport with overpriced shops and cafes to browse through), so we played cards and wandered around the area and runway. We had the same plane on our way home. The guy sitting near the back door went to put his seat belt on and realised the end of it was stuck in the door (that was closed from the outside), so he flew seatbelt-less. Thankfully there wasn’t much turbulence.

We’re happy to be back in the relative comfort of Tarawa, but glad to have had such a culturally rich weekend.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Almost half way...

There is a new principal at KIT, where Pete works. He also has a new trainee and is pretty busy with starting and finishing different projects.
Nicky’s role at KPC has changed. She's no longer with YCL (youth centre) and RAK (women's centre). The Project Office caught on that there was an imatang (white person) about and decided they needed a native English speaker to write funding proposals in English to donors, so they snatched her up with a letter addressed to Mrs Nicole Peter (here the woman takes the first name of her husband as her surnam when married). The letter said she would be 'escorted' to her new office. It's funny how subtleties in English can make friendly directions to a new job sound as though she's in trouble.
A couple of weeks ago we went to a dinner at the Australian High Commission to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and 29 years in Kiribati. It is nice to be acknowledged as volunteers every now and then. They played the DVD we starred in that has been made on volunteers in Kiribati (we are yet to receive a copy, so don't bother asking for one). President of Kiribati Anote Tong was expected as a guest, and eventually turned up very late after being stuck at sea coming in by boat from another island. He sat a couple of rows in front of us and watched our DVD with everyone else. There was a 2nd screening especially for him- everyone else had already watched it before he turned up. Surprisingly he didn't ask us for autographs afterwards. He must have been too busy talking with AusAID and AVI staff to get to us. He did a great speech acknowledging the work volunteers do in Kiribati. It was a bit surreal sitting so close to a country's President and toasting moimotos (new coconuts) while wearing casual clothing and thongs (that's 'flip-flops' for non-Australian readers).

At the airport with Bruce.
No, Nicky isn't wearing maternity clothing- it is KPC clothing, popular in Kiribati.
Pete's dad Bruce came to visit us for a week, arriving from cooler Fiji in a jumper, shoes and socks. He came, he saw and he conquered Kiribati. He told everyone the same joke that at least now they will know where Pete got his good looks. And high 5'ed about a 1,000 locals to great applause. He certainly left a mark. It was great to have him here to see where we're living and working this year and to spend some quality time together. We like having visitors... 

At Teirio with friends
We took Bruce to Teirio (where we went with Nicky's parents) with some other ex pat friends for the weekend. NB: One of the only few photos of Pete's hair when dreaded... Discussed below. 
Bruce with his buia. These line the beach front at Teirio, so everyone gets a view and breeze.
Bruce seemed a bit put off at first by the out-door living accommodation in buias at Teirio, local-style sleeping quarters. He soon realised that they're great for air flow- very suitable for living in coastal Kiribati. We really enjoyed the snorkelling at Teirio and in the lagoon of Abaiang (the island Teirio is part of). This time a few of us went out further into the lagoon on a boat to snorkel. Someone asked if there would be sharks and we were a little concerned by the response- “No, there won’t be sharks, but there are often barracuda in this passage”. Nicky didn't previously know that barracuda (long fish with sharp teeth) are fairly viscious, and she kept referring to them as barramundi (much less scary). Thankfully, we didn't see any. However, we did see a few big sea turtles right underneath us- that was exciting! The boat engine konked out a few times on the way back to shore, which was a little worrying. The other boat of spear fishermen who were out there with us came to the rescue a few times thanks to some big waving hundreds of metres away. The boat ride home to Tarawa was a very bumpy ride- every bump jarred through our bodies to our heads. Nicky recommends some extra support up top for the ladies if heading out on a boat in the open sea.

Pheobe and Iota having a go and knotting Pete's hair into dreads
Pete got dread locks done by a hairdresser in Fiji, only to find a couple of weeks later than they didn't hold well. Nicky and some friends tried again, but again, they didn't hold. His curls are stubborn.

Peter has suddenly been getting into running. Every other day he runs to Marys Hotel and back, which is a few kms each way. We think 6-7km each run. The dreads fell out so he has massive afro that bounces as he jogs. Nicky has slacked off with her running, generally only going once a week. Her "running" involves running between some light posts and walking between others for a bit of a break. It is more of a social occasion than fitness.

The party girl, dressed in pink with about 20 hair clips
 We went on Saturday to what we call a "period party". In Aus, you would think we're referring to a party where people dress up in costumes from the 1800s. Here, we're referring to the celebration of a teenage girl's first menstruation. Mum and Dad, thank you for never throwing a party for me for this stage in life. I would have been humiliated. Here it is the norm, to celebrate entry into womanhood. The girl's proud mother is a colleage of Nicky's, so we were invited as friends and honorary imatangs. It was held at her house. It was our first time inside a Kiribati household. The guests were mostly family from the village. Due to difficulties getting a bus, and then having to get one going the wrong direction (adding 20 minutes to the trip), we were about an hour late to the party. All the guests were waiting for us. Oops. When we eventually got there, we were seated on a mat with the mother, as VIPs. There were some speeches, then lunch. After lunch, the little girl shown below came and did a couple of dances for us. The dancing was a combination of traditional Kiribati dancing and Beyone's hip thrusting. We werent' sure what to think of that, but she was certainly a good, confident dancer. 
One the performance was over, we were asked to get up for 3 dances. This is always the most awkward time of a party, with us doing a bop/twist sort of dance while the whole room watches us and our partners. You shouldn't look at your partner when you dance in Kiribati, or they'll think you're keen on them, so we looked around everywhere except for at our partner. After the dancing was over, the party was over, so we went home.
The period party entertainer

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Insert catchy title here

First of all to clear-up some business. The pig's name is Collingwood, we failed to mention our vote is worth 1,000. So we voted for Collingwood and it just came ahead in a close race... She is doing well, a lot more civilised than our neighbour's pig who makes loud grunt noises whenever they are cooking food. We haven't quite got Collingwood sitting and shaking hands before eating though. She really does have a personallity though and continues to want to tip the water bowl over, weird... We told her to do some excersise while we are out as she is putting on weight. She is getting hairier too and has stunning long eyelashes. Our landlady's family was feeding her while we were in Fiji and renovated the pigpen while we were away to try and keep dogs out.  However, our dog did get in and ate her food, but it is now difficult for us to get in because the edge is too high and the front has been attached properly.

Nicole's parents came to visit us for a week in late June. We took them to Teirio, a small islet off Abaiang, an outer island of Kiribati. It was beautiful. It is a 1.5hours motorboat ride away. Once there, it was a weekend of eating, swimming, snorkelling, reading, eating some more and snorkelling some more. The water was clear, the fish were pretty (as well as tasty) and the sunsets were amazing...

After their visit we flew to Fiji with them and spent 9 days there. We stayed in Denarau for 7 nights with Mum/Kaye, Dad/Adrian, Debbie, Tristan and Jasper. Then we headed to Suva for 1 night and then Nadi for 1 night on our way back through to Tarawa. It was great. It was nice to have a bit of luxury for a while. We enjoyed having nice food, shopping, drinkable water, warm showers and a pool. It was also wonderful to see family again. We both had a bit of post holiday blues after returning from Fiji. Still, we're glad to have returned to Kiribati, rather than Sydney where we hear it has been about 10 degrees. Now that we’re back into routine it’s as though we never left.

We returned to Kiribati during Independence Week, which is a week of public holidays. Plenty of competitions, we just saw boxing because we were lazing about at home except for the Friday night. In one fight between an imatung and a local Kiribati person, you could really see a contrast. The Kiribati person wasn't wearing any shoes compared to the imatung in full suit. Completely different to any competition in Australia as the audience was completely silent the whole time!

It has been raining a lot here lately. My (Nicky's)work transport involves sitting in the tray of a truck, so I have been getting pretty wet going to and from work. That's not an experience I can have legally in Aus. When it rains, it pours. Huge puddles form everywhere. I'm glad we live in a Western style house instead of the bwias (hut things with no walls) that locals sleep in, except the downside I'm sure our house is obviously hotter in comparison. They must get so wet on days like today.

Mum and Dad commented on our water situation while they were here. The water in our tank is not really drinkable, we have filled it with PUB (public utiliteis board) which is fresh water but gives funny tummy. We just use it for showers, washing etc. We get our drinking water by buying from shops or friends rainwater tanks and then boil it and put it in bottles. To do so, we rely on someone with a car to transport the big bottles there and back for us to collect the water. It is not an ideal situation, but it is reality. Apart from the fact that being sick isn't pleasant, the medical system here is pretty lacking. We were told there was only 1 doctor on duty in the hospital during Independence week, the busiest week of the year on Tarawa. I guess the doctors all want to take leave to be with their families, but it isn't great for the patients.

Nicky had an adventurous weekend in North Tarawa last weekend. On Saturday she walked with some friends from Buota, the beginning of South Tarawa (on the bend in the boomerang shaped atoll), to Aboukaro, which is 4-5 hours away. She stayed the night there in a basic council guest house and set out on Sunday on bikes (some motor and some not) to Naa, the furthest point on North Tarawa. It was about 2 hours each way. The chain snapped on one of the borrowed push bikes, so it was substituted with someone else's in a village along the way. Luckily people in North Tarawa tend to know eachother, so the lady we swapped with was going to arrange to return the bike once her husband had fixed the chain. What lovely people they are helping us strangers. Thankfully we caught a boat back to Buota, so we didn't need to walk all that way back again.

Pete has had the flu but finally turning the corner, he also has a toothache which has started today after some previous discomfort. Assume it is the temporary cap that was placed on the root canal. Fingers crossed it holds and he can wait until treatment in Sydney.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Greetings by the Holdens in Fiji... Denarau to be exact. Softitel resort, room number "luxury"

A nice break that has consisted of eating, sleeping, eating, shopping and swimming. Well thats it, a short one today. Limited Internet and want to enjoy our free time. Another few nights before going to Suva, then home to Kiribati following Thursday.

Dad, look forward to hearing from you soon about those dates.
Glenn, will get around to replying to your message soon.
From Pete...

P.s. Nicky bought an authentic Jimmy Choo hand bag - the warranty is in the mail.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Who am I??

I’m about 40 days old, female, black with white legs and hairy all over. I usually dig holes all day looking for tree roots in-between pooing, sleeping and eating.

I enjoy sleeping on my pillow under my shelter that my adopted dad made and I annoy my adopted mum when I knock over the container of drinking water that she gives me.
I love eating boiled breadfruit and I have the biggest pig pen in the whole of Kiribati. I love a tummy rub and people laugh at my grunting noises.

What’s my name? Pick your answer from the poll on your right…

Friday, 3 June 2011

Mauri mauri

I know, I know... Before you all start I know we have been slackers with the updates. We have fallen back into busy-ness but at least it is now about social events and outings, instead of work and sitting in traffic which was life in Sydney. Haha to anyone reading this on public transport right now!

We can't believe it has been a whole month since our last blog update. Time is going fast which has advantages and disadvantages. Having gone a month without blogging makes the updates harder to write as we try to remember all the things we have done and seen in that time.
We were filmed for DVD about the AusAID volunteer program in Kiribati, but are yet to be interviewed. We are also in the Autumn 2011 UnitingWorld update-
We attended a 1st birthday party (photo below) which was a massive celebration and feast. We were embarrassingly asked, like we are at all the others events, to dance at a certain point at the beginning to help break the ice. Like usual the imatangs were asked by one person each and 300 people sat and watched. I think they do it for the laugh... White man can't dance
I don't know the stats, but there is a high infant mortality rate here. That is why the 1st birthday celebration is such a big one- it is a big deal to make it through your first year of life. A lady I know has lost 4 of her 7 children. Not all were infants, but still, that would be highly unlikely in Australia.
Nicole received belated birthday gifts from Pete's work mates- 2 shirts, one that says Peter and the other says Nicole, and 2 pillow cases- one that says 'Sleep Well Nicole' and the other says 'Motu Raoi [sleep well] Peter' (photo below). That is so nice of them to custom make gifts for the wife of a co-worker. People here are so thoughtful.

Nicole has been going to weaving classes each Saturday. She made a book mark and is now making a table runner. It should be ready by 2015 at the rate she is going. It would go faster if she stopped talking during class...
Now for the big news, drum roll... We are getting a pig, let me rephrase that, a piglet. Not long after Pete convinced Nicole it was a great idea which took about a fortnight, a friend’s neighbour had piglets and we asked him for one. We pick it up this weekend once it has finished suckling from the mum. It will be either black, or black and white. So far a great suggestion for a name has come through, Collingwood. To make this blog interactive, when the pig arrives we will take a photo and add a poll to the blog so people can vote on a name.

We are now legal and can leave Kiribati (if we ever leave) as we got our work permits stamped.

We were getting sick of rice and fish, fish and rice, fish and fish. So Peter was on a mission to eat baked vegetables. We cooked them at home and found potatoes, carrots, onion and pumpkins at the shop and markets. Was superb!
Now for some personal notices:
- Glad you had a great time in China Dad + Bev. We look forward to the 3hour photo session and 10minute story that goes with each photo when we get home.
- Glenn, Peter is keeping his eye on the Parra Eels and is very disappointed thus far. With the Swannies succeeding and having the games shown on the one TV channel we have, Australian Network he has fully converted to AFL, for the time being, unless NSW and Parra start winning.
- Grandma Steele we are glad you have been able to read our blogs and hope you heal and get home from hospital soon.
- Cam, we heard you and Matt went to a kickboxing show or tournament when in Sydney. Uncle Pete looks forward to getting home so he can have a battle and see your moves.
- Thanks Jenny for printing these out and posting on the church bulletin for others to read. We hear lots of feedback and indirect comments that people are enjoying the read. We find that hard to believe, but we’re glad and it motivates us to write.
- Matt and Claire, we trust you are enjoying our house and it's nice that we can share our home with you.
- Siarn and Lacey, was it planned together?? Pete would happily run a day care from home, now that we will have 7 kids in the complex!
- Dave, Pete had a bit of fish last weekend (photo below). Firstly on the boat and his line broke when a fish took the hook and snapped the line. Almost then caught a barracuda twice, when fishing from the sand. He is confident his first catch isn't far away.

This is highest point in Tarawa, Mt Eita. I'm not sure at what level they say 3metres, as the difference between low and high tide is 1metre. So it could only be 2metres at high tide or 1.5metres in a king tide!?! We like the slogan- "Rising seas, drowning islands. Save these isalnds! Yes we can."

Don't be fooled by the trick photography, Nicole here is a long way up that palm tree- at least 2metres. Only 25 to go, but too scared of falling to go much further.

We are well settled and enjoying life here. We’ve been here for nearly 3 months now, and we look forward to the next 9 and a bit. We’re making new friends all the time as new development projects commence, but losing them also, when those projects finish and the friends go home.
Ti a boo for now.