Sunday, 13 March 2011

First impressions...

This post will all be about our 'firsts'. Our first bus trip by ourselves, our first swim, our first church service at the theological college, Nicky's first, second and third tears. First venture out during an evening, second time in history Peter has had rice 4 days in a row ( 2007 - Thailand trip). But mainly firsts, firsts, firsts...

However, I will start with the scare of the tsunami warning as this has been a question we have been asked to answer numerous times. We were at dinner at the motel we are staying at, having a meal with Michael from Victoria who we meet on the way over from Fiji. He is here for 100 days to help promote and advance the sport of table tennis, which is the third most popular sport here, after weightlifting and boxing. He seems quite the adventurer with broad experience travelling around Europe, looks to be early 20's in age and number 15 in Australia for table tennis. Nicky and I both had mild headaches, a combination of the heat and dehydration I guess, except I have especially tried to keep the fluids up and have drunk more water than I would in Sydney. I would normally assume lack of sleep, but we are getting between 9-12hours a night (and could easily sleep an extra 2-3 hours). On that topic the locals, do not seem to drink as much water- How do they do it? Anyway, we were just chatting and I could see Nicky wasn't well... As a New Zealand Police Advisor then come in and turned the TV on in the eating area and he explained that a large earthquake had just occurred in Japan. He was staying at the hotel at the time which we are glad about because we may not have known otherwise. On the TV was the Australian Network channel (seems to be only channel available) which was broadcasting CNN or the like. By this stage the tsunami had hit and we were watching the second or third wave hitting the coast. As we continued to watch we saw the list of countries with tsunami warnings increase. When it included Hawaii and Chile (both on the other side of us from Japan), we did start to get worried. The only country it mentioned at the time in the Pacific was Nauru.

My headache started to get worse so we decided to return to our room. We messaged David, our in-country Manager and had the TV on in the room. Nicky was getting upset but I felt as Kiribati has managed to survive so many previous earthquakes and tsunamis, we would be OK. Just as we started to get ready for bed and pack our passports etc into a small bag in case we were evacuated, Nicky's father called to check we knew about the events and told us Kiribati was listed as a country with a tsunami warning. Given there wasn't much we could do, we hadn't heard of any evacuation and my headache was getting worse, we went to bed- at about 9:30pm I estimated...

Somewhere between 2am-4am I woke, I don't think I have ever had a worse (non-self inflicted) headache in my life! My whole head was pounding, it didn't even occur to me Kiribati was obviously safe. I staggered into the bathroom and ripped open some Panadol. An extra tablet accidentally popped out, but I didn't care and left it with the panadol packet in the sink. I managed to make it back to bed. I think I stirred Nicky and lay motionless until I could feel my headache, possible a migraine easing. I went back to sleep and woke about 9am but stayed in bed until 10am. When I got up I was happy to be feeling close to 100%. We had another call in the morning from Nicky's dad telling us we were safe. It was good to know, because we had no idea what time it was meant to hit, so we could have still been waiting for it. Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers during the waiting period. We meet another ex-pat at breakfast, Andrew that had come down from North Tarawa for his treat, bacon & eggs which they served at our motel. He hadn’t even heard due to his place being in a remote location, but did recall the surf during the evening woke him as it was particularly rough.

Now onto the firsts...

The buses here are 15 seater Toyota vans. There is a driver and conductor in each one. 2x islands have bus stops and on the other islands people just tell the conductor when they want to get off (Ikai!), pay their $1 or so (the price depends on how far you go) and get off. Our first bus trip was yesterday with David. He showed us where to get on and what to say to get off. Neither the vans nor roads are in a great condition, not that it stops the drivers from speeding and overtaking each other. It is a bumpy ride with windows open for a breeze. If a bus is full, it will just toot or flash its lights and keep going. Our first trip would have been daunting without David, because we don't yet know the order of towns or where to get off. There aren't many signs and we don't have a map, so we rely on landmarks and memory. This in itself can be a problem. If you remember the name of a shop as a landmark and there is more than one, as happened to a couple we met, who got off at the wrong shop with the same name as another.

Yesterday we went to a place up the other end of Tarawa called Broken Bridge to swim. It is called so because there is a broken bridge there. They could put "broken" on the front of a lot of landmarks here, but this one has a special name. We got a bus, some take away lunch as there isn’t food available where we were heading and then a lift to the far end of South Tarawa (about an hour to get there), then a little boat across to North Tarawa (50cents per person) and had a 1 hour walk in the heat to get to Broken Bridge. It is a popular place for ex pats. The water is clean enough there to swim, as the sea water runs through there at high side. Pete's boss Tess was there too and her 2 visitors from Perth. They are all triathletes, so didn't have an issue with the walk like we did. The water was warmer than the air, but it was refreshing to have the breeze on us when we got out. We then had another hour walk back to the boat in the heat again. I don't know how people exercise here- it is too hot! Maybe that is why people here are big.

This morning we went to church at Tangintebu Theological College where Nicky will be working. We wore white I-Kiribati clothing - both in white skirts. About half of the congregation were wearing that, but not everyone, so it obviously isn't necessary. We were told however, that whatever we choose to wear should have covered shoulders at church. They have an American Minister, who was quite good, Dr Rev David, he has spent the last +3 years preaching in the pacific. During announcements, Leslene, the Librarian introduced us to the church, which is made up mostly of the students Nicky will be lecturing twice a week. We then were asked to stand and introduce ourselves, we were nervous but everyone was smiling and nodding back as we briefly spoke. We also meet Stephanie after the service who is here volunteering as a physio through a similar program, AYAD. She was great source of information for social gatherings and even told us how we could source some soil to grow some vegetables and fruit! Both are hard to buy here.

One important lesson we have learnt about Kiribati currency is to save your coins! Given everything is mostly under $10, everybody wants you to have the correct or close to money. Coins are obviously valued more than notes. When we went to pay with a $5 dollar note for 90c at the Internet cafe, they wouldn't accept it. Also on the bus and when paying for food, they want the change in coins. Supermarkets we hope will be more accepting. If When you come to visit, please add coins to your packing list.

Even though it has been less than a week, we have already started to get an understanding of the culture (we hope!!). Unlike Samoan people who would be the first to wave and give a hello when passing, Kiribati people are shy and reluctant to initiate conversation. To begin with, you are generally ignored. It is only once you give the first smile, wave or "mauri" do they then respond gleefully. Children are the exception to this, they often yell out "hello" in English which is the only word they know.

There are a lot of dogs, a lot, a lot, a lot of dogs in Kiribati. Some are used as pets for security, others just wander the streets. They are all scrawny and some can be aggressive (although they've all been fine so far), so we've been told to bend over and pick up a stone and they'll run away. People here throw stones at them to make them go away. RCPA wouldn't like that very much. Our landlord has dogs, but we're told they will be fine when they know us. Another problem with having so many dogs is when one barks, 1,536 others start and you than know for the next 15mins you won't get any silence.

We moved into our new home today (lounge room and balcony shown above). It is a small one bedroom place, but bigger than the motel room we have been staying in. We don't have a fridge yet, so we can't buy any fresh food- not that there is too much to choose from. It should be here tomorrow, or the next day, or the next...  :)  It is on the lagoon shoreline. A location like this in Sydney would be worth millions. It is a great view and we have a balcony to sit on and enjoy it which is where we are finishing this post (photo below). In a way we are thankful we hadn’t moved in before the tsunami warning as the water is literally now 10metres from our back balcony, pity we can’t swim in it. We have 2 air-conditioners AND ceiling fans, although we have been told they are on the same electrical circuit so can only be run one at a time. Whoever invented air conditioning is a genius!!

Sorry this is so long, but people have been asking for details. Just quickly, the tooth filling Peter had a week before leaving is finally settling down, yeah for that!

We love to read your comments so get busy, but email us if you want any specific questions answered through the blog to

Pete, with lots of input from Nicky


  1. Thanks for all the information. It is wonderful!Maybe when we come over we can bring you a blow up boat so you can float on that lovely water.

  2. Who would have thought that there was someone out there who could write that much info and detail as my mum.
    The funny thing is that I read it all!
    Good to hear you settling into a new home with a lousy view. Can't have it all!

  3. I enjoyed your update. Keep them coming.

  4. Fab updates, guys - I'm getting a real feeling for the place already! I can pray for you with little photos of you in my head now! I loved asking people in the ioffice to guess (unsuccessfully!) what the 3 favourite sports are in Kiribati! Take care - thanks for writing the details and giving photos - awesome! love, Roz & UnitingWorld

  5. This is great news and information. I am soaking it all up. All the information will help me so much when I do eventually go there. I have decided to climb a big palm tree as my emergency tsunami disaster plan... would that work do you think?

  6. I'm glad you at least have the Aircon working, hopefully the Fridge will come soon. All were very concerned about you both with the Tsunami and all the devastation in Japan and elsewhere. Glad it was minimal where you are.

    God Bless,

    Ross Lindsey