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)


  1. Great update Pete and Nicole. Sounds like you are almost at I-Kiribati speed right now....just like the locals... into a nice relaxed lifestyle. It all sounds so familiar and reading between the lines both fabulous and challenging at times. You are right about not missing the Christmas hype; it all gets a bit much. Enjoy the rest of your time and keep up the great work you are doing. Love from Peter and Wendy