Monday, January 23, 2012

Christmas on Butaritari

Ok, time to get these pictures posted. I found it very difficult to put this post together. Think the experience was too personal ... and there were too many pictures to choose from. Hard to leave anything out. Anyway, here it goes.

Butaritari is an atoll about 180 km north of Tarawa ... it's the northern most extent of Kiribati. And it is amazing what differences that short distance makes.
Arriving at the Butaritari airport ... security is not needed ... one big happy family here. Think the white buckets are waiting to be loaded for their trip back to Tarawa. Anybody with kilos left on the baggage limits gets to help transport goods ... I think I had about 6 luggage tags .... for my one bag! No wastage when it comes to transport. "Do not carry packages for others" does not apply here!
On Butaritari there is a lot of wreckage and other debris left over from WW II.
Someone commented on another blog about how disrespectful they thought the I-Kiribati were for not having more respect for those who lost their lives ... sometimes the remains have graffiti on them. My comment ... it wasn't their war ... two countries invaded theirs to have a war ... and left the remains, with little respect for the I-Kiribati. How about they do something to rectify the situation?
Japan and Kiribati have erected some plaques, etc to honour the fallen ... the fallen regardless of their nationality ... I didn't find any plaques from the US being here.
Butaritari is probably the wettest atoll in Kiribati. This is the main road that runs most of the length of the atoll. Those specks in the distance are chickens .... of course they could as easily be pigs, dogs, or cats!
We (myself, Mollie, and Deborah) did get caught in a downpour our first day there. To get out of the weather, we ducked into an almost empty maneaba (community meeting house). Within a few minutes some local boys (men?) approached us. Tiimi (above in the yellow lavalava) speaks English and before long had organised a game of te vinti for us to play. It is a pool-like game using plastic disks and a flat board covered with powder. Think Mollie and Deborah were especially happy to join in ... Tiimi got a lot of their attention!
Christmas Eve started with truck loads of people arriving from villages all over the atoll. At least three church services were held on and around Christmas.
On Christmas Day there were as many people outside the church as inside.
No Santa Clause, no Christmas lights, no Christmas trees, no presents, no kids unhappy because they didn't get what they asked Santa for, no day long TV football games, and no huge meal to over-indulge in. Amazing, without all the merchandising, there was also no stress! What there was ....
... was three days of singing, dancing, and about 150 people sharing the maneaba ... and inviting us strangers (I-Matangs) in to be part of their families. One local couldn't imagine a Christmas where everyone went back to their own homes and spent it alone. I think he might have a point!
The singing and dancing was actually part of a competition between the different villages. The I-Kiribati who are born to dance actually go into a trance-like state (probably like being "in the zone" in basketball?). The two on the left were especially powerful. The look in their eyes said it all! Some of the dances brought the dancer to within centimeters (inches) of me! Sometimes wasn't sure whether I should be afraid or not! No harm came to any spectators!
The hand made decorations were especially beautiful ...
The plastic decorations were very colourful, but just lacked the personal touch. I guess in this type of competition it is not practical to make all your own decorations.
Another past time I participated in was drinking kava with the locals ... some of which were missionaries. The kava here tasted much better than that on Tarawa .... the locals assured me it was the water .... Butaritari has very nice water ... the kava still looks like dish water ... and really doesn't taste too much different, I bet! As one priest told me, "You don't drink it for the taste."
One day I gave my camera to one of the local girls who had befriended us, and asked her to go around and take some pictures. Every time I got my camera out, I was inundated with little kids! She came back with some interesting shots. I liked this man's T-shirt ... "Living the Dream ... Beer Judge"! I think the girls are his nieces.
I thought this shot of her's was especially nice.
The three girls who befriended us were all about 16 and had or were attending school on Tarawa. From left to right ... Kerekeata, Ruute, and Benateeta. One evening I went with them around to several villages to see if we could acquire 6 bicycles so we could all go for a trip the next day. That may sound easy, but the bicycle is the main way they get around, and if you break one, you may not ever be able to get it fixed. And to take six ... that would almost paralyse their day's activities! Anyway, we did manage to acquire the bicycles, through the very kind nature of the people, and spent one day taking a tour of the length of the island. Think we traveled about 70 km (almost 50 miles).
Thanks goodness the atoll is flat! The particular bicycle above had about 3 ball bearings left in the rear hub! The owner was very proud we had used his bike, and even came to the airport when we departed!
Around the atoll are several shrines erected for various purposes. This one, I think, marked the spot where the British first landed. Another marked the sighting of The Virgin Mary, and others were of WW II significance.
We also met many of the girl's relatives. This is Benateeta's auntie in her kitchen making pancakes ... they were very good, too! The big pot in the front contains boiling babai, a yarrow-like plant root. The bai bai is under the plastic bags and coconut. Haven't taken to it as my favourite food, yet!
One person Benateeta was especially interested in me meeting was her Grandfather, because we are of similar age. I'll never forget the look on her face when she commented that her Grandfather and Grandmother haven't been able to walk for some time ... and here I was riding a bicycle around the atoll and doing all sorts of crazy stuff ... I will be printing this picture and taking it too them sometime soon.
The kids of Butaritari are typical of Kiribati kids! They love to have their pictures taken ... then look at the picture on the camera ... don't know what they did before digital cameras! Many of my pictures had a funny blurry spot in the middle ... when I finally looked at the camera, I found a little fingerprint right in the middle of the lens! Think they are threatening me that they are going to do it again! Or they are proclaiming their innocence and asking me to check their fingerprints! I think the boy with the light coloured shorts is the guilty one ... he's not showing his fingers! ;-) Just love these guys ....
This is Kereke I-Benson, a little over a year old. Don't think he has seen many I-Matangs! When I asked about the "Benson" in his name, his mother said that is his Grandfather's name ... I mentioned that I have Bensons in my family ... and maybe we are related! She suggested I should meet his Grandfather .... he's "just over there." After walking through about 3 or 4 other villages, I was able to meet his Grandfather, who spoke very good English ... but was definitely I-Kiribati. He told me how 3 Benson brothers had come from the US before the War, and each settled on different atolls and married local women. One even started the Church of God on Tarawa . You never know ....
One treat we often have is moimoto, the liquid from the inside of a young coconut. Deborah was especially fond of it!
Well, it is very good ... and so pure it was injected intravenously during a cholera epidemic, I am told.
Another popular drink is toddy ... the sap collected from the top of coconut trees. The blossom (I think) is cut in a special way and fitted with a bottle the toddy drips into. Each morning and night the toddy collector climbs the coconut tree to retrieve and replace the bottle. While doing so, they sing special songs to let the women below, who might be using the area for a toilet, know they are not just up in the tree to perv on the women! Hearing their singing in the morning and evening is very relaxing.
This bottle of toddy was almost full when we stopped at this primary school ... in about a minute or less, the girls had nearly finished it! A very popular drink.
Some also leave it for a day or so, as it ferments and becomes "sour toddy" ... haven't taken to it yet, either!

What else comes to mind when I look at this picture, comes from a comment by Marita about domestic violence on her blog ( ... "2 out of 3 women in Kiribati are subjected to violence" ... on some Pacific islands, 50% of the women's first sexual experience is rape ... when we were riding along on bicycles, one man in his 20s looked at Rute in such a way shivers ran up and down my spine ... these bright girls have aspirations, they have futures and dreams in mind that just might change Kiribati ... and all that could be dashed by one man's greed for power or sex. 2 out of 3 ... oh how I hope all of these girls escape that statistic. And all others, as far as that goes.On a less sobering note, I-Kiribati are very creative and resourceful. I don't know if this is unique here, but it is a great way to add gutters to a corrugated roof ... cut a slit in the PVC pipe and slip it over the roofing. Works well.
And, if you are given coconuts ... this is a bit of scaffolding behind the Catholic Church across from St Peter's Square.

Something new .... I want to show you the uninhibited laughing from the belly that is so common among the I-Kiribati. So, I am going to attempt to add a video ... never tried that before! I asked Deborah to do something funny to get the girls to laugh ... I-Matangs dancing always makes I-Kiribati laugh! Hope you can see, or at least here what I've uploaded. Thanks Deborah for being such a good sport!
If all you needed to do to be healthy was laugh, I think the I-Kiribati would be some of the healthiest people in the world!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Miscellaneous Marakei

OK, time to finish off my section on Marakei
The following are semi-random items ...
if I spend any more time, I might miss something!

I-Kiribati are very creative and resourceful.
Here is a lady assembling a head wreath ...
Te mae.
The finished product.

They make one for visitors when they depart, or
attend special events.
I have 5 sitting on my counter at the moment.
Just wish there was a way to preserve them ...

Here is a dance that was put on for us by one of the villages.
They were practicing for the upcoming Christmas singing
and dancing competition.
Of course, we had to dance as well ... they love a good laugh!
The sillier you are, the better!
The locally built native canoes are said to be
among the fastest in the Pacific.
To reverse directions, the sail is just unattached from
one end, and attached to the other.

The coconut ... so many uses ... deserves its own posting later.
Here a man is preparing some muimoto for us.
The liquid in the coconut is so pure it was injected
intravenously during a cholera epidemic some time ago.

Waro are yummy! Put one of these on the barbie!
Also known as a mantis shrimp.

I think these girls were on their way to church ...
though it seems they usually wear white to church.
They are happy and gorgeous, none the less!

Best way to get around Marakei ...
because it is a circular atoll and you can ride all the
way around in one day.

Maintenance is something that doesn't get
high priority from what I've seen in Kiribati.
Of course, it could take months for a spare part to make it there
... and they are expensive.
Heard of one man having to take out a loan to get a door
for his house ...

The Marakei Airport
Doesn't have to be too flash if it's only used a couple hours a week.
You don't even have to take your shoes off at security!
Wait! Most people don't wear shoes!
You do see some interesting things here ...

Pilot and co-pilot?

Next to the airport is a little village where we found the
friendliest people ... do these 5 sisters
look a little cheeky, or what!
Trying to get them to all look at the camera as the eldest took
our picture was fun ... the girls on either side of me
are Mo Mo and Sara ... the other's names
were much harder to pronounce and remember!
Funny thing was, we were there the day before and didn't
see any of these girls ... but several other kids ... who
I didn't see this time. Happens often!

A lot of hand labour here ... but everyone pitches in to help.

They were only repairing the bridge ...
that's right ... there is no concrete mixer in the picture.
Everything was being mixed by hand!

And if you need a new roof or fence ...
all the family helps ... age is not a problem.

Even the police are helpful!
Here the chief officer is loaded with our backpacks ...
he took them to the airport so we could walk the distance.
I was hoping he didn't get stopped for being overloaded!
Not that that ever happens!

Lastly, even though this wasn't taken on Marakei ....
when we returned, we were invited by the MP
from Marakei, to join him at the president's maneaba.
President Tong asked us to sit next to him and offered
us a beer ... even though it was VB, I couldn't turn it down!
Where else could you sit next to the president ...
and be offered a beer!
I was very impressed!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Marakei ... a sad side

A small cemetery on Marakei ...
What struck me was that the majority of graves were very small.

"There are currently sixteen doctors providing specialised medical care in Kiribati, with sixteen more scheduled to join them. Cubans have also offered training to I-Kiribati doctors. Cuban doctors have reportedly provided a dramatic improvement to the field of medical care in Kiribati, reducing the child mortality rate in the country by 80%.

As of September 2008, twenty I-Kiribati were studying medicine in Cuba, their expenses paid for by Cuba, with more expected to join them as Cuba increased the number of scholarships provided to Pacific Islander medical students. In December 2010, it was reported that thirty-three I-Kiribati had studied or were studying in Cuba, of which thirty-one were studying medicine."

The US removed its Peace Corps operation a few years ago, supposedly because of the "dangers" faced by its volunteers. Just so happened, it was the same time the Chinese left. With a change in government, there has been talk of the Chinese coming back ... guess what ... now there is talk of the Peace Corp returning.

I'll let you form your own opinions ...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Marakei ... the people

The following are randomly (more or less) placed photos of some of the beautiful people of the atoll of Marakei. It takes far too long to try to move them around on this blog ...
not the friendliest thing to work with!

The Mayor ... and chief tour guide!
They look after you very well on Marakei ...
and they adorn you with handmade head-dresses.
Singing and dancing are a specialty of the
I-Kiribati ... and they often want you to join in!
It's rude to decline!
You won't go hungry, either!
Waro are especially tasty ... as was the lobster, chicken, pork,
and of course, the fish!
Put a couple of those on the barbie!
Gracious (and happy!) hosts ...
Quench your thirst with a little of the liquid from the coconut ...
so pure it was injected intravenously during
the last cholera epidemic!
A few of the locals we met ...
Her husband is a seaman who trained at the centre
where I work ... after 18 months of training, he gets to spend
another 11 months at sea! I asked her where he was, "At sea."
She had no idea where ... Marakei only got mobile phone
service the weekend we arrived!
She also has a 3-4 year old child who has probably
barely (if at all) seen his father.
Sending money home from overseas employment
is a major source of revenue for the country.

This gentleman liked my sunglasses!
And he looks almost as good in them as me! ;-)
Motorised transportation is as economical as it gets ...
No space is spared ...
Three is not uncommon ... the kids must
have terrific balance!
Did you ever have trouble getting your kids to make their bed?
Here it has a whole different meaning!
Just like the rest of the world ...
it's the youth of Kiribati that are it's future.
They are happy and love to have their pictures taken.
They are cheeky, too!
They don't make big demands ...
this girl played with the day's catch for a very long time!
Digging for sand crabs ... much more exciting
than any video game ... and useful!
And the older kids take care of their younger siblings ...
More smiling faces ... these kids tried to teach me
some Kiribati ... most speak a little English.
I don't think "dangerous" is a word in Kiribati!
So, can you help save my country from perishing due to climate change?
Can you reduce your carbon footprint just a little?
Really? You can't do with a little less,
so that we can just have a home?
Will my country even exist by the time I'm old enough to have my own family?
Don't you think I'm worth it?
Don't you think we deserve a little of the planet, too?
50% of the population of Kiribati is under 15 years of age!
That's about 50,000 kids who will have families in the next
15 years ... they start young here ... life expectancy isn't that good.
What does the future hold for them?
Some things are just too valuable to be about profit.
It's more in your hands ... than theirs.