Flying back to Tarawa after only a week at site was strange. Though I appreciated having the opportunity to get more supplies and food for site, I felt mixed about leaving my new village behind. Tateta seemed like a good place, and I really liked my new co-workers. However, as it was stated, we needed to vacate the island for the good of all volunteers.
The four of us spent the first few days taking care of each other, contacting our families back home, and getting those last minute materials that we weren’t able to get before we left. After the first few days, all of us began to get a bit wrestles. I decided to visit the Ministry of Education to see if I could be of any use to the Ministry while I waited on Tarawa.
The only time I visited the Ministry was when Peace Corps took us. We met a lot of people who were very excited to have us working in the country. Therefore it only made sense to go to them and see if I could be of any assistance while I waited in Tarawa. I took a bus to Bairiki, and got off where I thought I needed to. Unfortunately, I missed my target by more than a mile. It was extremely hot and I was walking with a backpack. Thinking that I was close to the offices, I decided not to jump on another bus. Well, I was nowhere near the offices, and when I finally arrived I was drenched in sweat.
“Hello! Do you want some water?” a voice shouted from behind the counter.
“No thank you, I’m fine.” I explained my situation, and what I was looking for.
The voice behind the counter responded, “Please have a seat, and I will go tell Regina you are here.”
It was only a few minutes before Regina, the director of the Tarawa Educational Resource Center, came out to greet me.
“Mauri Tem Mike, you look like you could use a rest, why don’t you sit down in my office and we can talk about how can I help you?”
She was not aware of the circumstances which brought me back to Tarawa for an unknown amount of time, but was happy to help me find something to work on while there. We talked about the bilingual books I had developed with my brother in Maiana, and before I knew it, I was exploring curriculum resource development center with her. It was busy with people working on many different tasks. Some were making posters, others were proofreading texts, and even others were developing national curriculum modules.
At the end of my first week in the center, Regina invited me over to her house.
“Why don’t you come to my house, and we will have dinner with my whole family,” she said with the biggest of smiles.
Missing the comforts of a host family, I literally jumped inside and immediately said, “Yes!”
“Take the bus to the Australian High Commission. We are right across the street from them in a small white house. We will be ready for you around 6, is that ok?”
I thanked her for the invitation, and left the center early that evening so I could go back to the dorm and shower. When I arrived at her house, it was like nothing I had ever seen in Kiribati before. It had a full kitchen, complete with a refrigerator and stove. The house had multiple bedrooms and a bathroom with a working toilet and shower. Most shocking of all, the living room had a television and a DVD player. It almost felt like I was back in the United States. However none of these things impressed me as much as the dinner did that night.
“We call this KFC! You know…oh what is it? Kentucky Fried Chicken, no?” Regina said laughing. My eyes widened watching her niece walk by with endless trays of chicken and cold Cokes. After the blessing of the food, I was called upon to open the table.
“OK Mike, stick your spoon in the food you want to try first and we will all shout “Tekeraoi!” After this, the food will be open to everyone.”
Not wanting to waste any time, I stuck my spoon in one of the trays of chicken, and everyone shouted, “TEKERAOI!” and I opened the table and grabbed one piece of chicken and a large spoonful of rice. To her dismay, Regina said “Oh that is all? Please take more!” I resigned to my seat so others could have food first, but made sure to go back for more when I was finished so as to show my appreciation for the amazing food.
At some point during the meal, Regina told me about a restaurant in Fiji called Pizza Hut, and asked me if I knew how to make pizza. I told her that I had been making pizza in the dorm for the past week and had all of the ingredients in our dorm. The only things I needed were an oven, and willing hands to help make the pies.
Hearing this, Regina said, “Do you think you can come over tomorrow and teach us how to make pizza? My niece will help you.”
I was back at her house the following night making pizzas with Sarah. She was two years younger than I, and had one of the most interesting life stories I had heard on the island. She had fair skin, an I-Matang name, and was virtually fluent in the English language. It was her last year of senior secondary school and she was going to start university in Fiji the following school year. As we conversed in English, time seemed to fly by as we made pizzas for the family that night.
Soon, all of her little cousins came into the kitchen to watch us. Some joined us and helped to put toppings on the pies. Eventually we ran out of ingredients and had to go to the market to get more flour and cheese. The oven that was in the kitchen worked, but it was very small, so Sarah's mom went next door to see if we could use their neighbor’s larger oven in exchange for a few of the pizzas. Since I felt pizza was best served with a cold Coke, I splurged on Coke for the whole family that night. That night brought me closer to Regina’s family, and made me feel as though I gained another family in Tarawa.