Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My First Day of School

Henry had become a creature of comfort in my new island home.  Though not nearly as attentive or affectionate as a pet dog, his alertness and allegiance to the morning sun proved his worthiness to the entire village.  Since our schools were located in the central village, most students walked to school. The little ones were trucked in from the northern and southern villages on the island council truck.  

After a morning bucket bath and some Milo, my morning drink of choice, I walked outside of my house to give Henry some leftover tortilla scraps.  "Mike!  Are you ready for the day?"  Ari'i shouted from his bwia. Startled and filled with nervous excitement, I replied "Yes, I'm ready!" 

Smiling back at me, he took one last sip of his morning tea before making his way towards the council truck.  "I am off to get the children now, so I will see you when I return."  I was used to a big yellow school bus in America, with seats and doors.  However, in Tamana, the school bus was an open aired truck bed.  

Older students began arriving from the northern and southern villages soon after he left, and I could feel their curiosity as they walked by.  Trying not to make eye contact but yet at the same time, wanting to acknowledge my presence, many waved as they silently passed my house, which stood on the edge of the school compound. 

No more than ten minutes after the truck departed, it returned with a full bed of primary students who shouted and waved "GOOD MORNING MISS," as they passed.  I reciprocated the acknowledgement by waving and shouting back "GOOD MORNING CHILDREN!"  Ari'i dropped off the children from and turned around to pick up the children from the other village. When he returned, three strikes on an old air tank signaled the start of morning assembly.  

Head boys and head girls led the organized chaos which ended up in perfect rows of students.  When all were seated, teachers went to the front of the lines and began morning assembly.  Julie, the head teacher started by saying, "Welcome back to school children!  This is the start of the second trimester and we expect that you all know the rules of morning assembly."  Calling attention to the class six rows, she implored younger class rows to follow the older students' example with hands in their laps, mouths closed, ears opened, and eyes on the speaker.  However, as so many times before, I could tell that my hairy legs attracted more eyes than I was used to in the States.  

Unlike the I-Kiribati, my Mexican genes gave me a seemingly overabundant amount of leg hair which amazed everyone from the youngest of students to the eldest of villagers.  With hands waving in the air, students shouted "Miss!  Miss!  Miss!" trying to gain my attention.  This made every teacher quietly chuckle.  "Children...Children, Julie yelled through a fit of laughter.  He is not a miss, he is a sir!  Turning towards me she whispered, "Please excuse them, many have never had a male teacher before.”  

The bell began to ring just as a little voice piped up from the crowd, "Sir, can I touch your legs?"  And with that the new school term began.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tamana: Week One

It took nearly a full week to get used to all of the amenities in my new house.  I had a water pump, two levels of living space, an attached roki, and a matted raised floor. But nothing could be better about my new home than the live, animated alarm clock that resided underneath my bedroom floor.  Henry was one of our friendly compound roosters who greeted me each morning at 6:00 am.

Henry regularly took pleasure in waking up the entire village from their slumber when the first inkling of sunlight broke through the walls of my house.  He led the symphonic blend of calls that came from other roosters, chickens, pigs, cats, and dogs.  Soon after stirring the village to life, people began to rise.  The men climbed up coconut trees with empty bottles in tow, to harvest the toddy that dripped from the palm branches overnight.  As they climbed, their clanking bottles added to the symphony of animals below.     

Below the men, mothers busily tended to their young children and lit morning cooking fires.  Teenage girls fetched water from the wells to prepare the day’s rice and morning tea.  Teenage boys mixed harvested coconuts, water and leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  When finished, they called out repeatedly, “Yah, yah, yah,” and almost instantly pigs came running to their feet as they poured the food mixture into old split tires. The younger children swept yards clean of fallen branches, fruits, and leaves. Such was the way in which village life began each morning.

Soon, Sunday dawned upon us, and the morning routine I had grown accustomed to ceased to exist.  Henry crowed as he always did, and stirred others to their usual grunts and squeals.  But the ensuing bottles didn’t clank, the fires didn’t light, and the children didn’t clean.  The only sounds I heard were steady streams of snores reverberating across the compound.  It seemed that everyone, except for Henry and friends, forgot that it was time to start the day. 

Nevertheless, I began my morning by fetching water for a bath.  Church bells began ringing while doing so, and within seconds the entire compound came to life.  Babies awoke crying, children began rolling up their mosquito nets, and parents hastily ran from roki to house with empty buckets for water. 

By 8:00 am, the road was filled with families dressed in their Sunday best, making their way to the church for the morning service. The service lasted for about one hour, and afterwards, different village groups hosted social gatherings.  Of highest importance was making sure that Sunday was a day of rest.  Some groups gathered to talk and play games, while others gathered to share food and watch movies. 

My teachers and their families gathered in the school’s mwaneaba to watch movies.  The mwaneaba was a great location as its constant cooling breeze and protective shade kept us cool in the 90°+ weather.  Towards the end of the film, my eyes began exploring the compound, and spotted an old basketball court on the edge of the school’s property.  I patiently waited for the movie to end before asking Meekei, my neighbor, if he would like to learn how to play a game called HORSE.  He agreed to join me, and so after we cleaned up all of the mats and plates, we made our way to the court.  We played several rounds before hearing the clanking sounds of bottles and hungry grunts of pigs. 

“Mike, I think we should go and tend to the evening chores before it’s too late,” Meekei said. “and maybe you can stay for dinner after we are done.” Agreeing to help with the chores and go for dinner, I picked up the ball and headed back with him.

Not too long after dinner, the sun began to set, leaving kerosene lanterns as the only sources of light for the compound.  Shadows of children could be seen making their way into mosquito nets in several of the houses that surrounded us.  I too eventually made my way back to my net, and listened, as everyone, including Henry, shut their eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Mwaneaba- Village meeting house
Roki- Bathroom