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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tamana Island

A beautiful view of Tamana resting on the ocean’s surface several hundred feet below signaled the end of my four and a half hour journey.  This atoll was like no other I had seen before.  It wasn’t long, narrow, crescent shaped, with a lagoon in the middle.  Tamana was a small round piece of land in the middle of a deep blue sea. Coconut tree tops whizzed by as we touched down in the dusty field. I could make out Zenida, my new PCV island mate, waiting in a kiakia with a group of women as we taxied toward the brick building where many people were waiting.   Zenida and a bunch of people made their way to the plane as our propellers slowed. 

Tamana Island 1

Welcome to Tamana Mike!” Zenida was leading a group of women behind her.  “I want to introduce you to Elena, your head teacher at the primary school.”  Elena, was a short older lady with one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen.  “Mauri Mike! How was your flight?”  “Surprisingly long, and I am so glad to finally be here,” I responded.  “Yes I know it is a long flight since we are one of the furthest islands from Tarawa.  We are very excited to have though!  Do you have any bags?” “A few,” I said knowing full well that half of the luggage on the plane was mine.  “We have many people here to help bring your things to your house,” she explained pointing to a truck full of women and children parked by the brick building.  “Let me introduce you to the other teachers.”  As I was being introduced to all of them, a team of men were loading all of my bags onto the truck. 

The island’s climate was much different from what I had become accustomed to in the northern islands. The air was dry, the land was dusty, and the grass was brown.  Following tradition, we drove around the entire island three times to familiarize myself with the island and introduce myself to the spirits.  The island had three villages.  The northern was Bakarawa, the central Bakaakaa, and southern Barebuka.  Ten village groups existed within these three villages.  They frequently had social events in group canoe houses.  Though villages covered the island from north to south, all facets of northern and southern village social life (houses, maneabas, stores, offices, canoe houses, and the church) existed only on the western side of the island.  Bush land, where family burial plots and spirits resided occupied the eastern side of the island.  The center village, where the government station was located, spanned the entire width of the entire island.

After 3 trips around the island, we pulled into Bakaakaa, the central village.  Pointing down the road, Zenida said, “I live right over there.” As we pulled into the school compound, I could easily see her clinic from my house.  My attention quickly turned to the large locally constructed home with concrete shingles on its roof in front of us when the truck came to a complete stop. 

A young man who looked my age was waiting on the steps of my new house with a baby in his arms.  “That’s Meekei, my husband,” said Matty, one of the teachers, as she jumped off to take the child from his arms.  Meekei then came over and grabbed some bags.  “Follow me, I’ll show you your home.”  Jumping off the truck with bags in hand, I followed him up the steps to the split-level house.  He opened the door to an enclosed porch, and a bedroom complete with built in shelving.  Down the narrow hall was a large living room and stairs leading down to the kitchen, bathroom and indoor well pump!  I felt like I had won a housing lottery.  Once familiarized with the house, we headed back to the truck to bring more bags and buckets into the house. 
When finished, he said, “You must be hungry after traveling so many hours.  We have prepared some foods for a welcome lunch with all of the teachers and their families.”  He brought me to the school’s maneaba where all of the other teachers, and Zenida were.  Everyone tried to speak English if I was not able to understand.  For those who could not, Elena was more than willing to translate. I felt so welcomed and very thankful to have another Peace Corps with me!  I felt so fortunate to have everyone there!  I sat by Meekei’s family during the lunch and got to know them a bit more.  He was four years older than I, and had a one year old child, Nash.  Both not completely proficient in either one’s language, we chatted in Kiribati and English. Nash, and I became quick friends.  After only a short time he was crawling all over me, and seemed to be amazed with my hairy legs.  Most I-Kiribati lacked any kind of visible body hair.  There were a handful of other children darting in and out of the maneaba, noticing my interactions with Nash.  They made brief eye contact with me before rushing into the arms of their older siblings or parents.  Eventually, some made their way up to me and also began petting my arms and legs.  I succumbed to letting whoever was brave enough to approach, stare, and pet me.  To everyone’s amusement, I was covered with little ones by the end of the welcome lunch.

1: Photo Credit Jane Resture - http://www.janeresture.com/tamana/