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/

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