Monday, 30 September 2013

Pacific Specific - Kiribati /kɪrɪbæs/

The national flag, a frigate flying over the sun rising over the ocean.
The three white stripes depict the country's three groups of islands; Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands.

'So the children and pigs have time to get off the runway' was the answer to my question, 'Was that Tarawa? Why did the plane fly past it?' There used to be a fence around the airport's grounds, but now I notice the chicken wire has made some very nice pens for peoples pigs', explained a visiting airline consultant in a 'well, what can you do' tone of voice. This was unfortunately not the tone of the AQIS official's voice when I presented my I-Kiribati handicrafts at Brisbane airport three weeks later. 

Coming in to land at Bonriki International Airport, Tarawa

The nation comprises 32 atolls and a raised coral island totalling 800 square kilometres dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres of Pacific ocean.  'It's where??' I'm frequently asked. 'Due east from Brisbane, turn left at Fiji, it'll be a minute dot under you three flying hours later.' Or, 'you know where the date line does a whoosie? Well that's it, the date line goes around so the whole country is on the same day.' Perhaps the most accurate; it's at the junction of the dateline and the equator. 

When I was a child, I loved the enormous (probably not so big now) globe at the Subiaco Municipal Library. My brother and I used to play 'where do you want to go?' and we'd spin the globe. I almost always landed in the middle of the Pacific, so disappointed was I to have landed 'nowhere'. Little did I know that 'nowhere' was one of the most wonderful adventure destinations I was to one day visit.

It is the fourth least visited country in the world. As Kiribati is predicted to be the first country lost to global warming, the inhabitants are preparing to migrate to higher ground; Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Therefore, English language teaching was to be improved through an AusAid sponsored project, of which I was fortunately involved.

The main road……the only road.

Well, I would've been lying if I'd said I wasn't shocked. I had never in my life seen anything like it. I understand now when they say “Kiribati, for travellers not tourists”. I really had no idea what to expect. But first impressions were shocking. It was very dirty and the bad smells made me dry retch. On the other hand it was really wonderful in that it was like nothing I had ever seen before and incredibly beautiful, something only seen at the cinema. The people were out playing in the streets (60% of the population are children). There are animals everywhere. The hotel is so basic, things we take for granted like shampoo, bathmats, drinking water, reliable electricity and water were absent.

Surprisingly the 737 was full. Most of the people on the plane were consultant aid workers or locals. There was a group of about eight tourists who had come for the 66th anniversary of the bloodiest battle in USMC history, which took place here on Tarawa. A new airline “Our Airline” took it’s maiden flight  arriving yesterday but unfortunately was unable to return victorious and was still grounded with the tool kit out.

Swimming at the broken bridge
Fri 20th of November

Our hotel (Otientaai) is famous amongst the ex pats as being a real dive. The staff don’t wear shoes, the breakfast buffet hosted four ingredients; cornflakes in their packet, cartons of UHT milk, sweet white bread and the most spectacular local fruit,  god knows how it got it’s two star rating?? On this day it was the anniversary of the infamous battle and the hotel was full of gung ho Americans. It was 2000 USMC marines who were mowed down by the Japs over a very short period. The yanks misread the tide and their amphibious landing was a real disaster. If it was any consolation to them most of the Japs got killed too. Lovely. Nice to hear from the gore hungry tourists that Red Beach is still littered with human remains.

The teaching is going well I have to test 30 student teachers for their English language ability. It’s good experience for me as I find testing such a difficult thing to do.  In addition, I am helping the student teachers to write lesson plans and to prepare for their teaching prac which I will then observe and test in a week. This is really the best way to find out about Kiribati and the people and culture. I already have students lining up to practise speaking English with me which means invaluable time one on one with the I-Kiribati people.

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