I’ve been in South Tarawa, Kiribati, for one month now and time has surprisingly flown by in a part of the world where the pace of life is much more relaxed. It hasn’t been smooth sailing but I’ve been surprised by how resilient I’ve been despite these difficulties that would have been mini-crises back home in Australia…
Apologies for a long random post with grab-bag of what’s happened in the last two weeks but there isn’t much of a stand-out narrative over the past two weeks because of…
Kiribati has not as well blessed as other countries with natural resources – its small sandy atolls yield only coconuts and swamp taros, and an capital atoll struggles to adequately meet the water needs of its booming population.
Being imitangs (foreigners) brings immense privileges, and one of them is housing. I’ve been sharing with three others in a lovely house in Betio wrapped around a verandah with a lovely front garden. Sadly our stay at that house has come to an end as we’ve encountered significant water issues.
Bye bye Betio bunker – I will miss you, just not the constant water economising…
I acknowledge imitangs definitely use a lot more water every day and we take it for granted as water is always on tap and on demand. No one in Kiribati has that luxury. The wealthier get their water from water tanks with water refills delivered by truck by the Public Utilities Board or harvested from rainwater. The not so wealthy rely on well water, which draws on an overused fresh water lens of diminishing quality due to salinity and contamination.
With four of us, we had two 4000L water tanks but only one was operational. That meant we went through 4000L every week and had to order refills every week. It did not help that we had significant plumbing issues (toilet inlet and outlet, and laundry) which squandered a lot of the precious water. Each week was touch and go, limiting ourselves to military-style one minute showers, limited toilet flushing (once the plumbing issues were fixed), and be sparing in doing laundry (which is somewhat harder for a real ‘sweater’ like me in a tropical climate). Even with these economies, we still exhausted our supply.
So the quartet has split and I am sharing with only one other volunteer (the other two are a couple), but boy our new accommodation is a world of difference!
Our new home is a serviced apartment in a hotel with two locations. The air conditioning works so well the living area does not need additional cooling if one keeps the bedroom doors open. There is a little kitchenette area so we can still cook.
Living in the lap of (relative) luxury
We are paying extra but included in that is electricity, water, laundry, wifi and breakfast. There is a common area with satellite TV. It almost feels like we’re not in Kiribati…
Of course we would still like an extra few things to make the apartment more complete but these are relatively minor and can be fixed in time.
Kiribati is definitely a good growth opportunity for being more adaptable and resilient. Nothing comes easily here so ones savours them so much more when things do happen…
Living abroad in an unfamiliar environment typically means a pretty vibrant expatriate community. All types come to Kiribati so there are a wealth of activities to cover the breadth of people that end up on these shores.
I chalked up my first Hash with the Tarawa Hash House Harriers when the hash was held on Betio. Luckily the Tarawa chapter is pretty chilled as I struggle to get to a good pace even in more temperate climates, and best yet there are still post-hash drinks. I wouldn’t mind going to more hashes but right now without a car, traipsing the atoll at a top speed of 40 km/h on minivans that serve as public buses is quite restrictive…
I’m not hiding on purpose but we were pretty happy campers after the hash
The Australian High Commission in Tarawa takes its consular responsibilities seriously, and that includes the general wellbeing of Australians in Kiribati. The High Commission opens its pool and tennis/basketball court every Wednesday afternoon for Sports Day (which government ministries and my workplace also have on Wednesday). As one of the few places with a swimming pool (and suitable for the delicate imitang constitutions), being able to take a swim during the weekend has been a treat. On a larger scale, the High Commission also opens the chancery grounds for a monthly sundowner catchup over drinks and a sausage sizzle. Of course, these provides a forum to meet and chat with other Aussies, Kiwis and others who find their way to Kiribati.
Imitang arrivals and departures also provide an opportunity to have a botaki (party). These can be get-togethers at a bar or restaurant, or more often, held at someone’s home on a pot luck and BYO basis. That means each attendee prepares and brings food to share, and bring your own drinks or drinks to share. Despite the lack of variety and convenience in groceries, imitang have gone to great lengths to make a good spread. One botaki where the guest of honour was a vegetarian delivered with pasta, couscous, potato salad, chips (not crisps), fresh baked brownies and biscuits, freshly fried cheese croquettes or takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls), and a lovely cake.
Living in Betio does has an advantage in that it is home to the Betio Game Fishing Club, which hosts monthly fishing competitions that are taken very seriously. If you are lucky enough to snag a ride on one of the fishing boats, then expect an early start (3:00 am), no free-riding (all hands on deck to haul the fish aboard), and a long day with the weighing open to the public starting from 5:30pm.
Check out the 64lb sailfish – which equalled the annual record for sailfish but marginally less than the all-time record of 83 (?) lb.
The Game Fishing Club also holds trivia on the Thursday after the fishing competition. My flatmate and I went along and surprisingly won! Aside from kudos, each participant pays $2 into a kitty. The winning team gets to donate the kitty to a charity of their choice, and the team that comes second gets to write the questions for the next trivia. We donated the kitty to the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs.
Otherwise, socialising does not differ greatly from elsewhere with bars and restaurants providing ample opportunities to unwind and catch up with friends old and new.
One big hole in my social circle is the lack of i-Kiribati. These ties will take time to develop and I’ll need to put more effort into it. For now though, joining in extracurricular activities and chatting over breakfast or lunch are helping me to slowly but surely build those local links. Of course local botakis also help, such as…
Betio Day Closing Ceremony
Last weekend, I attended the Betio Day closing ceremony at the Betio Sports Complex, drawing an end to a month of festivities, workshops and competitions (including some mean break dancing) to celebrate 46 years of local government in Betio. The President was invited but once again was unable to attend. But that did not stop the rest of us having fun!
The closing ceremony featured awards for sports competitions, dancing school kids, and my favourite dancer from the opening ceremony.
Luckily I had worked up an appetite from moving to our new accommodation on that day as the catering spread was impressive including a whole roast pig and moist chocolate cake.
Array of home cooked dishes for attendees to feast on
The ‘hero’ of the catering spread – the only thing left was the head…
I no longer take fresh greens and cherry tomatoes for granted – this was a rare and unexpected find at a very i-Kiribati botaki
Nothing from the spread was wasted and the staff, sports competition clubs, schoolkids and spectators helped themselves to dinner and to leftovers.
This botaki wrapped up early which was just as well as I looking forward to finally be…
Wading to North Tarawa
Living in South Tarawa makes one truly appreciate the value of water for its life-giving and cooling properties. Aside from the potable water supply issues, I find that living in South Tarawa is a case of ‘water, water everywhere and not a drop to swim in’ as imitang like myself do not have immunity against what lurks in the waters around South Tarawa.
If one is desperate for a swim aside from a scant hour once a week at the Australian High Commission, imitang have limited options, the more feasible being:
- swimming on the ocean side of the causeway linking Bairiki and Betio and at high tide
As a geography nerd, tide charts and timings were a niche or incidental interest back home – it didn’t really matter as I don’t sail/boat and there are pools and beaches a plenty. But like many things in South Tarawa, even swimming needs some planning. Swimming at the causeway is impractical and the sweet spot is at the channel linking the lagoon to the sea in the middle of the causeway. The causeway itself is a mound of dust and gravel as it is currently under reconstruction, so there is nowhere to park unless you don’t mind walking 2-3 km from Bairiki or Betio on a dusty, narrow construction site. As inconvenient as that is, that doesn’t deter an Australian consultant who surfs there when the planets align…
Fancy this way for a swim?
Realistically that leaves North Tarawa…
Fortunately there is on part of North Tarawa that is accessible by car from past the airport. Another Australian Volunteer had a car for the weekend so we were able to wade across to Tabon te Keekee in North Tarawa for a few Sunday afternoon drinks.
This is looking north to Abatao, towards which we waded. I didn’t risk taking my phone across lest I dropped it.
Active life, active work
On the work front, I’ve formalised my assignment plan which is quite ambitious. I will have three main tasks:
- Support implementation of the local council’s strategic plan by identifying and seeking approval for key implementation activities
- Update council bye-laws, some of which were drafted from before independence in 1979
- Create guidelines on current and new bye-laws, and on how to create or update bye-laws and on how to enforce them
So despite all the idyllic pictures and relaxed pace, I won’t exactly be on vacation. I’m looking forward to what work and life has to offer in the 11 months ahead. For now, I think I have managed to achieve what I long missed – work-life balance! Stay tuned to see how well I fare in keeping that up!