Weekend in Abemama

Weekend in Abemama

Two weekends ago, two friends invited me to join them for a weekend away from South Tarawa on the outer island of Abemama (pronounced Ah-beh-meh-meh). Approaching halfway through my year-long assignment, I relished the another opportunity to unplug and chill out.

Abemama is part of the Central Gilbert Islands in the west of Kiribati, 150 km south-east of Tarawa.

Abemama in relation to Tarawa. Abemama is in the bottom right corner of the map marked with a blue circle and ‘Binoinano’. Tarawa is in the upper left of the map marked with ‘Buariki’, ‘Bairiki’ and ‘Bikinebeu’. The island marked ‘Tabiauea’ is Maiana

It takes about half an hour away by aeroplane. An equivalent journey by boat would take 5-6 hours, which the volunteer program does not allow us to take for our safety.

Map of Abemama. The airstrip is in the far north of the island and our accommodation (Abemama Green-Eco Hotel) is marked with a white-bordered blue circle

We stayed at the Abemama Green-Eco Hotel in the centre of the main atoll at Binoinano near the Island Council chambers.

My buia (thatched bungalow) for the weekend at sunset

The hotel comprises four over-water buias (thatched bungalows) equipped with en suite bathrooms, sitting area with a day bed, and balcony, and six one double-bed enclosed thatched huts on land. The eating area also hosts satellite television and a pool table.

Most of the buias face the very shallow lagoon but mine faced a small channel linking the lagoon to the ocean.

Entrance to my buia for the weekend
Buia bedroom
Buia lounge area with a swinging chair and a day bed
Swinging away
Sunrise view from my balcony overlooking the causeway and channel linking the ocean (left) and  lagoon (right)

Compared to my two stays in Abaiang, the Abemama lagoon was so shallow that the water only came up to my knees even at high tide. That said, the channel was deep enough for swimming and with my buia overlooking the channel, it was easy to go ‘riding the current’ right on my doorstep by floating on the water from the causeway crossing the channel as the tide was coming in.

Motorcycle crossing the causeway crossing the channel
The causeway at sunrise

Aside from swimming, lounging around, drinking self-bought wine, and watching people playing pool, I went with my friends on a 29 km round-trip cycle to the southern tip of the main atoll.

Not a bad place to live, I reckon. The tenants, two Mormon elders on a mission, were fishing off the causeway
Journey’s end – southern tip of Abemama

Aside from its over-water buias with en suites, the Abemama Green-Eco Hotel also serves up dinners with surprising ingredients.  Fishing is the economic lifeblood of Kiribati and at no extra cost on top of the accommodation fee ($66 Australian per night) serves up fresh seafood delicacies for dinner – two massive lobsters for our first night and waro (mantis shrimp) for our second night.

Two massive lobsters stuffed with frozen vegetables with sides of breadfruit, pumpkin and rice. This was meant for just the three of us, who would’ve struggled to finish one. Luckily, two locals acquainted with one of my friends joined us and finished the rest!
Given the bounty, I had a whole lobster tail to myself
Waro (mantis shrimp) – still quite substantial but more manageable than the lobster #imitangprivilege

After much relaxation and merriment, it was time to return to Tarawa. My friends had a really late night and woke up at the time we were supposed to leave for the airstrip. Although this meant we could not go on the first flight, there was a special second flight coming ’15 minutes later’. The special flight ended up leaving with an hour delay, we ended up returning to Tarawa way before the first flight, which landed back at Abemama fifteen minutes after takeoff with a busted engine.

All in all, it was a lovely getaway with great company in a surprisingly comfortable setting. That said, while the actual accommodation was more imitang (foreigner)-friendly, Abemama on the whole seemed drier and more rustic than Abaiang, and seemed to have fewer natural or built attractions compared with Abaiang. I can see why imitang like visiting Abemama for a weekend getaway.

The first flight at Abemama airstrip (pictured) returned with a non-functioning engine and the flight seemed to be delayed indefinitely
Tia boo moa (Goodbye for now), Abemama
Advertisements

R U OK? Reflections one third through

R U OK? Reflections one third through

Am I OK?

I’m thankful for all the encouraging feedback from my last blog post and heartened others agree that experiencing the lows is not a unique or solitary phenomenon. In that post, I noted that the R U OK campaign has a good way for checking up on people who may seem out of sorts, as a way of helping others through the rough patches in their lives.

As it happens, today is R U OK Day in Australia and I wanted to expand on why I made in retrospect the rather clumsy link to it and what has happened in response since I last blogged.

While experiencing the lows of the living or working abroad is quite common, I am somewhat more susceptible as this is not my first time struggling to handle the lows of life. On a more general note, there continues to be a large and widening gap in mental and psychosocial wellbeing, despite the material and technological advances in the world.  I think it is important to highlight this is not unusual, and this is something that can be worked through.

So, to answer my own question: Am I OK?

A new haircut – a long-held whim, trying a more tropically-friendly do, or something deeper?

To be honest, I haven’t been and am still not, but I will be OK as I have plenty of support, help and resources.

Pensively admiring the sunset – captures part of how I feel

As I said previously, I knew coming to Kiribati, as would moving to any other country, would require significant adjustments. Nevertheless, I wanted to learn how to better manage when you have to live and work when things don’t go your way. What I did not count on was encountering several headwinds in and outside work, and also from home, and coping with quite serious culture shock (which I anticipated might happen), all at the same time.

My self-imposed timeout has last much longer, and the questioning had gone much further, than I had expected. It has also forced me to confront deep-seated emotions and shortcomings (perceived or actual), but without many solutions.

Despite crawling into a deep rabbit hole of discontent, I know the worst is over as I accept the discontent and doubt as mere thoughts that no longer distress me. I’ve also tried to address the headwinds I outlined last time:

  • Nurture and build on the activities I enjoy most, and the relationships I value most and where I feel most valued back – be more discerning about what I do and with whom I spend my time
  • Be conscious about not judging so much what I experience here in Kiribati but rather judge my reactions to my experiences – the only thing within my power to control is how I (re)act (to) in the world around me
  • I’ve discussed the work issues with the volunteer coordinator and the council and we are working to fine-tune the assignment so I can be of most use and value to Kiribati
  • Set my boundaries and advocate for my own interests more assertively and yet cordially, including:
    • providing unstinting what moral, emotional, and practical support to my family I can from afar until I can step up my support when I return to Australia at the end of my assignment
    • reframing ‘missing out’ as opportunities to recharge so I can be fully present when I with others (refer first dot point)
  • I’ve been talking with counselling professionals to tease through these issues and seek their help in identifying solutions

In particular (and of more interest to most readers) I’ve been doing several activities to get myself ‘on the mend’ through self-care and self-compassion.

Cooking

While I know how to make the fillings for, fold, and cook Chinese dumplings (jiaozi 餃子) or potstickers (guotie/gyoza 鍋貼), I don’t know how to make the dumpling wrappers from scratch. Luckily for me and two other volunteer friends, one of the Japanese volunteers is a deft cook who offered us what ended up being a masterclass in gyoza-making.

By carefully saving up and making do when groceries are not on-demand, our friend managed to whip up gyoza with chicken and (handmade) pork mince and cabbage. She then used some rice paper to make spring rolls with the leftover stuffing.

Gyoza dumplings hand made from scratch
Rice paper spring rolls made from the leftover stuffing

In return, I shared out some snap frozen fresh tuna that was very affordable compared to back home ($12.50 Australian ($9.13 US) per kilo).

1.8kg of fresh tuna straight from the fishing trawlers to us

More recently, I tried making dumplings from scratch. It was a marathon effort that took about 8 hours (mostly from shaping the wrappers from dough) but I managed to put together something tasty.  For some, cooking is a chore but for me it’s usually meditative, though this time it was an 8-hour meditative slog! 😅

My own effort at making guotie/gyoza dumplings

Exercise

Cycling

I’ve made a lot of progress since my last update. Not only can I successfully turn and break, but I can now cycle on asphalt or gravel. At first dodging the many obstacles (pedestrians, vehicles, animals and organic leavings) and turning right at intersections around Betio was very daunting.

Now though, I rode about 20 km in two rides when I returned to Abaiang for another weekend (see below) and another 20 km in one ride from Betio to Teaoraereke and back in South Tarawa. The only impediment is setting off smoothly instead of wobbling in fits and starts. Almost there!

My 21-something km ride off Betio and into the rest of South Tarawa
Made it across the Betio causeway still under construction 😨
I got as far as the western end of Teaoraereke

I’m really glad to have learned how to cycle in Kiribati. Practising mindfulness and being present when cycling around has helped me greatly to get through my personal doldrums.

Hash

Like cycling, I enjoy practising being in the moment and explored what is often for me new parts of South Tarawa when I go for a run during hashes. I also enjoy unwinding after the run by enjoying food and beverages too, though I’m not so enamoured with the cultish carryings-on immediately after hashes. 🙄

During hashes, I got to go down alleyways cheek by jowl among the dwellings where most I-Kiribati live in both Bairiki (next to Betio) and Bikinebeu in the eastern part of South Tarawa. A particular treat was seeing yet another spectacular sunset at the Otintaai Hotel in Bikinebeu.

Loving the sunset
… and loving the piggies (suckling or otherwise 😋)

Travel – Abaiang again

As part of self-care and self-compassion, I gladly accepted an invitation by two friends to join them on a weekend getaway in Abaiang. Once again I stayed at Terau Beach Bungalow. This time though, I travelled to and from Abaiang by speedboat. While the speedboat took two to three hours, at least I did not waste time waiting around for a short but very late flight.

Loading the motorcycle onto the speedboat at low tide – Kiribati style
Unloading the goods at Abaiang
Great to be back again at Terau Beach Bungalow

Aside from cycling in Abaiang, I enjoyed chilling out, swimming just offshore, supping on lobster, mantis shrimp (waro), and coconut crab, as well as the company of the three dogs, who were not at all like the mangy, scared, aggressive dogs of South Tarawa.

Coconut crab – though I wasn’t sure what you could eat of it, though good for stock or congee
Security, Bodyguard and IT snoozing. They all thoroughly enjoyed my neck and tum-tum scratches
Now I can cycle, I get to enjoy vistas like this beach in the southern part of Abaiang

I’m really glad to have returned to Abaiang for a relaxing weekend as it helped me to get over the worst of my lows with such lovely company.

_________________

For all the immense privilege of being here on a volunteering opportunity, I cannot say I feel at ease remaining here and I don’t feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I find myself questioning if it is right to continue, and questioning whether I would be content to return prematurely. Yet, I feel I am heading towards and the light and that this volunteering experience still provides great opportunities for significant personal and professional growth. After all, as a friend once said sympathetically ‘this is what you signed up for’ and she is completely right about that.

On a separate, and more positive (if not ironic) note, I have appeared on the Instgram feed of the Australian Volunteers Program (@ausvols) here as part of public diplomacy efforts.

… or here lest it disappear because of the irony or the multiple chin grin 😳

Finally, on an even more positive note, I’m off to another outer island (not Abaiang) for another weekend away – I hope you stay tuned!

What goes up…

What goes up…

I hope you will indulge me in a change of tone for this post, as today I’ll talk about the darker side of my time out here so far.

Generally speaking, humans like to show what they think are their best qualities and experiences, and want to see validation for those good points. This makes social media the perfect vessel for showcasing ourselves.

What I and many others are guilty of though is not showing the flipside of all the fun times. I don’t write this post seeking empathy or sympathy; I’m not aiming for a ‘woe is me’ or ‘trouble in ‘paradise” whinge-fest. But it is nonetheless important that despite all the pretty pictures there are downsides to being out here, as there would be anywhere.

These past two weeks have not been kind to me (and please forgive my attempts to be diplomatic)

  • Kiribati is a small place physically and socially, and for a rather introverted and reserved person, I feel like I am a square peg trying to find one square hole when I can only find round holes
  • The work practices here are very radically different in terms of the value placed on time and planning
  • Those that follow me on Instagram (@patinkiribati) know that a cat at work has taken a real shine to me. Pity I have yet to make a similar connection with the rest of my workplace
  • As I noted before, I have family back home struggling with increasingly uncertain and chronic health issues. It’s difficult to justify being here when I feel I am needed back home
  • I’m nursing a cold

I have wanted to do a volunteer assignment for years as a way to see if international development will take, so I really want to see the year out. But I feel I cannot indulge myself if there is not much to show for it and people are home seem to want/need me more.

I’m hoping the enforced time-out will give me mental space and clarity to sort out what I really want. I don’t expect to find sudden insight but here’s hoping.

I am lucky to have a tolerant flatmate and good friends who keep an eye out for me. I have also been using resilience training and mindfulness meditations to help me get past the really hurtful symptoms of my ‘Kiri-slump’. I’m also seeking help to talk through these issues.

These two weeks have emphasised to me that we all react differently to new environments and experiences. It’s important we celebrate not just the beauty and the good times, but also be alongside those who do not (or no longer) see the beauty or the good times. It also reminds me to take care of myself and have compassion on myself on how I personally am grappling with being here.

To that end, it will be R U OK Day in a few weeks’ time. I think R U OK provides a good foundation for checking up on someone who seems out of sorts.

  • Ask “Are you OK?”
  • Listen without judgment
  • Encourage action
  • Check in after a while

Having said that, don’t just go through the motions (as someone did at work to me last year blurting it out as I was engrossed in work and stressed), but do so if you feel comfortable asking and ask in a genuinely meaningful and care-filled way. As someone who has asked and been asked, it does mean the world to do so! It’s a timely reminder to be more present in how we and others around us are coping with highs and lows of life.

At this stage, I’d like to keep going as these are precisely the challenges I thought I might encounter. My tendency when faced with challenges is ‘flight’ but I want to ‘fight’ by overcoming them without burning bridges or putting noses out of joint as much as possible!

🤞🏼I’ll give myself enough self-care and self-compassion needed to get through this Kiri-slump. Note the key word ‘myself’ – I’m not fishing for sympathy although that is welcome but it is down to me!

Pushbike update

On a much more positive note, I have made much progress in learning how to ride a bike. I can balance, ride straight and turn.

I just need to get used to braking on my bike which has no handbrake. I tried going on the road but struggled with wobbly starts and over-correcting on obstacles (🚶‍♀️🚶‍♂️🐶🐖🚚🚗💩) but with some more practice I’m sure I’ll be fine.

A quarter way through

A quarter way through

Another delayed blog post but the past two weeks has been a whirl of social activity (and recovery), not to mention work!

It’s been three months and I feel I should have more to show for it. In my defence, the pace of life in many aspects is karaurau (slow) and relaxed – work included.

I guess I have made up for it in personal development, including one quite significant achievement which I’ll detail later 🚴🏼‍♂️

Guest turns host – family visit to Tarawa

Happy family snap on the way to Tabon te Keekee

When I sprung the news on my family that I planned to spend a year in Kiribati, I had a range of reactions from surprise to shock and scepticism. Yet when I told one of my two older sisters who now lives in the United States with her wife (my sister-in-law), she immediately seized the chance to arrange a visit to the Pacific, including some time in Tarawa. No amount of warning and expectation management could dissuade them from visiting, but in the end I was glad they did.

While Kiribati does not come to the top of list when one thinks of Pacific paradise, my sister and sister in law’s short stay gave all of us a lovely opportunity to see the best of South Tarawa.

At the Cultural Museum’s Maneaba

Inside the World Mosquito Program’s Kiribati lab at Tungaru Central Hospital. The World Mosquito Program is releasing mosquitos with dengue fever antibodies that aims to breed out dengue carriers.

Lovely fish lunch at Tabon te keekee

Dramatic late afternoon vistas from Dreamers Guest House in Ambo with an approaching storm

Stormy sunset sundowner off Parliament Bar at Ambo

Another postcard worthy sunset from Koakoa’s Corner in Antebuka

I also had the opportunity to show my sister and sister in law where I lived and worked.

World War Two relics from the Battle of Tarawa in Betio

Posing at work

They both found their short trip eye opening and valued the opportunity to see somewhere they otherwise would not have been.

Swimming at Broken Bridge in North Tarawa

The weekend after my sister and sister in law left, my flatmate and I went up to North Tarawa for a swim at Broken Bridge off Nabeina. This meant a 11km round trip walk from Abatao (where Tabon te keekee is located) through two channels at lowish tide to cross Tabeiteua before reaching Broken Bridge. The water there was deep enough to swim even at low tide.

Broken Bridge between Tabeiteua and Nabeina in North Tarawa

An office mini-refit

On the work front things are slowly and surely progressing. I’m working with the council to conduct consultations on their strategic plan, and I am developing guidelines and workshops on how to enforce their current bylaws.

Meanwhile, my office has had a mini-refit in the three months I’ve been here, including a welcome addition that smacks of #imitangprivilege 🌬❄️ 😅

My work room: before and after

A week of social activities – rinse and repeat

While I can appear to be engaged and outgoing, I am at heart an introvert who needs down time to recharge. This assignment also provides yet another personal development opportunity to be more sociable and be more extroverted, taking people and activities as they come. Luckily the people I meet are on the whole very open minded and easy going, so it makes meeting lots of people much easier.

Mondays: Hashing around Betio and Bonriki

After a relatively relaxing stroll for the first hash at Betio, my flatmate and I were keen to try out the next Hash House Harriers event at Betio. But it turns out the relatively mellow vibe of that hash was an exception as the keen-bean coordinators had since come back from abroad. With their return, the hashes took a more ‘cultish’ turn.

The next hash was scheduled for the Monday after my sister and sister-in-law left Kiribati and as it turned out would be held in Betio. As my flatmate and I live in Betio, one of the coordinators was keen to involve us by becoming hash ‘hares’ whose task was to set the trail for the hash. My flatmate and I thought this would be easy enough and we sketched out a trail on our smartphone map app.

The trail we set going up and back from the wharf and past Red Beach – manageable at 5.2 km

Not so easy was marking the entire trail before the actual hash with one of the keen bean coordinators, something my flatmate was smart enough to sit out. This mean walking/jogging the whole route and chalking the sidewalks with arrows and circles.

That aside, the Betio hash drew a good turnout. Most hashers do not live in Betio so they appreciated the opportunity to see parts of Betio they won’t normally frequent (most non-Betio residents come for the shopping). In fact, the runners got to see a lot more as the coordinator that marked the trail took the runners on a long cut.

7 km!

I also ended up jogging most of the trail and surprised myself in doing so. Of course, I went on the original trail so it was not so arduous (albeit very sweaty).

The coordinators seemed keen to have my flatmate and I continue hashing so after just two hashes (instead of five), we both got our hash nicknames. Frankly I could have come up with a better one for myself (something to do with sweating buckets or my Cheshire Cat grin), but my flatmate’s one actually work literally and assignment-wise. I won’t give it away here but near below…

My flatmate and I also took advantage of the public holiday on the following Monday to jog the hash around the airport at the other (far eastern) end of South Tarawa in Bonriki/Temaiku. Normally attending a hash this end would be very tricky straight after work, so I was glad to actually see more of Bonriki/Temaiku. I was particularly chuffed to attend the hash as an aviation geek, even if it was a slog of a jog at 8km for non-runners like my flatmate and I.

Hashing around Bonriki/Temaiku

The runway was also part of the trail so I geeked out with photos and a selfie

Ping-Pong and Goldilocks are knackered on the runway after slogging through almost 8km.

Another silver lining was the excellent fried fish served with breadfruit chips and french fries at the end of the trail.

Having jogged two trails, I don’t mind attending more despite my default wariness towards anything cultish…

Tuesdays: language lessons

Since I arrived in Kiribati, I’ve wanted to learn the local language Taetae ni Kiribati (Gilbertese). Aside from doing more to integrate while I live and work here for a year, my workplace for all intents and purposes is a Kiribati language working environment, including all written documents. If nothing else, it will help me better understand my work colleagues and environment.

Through socialising, my flatmate and I have started language lessons with the I-Kiribati wife of an Australian who came here as a volunteer and loved it so much that he married a local and is living here with her and their three kids.

I’d stay on if I got to enjoy views like this from my backyard. This is what the teacher and her husband see everyday.

We’ve only had one lesson so far but hopefully this will help with doing the best we can to fit in.

Wednesdays: Sports Day

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Australian High Commission generously open up their grounds most Wednesday afternoons for Sports Day – soccer on the tennis court and swimming in the pool.

Before we got a car, getting to the Sports Day was a hassle with a long wait for a bus to leave Betio. The usual bus pattern is several Betio-only buses and then the rare off-Betio bus would skip you as it would be full. Rinsing and repeating this could lead to waiting for 30-45 minutes.

My flatmate relishes the chance to join in the soccer. As a particularly uncoordinated imitang with a bad track record in team sports, I look forward to the one guaranteed clean swim of the week.

Thursdays (once a month): Trivia

As noted in a previous post, my flatmate and I also attend trivia every first Thursday of each month. Last time, we came second by half a point. Not a bad thing except the team that comes second also comes up with the questions for the next quiz.

Fridays/Saturdays: night out

At the first Friday of every month (previously the last Friday), the Australian High Commission organises an informal social gathering with drinks and sausage sizzle as part of their consular care. The ‘Sand Bar’ offers a great start to the night with the potential to head off to the other bars and inevitably finish in Betio the next day at 2am!

Movies under the stars

A friend of mine in Temaiku in the far eastern end of South Tarawa invited us to her place for outdoor movies. A lovely way to cap off the weekend under stars and a gorgeous view.

Y’all probably getting bored by the sunset vistas but they are seriously beautiful. This is what my friend in Temaiku gets to enjoy every day.

Update: learning to ride a pushbike

Since revealing my personal challenge about a month ago, I’ve practised almost every day to learn how to ride on a bike by friends who recently returned home.

I first started by trying to glide and get my balance in the courtyard of our accommodation. For a week or so this was a real struggle, but eventually I could glide across the parking lot only need to scoot when momentum slowed.

At that stage I tried pedalling but surprisingly by the third session I can pedal in a straight (enough) line from one end of the parking lot to another. Now to learn how to brake and turn and I’m almost good to go cycling around Betio. Wish me luck and hope I don’t stack it!!!

Abaiang Weekend

Abaiang Weekend

Apologies for the delay but I’ve been fortunate to have my sister and my sister-in-law visit me this last week so my focus has been on spending some quality family time.

Immediately before that, I had recently returned from an idyllic weekend getaway on the neighbouring atoll of Abaiang just north of Tarawa.

Abaiang in relation to Tarawa. My Betio Walkabout post puts Tarawa and Kiribati in context.

For those who make it to Kiribati, I strongly encourage you get off Tarawa (South Tarawa even more so) to explore the other ‘outer’ islands. For most South Tarawans ‘home’ is one of the outer islands, even if they have lived their whole lives away. Getting out of Tarawa gives one an opportunity to unwind from the stresses of the big smoke and also to see a lifestyle that is still close to the roots of what it is to be I-Kiribati.

Aside from that, Abaiang is stunningly picturesque. I’ve applied no filters to these pictures, so the scenery speaks for itself.

Postcard paradise

Islet to the northwest of the lagoon (pardon the imitang)

Panorama of the northern tip of the atoll

After the showers in a northwestern Abaiang

There are two ways to get to Abaiang from South Tarawa – by boat (2-3 hours) from Betio or by plane (15 minutes) from Bonriki. There are pros and cons to each method.

The boat is cheaper, runs daily, consistent and for those used to keep to time, generally less prone to delay. There are also two options for alighting at Abaiang (or so I am told). There is a speedboat and slow boat. The downsides are the lack of life vests and overcrowding. A tragic accident at the start of 2018 focused minds on these shortcomings.

The plane is certainly safer and faster in journey time, but the time savings evaporate thanks for its unreliability – the flight rarely leaves on schedule and flight times are inconsistent as the few aircraft of Air Kiribati do heavy duty flying all over the Gilbert Islands. We had a 1 hour delay heading to Abaiang and a 2 hour delay flying back to Tarawa. Also we were not told our flight to Abaiang was leaving at 5:00pm instead of 3:30pm as noted on our ticket.

Given the safety issues on ferries, Australian volunteers are generally encouraged to take the plane, and must do so if the boat trip is longer than three hours.

Domestic plane travel reinforces the overall education imitang (foreigner) expats receive in patience.

‘Are we there yet?’

As a plane geek the brief but delayed flight was worth the wait. We got to glimpse through the cockpit to see the plane land on the dirt and grass airstrip.

Ti a boo (bye bye) Tarawa

Landing in Abaiang – with the gravel/grass runway in view

Indulging my aviation itch – the plane prepares to take off from the gravel grass runway


It’s not often one gets to step onto, let alone get a selfie on, an airstrip

After a swift disembarkation, we finally reached our accommodation for the weekend – Terau Beach Bungalow.


Terau by Twilight




Terau by Day – postcard worthy with no effort on my part

Terau Beach Bungalow is not just a picturesque base to explore Abaiang but the ever hospitable and enterprising hosts Kaboua John and Sinai absolutely impressed me as friendly and very driven individuals to help develop Kiribati in a organically sustainable fashion by making the most of what is available.

I was lucky enough to see the low-tech agricultural innovations that Kaboua has developed through experimentation.

Plastic waste disposal and recycling is a big problem here and yet Kaboua has found a nifty and green solution to reusing plastic bottles for growing edible plants.

Kaboua has introduced milkfish to the babai (swamp taro) pit so he can use the fish waste infused pit water hydroponically.

On his own initiative, Kaboua is experimenting with different types of compost to determine which one is best suited for food production.

If organic agricultural pursuits weren’t enough, Kaboua also uses drone cameras to promote the best of Kiribati.

Having seen the drone in action and Kaboua’s agricultural pursuits, we hopped onto a boat to head off to the picturesque outer islet of Terio (sic and unsure if it is) for fishing, swimming and snorkelling.




#pictureperfect #nofilter


The rocky ocean side


Crabs and eel on the rocks

Fishing Trevally for our lunch

The multi-talented Kaboua even showed how to karate chop coconuts open.

Two afternoon showers could not spoil what was a blissful relaxing day. Two pictures – one towards the start and the last introducing the islet – attest to the beautiful surroundings, rain or shine.

The next day I went on a motorcycle tour to the northern tip of Abaiang. Enroute I was treated to views of down home rustic idyll Kiribati style. I love the windrush you get from whizzing past and something I hope to repeat as I learn to ride a pushbike (progress: I’m gliding and balancing for 3-4 seconds – slow and steady wins the race 🤞🏼).



Reaching the northern tip of Abaiang, I was treated to more spectacular views.

Local good luck charm – put on the wreath and smear your face and belly with sand. Sure beats the alternative imitang protection – buy some Irish tobacco and offer it to a statue which was the local spirit…

Views from the tip

On the way back we stopped by the Catholic Cathedral whose German-built stonework sticks out like a sore thumb when most buildings are made with simpler materials.

Cathedral of Our Lady – churches in Kiribati do not have seats inside. Worshippers sit on the floor.

There was a couple also staying at Terau around the same time who wanted to have lobster, so that is what we had for lunch for $15 before we headed for the flight back to Tarawa.

Haute cuisine Kiribati style

Our return flight arrived after a two hour delay. Nothing unusual with flying in this part of the world. The best part of the short flight, which took us back to a dark and rainy Tarawa, were the kids sitting in front and behind us. The kid in front was fascinated by the boats and scenery as we were approaching Tarawa through the squally rain, but his brother behind us was so cute. On seeing Abaiang slip away, he kept waving out the window saying…

Ti a boo! Ti a boo! (Sa-boh!): Goodbye! Goodbye!

The weekend away in Abaiang was lovely in so many ways – I’ve come back relaxed and recharged and ready to forge on.

Though in my case, when it rains it pours as the very next day I turned from guest to host with the arrival of my sister and sister-in-law. Stay tuned for that in the next blog post.

National Day five-day long weekend

National Day five-day long weekend

I should be back at work after a mostly relaxing five days off from three public holidays but instead I am nursing myself back from a persistent headache and stomach ache. Resting at home is slowly and surely helping with the recovery.

But we’re not here to wallow in my infirmity. Last week was a two day work week with Gospel Day on Wednesday 11 July, National Day on Thursday 12 July and Culture Day on Friday 13 July and the weekend.

The Government has organised a week of events and festivities including sporting competitions for soccer, volleyball, weightlifting; and talent competitions for youth dance, traditional dance and singing. Events culminated on the Thursday with the National Day parade and an invitation-only National Day banquet.

Now that my flatmate and I have a car, we were able to check out a few of the festivities.

On Monday night, we went to Bairiki to check out the youth dancing competition at the National Stadium. Hip-hop was the flavour of the times, as was surprisingly high-tempo chipmunky music and dancing.

So tempted to double the tempo!

That’s more like it!

Safety first folks – the competition moved off the stage as the stage carpeting could not be straightened, creating a trip hazard.

On the Wednesday public holiday, my flatmate and I went to the civic centre of South Tarawa, Bairiki, to watch the sports competitions. The I-Kiribati take a lot of pride in their weightlifting prowess, which has helped them secure medals at the Commonwealth Games. Luckily, we got to see the women’s competition as that sadly has a lower profile.

The women got up to lifting 70 kg

There was also a soccer match at the National Stadium which we enjoyed after ice creams from across the road (one gets to recognise and savour the simple pleasures in life here).

The National Stadium is the site for Kiribati’s National Day Parade, which took place the next day (Thursday 12 July) from 6 am. Perhaps we have assimilated a bit too much by thinking the parade would not start punctually and that we would not miss out on it if we went at more sociable hours. Unfortunately no pictures from the parade as it started more or less punctually at 6:10am and the official proceedings finished around 8:00am.

While we failed to rock up to the parade on time, we still made the cut for an invitation by the President to the National Day Banquet at the State House that afternoon.

Much obliged Your Excellency but ‘Island formal’…?

Island formal top

Island formal bottom 😥 I actually did not bring any formal shoes so my flatmate kindly lent his. I am of course truly thankful but let’s just say it was a very snug fit!

The National Day banquet was a hallmark of Kiribati botakis. There were:

  • The bookend speeches by the President (who honoured us with his gift of poetry)
  • Dancing with dignitaries, and
  • More formal dance performances – finally some traditional dancing (performed by the winners of the week’s dancing competition)

The food and drink were plentiful – alcohol was on the tab and flowed freely but there was a real melee for the generously stacked buffet tables.

Feeding frenzy under the maneaba. As an aside, I’ve changed my buffet eating strategy here, foregoing the high value seafood and aiming for the even rarer fresh fruit and vegetables!

Festive cakes – the I-Kiribati love their icing

After two failed attempts to meet the President, I finally got to shake the President’s hand twice on arrival and at the end of formal festivities (he was kind enough to let us stay for another two hours afterwards)

But no selfie – that honour goes to another Australian Volunteer

The night was still young and we ended up going to after parties further down South Tarawa

The National Stadium was heaving with activity at night

A bit too early for this (so says the imitang that sang thrice 😅)

Dancing at the Otintaai (Sunrise)

After a rather active week, we ended the weekend with a casual get-together in Bairiki with gorgeous sea views and a scenic Sunday drive to Buota in North Tarawa.

Lovely seascape from the eastern tip of Bairiki

Tintin’s trying to catch flies

Buota Lodge – looking out to sea

Sunset from the Betio Causeway

Hopefully I’m on the mend as this weekend my flatmate and I will be flying off to an outer island. But I’ll leave that for my next blog post.

Freedom and personal challenges on six wheels

Freedom and personal challenges on six wheels


Freedom on four wheels…

A short blog post for a short work week ahead of three consecutive public holidays – or a five-day long weekend – to celebrate 39 years of Kiribati independence. Stay tuned for that on my next blog post.

With exquisite timing, my flatmate and I have a set of wheels to check out the Independence long weekend festivities, culminating on the big parade on the day itself – Thursday 12 July. Beyond that, the car truly is freedom on four wheels. Trips to other parts of South Tarawa won’t be at the mercy of random and patchy minibus services. We can even drive to Buota and explore the southern reaches of North Tarawa to relax and swim.

So that’s freedom on four wheels, but where’s the challenge?

With the car, my flatmate finally got around to buying a pushbike. With a pushbike one can carry or ride it across the channel at low tide to explore further into North Tarawa. It’s also a good way to exercise outdoors and go explore South Tarawa.

… and my personal challenge on two wheels

This is all easy for many but I an one of the very exceptional people who does not know how to ride a pushbike. I tried as a child and twice as an adult but I gave up too easily and did not persist.

My flatmate has generously offered me use of his bike so I can finally learn – probably because my falling out would also offer great comedic value! A friend of mine will also give me her bike when she leaves in a few weeks, so I have no excuse with a bike of my own. I may bruise easily from falling badly and falling often but I am determined to learn and succeed.

So this year isn’t just about overcoming working challenges but also overcoming life challenges. Sure, pay me out for missing out on one of life’s rite of passages, but I’m hoping this public accountability will give me the extra push to make this third time lucky. Join me for my pushbike personal challenge progress and probably a lot of PKing (仆街 pook kai in Cantonese) – literally falling in the street and figuratively suffering absolute humiliation! 😁