Sunday, May 31, 2015

*49.4'N, 159*48.3'W

Tabuaeran (Fanning Island) is shaped like a lima bean and the Robert C. Seamans was positioned yesterday morning along the southwest shore, right at the cinch of its belly. Here, a passage connects the open ocean to the lagoon within. Those of us who signed up to go ashore on the morning run put on our land clothes and loaded up into "The Defender"-the inflatable rescue boat that serves as a shuttle while we're at anchor.

The waves rushing in through the pass as we made our approach were incredible. We were surfing 4 foot waves in our boat and racing to stay in front of them as they broke behind us. Although a bit nerve-racking, our cockson, Scott, brought us safely to the pier on the southeast side of the passage and we all climbed happily onto land.

A group of children was hanging out on the pier when we arrived and we quickly got to work practicing the little bit of Gilbertese we've picked up since arriving in Kiribati. The most important word: mauri. To move beyond hello, however, I was glad to have a list of useful phrases that Tata, a girl my age who I'd met on Kiritimati, had written out for me.

Antai aram?

The tallest girl of the group stepped forward and told us her name was Mary.

Irana am ririki?

Eleven! She said. Then quickly told us the ages of the younger children around her as well. The night before, some of us had been marveling at the fact that from Bermuda to California, we all speak English because of a small island off the coast of Europe. Here we were on an even tinier island in the equatorial Pacific once again reminded of the far-reaching influence of what for many of us is our mother tongue.

We ambled on past the pier, peeling off into smaller groups as we all found different footpaths to follow. We saw no cars on Tabueran; only bicycles and a couple of motorcycles. We also noticed that the many fishermen of the island were in hand-carved canoes rather than motorized boats. This made a lot of sense as our engineer Josh began to inquire after gasoline to replenish the stock we keep on board for the Defender and the rescue boat.

He found that there was no spare gasoline on the island because they hadn't received supplies from the capital in at over four months and they didn't know when the next supply ship would arrive. Tabuaeran is certainly less dependent on outside supplies than Kiritimati and our own RCS.

The people here receive much more rain than the islands just 2 degrees south of them and they have large water collection tanks positioned under several buildings to attest to this fact. The lush vegetation also makes this change in climate quite obvious.  Taro, bananas, and breadfruit grow all around in addition to a wide array of non- fruit-bearing trees (on Kiritimati I saw mostly palms).
As we crisscrossed the peninsula where most of Tabuaeran's people live, we saw many different houses each with a pig or two tied to a tree out front. I also saw cats for the first time on this trip and several dogs. We eventually came to the church on the open ocean side of the peninsula. The church is the largest building on the island and it was in this area that we saw the most people; many people gathered together in the open-air public structures that surround the church, taking refuge from the sun. On Kiritimati I had seen similar structures and a man told me that most of the church's congregation chooses to sleep in these community buildings rather than in their own houses. Right there next to the beach, it did seem like the coolest spot to spend the day.

We spent some time combing the coral rubble beach, trailed by a group of curious kids who giggled at our attempts at Gilbertese but happily played hide-and-seek (no translation required). Then we made our way back to the lagoon side of the peninsula. There, Alicia, Doug, and Erica went for a dip and met some nice people and we found Hannah who had been exploring by herself. She and I walked a little further along the lagoon side, enjoying the sight of the calm, turquoise water and white sand, so different from the powerful, dark blue waves and coral rubble of the other side. Too soon, however, we had to turn back for our 11:30 pick-up.

I would have gladly stayed the whole day on land but once back on the ship, we learned that our gasoline shortage would make further recreational trips to shore impossible so the few of us that were lucky enough to be on that morning boat were extremely grateful to have had the chance to set foot on this beautiful island even for a short while.

The rest of the day was still spent happily. Snorkeling and swimming right off the side of the science deck at an anchorage point further north on the island. The 2 knot current made us feel like we were in an endless lap pool as we swam just to stay in place and took on the challenge of swimming at a full sprint from the ladder on the side of the boat to the anchor chain at the bow.

This morning, one final trip was made to clear the ship and its crew through customs and also to share some writing materials, books, and soccer balls with the 38-student primary school. We were all happy we could share things both useful and fun with the children who had greeted us so warmly. They sang four songs of thanks for the four representatives of our ship-Heidi, Nick, Ryan, and Francisco (weird to call my dad by his first name)-and immediately broke out into a spontaneous soccer game.

As we all gathered on the quarterdeck afterward hear this story and to reflect on our time here, one thing I was thinking about that I shared with the group is that often times when people like us come to a place like Tabuaeran, where life is organized differently than it is back home-taro plots instead of supermarkets, hand-carved canoes instead of cars-we often talk about how it's like "going back in time." And it's just not true.

Although these traditions of agriculture and fishing are in fact very old-tens of thousands of years perhaps-this way of life is just as much a part of the modern world as ours. In fact, they live a day ahead of the rest of us. As I write this, we have officially left Kiribati and just gone back in time.

It is once again May 31, 2015 and we're on our way back to the U.S.

Until next time,


1 comment:

Dita Hutchinson said...

What a wonderful story - thanks for sharing the details about your interactions with the local community and the beautiful photos with us. Best wishes for a marvelous final week of your SEA adventure!