BACKSTORY…After being a FIFO consultant for the Tuvalu Australia Education Support Project in 2000, I was asked to become the in-country Long Term Advisor for the Project. These are my postcards home describing my adventures!
What with the total crash of the ISP in Tuvalu and the amount of work I have to catch up on now that everything is in order (well, as close as it’s going to be I suspect!), I am resorting to writing a form letter again. Actually it’s a bit difficult to work out what I have been doing since I got back as the time has flown, 5 weeks back and I think another 5 to go before I come back to oz again (but more about that later).
So mostly in chronological order……
I arrived back from Oz to find that I was indeed the last remaining woman palagi resident on the island, but not only that –a number of the male palagis had also left for good. There are now only eight palagi residents on the island! It has occurred to me that, although I have strong professional connections with the Tuvaluan women, when the working day is over and they go back to their families I really only see them at functions. It’s a challenge but my social conversations are quite male dominated!
My office was completed but I still had no telephone or fax and the ISP went bottom up – hence my problems with communicating for a while. Things have improved a bit in the last few weeks as we now have free Internet access through Fiji and only the other day a telephone was finally installed in my office. Unfortunately, it is not a good connection and I still cannot sit in my office and send email as I keep being disconnected half way through, so I still have to pack up my laptop, carry it around to the main office and use the line there. I have been told that a phone /fax line will soon be installed in my room at the guesthouse, but ‘soon’ is the word that has been used frequently for the last 4 months! If it does eventuate I will let you know and I will be having a big party!
The first task I had when I got back was to prepare for the 2-week workshop with the year 1 and 2 teachers for social science. Considering I thought it was cancelled I only had about 5 days to prepare. Moreover, one of those days the power was off all day as the NZ guys doing the road hit an 11,000 volt power line when they were digging. It was a miracle that no one was killed! The next day I got locked out of my office and the next day the photocopier packed up. Soldiering on, the workshop went ahead and was a great success. Considering the teachers are not expert curriculum developers and that they have been giving up their holidays for the last 3 – 4 years, they did not complain about any of the tasks, or the heat, or the time – in fact they seemed to have great fun. I had all women in my workshop and when the men aren’t around they break out – even to the point of being outrageous. We did a lot of dancing (fatele) and singing and laughing during the workshop.
Sadly, during the workshop, one of my colleague’s daughters died (she was only 28 and 3 months pregnant), apparently of an epileptic fit. It really brought home to me the lack of medical facilities and health care here. At one point we were going to cancel the workshop so that people could attend the funeral but in the end we all decided to go to the ‘wake’ at the Nukufetau Falekaupule (the Nukufetau island community meeting hall) the afternoon before the funeral. It was then that I got a very sudden and unexpected introduction to island culture. As I walked across with a teacher friend (who was also a highly ranked member of this particular community) she handed me a bottle of perfume and told me to just follow her and do what she did. Perfume is usually used to spray dancers during the fatele so I was not sure what to expect. Perhaps there would be dancing I thought? I arrived at the falekaupule to find the mourners, in full singing voice, all sitting on pandanus mats around the deceased (who was covered with a sheet but with the head and shoulders exposed). As instructed I followed my friend around to spray the mourners and the deceased with the perfume. I was glad that she had not told me before what was going to happen as I was petrified I would trip over the mats or one of the mourners and I admit it was the first time I had seen a deceased person close up. Afterwards, when I sat down, I was shaking inside but at the same time I realized how honoured I was to have been asked to pay respects on behalf of the palagi community there and although, it was a very sad event, I also knew it was something I would never forget.
The following Saturday I was asked to attend the Nukufetau community island feast at the falekaupule by the same friend. It is an annual event to celebrate the establishment of the island trust fund. After the speeches, during which time I ate with the family and watched my friend make me a fou (flower head dress), we all gathered in the middle of the falekaupule to sing and watch the fatele. It was a great afternoon and once more a priceless experience to store in the memory banks.
The Queen’s birthday holiday in June rolled around and was celebrated with a parade of the police and the students from the maritime school. I just couldn’t work out why they were marching to the tune of the ‘hokey cokey’ (well, that’s what it sounded like!). In the evening I was invited to the Governor General’s ‘mansion’ for a feast and fatele by the Vaitupu community (one of the other islands in the Tuvalu group). The noise was unbelievable and the food banquet was sumptuous with enough lobster, pigs, fish to feed the entire village I think. The feast was ‘dry’ except when it came to toast the Queen, and the Governor General broke out the champers!
I have just realized that my social life sounds great and in fact for a few weeks there, I was invited to more functions than I had since I arrived. The First Secretary of AusAID was here with an official delegation from the Australian High Commission based in Suva, Fiji. It was his final visit and he threw a party at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, with heaps of good Aussie wine (that he brought with him as good wine is in short supply or non existent on the island). Most of the Aussies in town were a bit under the weather the next day! There was also a 21st birthday party where the birthday girl was paraded around the village dressed in traditional costume and we have also had a Margarita evening, when Eti managed to magic up enough lemons despite there being no evidence of lemon trees! Tonight is another Aussie barbeque and video evening….so as you can see I’m not able to get really bored.
All this sounds as though all I do is party and no work, but I have been busy catching up on the work that I couldn’t do in the first 3 months. I have the office equipment set up and working and I have been progressing on the development of support materials for the social science syllabus. I am also preparing for my first visit to the outer islands next Tuesday. I am off to Nukulaelae and Niulakita (apparently the most beautiful of the islands) to meet with the teachers who couldn’t make it to the workshop. I will be taking my video camera with me and so hope to get some footage to show/ send you.
I am settled now in a guesthouse back in the main village and have been able to unpack my TV and video as well as the kitchen equipment. It’s nice to be able to cook for myself and disappear into my room for a video occasionally. I also quite enjoy the daily trip ‘up north’ to Fetuvalu where my office is – except when it’s raining in which case I get very wet. I set off on my 50cc Daelim each morning and by the time I get to the office I have raised my eyebrows (Pacific greeting) or stopped to speak to at least 10 people. It’s the same on the way back. And as I drive along side the lagoon with the blue water and the coconut palms, the sun is shining and I think that for all the difficulties adjusting to this remote place, I am lucky to experience this at all.
That’s it for now, I think I have run out of news so…fetaui fakamuli (see you later!)