On January 4, 2018, our small team for the Kiribati Project arrived at the small airport on Tarawa. After three days of travel, we were finally there.
When the plane was still in the air, we had flattened our noses against the windows. In the midst of the azure blue vastness of the Pacific Ocean, which we had flown over for hours from Fiji, there was suddenly some pieces of land deep down there. Circular the shape, the tiny atolls arranged themselves on the caldera of an ancient volcano. Hard to imagine that there should be space enough for the landing of the jet. But there was space and we landed noisily. The thickest heat shot through the open hatches. After we had crossed the runway on foot and finally came to the customs office, the young officers began to use their mobiles frantically. From the office of the President they received the information: “Send them all back to Fiji.”
Already in the spring of 2017, we had taken care of the necessary papers for our work. The presidential office issued us a “clearance” in June that recommended everyone on the islands to support our work. On the basis of this kind letter, we had raised money for the project, received support from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Kiribati Consulate im Hamburg, Germany, purchased equipment, booked flights and applied for a ten-month visa at the Ministry of Migration of the Republic of Kiribati.
However, the ministry informed us by mail a few days before Christmas that our “clearance” only applied to three out of four of us (in the meantime, we had brought Christina into the team and told the local authorities all about that) and visa approval was impossible for us – altogether. When we asked the presidential office to adjust our clearance, they also declared it ineffective. Local politics had changed, we learned from friends from Kiribati. After many bad experiences with foreign filmmakers, the Ministry of Justice was asked by a new president to come up with new guidelines for approval a work – which may take considerable time.
What should we do? Our flights were booked. Our apartments were subleased or terminated. Claudia’s unpaid leave with her employer had begun and would last only for 10 months.
Time was running up. So we flew. (Friends we later met on Tarawa informed us, that that was the correct decision. The motto, they said, is, “Go and talk to the people. Everyone is listening to you here when you stand in front of them.”)
So we flew: twelve hours from Düsseldorf to Singapore. After eight hours of waiting almost as long again to Fiji and from there after three hours to Tarawa – and from there almost back to Fiji, where we were to be deported to.
The young officials seemed a little embarrassed by the presidential order. They looked at us with concern and argued with each other. They provided the little Maira (4 years) with cold water. And they were always on the phone. All the time. Again and again. Until there was suddenly said that we could stay. The next day, however, we should report to the Migration Office on time at 10:00 am. With whom they spoke and who spoke for us, we still do not know.
Friends from Kiribati patiently waited for us for two hours in front of the airport in the blazing heat. In a convoy they drove us through the unreal bright day along the only main road to the small shady house under coconut palms we had rented. On the ride, they joked and laughed a lot. They said, we just learned the most important lesson: patience. The second lesson, they said, were already the last one: It would be important to always be respectful and friendly. That is exactly how we will be treated if we stick to the rule.
Armed with these two lessons, we entered the migration office the next day and took the first step forward. We could legally continue to stay – as tourists, until the government has decided on our work permit.
So now we are forced to be vacationers in paradise. Which was basically the plan anyway. When Maria of the production sent us on the trip, she said: “ake your time. Get used to the climate and customs. Talk to the people. Find out what they need and who cares about your workshops. Build a network. Confederate. ”
That’s exactly what we are doing these days. And it is always overwhelming how much friendliness and helpfulness is brought to us in conversations. A few holiday photos and holiday stories Mark Uriona put on his blog. Click here! We’ll keep you up to date on how things are progressing.