Abatao

Officially we are still “tourists” and it’s weekend again. So we do the Cultural Tour to Abatao and get to know this side of the island.

Abatao is the second island of North Tarawa, and the first one that can not be reached via a bridge. It is already considered an Outer Island. It is a foretaste on the other remoter islands of Kiribati.

Unfortunately, the tides do not allow us to take a boat across the lagoon, so we’ll are picked up by a small bus and ride along the well-known road to Bonriki airport and then north crossing the adventurous bridge to Buota, the first island of North Tarawa. It is now the time of the incoming tide and the water that flows under the bridge into the lagoon is quite deep already. Children and young people use the dilapidated bridge as a diving tower, cleverly cheating past the barbed wire, which is by chances supposed to prevent exactly that. There is an exuberant atmosphere everywhere, it’s weekend, a day out.

We drive on a sand path to a small village. Here, most of the buildings are traditional and there is much more space, not every inch is used up for buildings, as we are used to from South Tarawa. We stop in front of a small Mwaneaba (assembly house). There, in various small groups, women and girls sit under the roof of leaves and are busy with various braiding. Kato, our companion, explains to us that this is just the work that everyone else is usually doing at home. But here it is demonstrated to us. “Demonstrated”. I get an uncomfortable feeling which I also recognize in the faces of the other members of the team. We did not long for these artificial situations. But now we are here and try to overcome the distance between us as tourists and them, being the demonstrated locals.

I sit down next to a woman who makes ropes of coconut straw and try it myself. Under some warm, encouraging laughter I try to extend the Coco-rope by twisting the material with my hands. It looked so easy and yet I need many attempts, until I finally succeed to some extend. My curiosity helps to break the ice. We start talking and I’m no longer a mere observer. I am fascinated by how they produce all the necessary items from the existing materials in a simple but sophisticated way, be it a watertight roof made of pandanus leaves, the ropes made of coconut straw or the most diverse types of wicker for mats with different specifications.

From the other side of the Mwaneaba I hear the cheers and the giggles around little Maira. They made her some toys out of palm leaves: a bird, a pair of glasses, a cube, a wristwatch for her arm, and a crown for her head. They tell us that the children here are not getting so much bought toys, but rather play with what is there and what is made with a lot of imagination. Maira is richly gifted and all tell us laughingly “ti a boo” (pronounced: [saboe] = Good by).

We continue to the “ferry”, which we will use to cross over to Abatao. There is a lot of traffic. On the small outrigger canoe furniture and bicycles are loaded. Unbelievable, what can be transported with it. Finally, we sit on the swinging boards, dangling with our legs in the clear water and enjoying the crossing.

After a short walk through trees and bushes, two surprises await us. We had been told we would visit a shell farm, which is exactly what we find. But this farm is not about nutrition but for a rare species of shells kept for its beauty and exported from this little place to all over the world to decorate aquariums. The smallest are no bigger than a fingernail others are bigger than a loaf of bread. They all shimmer in a variety of colourful shades from green to azure to the deepest purple.

Right next to it, a small bed of tomatoes shines, some glow red. Tomatoes are an absolute treasure here on the islands and we adults have to settle for the sight, but Maira gets a tomato presented and clearly enjoys it.

We spend the afternoon with swimming and eating in a place where we were already a few weeks ago and which comes very close to the traditional concept of a South Pacific paradise. Clear water with a white beach that leads up to a land under palm trees and breadfruit trees, where one is always surrounded by a refreshing wind. We get into conversation with Kato, also on topics beyond tourism.

At the end, she strolls with us through the adjacent village of Abatao. Again and again there are greetings: “Mauri Mauri” and short jokes and talks, you know each other.

From a treetop, we are being waved goodbye. We want to come back – and this time not as tourists.

(Text: Claudia Skodda, Photo by Mark Uriona)Officially we are still “tourists” and it’s weekend again. So we do the Cultural Tour to Abatao and get to know this side of the island.

Abatao is the second island of North Tarawa, and the first one that can not be reached via a bridge. It is already considered an Outer Island. It is a foretaste on the other remoter islands of Kiribati.
Unfortunately, the tides do not allow us to take a boat across the lagoon, so we’ll are picked up by a small bus and ride along the well-known road to Bonriki airport and then north crossing the adventurous bridge to Buota, the first island of North Tarawa. It is now the time of the incoming tide and the water that flows under the bridge into the lagoon is quite deep already. Children and young people use the dilapidated bridge as a diving tower, cleverly cheating past the barbed wire, which is by chances supposed to prevent exactly that. There is an exuberant atmosphere everywhere, it’s weekend, a day out.
We drive on a sand path to a small village. Here, most of the buildings are traditional and there is much more space, not every inch is used up for buildings, as we are used to from South Tarawa. We stop in front of a small Mwaneaba (assembly house). There, in various small groups, women and girls sit under the roof of leaves and are busy with various braiding. Kato, our companion, explains to us that this is just the work that everyone else is usually doing at home. But here it is demonstrated to us. “Demonstrated”. I get an uncomfortable feeling which I also recognize in the faces of the other members of the team. We did not long for these artificial situations. But now we are here and try to overcome the distance between us as tourists and them, being the demonstrated locals.

I sit down next to a woman who makes ropes of coconut straw and try it myself. Under some warm, encouraging laughter I try to extend the Coco-rope by twisting the material with my hands. It looked so easy and yet I need many attempts, until I finally succeed to some extend. My curiosity helps to break the ice. We start talking and I’m no longer a mere observer. I am fascinated by how they produce all the necessary items from the existing materials in a simple but sophisticated way, be it a watertight roof made of pandanus leaves, the ropes made of coconut straw or the most diverse types of wicker for mats with different specifications.

From the other side of the Mwaneaba I hear the cheers and the giggles around little Maira. They made her some toys out of palm leaves: a bird, a pair of glasses, a cube, a wristwatch for her arm, and a crown for her head. They tell us that the children here are not getting so much bought toys, but rather play with what is there and what is made with a lot of imagination. Maira is richly gifted and all tell us laughingly “ti a boo” (pronounced: [saboe] = Good by).

We continue to the “ferry”, which we will use to cross over to Abatao. There is a lot of traffic. On the small outrigger canoe furniture and bicycles are loaded. Unbelievable, what can be transported with it. Finally, we sit on the swinging boards, dangling with our legs in the clear water and enjoying the crossing.

After a short walk through trees and bushes, two surprises await us. We had been told we would visit a shell farm, which is exactly what we find. But this farm is not about nutrition but for a rare species of shells kept for its beauty and exported from this little place to all over the world to decorate aquariums. The smallest are no bigger than a fingernail others are bigger than a loaf of bread. They all shimmer in a variety of colourful shades from green to azure to the deepest purple.

Right next to it, a small bed of tomatoes shines, some glow red. Tomatoes are an absolute treasure here on the islands and we adults have to settle for the sight, but Maira gets a tomato presented and clearly enjoys it.

We spend the afternoon with swimming and eating in a place where we were already a few weeks ago and which comes very close to the traditional concept of a South Pacific paradise. Clear water with a white beach that leads up to a land under palm trees and breadfruit trees, where one is always surrounded by a refreshing wind. We get into conversation with Kato, also on topics beyond tourism.

At the end, she strolls with us through the adjacent village of Abatao. Again and again there are greetings: “Mauri Mauri” and short jokes and talks, you know each other.

From a treetop, we are being waved goodbye. We want to come back – and this time not as tourists.

(Text: Claudia Skodda, Photo by Mark Uriona)

“Un Toe” and clapping three times

It is Saturday evening. Since our arrival we have met many people and despite the short time already made friends. One of them is Kabuta, a pastor to be who likes to smoke and drink a beer once in a while and continuously invites us to drink Kawa with him. And today the time has come.

In advance, we discussed in the group who stays with Maira and Christina agreed to do that, which Mark and me appreciate very much, since we did not want to miss out on such an experience, especially since the Kawa bar is right next to us, barely 200 meters from our house.

Kabuta picked us up at 7 pm. First we dined together. Then we got on the way.

The Kawa bar is a simple house. Nondescript. Or not. Only a few hanging strings of lights and flowers make it different from the other houses around. We are the first ones to arrive there. Kabuta and one of the people of the house spread out mats on the ground. Another person starts with the preparation of the drink.
We sit in a circle. A plastic bowl with a liquid that looks similar to water-milled healing clay is brought to us and placed in the middle. Also a ladle and plastic cups for everyone. I already start recording the scene with one of our small cameras and will continue to do so in the next hours.

Kabuta explains: at the very beginning of the round, “Un Toe” is called followed by tree claps. Similar as in Germany, drinking cheers are said. The kawa ritual is a tradition from Fiji. The cup is to be emptied in one go. The stuff tastes like it looks, tongue and palate get slightly numb.

The bar fills up. Several groups join in and form new circles.
Again and again we hear “Un Toe” … clap, clap, clap.
A guitar is brought forward, out of nowhere. With only 5 strings. That’s typical here. Why? We owe you the explanation, but we will find out.
One plays. Everyone is singing along, often in polyphonic harmonies. It sounds perfect and yet spontaneous.
We play and sing too.
A feast.
Hard to describe. Quit an experience.

We look at each other and briefly discuss: the music for the documentary we have found here in any case. Although the Kawa music shall not be heard all the time in the movie, we certainly found the musicians to compose the future soundtrack.
Of course we give you a little sample here.
But we were not allowed to record much, and only with our camcorder, since we are (still) on vacation. 😉

In principle: holidays

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.”

What happened?

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.