Instead of arriving early in the morning, I ended up arriving in the late afternoon in the scorching heat of Kiribati, because our plane had had to return to Nadi with a technical problem. I was even happy we arrived at all, because there were rumours they would cancel the flight altogether. Anyway, once I was installed in my room in South Tarawa, I dropped my stuff and immediately went out for a walk. I had to taste the atmosphere, meet the people, experience this new country; I had that great sensation of curiosity that gets to me every time I start exploring a country I have not been to before. Even before I left the islet I was staying on, people greeted me, and the word "Mauri" quickly stuck to my mind - I could not yet imagine how many times I would say and hear that word during my stay. I also noticed that, after travelling the South Pacific for more than a month, the I-Kiribati looked definitely different. This is Micronesia, not Polynesia; I also observed quite a variety of faces. I saw people that would not have looked out of place in Indonesia or the Philippines, some even the Far East. The I-Kiribati seemed almost as curious about me as I was about them. Children stopped playing, stared at me, and girls turned, gossiped, and giggled while pointing at me. I soon found myself stopping frequently, chatting with passers-by, who seemed genuinely interested, and all of them had that optimistic, open, good-humoured attitude that I would come to love during my stay in their country. A group of girls was swimming in the high-tide water, just before sunset. Even though they were all dressed up, I felt I should leave them alone; but when I talked to another girl who turned out to be their friend, and took her picture, they all stood up in the water, and waved enthusiastically, almost begging to be on a picture, too. My walk had not taken more than two hours, but I had a big smile on my face when I returned to my hotel. I could not wait to meet more people.
Early next morning, I walked all the way from Ambo to Betio, which took me several hours. Walking is just a great way to get in touch with people, and this time was no exception. When I stopped to look at the small kids in a pre-school in Bairiki, I was invited in, and before I knew it, the kids were singing a song to welcome me, pointing their fingers at me. The teacher took the opportunity to teach them about my home country, and I was expected to deliver a short speech. The head teacher gave me something to drink and eat, and to top it off, I was given a typical Kiribati souvenir. When I crossed the causeway linking Bairiki to Betio, one after the other car and minibus stopped, offering me a ride, one guy on a motorbike asked me to go with him, while a cyclist even offered his bike to ride to Betio. It was a kindness that I was surprised to find in this most densely populated area of the country, and it made me wonder about the people further away in this vast country.
Indeed, during my visits to North Tarawa and Abaiang I was often touched by the generosity and the hospitality of the I-Kiribati. I would often be asked to sit in one of the houses, a raised, wooden platform with a thatched roof, while from the corner of my eye, I could see a son climb the nearest palm tree; before I knew it, I was drinking yet another fresh coconut. People invited me in for lunch, showed me around their school, took me to a shrine, even took out their scooter when they saw me passing and drove me somewhere just to be helpful. When I wondered if I should pay a truck driver, he stopped his truck and invited me in to his family compound where he proudly introduced me to his wife. Everywhere, people had a remarkable sense of humour, and you could often hear people cracking up with laughter - even in the early hours of the day, when a boat broke down, or when it was raining. I saw a women dragging a load of coconuts through the shallow turquoise waters of a lagoon, while she was loudly singing. To me, it gave them an aura of strength and resilience, and whenever I was worried about things that did not work out as planned, they lifted me up and turned around my mood. When my plane finally taxied out to take me away from the marvellous I-Kiribati, groups of them were standing next to the runway, waving us goodbye. When we powered off, it left me with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from I-Kiribati people (Kiribati). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to I-Kiribati people. Read more about this site.