Friday, 25 March 2011

Time for an update

We know you've all been glued to your computer in anticipation, so here's an update on our life in Kiribati.

The Australian High Commission has a (fake) grass tennis court (and a pool!) that they open up on Wednesday evenings for ex-pats (and some locals) to play soccer. We went last week and met heaps of young Aussies, most of who are living here either as volunteers like us or working for AusAID. We have since seen many of these imatangs (white people) again around the street, for lunch at Betio and at Captains Bar, which is the only pub here that ex pats frequently visit. Captains is in walking distance from our house, which is handy.

There is also a more competitive and male-only soccer match on Friday evenings at the soccer field near us. It tends to be imatangs against locals. Pete scored a goal in his first game there (photo of game above). The soccer field has no grass and like everything else here, it is just sand/dirt. It recently had lines marked with melted car tyres before the game. There are real soccer goals, but no nets, the game was quite serious with a referee and linesman. On that point, a French navy ship has been docked in the port here, apparently heading for Hawaii. Yesterday we saw the French navy team playing against I-Kiribati guys on the same field. The French team were fully decked out with matching shirts, proper socks and shoes. Some of the I-Kiribati guys were wearing matching shirts, but at least 50% of them we playing bare foot. The I-Kiribati team were winning by 2 at half time and the French team were getting quite annoyed, plenty of talking and hands in the air. That was pretty entertaining for everyone on the sideline. They played just like their national team, complaining to the ref every 5mins...

We were sitting on our balcony the other night when a mini coconut type fruit came flying at me out of the darkness. It was as though someone standing on the beach had thrown it at me, but no one was there. Odd. We think it must have just been a funny gush of wind that caught it just as it was falling from the tree. We than had a big storm that night that woke us up and the bin toppled over on the deck. When Pete went to check what the noise was, he saw the washing that was on the line barely holding on. We saw a pair of shorts get whisked away in the wind. He ran outside with bare feet and in his pjama shorts doing circles in the yard trying to find it. Remembering what happenend early in the night and given there are numerous coconut trees, he grabbed a towel and wrapped it on-top of his head. Im sure it would have looked quite funny seeing him running around checking anything that resembled a pair of shorts with a towel on his head in the wind and rain. Eventually he gave up when the dogs started to stir. He found the shorts the next morning. The top peak of our balcony maneaba (like a traditional hut-like pergola) which was held down by rocks and string came flying off much later that night in the same storm, but there was no other damage thankfully.

On Sunday afternoon we went with Tess and some girls from her running group to Carrier's on North Tarawa. The cabin section of the truck was full, so Pete and I sat in the tray of the truck. I know that would never be allowed back in Aus, but it is very legal here- even the cops do it. It wasn't overly comfy (especially when going over speed bumps), but was fun and the breeze was nice. You can only drive so far on South Tarawa before you hit water and the road doesn't go any further. People walk across at low tide. It was high tide when we arrived, so we paid 50cents each to get the boat across. We all ordered real cappuccinos (double shot). The local girls didn't like them. They're used to instant coffee with heaps of sugar ("soka" in I-Kiribati). We played some volleyball while we were there. It was heaps of fun. Sport seems to be a good ice breaker when there is a language barrier.

I joined the running group for a 6am run on Monday. They go every Mon, Wed and Fri morning. I missed yesterday because I slept in, but will join them tomorrow. They run along the causeway where there is plenty of room on the side of the road (you could almost call it a footpath) and no dogs.

Speaking of dogs, we had a scary experience when we got home from dinner out the other night. Our driveway was really dark and there were a few barking dogs between us and our house. Those dogs don't belong to the landlord. They're either neighbour's dogs or strays. They saw us coming and barked even louder. We tried to go around and shoo them away, but one went a bit crazy and was closing in on us, growling. We've been told to bend over and pick up rocks to throw at them to make them go away. Someone had swept the dirt clean, so we couldn't find any rocks. We were panicking, thinking we were about to be attacked, when I found a small lump of cement. I yelled and threw it at/near the dog and it landed with a thump on the ground. It didn't hit the dog, but stalled it long enough for us to run up onto the deck. By this stage the dogs that actually live here were barking at us as well and blocking our front door. We thought "here we go again" this will be the end of us, but then they recognised our voices and calmed down. Our hearts were pounding for about 10 mins after we ran inside. We've told this story to people here who don't seem to think anything of it. Dog bites are fairly common, so you need to be careful. We're up to date with vaccinations, so we should be fine. It is more the fear of the agression of the dogs themselves than fear of the bite hurting that worries us. I'm so glad we have fences and leashes to control dogs in Aus.

I feel really sorry for female dogs here. The male dogs want to impregnate any females they can find. Our neighbour's dog has a broken leg, so she can't run away from the males. There is 1 particular big white dog that seems to have taken a liking to her. Poor thing.

A ship arrived on Sunday, so I was able to buy fruit and veges yesterday. Yay! I bought 2 different kinds of apples, a pear, kiwi fruit, oranges, grapes and potatoes. We have been able to buy small sugar bananas on the side of the road, these seem always in supply. We heard they are grown on another island and imported in.

We have been going to lunch each day at the same place in Betio called TKT. Our lunch group seems to grow each day. I think the employees/owners there are getting excited that we're expanding the business, but they don't cope very well with the numbers. They never had enough forks for the first few visits, but they seem to have acquired some more.

Until next time... Tia boo.

From Nicky with a little assistance from Pete.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Cooking in Kiribati

If you don't eat fish, you will probably go hungry in Kiribati. There is plenty of fish and other seafood to be caught around Tarawa which forms the stable diet here, evidence with the 5x fishing vessels planted on our horizon. You get tuna and many other deep sea and reef fish. We are advised to keep to the yellowfin and black skipjack tuna, as well as wahoo and morikoi, as they are generally safe to eat.

Thankfully, if you're not a successful fisherman (like either of us), there are plenty of other people that will happily catch it for you and sell them at a bargain price (approx. $1 per pound). This little beauty in the photo was the smallest of 3 black skipjack tuna we purchased which cost us $8 all up. They fed 5 people plus plenty for leftovers twice over.

When searching the "fish markets" (eskies on the side of the road) for some fish, we found that those still left at 6pm were selling octopus, small, sardine-like fish or were out of stock. Luckily, we saw a guy walking along carrying 2 skipjack tuna that looked fresh and asked him where he bought them. He said they were from his home, so he jumped in the tray of Tess' truck and directed us to his house where he sold us fresh fish. We saw that he had a large portion of a shark's body in a freezer also.

At the restaurants (mostly Chinese), before you order you need to check what food they have available. They generally offer beef, pork, chicken and fish, but it depends on stock what they can offer that day. The beef, chicken and pork are not worth writing home about. They are imported and not of top quality. Fish is by far the most popular dish and have choices on how to eat it: fish and rice; fish, vegetables and rice; some places even offer fish + black bean, sweet n sour fish, fish + maisonaise, curry fish etc.. etc... You can also substitute rice for chips at the more up market establishments, which we have done a few times.

Some lessons we have learnt on cooking fish...
Lesson one. Firstly pick a nice fish that is really fresh, eyes should be clear and no red blothes in the eye or head. Also check it isn't frozen. Ask when it was caught...

Lesson two. They will have gutted the fish for you already but will leave the head on to remain fresh. I have never filleted a fish before, so I was given a lesson with 1 fish and was left to fillet my own. You basically cut one fillet off following the spine throught the middle, chop the head off, then flip it and cut the fillet off the other side. The photo above shows me holding the head and a fillet of the first fish I have ever filleted. Tuna has no scales, so that made it easier. Nicky doesn't mind cooking fish, but was keen for me to learn to do the filleting.

Lesson three. You can pan fry the fillets in butter. It would go nicley with a squeeze of lemon, but we haven't found any. We had our tuna with pasta and frozen veges (they weren't frozen when eating them :) ).

The shops here also have a limited and sporadic collection of other items, such as lasagna sheets but no cheese (other than plastic cheese). Fresh vegatables and fruit come and go, we have seen some potatoes, we also bought some sugar bananas from a small stall along the road that were very nice. We haven't been able to get sugar, only one place we have found sells pasta sauce, we have today bought frozen mince meat but are yet to try it. We had previously purchased bread from the supermarket that wasnt sliced and tasted a bit dry, Nicky was very disappointed until we heard of a bakery which we visited today which was much better quality!!

The main supermarket we go to ran out of toilet paper yesterday. We were able to find a couple of individual rolls in another store, but no packs big enough to make us confident that we wouldn't run out. Apparently that happens often, so we'll make sure we always have spares. Locals just use the sea, so they don't need toilet paper. It is mostly for us ex pats who are too embarrassed and heigine conscious to go and squat in the water in public for a while. I know that isn't related to food, but I was on the topic of buying and thought I'd add it.

On receiving a meal at a restaurant, Nicky has said quite a few times  "that's not what I was expecting". She ordered rice with egg and ham, thinking it would be a fried rice with pieces of egg and ham through it. However, she received the meal shown above. I guess they were being literal when they called it rice with eggs and ham, except that the ham is spam. She couldn't dispute that is isn't what she ordered, because the menu was spot on.

Tonight's dinner was cocktail frankfurts on bread with tomato sauce, which was actually quite good and a needy break from fish. Tomorrow for breakfast it's wheet bix with long life milk and no sugar. We are looking forward to it.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

First impressions...

This post will all be about our 'firsts'. Our first bus trip by ourselves, our first swim, our first church service at the theological college, Nicky's first, second and third tears. First venture out during an evening, second time in history Peter has had rice 4 days in a row ( 2007 - Thailand trip). But mainly firsts, firsts, firsts...

However, I will start with the scare of the tsunami warning as this has been a question we have been asked to answer numerous times. We were at dinner at the motel we are staying at, having a meal with Michael from Victoria who we meet on the way over from Fiji. He is here for 100 days to help promote and advance the sport of table tennis, which is the third most popular sport here, after weightlifting and boxing. He seems quite the adventurer with broad experience travelling around Europe, looks to be early 20's in age and number 15 in Australia for table tennis. Nicky and I both had mild headaches, a combination of the heat and dehydration I guess, except I have especially tried to keep the fluids up and have drunk more water than I would in Sydney. I would normally assume lack of sleep, but we are getting between 9-12hours a night (and could easily sleep an extra 2-3 hours). On that topic the locals, do not seem to drink as much water- How do they do it? Anyway, we were just chatting and I could see Nicky wasn't well... As a New Zealand Police Advisor then come in and turned the TV on in the eating area and he explained that a large earthquake had just occurred in Japan. He was staying at the hotel at the time which we are glad about because we may not have known otherwise. On the TV was the Australian Network channel (seems to be only channel available) which was broadcasting CNN or the like. By this stage the tsunami had hit and we were watching the second or third wave hitting the coast. As we continued to watch we saw the list of countries with tsunami warnings increase. When it included Hawaii and Chile (both on the other side of us from Japan), we did start to get worried. The only country it mentioned at the time in the Pacific was Nauru.

My headache started to get worse so we decided to return to our room. We messaged David, our in-country Manager and had the TV on in the room. Nicky was getting upset but I felt as Kiribati has managed to survive so many previous earthquakes and tsunamis, we would be OK. Just as we started to get ready for bed and pack our passports etc into a small bag in case we were evacuated, Nicky's father called to check we knew about the events and told us Kiribati was listed as a country with a tsunami warning. Given there wasn't much we could do, we hadn't heard of any evacuation and my headache was getting worse, we went to bed- at about 9:30pm I estimated...

Somewhere between 2am-4am I woke, I don't think I have ever had a worse (non-self inflicted) headache in my life! My whole head was pounding, it didn't even occur to me Kiribati was obviously safe. I staggered into the bathroom and ripped open some Panadol. An extra tablet accidentally popped out, but I didn't care and left it with the panadol packet in the sink. I managed to make it back to bed. I think I stirred Nicky and lay motionless until I could feel my headache, possible a migraine easing. I went back to sleep and woke about 9am but stayed in bed until 10am. When I got up I was happy to be feeling close to 100%. We had another call in the morning from Nicky's dad telling us we were safe. It was good to know, because we had no idea what time it was meant to hit, so we could have still been waiting for it. Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers during the waiting period. We meet another ex-pat at breakfast, Andrew that had come down from North Tarawa for his treat, bacon & eggs which they served at our motel. He hadn’t even heard due to his place being in a remote location, but did recall the surf during the evening woke him as it was particularly rough.

Now onto the firsts...

The buses here are 15 seater Toyota vans. There is a driver and conductor in each one. 2x islands have bus stops and on the other islands people just tell the conductor when they want to get off (Ikai!), pay their $1 or so (the price depends on how far you go) and get off. Our first bus trip was yesterday with David. He showed us where to get on and what to say to get off. Neither the vans nor roads are in a great condition, not that it stops the drivers from speeding and overtaking each other. It is a bumpy ride with windows open for a breeze. If a bus is full, it will just toot or flash its lights and keep going. Our first trip would have been daunting without David, because we don't yet know the order of towns or where to get off. There aren't many signs and we don't have a map, so we rely on landmarks and memory. This in itself can be a problem. If you remember the name of a shop as a landmark and there is more than one, as happened to a couple we met, who got off at the wrong shop with the same name as another.

Yesterday we went to a place up the other end of Tarawa called Broken Bridge to swim. It is called so because there is a broken bridge there. They could put "broken" on the front of a lot of landmarks here, but this one has a special name. We got a bus, some take away lunch as there isn’t food available where we were heading and then a lift to the far end of South Tarawa (about an hour to get there), then a little boat across to North Tarawa (50cents per person) and had a 1 hour walk in the heat to get to Broken Bridge. It is a popular place for ex pats. The water is clean enough there to swim, as the sea water runs through there at high side. Pete's boss Tess was there too and her 2 visitors from Perth. They are all triathletes, so didn't have an issue with the walk like we did. The water was warmer than the air, but it was refreshing to have the breeze on us when we got out. We then had another hour walk back to the boat in the heat again. I don't know how people exercise here- it is too hot! Maybe that is why people here are big.

This morning we went to church at Tangintebu Theological College where Nicky will be working. We wore white I-Kiribati clothing - both in white skirts. About half of the congregation were wearing that, but not everyone, so it obviously isn't necessary. We were told however, that whatever we choose to wear should have covered shoulders at church. They have an American Minister, who was quite good, Dr Rev David, he has spent the last +3 years preaching in the pacific. During announcements, Leslene, the Librarian introduced us to the church, which is made up mostly of the students Nicky will be lecturing twice a week. We then were asked to stand and introduce ourselves, we were nervous but everyone was smiling and nodding back as we briefly spoke. We also meet Stephanie after the service who is here volunteering as a physio through a similar program, AYAD. She was great source of information for social gatherings and even told us how we could source some soil to grow some vegetables and fruit! Both are hard to buy here.

One important lesson we have learnt about Kiribati currency is to save your coins! Given everything is mostly under $10, everybody wants you to have the correct or close to money. Coins are obviously valued more than notes. When we went to pay with a $5 dollar note for 90c at the Internet cafe, they wouldn't accept it. Also on the bus and when paying for food, they want the change in coins. Supermarkets we hope will be more accepting. If When you come to visit, please add coins to your packing list.

Even though it has been less than a week, we have already started to get an understanding of the culture (we hope!!). Unlike Samoan people who would be the first to wave and give a hello when passing, Kiribati people are shy and reluctant to initiate conversation. To begin with, you are generally ignored. It is only once you give the first smile, wave or "mauri" do they then respond gleefully. Children are the exception to this, they often yell out "hello" in English which is the only word they know.

There are a lot of dogs, a lot, a lot, a lot of dogs in Kiribati. Some are used as pets for security, others just wander the streets. They are all scrawny and some can be aggressive (although they've all been fine so far), so we've been told to bend over and pick up a stone and they'll run away. People here throw stones at them to make them go away. RCPA wouldn't like that very much. Our landlord has dogs, but we're told they will be fine when they know us. Another problem with having so many dogs is when one barks, 1,536 others start and you than know for the next 15mins you won't get any silence.

We moved into our new home today (lounge room and balcony shown above). It is a small one bedroom place, but bigger than the motel room we have been staying in. We don't have a fridge yet, so we can't buy any fresh food- not that there is too much to choose from. It should be here tomorrow, or the next day, or the next...  :)  It is on the lagoon shoreline. A location like this in Sydney would be worth millions. It is a great view and we have a balcony to sit on and enjoy it which is where we are finishing this post (photo below). In a way we are thankful we hadn’t moved in before the tsunami warning as the water is literally now 10metres from our back balcony, pity we can’t swim in it. We have 2 air-conditioners AND ceiling fans, although we have been told they are on the same electrical circuit so can only be run one at a time. Whoever invented air conditioning is a genius!!

Sorry this is so long, but people have been asking for details. Just quickly, the tooth filling Peter had a week before leaving is finally settling down, yeah for that!

We love to read your comments so get busy, but email us if you want any specific questions answered through the blog to

Pete, with lots of input from Nicky

Friday, 11 March 2011

Blog online again...

Well, what a drama. After writing our first blog at the Internet cafe yesterday, Blogger saw the post was coming from a different region and took the blog offline until we verified it. Which we tried from our motel room last night but due to the Internet going up and down, we couldn't do until today. Back now at the Internet cafe. It only costs 90cents for 30mins so that is quite good, the Internet speeds are on par with an ADSL 256 link, so fine for emailing and uploading a few photos. We are not sure how Skype will cope with the video.

The photo above is the plane looping around Tarawa to staighten for the landing, if you can see carefully, the landing strip is horizontal across the photo, the full width of the island, we did wonder how it would fit.

We had a drive around all the main points of interest today with David, our in-country manager. Took us to KIT where I will be working, our home for the next 12months which we move into on Sunday, bus stops, health clinic etc...  No signs or street numbers, he points things out with landmarks, it will be interesting when on our own.

Unfortunately we can't send or receive text messages to our local mobiles internationally, but we hope to get some Internet time every couple of days, if not from home.

Time to go, Internet cafe closes in 2mins and have some photos to upload to Facebook.
Ti a boo, Peter

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mauri from Kiribati

After a few hours of sleep in Nadi Fiji, a very early flight this morning (2am check-in - yuck!) and a long line up in customs, we've made it to Kiribati. The air strip runs into the water on both sides of the island. I'm glad we had a good pilot, or he could have quite easily landed us in the lagoon on one side or the sea on the other.

We were met at the airport by the AusTraining in country Manager David who told us our house isn't ready for us because the fridge isn't working, so we're staying in Mary's Hotel until Monday. It isn't the quality of Aussie hotels, but it has a bed and somewhere to shower, so it'll do. Compared to local houses, it is palatial.

David and his wife took us for a drive, helped us check in and took us to lunch at one of the many Chinese restaurants. We had fish (tuna, as it is safe to eat), vegetables and rice. Although lunch was at about 10:30am, the food wasn't bad and it was cheap. That is likely to be a regular meal for us from what I'm told.

We've been left to settle for the rest of the day, so we bought local sim cards and trekked to the internet cafe, where we're writing this. The wireless internet at Mary's is down at the moment.

I have a cold and a sore throat, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed earlier, but I'm happier now that I've had a nap and now have contact with the outside world.

Pete already noted the coral dust on his feet. For those of you who don't know, he is quite particular about having clean feet. A big chuckle at his expense went a long way to cheering me up earlier.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

T - 30mins to departure...

Well this is it... Adventure is about to begin. We are sitting in a Apple store at Sydney airport writing our first post. Peter is very excited to see what Kiribati is really like, meet and greet some locals and start the assignment at Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT). Nicky has mixed emotions. She is sad to say goodbye to family and friends, anxious about the unknown and excited about the adventure all at the same time.

Our flight is boarding now so we need to head to the gate. Our next update will be from Kiribati- Yay! - or Fiji if we get a chance.

Ti a boo