"Fix up look shark"

When Charles Darwin set sail round the world on his voyages of discovery, he didn’t just do it on a whim; he had a job to do.  Darwin famously conducted some of the most important scientific experiments and observations to date, the results of which still inform the world of modern science today (including the geological origins of Tuvalu incidentally which he worked out long before anyone could actually prove it – clever chap).

Charles Darwin pondering his important work...

Charles Darwin pondering his important work...

Despite the great work conducted by this great man, I am sure that if you were to speak to his friends back in the UK at the time of his great adventures, you would have found a small group of them exclaiming that, instead of collecting observations which would break the mould of popular science, Darwin was actually more likely to be “collecting rum filled coconuts and a tan on a beach somewhere”.

Now I would never claim that the work I am doing in Tuvalu will alter the way we look at fundamental scientific theories, however I still find it difficult to convince some people that I am in fact in Tuvalu to work, just like Darwin.  I have a job to do, and am not, as some people still think – on holiday.

And so, in my attempts to convince you otherwise, I turn to a man who is to the urban music scene, what Darwin is to the fundamentals of evolutionary biology – Mr Dizzee Rascal.

In one of his most popular works, Mr Rascal eloquently discusses and defines the modern concept of ‘Holiday’ and as such, I feel it is only right to refer to this when deciding if I am indeed here in Tuvalu on holiday, or as I will hopefully be able to prove – here to work.

I am basing my argument on the assumption that, if I am in fact in Tuvalu on holiday, my experiences so far should mirror Dizzee’s description of ‘holiday’ exactly, and I will be able to identify with all his inspired prose– let’s see shall we?

Dizzee copying Darwin's style...

Dizzee copying Darwin's style...

So the master of grime begins:

“Get your passport and your bikini…”

Okay, so a passport is pretty useful, and I do indeed have one, and got it stamped upon entering the country – although a visa extension is proving a great deal harder to get.  A bikini though... might be a little culturally insensitive I’m afraid Dizzee, plus I don’t think going to Scout committee meetings in an ill fitting bikini would be the best first impression.

“I know you’re tired of the same old scenery…”

On the contrary Dizzee, I’m a big fan of the scenery here, Tuvalu is a little different from home, and the views are spectacular, especially at sunset – it’s hard to get tired of crystal blue waters, palm trees and the setting sun – just like East London.

“I’ll take you to the South of France, like Cannes”

South of France?  You mean South Pacific don’t you?  Don’t worry, simple mistake, and yes I like cans, especially the cans of coconut milk you can buy at the shop up the road, makes dinner more delicious in the curious absence of real coconuts on a tropical island.

“and we can go shopping in Milan”

I’m afraid shopping in Milan is a little out of the question Dizzee, although not to worry, there are plenty of shops here, and I’m sure they sell exactly the same things as you can buy in Milan; they have petrol, rice, and fish there right?

“it really don’t matter how far or near, because there’s no distance that could stop my persistence”

Well that is good to know, as in Tuvalu when it comes to distance, we’re dealing with the ‘far’ end of the spectrum, as we aren’t really ‘near’ anywhere.  The ‘nearby’ outer islands are only accessible with sporadic boats sometimes taking two weeks for a round trip, and even the nearest islets require you to wait until low tide to reach – just as well you’ve got all that persistence then really.

“we don’t have to fly we can just drive out”

Hate to put a downer on your plans Dizzee, but you basically do have to fly to Tuvalu, unless you want to wait around for weeks in Fiji for a slow overcrowded cargo boat, and as for driving, we do have the road and a runway, but it’s illegal to drive on the runway, and when you’ve been to both ends of the road and back again, you’ll have to find something else to do with the other 23 hours 30 minutes of your day.

“we could hide out, don’t tell nobody let them find out”

Hiding out is basically impossible on an island this size – and don’t worry about telling people, they will definitely find out (whatever it was you weren’t telling them) news travels fast here!

“If you ain't doing nothing lets fly away, drive away”

A few points to bring up here, unfortunately I am doing something, lots of things in fact.  Most of my time is spent meeting with potential Scout leaders, various government and non-government organisations, arranging and attending committee meetings, and planning and delivering training.  Whilst at the same time, trying to meet with community leaders, keep track of Scout finances and assets, and generally promoting Scouting throughout the island.  That’s when I’m not boiling water, washing my clothes, gutting fish, cooking dinner, attempting to stay fit, and trying to teach myself Tuvaluan...which is not as easy as it sounds! 

“take a holiday, we can go to the club or hide away"

As we have hopefully established, I am a busy man, and I have meetings and training sessions planned up until February at the moment, so a holiday is a bit difficult, also where would we go?  The club does sound like a great idea though, I assume by ‘club’ you mean the mataga gali bar at the end of the runway, as every other ‘bar’ is either permanently closed or falling down, it's a great niht out where they play some absolute classics (over and over again).

“and I know that my Spanish is so so"

Not to worry we’re the other side of the Pacific from any Spanish speaking countries, and it’s Tuvaluan you want to be learning here anyway.

“coz im going Ibiza, got friends that really wanna meet ya”

Ibiza! So that’s why you were worried about your Spanish, wrong island I’m afraid, but I’m glad your friends want to meet me, best get them on the next plane to the South Pacific.

“with champagne and a whole lot of reefa”

Hmmm champagne might be a bit tricky, I could get you a couple of warm cans of VB lager if you fancied?  Lucky for you reefs are something we have lots of in Tuvalu.  Being made of coral, the islands which make up Tuvalu are literally surrounded by coral reefs in differing states of damage.  The reefs around the main island of Funafuti have been destroyed by the pollution and fishing here, but I am assured the reefs on the outer islands are not to be missed…what?… oh you meant something else – probably best to stick to Ibiza then.

“even with your belly full you’re still sexy”

That’s good to know because with all this rice I’ve been eating, it’s pretty full most of the time – even with the running and swimming I’ve been trying to do.

“we can ride speed boats, we can ride jet skis”

Speed boats yes – if you fancy a spot of fishing with the locals, you’ll have to get stuck in manually launching and beaching the boat though.  Jet Skis – Not a chance.

“I know you’re really busy and I know you got plans, but are you really too busy for a sun tan?”

Well thank you for acknowledging my work commitments, what a nice gent you are.  Luckily for me, with a constant daytime temperature of over 30°C, I can work and get a sun tan, albeit only on my arms, legs, and an odd square on my feet where my sandals don’t cover.  You want to be careful though – sunburn here hurts, and it’s hot enough already at night, without the added heat pumping out of your reddened shoulders.

“I ain't talking bout walking down the high street, I’m talkin' bout laying on the bright white beach”

By ‘high street’ I assume you are talking about Tuvalu Road?  And if so I’m a little confused as to where else you would be walking, it’s the only road.  And where is this bright white beach of which you speak?  I have seen lots of white beaches of coral rocks, but only at low tide.  You will have to consult the tide times Dizzee and get back to me, don’t worry they announce them every day on radio Tuvalu.

“with a pina-colada or whatever you’d rather white wine that’s fine, just give me a lager”

All out of pina-coladas I’m afraid and white wine, I’ll just go and grab you that warm VB from the fridge then….oh you want a cold one?  Best pop it in the freezer for a few hours, then it might just be about room temperature.

“to the night spot, the hot spot, the top spot, party around the clock”

I assume you’re talking about the mataga gali bar again, sounds like a great idea, and it really is the top spot with very little competition, but partying around the clock is pretty difficult as it closes at midnight on Saturday to avoid being open on Sundays.  You could go and play bingo with some of the local women though, as that does go on long into the night – Party animals!

Posing at the South end of Funafuti...

Posing at the South end of Funafuti...

The learned lyrics of Mr Rascal continue for another verse and chorus, but I hope I have provided sufficient examples to prove that my experience here so far differs from the accepted notion of ‘holiday’, and therefore I am here, instead, to work. QED.

To further cement my claim, this afternoon I am off to the beach, not for fun you understand, but to conduct an audit of potential water based activities for the Scouts including: swimming, snorkelling, and fishing.  To ensure the health and safety precautions are in order, I will have to test each of these activities in turn, and probably repeat any that seem unsafe – I will of course be very thorough.  I will also be researching the strength of the sun by applying lots of sun cream and lying in the sun for an extended period of time.  Health and safety is an important issue, and so I might conduct the process over several days to ensure a fair test and credible scientific results.

Darwin would be proud.

© Andy Browning 2011