Although being born smack-bang in the middle of it, I don’t really remember much of the 80s. The earliest school memory might just about survive, as does the scar from an incident involving two of my fingers, a door hinge, and a family holiday in Wales, but realistically there is very little I remember from the decade, apart from a few classic children’s cartoons, and this almost spiritual song which played an important part in defining the power of a Friday and introducing me to that ‘Friday feeling’ in one of the most memorable TV adverts from my childhood.
Every time I hear the energetic lyrics of “I’m so excited” by one of the 80s finest female duos – the Pointer Sisters, I am immediately transported to a magical world where rollercoasters, and the punters riding them, are made entirely of chocolate. Cavorting around a theme park also made entirely of chocolate and held together by golden honeycomb pieces, the rollercoasters and their passengers cruise around enjoying the variety of amusements the park has to offer before exploding in an apocalyptic, chocolaty-honeycomby explosion, creating, as the diabetic carnage recedes, a Cadburys Crunchie bar! (not unlike the origins of the universe I imagine).
That ‘Friday feeling’ is well known by anyone who has ever been to school, or had a job; and in workplaces all over the globe just before 5pm, workers are yearning to get home and to start the weekend. Even here in this relaxed corner of the Pacific, (despite being thousands of miles away from the nearest Crunchie) there is no mistaking that ‘Friday feeling’ although instead of 5pm, the Tuvaluan ‘Friday feeling’ starts at 5am, and results for an entirely different reason – Friday morning in Tuvalu is fresh produce day!
For all of Tuvalu's beautiful coral atolls, fish filled turquoise waters, and lush palm trees, it lacks one very important ingredient to fulfil the dietary requirements of its population – good soil. Unlike it’s Pacific neighbours like Vanuatu or Fiji, who both have mountains full of exotic fruit and vegetables providing much more than the population could ever eat, Tuvalu has several geographical factors preventing the establishment of good soil. Crucially Tuvalu is a coral atoll, and as such there is limited opportunity for vegetation to grow (except the hardiest of palm trees), and as a result there isn’t any cycle of biomass degrading into soil. That isn’t to say there isn’t any soil, in the centre of some of the bigger islands there is a small amount, but unfortunately, the little soil they do have is often spoiled by the high tides, limited rainfall, or salt water seeping through the permeable coral, making it unsuitable for growing anything. Add to this recent migration trends to the main island of Funafuti, and it's clear to see how an incredible amount of pressure has been put on the already limited food resources. Some fruit is imported, but considering the hot climate, and the remoteness of Tuvalu, it is rare that it survives the journey, and when it does, it is almost always prohibitively expensive.
There is however one saving grace on this tropical island ironically devoid of tropical fruits and vegetables - a Taiwanese NGO vegetable garden, which mercifully opens once a week...on a Friday.
The alarm arrogantly goes off at 4.30am which, even on an island in the Pacific is a little annoying, and we ready ourselves with money and bags, and start the short walk to the runway, and to the mecca of the vegetable garden.
Since arriving in Tuvalu over two weeks ago now, our staple diet has been fish and rice (or cassava if we’re feeling fancy!) the fish is exotic, fresh, delicious, and cheap and the rice is…well rice, and if I’m honest, a little dull. Since arriving we have had two apples each which were brought as a present as they are hideously expensive – being imported from New Zealand as they are, and other than that, the closest we have got to fruit or vegetables is the odd onion, tinned coconut milk, and the seaweed that we see floating in the lagoon.
The NGO vegetable garden is a little soil rich oasis in this coral abyss, and the volunteers painstakingly tend to a number of vegetable beds in the hope they are able to grow something. Despite opening its doors at 6am every Friday, such is the demand for fresh produce that we were advised to get there as early as possible “people start queuing from 5am” and so being British, and thus loving a good queuing opportunity, we arrived promptly at the garden at 5am ready to show off our internationally renowned queuing abilities.
To our surprise (and disappointment), there was no one at the gate with whom to queue, and after a brief consultation we decided we couldn’t really form a queue ourselves, and so dejected at missing an opportunity for international supremacy, we headed onto the adjacent runway, and did as the locals do – lay down and had a nap. Half an hour later there was some movement and three people had appeared at the gate – “A QUEUE!” we hurried over to neatly join the line, and we did so with such British gusto and precision, that it confused one of the locals, who left the line, and opened the gate for us.
Walking though the gate was, as I imagine walking into an unopened Egyptian pyramid would be like, stepping into an unknown space only to find you’re surrounded by treasure more perfect than that of your wildest dreams – in this case, our treasure was green not gold, but the feelings of awe and wonder were no less than if we had stumbled upon El Dorado it’s self.
Rows upon rows of glistening lettuces, a pile of aubergines as high as a mountain, well by Tuvaluan standards anyway (it came up to my shin) and a large bunch of crisp, sweet smelling spring onions. It is difficult to describe the feelings of elation the humble lettuce can provide, but given the right circumstance, I can assure you, it’s up there with the very best of those ‘Friday feelings’! We quickly purchased half a dozen aubergines, a handful of spring onions, and as much lettuce as we could physically carry, almost in fear of them running out of the green treasure, although we needn’t have worried as there was no one else waiting behind us – so much for the hordes of people we had been expecting!
Ecstatic with our delicious, vitamin rich loot, we walked out of Aladdin’s Cave, and onto the runway, victoriously basking in the already baking sun – it was now 6.15am. Rapidly, as we were in fear of wilting, we headed home and without hesitation immediately secured our stash in the ant proof safe, more commonly known as a fridge, just in case the ants had taken a sudden vow of vegetarianism.
Mission accomplished, now we had to decide what to do with it all. A recipe book of ideas ran through our minds, but most required ingredients that would only be available to us if we ran some sort of import/export monopoly of Australasia, so we settled for fish and a side-salad. Not a grand side-salad by any means, but take my word for it, lettuce has NEVER tasted so good! Our only fear now is trying to make it last until next Friday, when we will start the whole process again.
So just remember, the next time you think it’s a chore to eat your vegetables, or you decide you don’t like vegetables anymore, remind yourselves that there are two hungry Scout Ambassadors in the South Pacific who would very much appreciate it! And when you are counting down the minutes, and relishing that ‘Friday feeling’ as the clock ticks to 5pm, remember the Tuvaluan equivalent, and have a tomato or two for us.