Lying stretched out on the still warm sand, I looked out to sea; a rusty looking orb was beginning to breach the horizon, highlighting as it did the low white crests of the Pacific waves crashing into the Eastern shore of Funafuti. The temperature was still high, but the sea breeze made it almost chilly as the sun rose higher and higher into the fresh morning air painting the inky canvas of the night sky as it went with rich, electric colours: first, streaks of pink and purple, then blotches of oranges and reds, the odd brush stroke of turquoise near the sea and the splatter of green by the palm trees, and finally after exhausting the entire prism available, the sun arrived, announcing as it did the very first day of 2012. I sat there silently taking it all in, philosophically contemplating the year ahead of me – what would it hold, where would I be this time next year, what adventures would I have in the mean time? This majestic backdrop was the perfect company for these deep and profound thoughts, and as the sun’s rays began to warm the tropical paradise around me, I commented aloud to no one other than a passing crab, that this was the perfect start to the New Year.
And in a perfect World it would have been, unfortunately, despite ticking some of the boxes, Tuvalu hasn’t quite reached a Utopian zenith yet (I doubt there is a problem getting fruit in Utopia) and so the reality was slightly different, and I saw in 2012 leaning against the dull concrete post outside my house, already soaking wet, hiding from the tropical downpour, and peering into the gloomy blanket of clouds trying to decide if the slight brightening around 4:30am counted as sunrise – granted my hangover was beginning to kick in, and focusing was becoming trickier which didn’t help, but I concluded that as I could see the pack of dogs fighting on the patch of grass next door, the sun must have risen, and so I staggered into bed, still clutching a carton of precious fruit juice which I had acquired earlier in the evening and fell immediately to sleep - Happy New Year.
The previous night I was still full of optimism for my perfectly profound New Year’s sunrise, and with the rum flowing and the Tuvaluan tunes pumping out of my inadequate laptop speakers, I was ready for a party. We had been invited to the Scout secretary’s shop for some dinner, and then onto a party hosted by some Australians who we had only met the day before, so it was time to put on my ‘going out clothes’ i.e. a clean t-shirt, and get ready to celebrate the end of an awesome year, and welcome in a brand new one. It had been raining for most of the day, but by the time we set out on the 10 minute walk to Su’s shop, it had slowed to only torrential rain, so a coat wasn’t really necessary.
When we arrived, Su’s shop was a scene of unmitigated pandemonium. There were people everywhere, running in and out with boxes of cooking equipment, and tubs of mysterious food. We had been expecting a quiet cup of tea and maybe some rice, we certainly didn’t expect to see an army of people in the tiny kitchen cooking up a storm which rivalled the one hammering the corrugated iron roof. By now a small crowd had gathered in the shop to avoid the rain and salivate over the impending food, there were the girls who work for Su, the bearded wonder that is Taafaki, a New Zealand family, and some Fijians who have spent the last few months blowing up the reefs surrounding the outer islands so that the supply boats are able to deliver much needed supplies on a more regular and safer basis. The New Zealanders were supposed to be flying home the next day, but on a national holiday and a Sunday we concluded their chances were non-existent.
The army of chefs soon manoeuvred from the kitchen to the middle of the shop each carrying a steaming plate of deliciousness, and laid it out in front of us with the same chaos that had led to the creation of this feast, and what a feast it was: Barbecue chicken, raw fish, rice, coleslaw, fried beans, corned beef, sweet and sour pork, bread, and battered prawns – PRAWNS! I was so confused by the appearance of this rare shellfish in front of me that it genuinely took me a while to figure out what these golden strips were. I filled my plate with each of the options available to me and ate like a King – a King of limited means perhaps, but a King none the less, and I managed to get in for seconds before my plate was whisked away and almost immediately replaced with a bowl full of cake, syrup, and ice cream, which, if your taste buds could squint, could almost have passed for a treacle sponge.
This was almost better than our Christmas efforts, and despite being full and starting to dry off, we had another party to attend, and so after wishing everyone a happy new year, we headed back out into the rain and headed to our next stop – the palagi party (via the internet cafe to send a few last minute messages home).
There are times in life when you find yourself in a situation so unique that you can almost be certain that it has never happened before, and tentatively walking through the small gap between houses near the South end of the runway, towards a small group of palagis, I quickly found myself in one of those situations. If you were to think of some job titles and nationalities at random and throw them together it is unlikely you would ever create the guest list of this party, which included amongst others: an Australian lawyer, a Fijian water container maker, an Australian financial adviser, a clerical worker from Kiribati, and finally another Australian in the form of a navy captain. Throw in a number of Tuvaluans, another couple of Australians and Fijians, and two Scout ambassadors from the UK, and you had one hell of a party.
Our host Tony lit up the room (or the outside decking where we found ourselves) with his loud Hawaiian shirt, and infectious smile, and before we had even had the chance to introduce ourselves to everyone, we each had a bottle of cold home-brew in our hands and were being fed homemade garlic bread – two things I thought I wouldn’t see again for a very long time. The surprises didn’t end there, and just before the crucial hour was upon us I had been handed a large glass which, before I knew what was going on, was filled with ice (!) and nearly half a pint of imported whisky with which to toast 2012. Conversation varied from Australian foreign policy, through Tuvaluan bank robberies, to exactly what is in the dubious 'sausages' found in the shops here, but it was never forced, and by the time midnight came around, helped along by Tony’s home-brew, we were all chatting like old friends, and we drunkenly toasted the new year with gusto and hilarious speeches about tuna.
I was so distracted by the speeches and my whisky that I barely heard my old school phone chirping away from my bag, informing me in only the way a Nokia 3210 can, that someone wanted to speak to me. I assumed it was one of my friends here wondering why I wasn’t at the nightclub, but when I peered at the flashing green screen I was surprised not only to see a UK number, but a UK number I knew all too well – It was my mum and dad ringing from home to wish me a happy new year! Isn’t technology wonderful eh? It must have been a little strange for them to hear their son a little bit worse for wear just as they were sitting down to an early lunch, but it was great to hear from them, and I passed on their happy new year messages to everyone at the party.
The party continued long into the early hours, I talked with the navy captain about fighting pirates on the high seas (or arresting illegal fisherman as it is otherwise known), I asked the lawyer about his most interesting cases (lots of land disputes, and something about a pig), and I learnt how to make the giant water containers from the happy Fijian. By this time the whiskey had been and gone and was doing its job with startling efficiency, but the home-brew was still going down smoothly, and when the lawyer suggested an international sporting event to end the evening I was the first to volunteer as he unveiled the dart board nailed to his kitchen wall.
“LET’S PLAY DARTSSSSHHHH” I was clearly in no fit state to play darts to my normal mediocre ability, and so was heavily reliant on some latent arrow throwing skill and a small miracle to allow team GB (as Jay and I had dubbed ourselves) to triumph over team Australia who were already warming up and hitting a worrying number of 20s despite their equivocal drunkenness. Fortunately for team GB with the pride of a nation resting on our shoulders that latent skill chose the right moment to show itself, and a convincing win over team Australia was followed by a thrashing of team Tuvalu, and finally team Pacific Islands – team GB reigned triumphant over the first Tuvaluan international darts tournament, and a carton of fruit juice was ceremonially handed to us to mark our victory, and with that, we took a couple more dubious 'sausages' for the road, helped to clear the darts arena, and headed home in the sort of rain that only the tropics can provide.
Waking up at 11.30am on New Year’s Day, I wasn’t feeling my best. I tried to put it down to the 'sausages', but in reality we all know the whisky played its part in my downfall. Looking at my watch I realised that there were still 30 minutes left of 2011 in the UK, and decided to take advantage of the time difference, and test international communication lines once again by ringing the UK just before midnight. Some of my friends were in London for a party, and just before midnight I optimistically tried to ring them, and was quite surprised when not only did the phone start ringing, but someone actually answered. The next 10 minutes couldn’t really be called a conversation, but the screams of my various friends as I got passed around, the shouts of “Happy New Year”, and hearing the bells of Big Ben chime in the background put a smile on my face for the rest of the day – thanks guys!
So that was that, I have survived 2011 and am now well and truly living in 2012 – the holidays are over, and work has started again in earnest, time to look forward: meetings, radio broadcasts, training schemes, community days and goodness knows what else await in the coming weeks and months, and I’m really looking forward to all of it – They always say you should start as you mean to go on, and if that is the case, then 2012 will be a year full of dubious meat products, a little too much rum and whisky, a slight headache, great company, delicious fruit juice, international darts domination, tropical islands, walks in the rain, and my friends making me smile…I think I’ll take that.