And so we left Tuvalu, banked right, and headed south towards Fiji giving those of us lucky enough to have a right side window seat an utterly spectacular view of the island I had become to call home. As the strips of turquoise and emerald sailed past, no longer were they nameless, generic, tropical beauties, instead, they now had names, they had a history, a future, they had individual features, and story to tell.
As has so often happened during my time in Tuvalu I completely misread the situation, and after a rushed conversation with the community leader it transpired that the space reserved at the front of the maneapa directly opposite the future King of England and his wife, arguably two of the most famous people in the world wasn’t only reserved for Inaki, oh no, it was also reserved for a now very pale looking palagi wearing a Scout uniform
When a priest can see your nipples, you know something has gone a little awry. Fortunately as my nipples and I crossed the threshold into the church, instead of being met with a barrage of angrily thrown bibles and hymn books, I was met with wide eyes, open mouths, and stifled laughter – much better...
The soft early morning sea breeze on my face, the first rays of the sun peeking over the horizon, the majestic call of the rooster as he announces the promise of a new day – all of these are perfectly acceptable ways to wake up whilst camping - having a whistle blown in your ear at 5.30am however is not; yet this was the reality I faced as tired, confused, and with the shrill whistle still ringing in my left ear, I clumsily untangled myself from my mosquito net, and headed in the dark, to the fale kaupule to see what all the fuss was about...
Ghosts are blamed for a variety of everyday events in Niutao, and we’re not talking about Casper here, these ghosts are anything but friendly. If your bike won’t start, it’s because there is a ghost in the engine. If you don’t catch any fish, the ghosts are stealing your bait. Fall out of a coconut tree , the ghosts have pushed you, and if you get too drunk and wake up with a hangover, you can safely blame it on the ghosts, and fortunately for me they all live in the jungle, specifically at the end of the island where the Scout camp was located – it was time to go ghost hunting.
Cannonball and Uncle Bulgaria dragged us away from the growing crowds, up the gently sloping beach, and onto the back of a waiting pickup truck which then drove us all of 300m down the dirt track which passes as the main road, to the room which I was to call home for the next six weeks. That first night we were treated like kings and welcomed into the community like long lost brothers. A feast had been prepared, and my stomach rejoiced at the thought of some sustenance after being empty for almost three days – little did I know that this was to begin the longest food binge I have ever been asked to undertake
It turns out that trying to understand the shipping schedule in Tuvalu is a bit like trying to discuss the meaning of life in a nightclub – both parties ask the right questions, then follows lots of noise and wildly exaggerated hand gestures, but ultimately no one has a clue what is going on and so the answer is never reached. After peering into my crystal ball, consulting the Rosetta stone, and asking for some local assistance, I came to the conclusion that I needed a ticket for route (ii) whatever that meant...
Looking to add a Pacific flavour to your culinary repertoire, then look no further than this 'traditional' Tuvaluan recipe. To fully appreciate the culinary delights Tuvalu has to offer, I invite you to turn up that thermostat, take that shirt off, and follow this recipe to experience the true taste of Tuvalu…well sort of.
I dutifully turned up at the police station the next day with my pink licence in hand; handing it over for inspection I was trying to pre-empt exactly what a Tuvaluan driving test would consist of – there weren’t any cars around, just a collection of bikes gently rusting in the sun, and it dawned on me that if the test had anything to do with actually driving a motorbike I would most definitely fail. After a few minutes of showing my exotic licence to everyone in the police station, the policeman began to tell me the process of getting a licence…
Peyster soon arrived with a grin on his face and introduced me to the knife wielding maniac – ladies and gentlemen, my hairdresser! He stopped sharpening his knife long enough for me to shake his hand which is when I realised that he was shaking quite violently all over. He went back to his sharpening duties, and Peyster, obviously noticing my alarm told me not to worry, “he only shakes like that because he’s an alcoholic, we’ll make sure he has something to drink before he cuts your hair, it slows the shakes down” taking up drinking suddenly sounded like a great idea.
There are times in life when you see something that you physically can’t take your eyes off; it might be an incredibly talented musician, a record breaking athlete perhaps, or a stunningly beautiful human; it is rarely a kiwi fruit. Not that exceptional you might think, I can assure you that a kiwi fruit in Tuvalu is about as likely as a polar bear wandering down Oxford street, and for that moment I found myself just gazing at the flirtatiously firm and furry fruit dreaming of the taste explosion I was about to receive.
Running out onto the pitch, and waiting for the game to start I considered my situation – I was on the other side of the planet, surrounded by fierce looking, not to mention large and intimidating Pacific islanders, who were practically licking their lips at taking a run at the English guy. The only other foreigners on the pitch were a giant of a Fijian (luckily on our team), and a Tongan who was easily double my size in all dimensions, and my opposite number.
here 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
Sharing a cup of tea with a fellow Englishman, is arguably one of the most normal things you can do. However, sharing a cup of tea with a fellow Englishman at 3 in the morning on a massive Fijian cargo ship, towering above Tuvalu, whilst watching a total lunar eclipse, I hope you agree is a little more unique.
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.
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.
I am assured that in some Indian temples it is good luck, and indeed a blessing from God, to have a rat run over your feet – I’m not sure a rat chewing on your big toe in Tuvalu however, has similar Holy implications, unless you are talking about the various “Holy this” and “Holy that” phrases that it inspired.
The storm did mean quite a bumpy ride for myself and the other 28 passengers, but a bit of turbulence was nothing to worry about, particularly as the tiny plane we were currently sitting on, was in two hours time, hopefully going to land us on the tiny island nation of Tuvalu – a country recently plagued by epic water shortages, resulting in a state of national emergency, and aid being delivered from a number of neighbouring countries.