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August 4, 1999

Tarawa Basecamp. Update #3

Tarawa update 3.
Wednesday 4th August, 1999

Rubbish disposal is getting to be a huge problem on south Tarawa. Despite local people's skill in re-using a good portion of refuse that would be considered useless in richer countries, mounds of non-biodegradable material - much of it packaging from imported foodstuffs - end up in the lagoon only to be washed back up on the white sand beaches that would otherwise paint a picture postcard image of this far-flung paradise.

The relatively modern concept of recycling is a foreign one to the local people - like we found in Hawaii. The only items that are collected with any seriousness are aluminium cans. It's the old story of a people having for centuries thrown away locally produced 'rubbish' - like coconut shells - that are quickly assimilated back into the immediate ecosystem, suddenly being exposed to foreign-made materials - such as plastic packaging - that are non-biodegradable. Habits have to change to avert Tarawa turning into a floating garbage heap. We threw in our two penny's worth last week by introducing 160 eleven and twelve year olds from the Dai Nippon Primary School in Betio to recycling their old writing paper into penpal letters they will use to make friends in other countries via the expedition's World Pen Pal Exchange.

First we tore up the paper into small pieces and soaked it for three days. Then came the tricky bit: in the past when making paper we've always used a blender to break up the soaked paper into a fine pulp. But blenders don't exist on Tarawa, so we had to come up with a low-tech alternative. Joanne - one half of an Australian couple who are kindly putting me up in their house at the moment, hit upon the idea of a human powered eggbeater.

At first the students were very shy and rather unsure of the whole idea. Tarawa people are extremely modest in the presence of 'I Matang'* strangers until a basis of trust and familiarity is built. But as April began to show some of the girls how to dip the screen into the pulp solution, and then these girls became the teachers for the next group (and so on), all hesitations soon fell away. Soon the children where competing with each other to be the best paper making teacher.

However, a look of horror did come over this young man's face for a few seconds when I informed him the school had hit upon hard times financially and he was helping to make a huge paper pie that we were all going to eat for lunch.

After making a dirty great mess in the classroom with water and paper pulp getting everywhere, we put the finishing touches to our sheets of recycled paper by adding coconut fiber as fitting decoration - from Kiribati with love. Then Ruta - the English teacher who we are leaving the screens and other paper making material with so the school can carry on recycling their unwanted paper in this fashion - laid the wet sheets out to dry for a day and a half in the back of her classroom.

Yesterday I started work on cleaning out Moksha. It's a fairly gruesome job. The dirt and grime from 73 days out on the ocean has been exacerbated by an unwelcome visit from rats since making landfall. While Moksha was still parked up in the marina last week waiting to be taken out of the water, somehow one or more of them climbed along the warp line tethering Moksha to the pontoon and drilled a sizeable hole through the superstructure where the sliding hatch closes shut. At first glance I thought a human had tried to break in: when I unlocked and slide back the hatch I found the bottom of the boat covered in wood shavings that looked big enough to come from a chain saw. But on closer inspection I noticed they'd targeted food packets rather than the more valuable electronic equipment. These thieves were definitely of the four footed variety.

This was only the half of it however. When Buutonga - a 15 yr. old helping me out for the day - and I delved deeper into the front and rear storage compartments, we found the majority of the food packages I was saving for the next voyage had been spoiled. The infuriating thing is the rats only took a bite out of each packet - as if to taste each one. And as soon as the seal is broken - the contents are good as useless. So now we are left with the headache of trying to import replacements, not an easy task when a supply ship only comes to Tarawa once every 5 weeks and what they do bring in is mainly tinned spam!

* 'I Matang' translates literally as 'from the land of spirits'. I Kiribati ('from the land of Kiribati') people believed they took the form of tall, fair coloured ghosts after death. It is for this reason that they believed the first white visitors to the islands came from the land of their dead ancestors.


Posted at 6:20 AM