Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Making friends in Funafuti


Every night for the last week I have 'intended' to write this email, and every night, I have been overtaken by fatigue, heat, children, chores, school reports, birthdays, etc We are packed and ready to sail away from Tuvalu in the morning, so this is finally the '11th hour' and there are no more excuses :)

We had actually planned on leaving today (which would likely have meant no email for another couple of days, as I don't always manage to sit at the chart table on our first night at sea!) but when we took one last look at the weather when we got up this morning, we decided that the wind looked slightly better to go tomorrow, and that we (especially I) could use the additional time to be more ready and more rested, so we are now 'really ready' and we will go first thing in the morning after a full night of sleep (rather than a 6am start following a 2am bedtime).

After a week of seclusion, we successfully transitted back across the lagoon to the Funafuti's main town of Fongafale last Monday. Sunday had been grey and rainy, and Monday had had a similar forecast, but thankfully, the cloud cover broke long enough for us to make it through the tightly packed bommies of the first half (including the infamous detour around the one that wasn't on the satellite imagery) in bright late-morning sunshine. I could see squalls on either side of us as we approached the shipping lane (wide, well charted, well marked) in the center of the lagoon, and we had steady rain by the time we anchored. Bundled up in my bright pink foulie jacket (a Christmas present from our time in Auckland), and outfitted with my bluetooth headset, I was not bothered by the weather (after all, it was still 30 deg C, even in the rain!). Several other boats had arrived while we were at anchor, so it became a much more social place than the first weekend we spent here.

Funafuti has been hosting a two-week Trade Fair that began the day we returned. This has meant music, people, dancing, and tasty BBQ food (so no cooking!) We are anchored off the main government building in front of the newly created "Queen Elizabeth Park" (which was beachfront last year: sand was dredged and sprayed into a huge rectangular area, and one of the locals we spoke with is crossing his fingers that it actually withstands the upcoming "westerlies"). Small and informal by North American standards, with two rows of stalls separated by a narrow corridor, the Trade Fair has provided evening entertainment and socialization for folks not just from Funafuti, but the outer islands as well. Did I mention the yummy BBQs and the lack of cooking on my part?? We were able to buy huge servings for $5-7 each; typically we could feed all five of us with 2-3 'serves' (or have lots of leftovers with four). People were milling around all day, but the BBQs didn't really get going until 7pm when the grounds came alive with families strolling, children running and playing (cheap plastic trumpets and inflated dolphins have made their way across the Pacific), and crowds of people watching the show on the stage from their mats on the ground. The massive speakers begin pumping out music at about 7am, and wind down around 10pm. Let's just say that we haven't needed a stereo on Fluenta this week!

On Monday afternoon, we spotted a man and his daughter setting up a booth as we approached the Fair for the first time. They were unusual for two reasons - they were clearly 'from away' and the girl was a teenager. We got chatting and found out that they were an American family who had come here to open an Independent Baptist church about four years ago; the dad is the Pastor. When we found out that they had four other children, including two boys a bit younger than Johnathan, we invited them all to join us on Fluenta for dinner the following evening. This quick chat turned into some sort of socializing every day, with their kids coming to play at Fluenta (our spinnaker pole got put to use again as the support for a rope swing), and our kids going to their house. We also participated as a family in their Thursday evening children's bible study and their full day of activities (including two services) on Sunday. It was lovely to attend church in English and to sing from a familiar hymn book! They have started a nice tradition of enjoying a pot luck lunch on Sunday after the 11am service, which means that no one has to move very far before the 2pm service! They week flew by with Victoria enjoying spending time with their 15 year old daughter and Johnathan playing with their 8- and 10-year old sons. In a neat kind of small-world way, they are also dear friends of the niece of the lady we met in Savusavu (whom we had been asking after with every Tuvaluan we met)!

As I mentioned, there were a number of other yachts in the anchorage this week. One of them was a rather unique family - a Tahitian dad single-handing a Wharram catamaran with his eight-year-old son. They are also heading north, so I suspect (and hope) we will see more of them as the season progresses.

There is very little fertile soil in Tuvalu. A number of years ago, a Taiwanese garden was established to teach the local people to grow vegetables in containers. I don't believe many families grow vegetables on their own properties, but every Tuesday and Friday morning, people come before 7am to join participate in a lottery system that lets them purchase a set 'heap' of vegetables. We ended up visiting the garden three times, so I learned a little more each time. The numbers are both assigned (with little plastic cards) and drawn (from the bucket) at random. Based on the number of people who come, the produce is divided into an appropriate number of shares, which are set out on long tables. When an individual's number is called (in Tuvaluan - I asked each time what the number would sound like, and I really had to pay attention to hear it!) it is their turn to approach the table and choose a heap (no more, no less, although some people seemed to have pre-arranged crates), which they then take to a brisk and efficient lady for weighing and paying. As the only source of nice vegetables on the island, I enjoyed the lettuce, cucumbers, spring onions, tiny tomatoes, and a few green peppers; I also enjoyed the chance to socialize while we all waited for our numbers to be called. I learned that sometimes your number is not called; thankfully, I did not learn this the hard way! Max and I met numerous people serving on foreign exchanges programs with the government/police, as well as some friendly local people, and it seemed like a good way for folks to connect with their neighbours. We enjoyed talking to the current intern from Taiwan, who will still be here if we come back in April.

We walked pretty much everywhere we had to go in Funafuti, but we were in the minority: everyone who goes anywhere goes by scooter or motor bike. Unlike Mexico, where it seemed that any number of people were permitted to ride a two-wheeled conveyance, we learned that the rule of two people maximum is strictly enforced here. This has created the need for two-wheeled trailers to be towed behind the scooter, which can then hold any number of people. No one wears helmets, but no one goes very fast, either. The typical image of a mother holding her toddler on her lap (possibly with her groceries at her feet or on her shoulder) is one that will stick with me. A man who recognized us from church stopped to pick us up when Victoria and I were walking back from the other end of town with our groceries: he actually made two trips to deliver each of us to the dock! (His family were also kind enough to send us on our way with a huge stock of Ladyfinger bananas - my favourite!)

Besides socializing, it wouldn't have been a week at anchor without a few boat issues ... we have heard back from Silentwind with some troubleshooting ideas for our wind generator; these will wait for a flatter anchorage in Kiribati. Max supervised, and Johnathan drilled, to put a hole in the handle on our gaff to take a line so that the next time we hook a massive fish we do not have to worry about it swimming off with our gaff :) Max knocked various other jobs off his huge list.

We had some tasty treats onboard this week - Victoria and Johnathan made doughnuts not once, but twice! The first time, they did it as an experiment with some of Victoria's bread dough; the second time, they made enough to share with our Baptist friends when they came for dinner. Yum! (As much as I was chomping at the bit to get into the galley to prepare the main course, I really enjoyed listening to them work together: they were cooperating so well that they were actually commenting on it to each other! This was a good thing, as hot fat, propane flames, and a lack of cooperation would not have been pretty.)

In an entire day of treats deserving (but not getting) its own email, we celebrated Benjamin's third birthday on Saturday. We began with waffles, Savusavu bacon, and 'real juice' for brunch, followed by a nap (of course), presents, mac & cheese, and cake for dessert. Victoria had been asking him for a few weeks what he wanted on his cake and the final request was a pirate ship (which she actually depicted in a count-down chart she made for him, where she and Johnathan helped him to cross out the days leading up to his birthday and the center square was a big pirate cake). Wisely, Victoria made the fondant ship on Friday (complete with toothpick masts and bowsprit, thread rigging, and billowy paper sails) so that when it came time to decorate the cake, and she only had a small window between when it finished baking and it needed to be served (thanks, Mom!), she was able to act quickly without too much stress in the galley. We had a slight 'moment' when we realized that fondant does not hold its shape especially well in a 32 deg kitchen (and of course, if fondant shapes are stored in the fridge here, they attract condensation the minute they are taken out and get all sticky...) but we used dental floss to separate the gooey bottom from the plate, and then slid parchment paper underneath to sling it from the ship yard to the icing ocean on top of the cake. All was well! Benjamin was overjoyed by the whole day, and an injection of toys has reduced his infatuation with the iPad somewhat :) (Thanks for all the birthday messages!)

Our Shade Tree 'covered wagon' tarp certainly earned its keep this week - we took it down yesterday afternoon in preparation for leaving this morning (and while it was still dry between squalls) which meant we were back to the mid-30s in the boat today. It has been relatively comfortable all week (low-30s) while we had it up. We were all in agreement that it would be back in place as soon as possible after we anchored in Tarawa! The heat has not kept Max from paddling - and swims at Fluenta were a welcome reward when he arrived back from his tour of the nearby motus.

The clock is ticking and my bunk is calling. By this time tomorrow, I should be standing my first night-watch (which is always the hardest) so I will sign off and wish you a good week :)

Love to everyone,
At 2016-12-06 11:31 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E
At 2016-12-06 8:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E

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