Helena Charlesworth: Helena Charlesworth’s CommUNITY News no. 2

Another school year is over and this Christmas I’ll be in Melbourne with my cousin, hopefully having had a few days prior to that in Devonport catching up with relatives and friends in my homeplace.

A Kiribati sunset
The highlight of the year for me was finally moving into a new house on the school compound at Easter time; no more daily bus travel, although to my surprise I found that bus trip to be generally quite interesting; it certainly gave me an insight into village life as I travelled home each evning, seeing people taking their evening baths in the lagoon, youth playing volleyball (why weren’t they doing homework?), fish sellers with roadside stalls laden with freshly-caught fish for the evening meal and beautiful sunsets over the lagoon.

My new home is lovely; right on the edge of the lagoon, with magnificent views of sunrise and sunset, and I don’t miss too many of them either! I have my favourite spot outside for my early morning cuppa, watching each new day light up. And the moon over the lagoon at night is a sight to behold.  At low tide at night I see people out in the shallows with their torches, catching small octopus or digging up shellfish. Daytime sees dozens of people collecting shellfish as they follow the tide out. And of course we see the fishermen, nets slung over their shoulders, wading out in pairs into the deeper water, spreading their nets and slapping the water to drive the fish in. This year I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see more seabirds than in previous years. We can always tell when there’s a shoal of fish in the lagoon as we watch flocks of birds circling overhead.

North Tarawa on the horizon
This photo is the daily scene from both home and school. In reality the colours are truly gorgeous, clear, bright, greenish-blue, but my printer isn’t doing justice to them. There are no mountains, hills, rivers or lakes at all here, yet the scenery is still very special as you can see. The dark line on the horizon is North Tarawa – that’s how flat it is.

I’m so close to the lagoon that the only traffic that passes me is the occasional boat – fishing ones or ones bringing people from North Tarawa over for the market.

The school year has finished, with national exams for Forms 5, 6 and 7, while Form 4 had in-school exams. We have to wait now for national results to come out and selection of next year’s classes to be made. It’s been a hard year in some aspects, especiatlly frustrating a lot of the time with cultural differences in attitude more than anything else making life difficult at work. It’s been hard to get our students to atend school regularly and work hard, with some exceptions of course.

Helena, with students, on Teachers' Day
This photo shows some of us on the recent Teachers’ Day when classes put on a meal for staff members. And the next one was taken at our combined feast day/cultural day and shows girls weaving coconut fronds. We had a great celebration that day, with traditional crafts and games, then singing and dancing. The your people certainly know how to enjoy themselves.

Independence Day was celebrated in style as usual in July, with a whole week’s national holiday and activities on every day. It was preceded by three days of inter-school sports events. The problem with holidays here is that some people need a holiday to get over the holiday, so they don’t return to school on the given day, some of them not returning till the next week! I’m afraid the word “frustrating” is one I overuse, but with good reason as you can see.

Students weaving
I’m really looking forward to returning home. It will be 4 years since I was last in Devonport – two since in Melbourne. And next year? Yes, I’m returning to Kiribati and at school we’re looking forward to the new school year because we expect to have another Palms volunteer on staff, as well as a new Japanese teacher and we hope another Australian volunteer later in the first term to do teacher training, something that’s sorely needed.

My very best wishes to all for Christmas and New Year, 2011.

Helena

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