|approaching Funafuti by air, one skinny green strip in a vast blue|
Welcome to Tuvalu (Tu-VAH-loo)! Although I didn't initially plan to come to this country when I designed my Watson proposal last year, the evolution of my project made it possible and worthwhile to give Tuvalu a try.
But why Tuvalu? What am I doing here? Where the heck is it?
|the government building, with new solar power installation|
There are a lot of reasons why life isn’t easy here. But man is it laid back. There’s a beautiful energy. People are kind. They look out for each other, even for the odd visiting pelangi (pah-LUNG-ee=white person) who needs help finding her rented bicycle that some little kid ‘borrowed.’
So, I’m here doing what I’ve been doing all year: trying to learn about how nature conservation and creative writing relate to each other and fit into daily life. The imminent threats to this country make this a particularly fascinating place to study these relationships.
|arriving at Funafala islet during storm damage |
assessment with PM and MPs
|traditional dancers at Funafuti's Nukulaelae community |
maneapa (meeting hall) performing to
celebrate 150 years of Christianity on Tuvalu
Singing fills the writing niche. I’ve met a couple songwriters and listened to several choirs. People have told me about the symbolism in the songs, and how the lines imply entire backstories beyond the repetitive lyrics. For example, one song about “the paddles of the men, the paddles of the gods” tells a whole tale of fishermen battling powerful spirits at sea mainly just by singing about their paddles.
|me performing my poetry at Tefota, in Funafuti|
Challenges, eh? Since so few tourists come to Tuvalu (we're talking double digits most years), and most pelungi are here representing foreign aid, I was met with a lot of confused looks when I tried to explain myself and my goals as a Watson Fellow. I seemed like an especially odd duck--too unofficial to team up with the Department of Environment or Fisheries, yet too unusual to be completely dismissed. Whether at the libraries or the conservation workers I talked to in the government or the Kaupule, nobody seemed to really know what to do with me. So--I decided to embrace being unofficially affiliated.
Most of my successes connecting with people here in Tuvalu happened over dinner. Luckily, it isn't hard to meet anyone as there are only four restaurants in town. I learned that just turning up at somebody's office, dinner table, or even by flagging them down when they zip by on their motorbike, opens a lot of subsequent opportunities.
|the Nivaga II that brought me to Vaitupu, |
my first voyage on the high seas
I got to join the former prime minister and climate change activist/researcher Bikenibeu Paeniu and UN researcher Andrea Milan on a climate change and migration survey on the outer island of Vaitupu.
I joined the current prime minister and several MPs for an assessment of the storm damage of Cyclone Pam on the outer islets of Funafuti, including an afternoon banquet on Funafala islet.
Through the Kaupule, I visited the Funafuti Conservation Area, and explored the islet forests and reefs on the western end of the lagoon. We motored back across the lagoon in driving rain, which blocked out all visuals of the low-lying lands and brought on the only real sense of cold during my time in Tuvalu.
I met a marine biologist, fisheries experts, school teachers, singers, dancers, fishermen, a theologian, pastors, chiefs and island elders.
And, since it seems fair to mention these encounters too, I've watched many a gecko gobble up ants while upside down, swum in the midst of schooling baitfish, drunk the slightly fizzy water of freshly harvested coconut, and eaten more raw fish than I ever before dared. I know most of those examples are food related, but food is a big part of any given day here.
I'm certain I will miss this place, and I wonder if I will ever return. Soon, no one may live here if the coming decades bring the predicted effects of climate change on the rising sea level, increased erosion, and further lack of freshwater to the islands.
The world is changing. So am I. So are you.