5th of December 2016, Sinterklaas on Teraina Island

Today we arrive on Washington Island and it happens to be a special day for
Dutch people, like me. Once a year the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas, Saint
Nicolas day. A bearded old white holy man, dressed up like the pope, arrives
on a steam boat “from Spain” (actually being Smyrna, in Turkey, but hey,
that’s close enough). This holy man is assisted by a bunch of Zwarte Pieten,
Black Peters, and this makes the tradition quite controversial nowadays. The
essence of the whole celebration is that Sinterklaas brings bags full of
presents for the kids on his boat, and today I feel like we are acting as
Sinterklaas for the people of Teraina. Since our last visit, three months
ago, no other ships have supplied the Line Islands, so you can imagine that
the people, especially on this most remote island of Teraina, have run out
of the most essential items, like fuel, flour and rice.

Not only do we supply “presents”, but we even deliver the youth that call
Teraina their home. The Kwai has been chartered by the Ministry of Education
to pick-up students from the islands and bring them home for the holiday
season. It’s great fun having all these young adults on board. They settle
down on one of our many decks, mostly in groups around mobile phones and
laptops. Once we caught a couple “making out” in the foc’s’l, haha.

Our port of embarkation was Suva in Fiji, instead of Honolulu Hawaii, so we
have our holds filled with other items than usual. No bales of second hand
clothes and no bicycles this time, but a lot of crackers, cookies and Chao
noodles. (Our first mate Megan cannot hear the “C”-word anymore without her
eye starting to twitch). Especially rice was a problematic item to source in
Fiji. The Kiribati have a demand for “sticky Calrose rice”, for the fact
that they use their fingers to eat. While in Fiji the common rice is Long
Grain. We tried this rice on our own crew while we were there, but no, they
were resolute and unanimous: this is not what we eat. Forget about it. So we
bought all the Calrose rice on the shelves, but obviously it is not enough
for a people that have been deprived from their main food item for months
now. Thanks to price regulations of the MCIC (Ministry of Commerce), the
price of rice has not gone sky-high. There are no taxes either on essential
items like rice, flour and bikes. (Sugar though, is highly taxed).

So here we are, performing like the bringer of good news for the happy
people of the Gilbert Islands. I’m looking forward to the next couple of
days. Not only supplying the island with the most needed goods, but also
loading 50 tons of Copra. Let’s give this micro economy a Kwai boost!

Bengineer