It didn’t take long for us to get started with our operation because the ocean was so calm. By ten o’clock the passengers were already on shore, and their luggage went in afterward.

After offloading orders and consigned cargo (Punjas, Punjas, Punjas), we sent totes on shore to set up a cozy Kwai store. Four Kiribati crew and one Kiribati Supercargo (GO Teraititi!!!) managed to make very good sales. But we are not only here to sell goods. We also provide transport for copra. This time we loaded 50 tons, which brings in roughly 140.000 AUD  to keep the local economy turning.

As usual on Washington Island all hands helped out with getting the cargo from the tenders onto the beach. Young and old (mostly male though) had great fun in what outsiders might consider ‘quite a chore’. The tender comes in through a pass in the reef, waiting for the smallest wave in a set and ends up ‘stern-to’ (the beach) where the surge is still considerable. The assistant boat-driver, who is waist deep in the wild water half of the day, tries to keep the tender as close to the beach as possible, without the outboard touching bottom. Then the locals start climbing down the steep beach with 90 lb bags of copra (dried coconut) on their shoulder, and up again with a box, a parcel or a 50 lb bag of rice. It’s no surprise that the Kiribati people have the best developed calves I’ve ever seen. The people on Teraina live a life in remoteness of westernized world, and still in close contact with nature.

Although… through the years I’ve established a way of determining the status of ‘civilization’, through the meals that I am offered on certain occasions. Last night, for example, I spent the night on shore and was invited to the KUC village house, where there happened to be a special function: the prize giving of the tournaments of the last weeks (football, beauty pageant, volleyball). The mwaneaba (similar to an Alaska Long house) was packed with people. Conform to custom, first the men get to squat down for the meal that is presented on a 80 feet long Pandanus mat (I’m not exaggerating). While the men clap their hands in slow-beat, the women enter the mwaneaba with Tupperware trays. On occasions like these, the community will show their wealth by offering the best food that is available on the island. Especially close to the chief (or minister Mereta, in this case) the food needs to be excellent. As I was squatted next to the minister, I opened up ‘my tray’, and smiled, because the meal existed of white rice, Spam, biscuits and fluffy corn chips. The minister recognized my smirk, and reacted: “yes, no Kiribati food, ke?! Ha-ha”. I had to ask people way down the line to please pass me some dry fish and steamed breadfruit.

This experience makes me aware of the challenges the Kiribati people face in their development. Through the scarcely available media (music video clips and Korean movies, obtained from fishermen), they get the stereotypical examples of what Westernized society has to offer. People are not yet (made) aware that these examples bring specific problems of their own. I am of the opinion that these people, just like us, have a right to choose how to live their lives. Still, I think it is only fair to create awareness on the islands, now that Westernized goods are available to the locals. And this is why my partner Ari and me established a Non-Profit Organization called “Sea Stewardship”. Please check us out on www.seastewardship.com

Bengineer