5th of August, Christmas Island
Sometimes it’s so easy to make people happy with the simplest things. Take Irene’s shoes for example. Irene is the four year old daughter of Nana, one of the local Nurse Practitioners on the island. She is a dear friend of mine who lives in the village of London on Christmas Island. Our cook Jane was asked to buy a pair of, and I quote, “girly shoes for a four year old”. Jane is quite outspoken in her own garments, so she bought a pair of glitter-shoes for Irene. Today I went over to see Nana. I found her behind her house cooking lunch for the family on a open coconut-fond fire. While Nana was chucking chunks of battered fish into the freaking hot frying pan, I asked her how Irene liked her new shoes. The mother of all mothers gave me a modest smile and told me that Irene refused to take the shoes off, before going to bed or even for having a bath. Moments later I saw Irene squatting in the yard, barefooted playing with her ‘magic shoes’. Of course she didn’t react to my greetings, totally transcended in her own world. This operation of ours literally changes many island people’s lives, however young or old they are.
When we arrived at the jetty in Christmas Island we had to wait a few hours to be cleared by the boarding-party of officials. We happened to arrive on a Wednesday morning, the day that the plane of Fiji Airlines lands on the airstrip near the village of Banana. As usual, the cook prepared welcoming-snacks on the table on the aft-deck. This time though, the officials started foraging more snacks to take home with them. Probably with the idea that we live a life of plenty on the Kwai, and I have to admit that we portray this image because this is the beginning of the voyage and out provisions are plenty. They have to last us for five months though, and this is not a concept that island people comprehend. In the average mind it works like this: food is available, so eat it quickly because it might not be here tomorrow.
Discharging cargo went as planned. Within 24 hours the destined cargo was put on the shore. Loading cargo was another matter. The three 40 foot containers with cargo refused to show up at the requested time, and when they started to be dropped off on the jetty, it turned out that the cargo for both outer islands was mixed up. So we had two crew members tallying the cargo that was put in the hold. I show a lot of respect for the tally people. It is a responsible and stressful job. They have to try to keep up with the crane that swings the cargo nets between ship and shore. To see the stevedores work is a delight. Throwing bags of flour, rice and sugar around for eight hours (or more) per day is exhaustive. At a certain moment I witnessed one of them carrying three 50 kilo bags of grain on his back. The work of these island people is one of the secrets to the success of our operation.
This is our third day of cargo-handling on the island, and we are still not quite finished. This is a good sign because there is a full load of cargo going to the outer islands, Fanning and Washington. Because this will be the last time for the next five months that we serve the Line Islands, many people take the opportunity to have their cargo shipped by us. There is such a high demand that captain Brad now even considers to do a ‘second run’ on the islands. We are here not only to run a profitable organization but also to serve the population of a group of remote islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They have become kind of dependent on us (and, who am I kidding… we on them). As a sign of our alliance I am now preparing the templates for spray-painting the Kiribati flag as a decoration on the side of the engine room stack. Photos will soon follow.
The Kwai is expected to depart on Saturday afternoon (Kiribati time), destination Fanning Island, some 140 nautical miles to the North West. As usual our hatch will shelter about seventy locals that have familiar or business reasons to visit the outer islands. We try to make the passage as comfortable as possible. Our two cook will serve local food, while two other crew members take the challenge of keeping all the passengers happy and healthy. The weather is wonderful and the winds are favorable for sailing, so all looks good for now.