Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Kiribati Part 2

One of the most amazing things about Kiribati, or any Pacific nation for that matter, is the sheer size of the territory it covers. Growing up in a small nation like Ireland, I have a really warped concept of distance and trying to imagine how much time it takes to get from Sydney to Melbourne, or New York to Los Angeles still baffles me immensely.

When I first moved to Russia, I naively imagined I would be able to hop on a train and easily visit places like Novosibirsk and Vladivostok, not really understanding that Vladivostok was eight time zones away from Moscow, and the distance is the equivalent of travelling from London to Cape Town.

In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J Maarten Troost describes the mammoth journey he took with his wife from Washington DC to Tarawa, via Hawaii, Johnstone Atoll and the Marshall Islands. He also mentions that Kiribati covers a similar area of ocean that the US covers on land. It suddenly seems as though Kiribati is not such a small nation after all. In fact, with the sheer distances between atolls, I can't even imagine what that means in terms of communication and national identity.

On translating the Bible into Gilbertese the first missionaries were stumped when they found out that there is no word for 'mountain' in Kiribati. Apparently the native Gilbertese speakers had heard there was something higher than an atoll, somewhere down in Samoa, but with nowhere higher than 2 metres in their own islands, I imagine there was quite a bit 'lost in translation'. Mountains are pretty key in terms of symbolism to the bible, and without them, important biblical events, like Moses receiving the ten commandments, suddenly seem a lot less exciting.

As part of my learning experience, I've also been scanning September's news reports for mentions of Kiribati and one story that seems to be popular there at the moment is the arrival if British rower Roz Savage. Roz rocked up in Tarawa, the i-Kiribati capital, on the 9th of September after 104 days at sea. She is the first woman to row solo across the Pacific, so I'm sure she knows all about distances and the vast empty spaces of the Pacific.

I'm a big fan of stories like Roz's but, like most people, I often don't get to hear about other people's adventures until they are over. Roz's challenge is very much still on - she's hoping to make it all the way to Australia and is highlighting the impact of climate change as she passes through the Pacific islands most directly under threat. You can find out more about Roz's Pacific adventure at her website http://www.rozsavage.com/

Having completed the second stage of her solo row, she's currently taking a break and is cycling around Amish country in Pennsylvania.

Image credits
The beautiful image of the man walking on the beach is from flickr user gonzalez_ar who is from Buenos Aires in Argentina. See more at http://www.flickr.com/people/gonzalo_ar/

The painting of Moses with the Tablets of Law is by Rembrandt and is available for reproduction in the public domain.

The photo of Roz Savage arriving in Hawaii is by web developer, writer, father, husband, and semi-professional napper in paradise, flickruser Hawaii who is, not surprisingly, from Honululu.

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