Friday, January 7, 2011

South Pacific Musings from a Frozen State

Quiz today!

Don't worry, you won't be graded. But if you know the answer (before you scroll down and read it), you should leave a comment so we can all congratulate you. And take that "we" a little loosely. I'll congratulate you. And maybe my dad will. He's a retired professor, so he appreciates students who can figure out tough questions. But don't count on anyone else congratulating you. You never know, though.

Okay, okay, I can read your mind, and you're saying Get on with it, why don't ya? (Or maybe you say you. Whatever.)

1) What is the only country that is located in all four hemispheres (West, East, North, and South)? Did I really need to write out all four hemispheres? Because I probably didn't, but I wanted to be sure I was clear. I guess if you don't know what the four hemispheres are, you really have no chance of answering this question correctly anyway.

2) Hint--this is the same country that is the one that is likely to be the first to disappear due to climate change. This probably isn't much of a hint, but perhaps you have an astonishing grasp of countries with height-challenged land masses.

3) They drive on the left side of the road here. But because this nation is made up of 33 atolls and one raised coral island, there really aren't many roads. Now that's more of a hint. You're probably guessing that those dang Brits were responsible for getting this country all messed up, and you're right! This country became independent from the U.K. in 1979.

4) Even though this is an island nation, the police force for the approximately 100,000 inhabitants includes only one patrol boat. I am sadly out of any side comments.

Have your answer ready?















That's what you guessed, right? Kiribati, pronounced Keer-ee-bas (don't ask me why), is this sunny, hot, tropical nation located out in the South Pacific.

I had the opportunity to get acquainted with it on our drive to California, when we listened to the book The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. (During our previous drive to California three years prior, we listened to Three Cups of Tea, another engaging nonfiction book set in an interesting locale. This may become a tradition as we battle the snow over Donner Summit.)

The Sex Lives of Cannibals is about a guy and his girlfriend who spend two years out in Kiribati. The girlfriend has a job with an aid agency, while the boyfriend just lazes around and doesn't do much. Which is quite in keeping with an equatorial nation where it is sweltering hot all the time, the power frequently cuts out so that the fans don't work, and the food selection is remarkably limited, consisting primarily of fish, fish, and more fish.

Some of the observations made in the book made me have absolutely no desire to go visit, such as the abundance of disposable diapers thrown onto the coral reef surrounding the main island, and the use of the sea water as a toilet by many. Doesn't make snorkeling sound too appealing. Or the lack of reliable air service in and out of the islands. In fact, upon further research, I found that the Peace Corps pulled out of Kiribati largely due to this reason.

Just because I don't want to go to the place doesn't mean it wasn't fascinating hearing about it. They have unusual customs, even if The Macarena has become the number one hit song and is played repeatedly 24/7. The outer islands sound nice, more primitive and down-to-earth than the main island, which is full of corruption and vices of the modern world.

Apparently despite bad air service, lack of air conditioning, and an unendearing description, tourism does play an important part of the local economy, contributing 1/5 of the GDP. It's not clear how people arrive, but I guess that's just one of those silly questions. Details, details. Tourism had a bump in 2000, as the country moved the dateline just in time for the Millenium so that one of their islands would be the first spot to usher in the new era. I mean, that is something you just have to admire.

I also admire their planning for their demise, when they are no longer able to live in their country because it will be flooded by rising sea levels. The President said, "To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that." He wasn't all about talk though. The country asked New Zealand and Australia to accept Kiribati citizens as permanent refugees. Those are good choices, New Zealand and Australia have lots of high places that shouldn't be flooded in a long time. And they drive on the left side of the road, too.

The Wikipedia entry on Kiribati has little tidbits that just leave me wondering--like why has Cuba played such a big role in medicine? Why do they show a photo of the underwhelming Presidential residence? Why do they use the Australian dollar yet New Zealand represents them in the United Nations? And is The Macarena still the number one song?

Just thinking about the island nation of Kiribati on this frigid morning makes me feel a little warmer. And it makes me appreciate (some of) their idiosyncrasies. I'm sure if they were to hear of life out here, they'd find just as many crazy things that would make them not want to visit. It's good that we're not all alike!

1 comment:

jendoop said...

I've read that! The author has several other similar books out.

I didn't know if I should laugh or groan at most of the incidents!

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