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  • Michael Roman

Independence

The morning chorus of clanking bottles and songs being sung from the treetops were drowned out by marching drills — left, right, left, right, march! I thoroughly enjoyed this new morning routine. The primary students, out of sync, were cute. Their progress seemed to get better on somedays and fall apart on others. By July, I could not wait until the practices were over.


Kiribati and the U.S. are similar in that both gained their independence from the British during July, U.S. July 4, 1776, and Kiribati July 12, 1979. In honor of U.S. independence, my school decided to do something special. Evenings leading up to the celebration, I worked with fellow teachers to create field games for an American style summer festival. We turned corrugated tin sheets into marble racetracks, old bicycle tires into softball targets, and coconut shell games of chance. We had musical chairs, a “cakewalk,” a pig chase, ring toss, and a long jump.


We used an old bed sheet to make a U.S. flag. I placed two older students in charge of this process while I worked with fellow teachers to set up the games in the school’s field. After an hour of work, beaming with pride, the two ran into the maneaba, “Tem Mike, aio am buraki!” Sir, here is your flag!


Proud of their efforts, I couldn’t help but laugh. The flag was backward, we hung it up anyway and continued decorating the maneaba into the night. Students couldn’t help but notice the changes when they arrived the next morning. Excitement grew as they entered their classrooms. When classes broke for morning tea, all staff and students gathered to receive festival tickets and instructions. Once teachers crewed their stations, music began, and the students were off.


Semi-controlled chaos is what I would describe the rest of the day as. Tickets were flying from student to game leader and back to winning contestants. Students strategized, pooling tickets to create better odds. Biita’s piglet, covered in butter, squealing and running as fast as he could from students trying their best to catch him while henry watched the commotion from afar. Corey was handing basketballs to hopeful contestants in the basketball court, Uriane operated the long jump pit, Ubwatita the bucket toss, Areta the softball toss, and Biita the guessing of hi-low twenty-one. The fun went on for two hours, and in the end, students cashed in their tickets for prizes from the most recent shipment from home.


In Kiribati fashion, students pooled their resources to obtain grander prizes, which they shared. This was a far cry from what I assumed would happen. Everyone, except for Biita’s piglet, still covered in butter, seemed sad the day had to end.


***

School returned to normalcy, with marching practice at the top of the schedule. It would be this way for the next week.


Right, left, right, left, riiiiiiiight, left.


In the end, all the preparations paid off. On July 12, 2001, Margaret Field Primary School performed flawlessly, the highlight being our kindergarteners. Dressed to the T in their white button-down tops, pink bottoms, and freshly woven coconut leaf hats, they marched inharmonious with each other across the government station’s grounds!



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©2020 by Michael Roman