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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

July 4, 2001

The tranquil morning sounds of clanking bottles and men's voices harmonizing from the coconut tree tops were abruptly replaced by the booming commands of primary school marching drill instructors shouting, "Left, right, left, right, march!" Initially, I found the new morning routine quite intriguing and even enjoyable. However, as July approached, I found myself eagerly anticipating the end of the independence celebrations.


Interestingly, both Kiribati and the United States share a historical parallel in gaining independence from British colonial rule. Kiribati achieved independence on July 12, 1979, nearly two centuries after the United States gained its independence. This shared significance of July as a month of independence added an intriguing layer of connection between the two countries.

 

In honor of the U.S. Independence Day falling on a Wednesday that year, my colleagues and I decided to organize a special festival for the students in the school's maneaba. In the evenings leading up to the celebration, we collaborated to create a variety of entertaining games and activities.


We transformed corrugated tin sheets into makeshift marble racetracks, repurposed old bicycles into targets for softball games, and fashioned games of chance using coconut halves. Additionally, we arranged classic favorites such as musical chairs, a "cake walk," and a thrilling slick pig chase. To add to the excitement, we set up a ring toss and a long jump competition, providing plenty of opportunities for fun and friendly competition among the students.


Since we lacked an American flag, we improvised using a king-sized bed sheet my mom had packed for me. I sketched out the design on a piece of paper and enlisted the help of two older students who stayed behind after school. After about an hour of diligent work, they dashed excitedly to the maneaba, where we were setting up the games.


With pride evident in their voices, they presented the flag to me, exclaiming, "Tem Mike, aio am buraki! Sir, here is your flag!" Suppressing a chuckle, I couldn't help but notice that they had inadvertently drawn the flag backward. Nonetheless, we hung it between two maneaba posts and carried on with our decorating preparations, embracing the spirit of the occasion despite the minor mishap.


The students couldn't contain their excitement as they arrived the following day and caught sight of the maneaba. If it hadn't been for the presence of Meeki and the other teachers' husbands in the yard, I'm certain some of the students would have been tempted to test out the games right away. Their anticipation was palpable as they made their way across the open field to gather for the morning call.


After classes resumed following morning tea, the students eagerly assembled to receive instructions and their ten game tickets each. With teachers positioned at their designated spots, the lively strains of music filled the air, signaling the start of the festivities. With a burst of energy and enthusiasm, the students set off to enjoy the array of games and activities laid out for them.


During the festival, teachers operated the games by collecting tickets from players and distributing tickets to the winners. The festivities lasted for about two hours, filled with laughter and excitement. 


As the festival drew to a close, students were delighted to receive toys from the most recent shipment sent by mom and dad, featuring items collected from Dairy Queen and McDonald's kids' meals. In a display of true Kiribati community spirit, I observed several groups of students pooling their tickets together in the hopes of winning a prize that they could all share.


Both students and teachers alike commented on how enjoyable the day had been. However, there was a sense of reluctance to see the festivities come to an end, except perhaps for Meeki's pig, which had been greased with butter and oil for the slick pig chase. Nonetheless, despite the inevitable conclusion of the day's festivities, memories of the fun-filled celebration would linger in the hearts and minds of all who attended.

 

The following day, the school returned to its usual routine, with marching practices for the upcoming Kiribati Independence Day celebrations resuming in full swing. Despite the hard work and dedication required, it was evident that all the practice had paid off.


The pinnacle of the parade was undoubtedly the sight of our kindergarteners marching proudly across the ceremonial grounds. Their enthusiasm and determination were infectious, capturing the spirit of unity and pride that permeated the entire event. It was a moment of immense joy and accomplishment for both the students and the school community, marking a fitting tribute to the celebration of Kiribati's independence.


We traveled back to the main island every three months for a week-long conference, which served as a mid-service checkpoint for us Peace Corps Volunteers. Our mid-service conference for this particular cycle was scheduled for the week of September 5-12, 2001.


During this conference, we underwent physical check-ups with the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO), engaged in programming meetings with our Associate Peace Corps Directors (APCDs), and participated in general gatherings with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). 


Moreover, the week provided us with the opportunity to replenish our supplies that were not readily available in the outer islands where we served. For this reason, I found myself eagerly anticipating these three-month check-ins, as they not only offered a chance for professional development and camaraderie but also ensured we had the necessary resources to continue our work effectively.


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