The truck ride home was much faster than the bike ride up. The morning storms had passed, leaving the afternoon air thick with humidity and heat. Mr. Taake met me at the truck when we pulled into Tateta.
I’m sorry Mr. Taake, I said, I broke a pedal on the way to the government center.
We were worried about you, Mike. The storms were strong, and you were alone. Are you ok?
I’m fine, I took a nap in the government center and ate biscuits for lunch. Look, pointing to the bed, they found all my luggage!
The truck driver, Mr. Taake, and I carried all the items into my house.
We will leave you here then to finish your work, is that ok?
Yes, thank you so much!
I worked until nightfall setting up my house, and super excited to sleep in the confines of my mosquito net. Everything was coming together until I turned into an emotional wreck. Under the bright full moon, homesickness reared its ugly head.
Everyone at the site was more than helpful, I had all my luggage, two Cokes, and delicious biscuits for lunch. But alas, here it was. Loneliness was unbearable. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I did not have the ability to verbally express how I felt. But, even if I could, I did not want to bother my neighbors with my problems. I was there to serve others. Crying myself to sleep as I had done many times before, I tempered my sobs to keep from reaching the ears of my neighbors.
The next morning, I woke to an army of small eyes peering into my sleeping room. Children from next door, curiously looked in as I slowly woke.
When my eyes cracked, a small voice whispered Hello foreigner. Again, I wondered if I was where I was. I laid still, thinking — What did I get myself into? I smiled at the little Mauri Mafia eyes and said, Hello children. The eyeballs scurried away, running into nearby houses.
Rolling out of bed, I was determined to buy fresh-baked bread, and boil drinking water for breakfast. The store was a ten-minute walk, and when I arrived, the owner and I had a small conversation about the village Catholic church behind the store.
Our brief conversation along with the fresh-baked bread and tin of butter boosted my confidence like nothing before. Small steps, I kept reminding myself all the way home, little by little.
After breakfast, the rains returned. From home, I watched as coconut fronds flew across the compound. Thuds of crashing coconuts sounded all around me, one landed on my house. The storm was brief and from the way everyone began cleaning and repairing after the storm, it was clear this had happened before.
Neighbors came to check on me, and besides a couple of holes in my roof, everything was good. I could easily fix them with the supplies I brought from home. I had two pounds of Ziploc bags and one roll of duct tape, I got to work.
Everything was patched by the time English hour, a BBC newscast, began on Radio Kiribati. Falling asleep to the broadcast, I was woken by another storm. Gusting winds, thunder, lightning, and heavy rains destroyed my amateur repair attempts. The bags collected water, creating even larger holes. By morning, my roof looked like Swiss cheese. I needed much more than duct tape and plastic bags to fix it now.
In my best Kiribati language, I approached my neighbors for help, but their husbands weren’t home. They pointed me to another house, which couldn’t help me either. I went from house to house asking for help, and on the fifth house Bentiira, the school carpenter agreed.
He spoke English, which helped immensely. In the house, I showed him my holes. He laughed and put his hand on my shoulder, what are you trying to say?
I’m trying to say that I have all of these holes that I need to fix and don't know how to do it.
Smiling, he said, I see.
You need to improve your I-Kiribati.
Great, I thought.
You’re thinking is good, but your words are bad. In our language, the hole is bangabanga. What you said, kabanga, means penis.
I was telling everyone I had a bunch of penises in my house?
Yes, they were very confused.
I was so embarrassed. All I could do was think of everyone who did not want to help fix my penises. It made perfect sense. Bentiira was the only one brave enough to enter my house and see all the penises that grew last night and got me wet.
We couldn't help but laugh as we fixed penis after penis the entire afternoon.