Weaving, Fasting, Going
The symphonic alarm of clanking bottles, Henry crowing, dogs barking, and babies crying welcomed me to my first morning back home. But something was different. My younger sister was not outside, sweeping the dirt. The rhythmic rasping sound of the ground being swept with dried frond broom spines was missing. Outside, Uriane informed me that something happened to her. She seemed overtly proud to notify me of the situation and put me on notice that a celebration would occur in three days. Her openness was startling, as first menstruations were not celebrated in my culture.
“Would you make some of your candies for the party?”
I learned how to make caramel balls by boiling condensed milk and cinnamon in Tarawa. The first time I made it, it looked inappropriate, but tasted great! I agreed and prepared for my first mensural celebration.
Mariteiti remained secluded for three days learning the roles of Kiribati women from elder female relatives. She learned how to make kora by pulling husk fibers from dried split coconuts and rolling them together on her inner thigh. Once rolled, strands were braided into strong twine. She learned how to weave mats from prepared pandanus leaves. Her food was restricted, and her stomach tied to teach her the importance of feeding others, especially children, before her. For the first time, she experienced a hunger of love. These practices have defined Kiribati women for centuries, and now, no longer a child, they were hers.
The compound was abuzz with activity on Mariteiti’s third day of seclusion. Preparations for the afternoon celebration began the day before with the slaughtering of a pig.
Representatives from the church, government, and both villages were present. Tauro arrived early to drive her around the island in celebration with friends of hers. As a surprise, Corey and I spent the morning creating congratulatory signs for her three rounds around the island.
Waiting by the road for the truck to pass, we held our red -Happy First Menstruation- signs with great pride and enthusiasm. It was clear the truck appreciated our efforts, as they honked and screamed with each round.
Mariteiti’s celebration was a success because everyone came together. For the next week, her new status was the talk of the island. She was no longer a child, and we were more than excited to welcome her into her next stage of life.
Work settled into the regular flow for the next three months, and with each new day, a new X on my calendar appeared. I was counting down the months, weeks, and eventually days to my return to America. As the trip grew closer, I began mentally preparing myself. It was surreal. I would see my family again, but I had so much family here. I was things would go back to normal, and I would fall back into who I was before I came to Kiribati. But, it was much harder than I thought it would be. Preparing for the short two-week trip consumed my thoughts at night. I would walk to the field and lay down under the glow of the milky way, thinking how much I would miss Tamana, and how I didn’t want to leave. I wondered what happened to me. I questioned where home was if it were not here. Other volunteers had returned during the mid-service break; I choose to stay. It would have been too expensive to back then, and the snow would have killed this island boy.
On my last night, I walked to one of the swings that Biita and I built for the students. I sat in the moonlit field for hours, thinking about what life would be like in a few days. Who I would see, and what people would think of me. I was different but swore as soon as I landed, I would snap back into the old me. I fantasized about the foods I would eat, the places I would go, and how good life would be. I wondered about the events, the students, the fishing, the bananas, everything I would miss. Of greatest concern was not being able to find all requested gifts.
From childhood to womanhood: Painting by Barane Iererita