Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sniffles and festivities

I have a cold. It’s an “island flu”. I know that if I go to the island nurse I will be handed a packet of amoxicillin (cure all antibiotic and one of about 3 things they hold supplies of out here). I soldier on the first two days on Panadol, strepsils and multivitamins. I sleep sitting propped upright against the wall so I don’t cough all night. I am on the hunt for limes which I’m told someone grows here. I become sleep deprived, grumpy, and lethargic and by the third day I’ve lost my voice altogether and now people have a legitimate excuse for ignoring me – they can’t actually hear me. It’s time for a rest day. And as chance would have it, there isn’t much we can do onsite anyway until our missing hardware arrives (story to follow). I find limes, finally cave in and start taking antibiotics, get my first nights sleep in 4 days and wake up able to speak again (even if I sound like a 13-year old boy).

Health and wellbeing are pretty critical topics out here. On our minds even if we don’t speak about it all the time. More than we would ever be back home, we are watchful of each other’s health – whether it’s a scratch that’s turning into a gangrenous flesh wound or a cough which turns into a short fuse. Living in such close quarters and being so reliant on each other to complete this project makes this unavoidable and simultaneously difficult to accept. Everyone has their own theory on how wounds need to be treated, when drugs should be considered, and lots of (barely tolerated) advice. On top of stress about food supplies, drinking water, community liaison, paying bills and forward schedules, I’m kind of proud that we’re all still laughing together at the end of each day.

At three weeks into the Nanumea install, we’ve achieved a lot but have had a few spanners thrown into the works along the way. Back in March during the delivery of all our freight to Nanumea, a hardware crate was mysteriously lost at sea (presumed dropped as it was being lifted from ships crane to lighter). On our way through Funafuti 4 weeks ago we located and “borrowed” the Niutao crate on basis that there would be time to ship a replacement crate to Niutao before solar installation works start there in November. But, sadly the Niutao crate didn’t have all the equivalent parts needed and our threaded rod, which is essentially the foot for the array framing, was not there.

Alex was quickly dispatched from New Zealand to Funafuti as our logistics support officer – tasked with breaking into gear stored at Funafuti wharf to “borrow” threaded rod (and some washers which were also missing) from Niutao or Nanumaga.

In the meantime, the team has soldiered on with emphasis on completing the battery and inverter rooms. Good news is that both were completed last week, all inverters finally turned on, and the system was turned on yesterday. Even better news is that the generator was used last night to successfully charge the batteries from midnight to 6am. From today onwards we will be trying to use the batteries to meet load throughout the night so that the village has 24 hour power. The generator will still run throughout the day to feed the village and top up the batteries. All signs look good. And I’m doing a little dance because it means the fans will be on all night and I might get some uninterrupted sleep!

The somewhat interrupted installation schedule has created other opportunities for the team to get a bit more involved with the very active Nanumea community.

When we first arrived in Nanumea, it was evident that the civil team who’d been here before us had not made great efforts to build positive or respectful relationships with their local workers or the local Kaupule. While disappointing for us, it also presented an opportunity for us to change their minds about having us here, and about helping us bring this project to completion.

We arranged a pig and set a date for an afternoon barbeque with the workers, our housekeeper/cook and her troop of helpers. The workers set up a volleyball net between the makeshift hardware shed and our little digger and Roger introduced them to slow racing (last to cross the line wins).

Volleyball fun

Feasting on local foods

Slow racing
And I think our efforts to engage have made a difference…

Nanumea, like most of Tuvalu, has a thriving community culture, centred largely around the Church. July 16th was the 84th anniversary of the Church and the celebrations had obviously been in preparation for months.

Nanumea Church

Festivities kicked off at 4:30am. We were still in bed. But we did hear the 102 bell rings at 3:30am waking everyone up for the first service.

Activities continued throughout the day and we were impressed to find everyone still looking bright-eyed when we joined them in the community hall at 6:50pm. We felt chuffed to be invited and overwhelmed to be offered a seat in the inner circle at the left hand of the Pastor! I have to assume that everyone had had an afternoon nap as we were informed that the dancing and singing would continue until 4am (yes, it’s a 24hour celebration!).

After prayers and a couple of speeches, we were invited to eat first and led to the most enormous table of food stretching from one end of the hall to the other. There were coconut shoots, grilled fish, smoked fish, crabs, rice, pork, barbequed chicken, breadfruit, taro, pulaka, paw paw, fern shoots, donuts, cakes and twisties. Even after the rest of the village had mounded their plates and broken off into their little groups to eat and talk the table looked almost untouched. It was a reminder that no-one is hungry out here. While Tuvalu may be considered poor in technology and employment prospects, no-one is hungry or malnourished or homeless. It is a country rich in local resources and community.

Banquet table for an army
Once food plates had been set aside, north (green) and south (red) Nanumea set themselves up at opposite ends of the hall with a large wooden box positioned in their midst. The drumming (box beating) started. And then the singing. And then the dancers jumped up. Each team would try their best to out-drum, out-sing, and out-dance the other. The rounds just kept going, the drummers and singers getting louder, the dancers getting wilder and sweatier. By 10pm when they finally called it a tie, we were exhausted just watching.

One of our workers Andrew, trying to encourage Marty to join the green team

All dressed up for the Anniversary celebrations

But now our short reprieve has come to an end with the arrival Friday of the Nivaga II and our missing threaded rod and washers. We spent Saturday drilling and setting rods and will be back on site Monday with our local workers to complete the array. By Friday, Nanumea will be the first Tuvalu system to go fully operational – only about 5 months behind schedule.


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