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Scenic images from the field

Chores and Donuts

Eric Kroetsch

In the peaceful mornings before school, I often ride my Pee Wee Herman-style bicycle from the school campus where I live to a small village store to buy some freshly baked bread for breakfast. Even though the brightly shining sun rose over the horizon less than 30 minutes ago, the village I live in is bustling with activity.

During my short five-minute ride, I meet several men riding into the bush on their bicycles. Each man is carrying the tools of his trade -- a freshly sharpened axe or bush knife to cut coconuts, and a burlap bag for the copra (dried coconut meat) that has been baking in the sun for several days.

As I pass the men on the bumpy dirt road, each flashes me a smile as warm and as bright as the sun that shines into their friendly faces. We exchange acknowledging nods as we go our separate ways, to do our separate jobs, both working to help provide a better future for the same children.

Some of these children are busy doing their morning chores. Girls with long, black hair are standing in their small yards, sweeping together the large brown and yellow breadfruit leaves that fell to the sandy ground during the cool nighttime.

Their brooms, like many items in Kiribati, are made from parts of different trees. The yellow bristles of the broom are taken from the small midrib of coconut palm frond leaves. They are bound to a straight stick with cord, which women in the village produce from coconut husk fibers.

A shirtless boy is preparing slops for pigs whose pavlovian squeal begins the moment they hear the cutting of coconuts and the metallic sound of buckets striking each other. The multicolored pigs never tire of their twice-a-day ration of the sweet white meat and clear juice from the coconuts, fish bones and rice from last night's dinner, and vegetation gathered from the bush.

A teacher's son has a well-used rice bag slung over his shoulder. Inside are the ingredients his aunt will use to prepare snacks, which she sells to the school children during their half-hour break. I stop and ask the boy if he has taken his aunt's donuts to the store this morning. He has just taken a bag of 50 to Taake's Store, where I'm headed. His aunt, Nei Teonatiaire, makes the best donuts on the island of Kuria. Her special ingredient, coconut cream, takes a little more work, but adds a much nicer flavor. Even though these pastries are every bit as fattening as the donuts in the States (they're fried in pig fat), I'll buy a couple instead of the bread I originally sought.

When I arrive at the store, two men are having a "maroro" (friendly chat) with the storekeeper. I issue a couple of cheerful "Mauri!" (a Kiribati greeting) to the trio, and ask the young storekeeper for a couple of donuts. After paying my 20 cents, I start back toward school. I feel the hot sun on my face and think of those men cutting copra. They will work in the sun much of the day, climbing trees to drop coconuts.

Back at my house, water is boiling in my little Chinese teapot. I prepare a cup of instant coffee to go with Teonatiaire's donuts. As I listen to a Paul Simon cassette on my walkman, I think of what new challenges the day will bring. It's just a typical morning on Kuria.

Eric Kroetsch (Kiribati)

Eric was a Volunteer on the island of Kuria in the country of Kiribati in the Central Pacific. He has a B.S. in Psychology and is from Snover, Michigan.

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