Tuvalu is a magical place. It’s like I’m smitten. But it’s an ambivalent relationship. Love the place but can’t wait to leave. Happily cruising back to Suva on a Pacific Thursday afternoon and feeling content to be going home to Elizabeth and safety. The remote location and the isolation that comes with it is hard adjust to. But I’m filled with visions of classic tropical enchantment. It reminded me of Kuta, Bali in 1973. Narrow roads through vegetation hiding houses and families and yards. The laughter and noise of family life wafts through to the road and leaves you with a half sketched out idea of what life might be like back in there.
But what you can see is an eclectic mix. And not everyone is going to come to the same conclusion. I see beauty, intrigue, relics, mysterious pathways that the children disappear into. You can see wrecks of cars and boats, piles of leftover building materials, empty squashed plastic bottles, rickety wooden platforms, assorted litter and a general inattention to tidiness. Basically it’s beauty or mess – both are there in abundance and it’s your call. You see what you’re looking for.
There’s barely a house on Funafuti that wouldn’t be classified as a slum or ruin in suburban Australia. Banged together collections of wood, plastic, corrugated iron, and always with a 4 poster covered wooden platform in the yard for families to hang out on in fresh air, in the shade, or out of the rain. Life is essentially held outdoors. There are some proper houses – wooden boards, louvres, a tin roof perhaps – but they too have the family platform, the litter, and the rambling dirt tracks winding back from the main drags. And everything ends at the sea.
On average, Funafuti (Tuvalu’s main island) is about 100 metres wide so you can always hear the sea. The coast too is either a sad affair littered with ex-engines, left behind thongs or items of clothing on a charming foreshore that leads to a calm lagoon that is often glass like smooth. At dusk some make it a ritual to bathe, or in the case of young boys, jump around like monkeys off the sandbag groyne that’s there to help reclaim land. Pure unadulterated children in paradise stuff. A joy to behold. And they happily share it with you the stranger – showing off their best moves and flashing full faced smiles.
About 100 metres away, just short of the other – ocean – coast, the 15-40 year olds gather on the town’s runway for the daily sport carnival of rugby, volleyball and soccer. Barefoot they bound around the warm tarmac throwing themselves at various balls. All again with copious dollops of laughter – a signature of Tuvalu. A true tropical paradise.