Soon we developed an understanding of what living on a remote island like Aitutaki involves. Yes, it is peaceful, quiet and scenic, but that can soon turn into boredom.
Fishing, snorkeling, sailing, rowing and participating in the local dance group are popular past time activities for the locals and rugby is a very serious sport here. The local teams practice every evening on a field next to the ocean, probably one of the most scenic rugby fields worldwide.
Friday night, we tried the only two bars down at the harbor, together with Walter and Doris, the German couple we had met. The Blue Nun looks like a shed from the outside, the inside décor is a concrete floor with wooden benches and the blasting music made us shouting at each other. Eventually this became tiring, besides this huge structure remained rather empty, so we tried the Sailing Club across the street. The architecture of this place was even less inspiring: four pillars and roof made of concrete. But the music was quite nice and we sat right on the ocean enjoying the breeze. The few locals there were getting hopelessly drunk and around 11:00 pm, we decided to call it a night, since we doubted that anything exciting was going to happen. We had hoped for a little dancing, but probably during the high season in June and July, there might be more action.
From Steve, our Australian born host, we learned about other bleak sides of living on such a remote island. For instance, people wait for months for items that we are used to buy in a shop around the corner, like a table for the garden, a brush to clean the pool and god forbid, computer equipment.
Although there is a tiny hospital, the doctors are said to be inexperienced, which Steve has every reason to believe! He told us about the circumstances in which his wife, a local of Aitutaki, died six years ago. She had gone into the hospital to get a shot to cure her back pains. After a sudden asthma attack, she received no help and died in the very hospital. We were immensely touched by this tragic story and at the same time became a bit traumatized, especially when riding our scooter, without helmet needless to say: there are none here and there is no law enforcing to wear one.
In the course of the week, we met all of Steve’s family, and two year old Quinton won our hearts. He loves jumping into the pool, paddling with his feet and holding his breath until he is lifted out of the water by his grandfather Steve. Only then he is taking a deep breath, very calmly and proudly looking at everybody to repeat this jumping over and over again.
In general, people seem overly friendly on Aitutaki: they greet you passing by on their scooters, the main mode of getting around, or wherever they meet you. According to Steve, family ties are very close and everybody knows everybody and everybody’s “business”, but this is hardly surprising on an island with no more than 900 inhabitants.
Only being here for a few weeks, the biggest current political controversy did not escape our attention. The government plans to build a sport complex for no less than 7 million NZD or 4 million Euros, to host the Pacific Mini Games 2009, a costly project in a country where police stations on the outer islands do not have computers or Internet. The opposition against this project is strong and heated: spending so much money for a single event is one argument, but more criticism is voiced over the fact that a Chinese company was put in charge to build it and not a local one. Ironically, the same Chinese company that built the police headquarters: an ugly cement block, plagued by water leaks due to the use of inferior material and poor craftsmanship. So why turn to Chinese expertise? Many of the small countries in the Pacific are courted by China and Taiwan, each hoping to get the vote of these tiny countries whether to acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign state or not. Eventually China has been buying its way into other affairs.