35 years as an independent nation, the small island of Tuvalu is celebrating like it is the centennial! October 1st is Independence Day here, but the nation it's celebrating with a week long holiday. All government offices are officially closed for the entire week – and because almost everyone works for the government – just about everyone has a week of paid holiday! Lucky folks.
The celebrations started on Sunday with a church service and a choir competition. On Monday and the rest of the week, sporting events take place – football (soccer), volleyball, ano (a local game we haven't yet seen), "Funny" (another local game – more on that later), outrigger races, and other competitions. Plus there is dancing and singing competitions as well. The teams are made up of the various government ministries' employees. So you have the Department of Treasury competing against the Prime Minister's office and the Department of Public Works vs. Department of Education. They have lots of departments and lots of employees so they can field teams for everything as well as song and dance!
On Tuesday, Oct, 1st, the actual day, it started with a parade at 8 am with the police in full dress uniform (who have been practicing marching for days now), school children in uniform, scout troops, and the uniformed sailors from the Merchant Marine Academy. They all formed up at 7:30 and marched and then stood out on the hot runway pavement for all the speeches. Unfortunately, there were some long speeches and the first aid/Red Cross people were busy helping the kids off the field as they were dropping in the heat. After it was over we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and then headed back to Astarte. We dressed the boat for the occasion with all her flags flying in correct "dress" order. Astarte looks pretty out in the bay.
Yesterday, we went in to watch some of the sports competitions and saw some very good volleyball games and also this game which is named "Funny." A funny name for a game that is quite original. There are two teams of about 12 people each. One team is the defensive team, protecting the "cans" from being stacked up and the other team tries to get to the tin cans and stack them. Yup, tin cans. There are three tin cans of various sizes that sit in the middle of a black circle. The offensive team tries to get close to the cans and stack them all up and let them stand for a certain number of seconds before they get knocked down by the defensive team. There are also other things that happen – like tag or dodge ball, if the offensive team is near the circle and gets hit with the ball, they are "out" of the game. It also starts strangely, we don't quite get this part yet, where the offensive team has to start by knocking the tins down with a ball from a certain distance. Though we don't fully understand the scoring or all the rules, it was quite entertaining to watch and the folks playing were having a lot of fun.
Throughout the day and at night, there is lots of music – they partied 'til 4 am last night – and it will probably last all week. We have seen a few live bands, but they also have large speakers and recorded music. They have one song that seems to get played a LOT!
Last week, we also enjoyed some festivities as it was "trade week" and they had booths of local merchants set up in the center of town selling all kind of goods, food and ice cream! Plus, each night there was music and entertainment. We watched a fair amount of local dancing in costumes and on Friday night there was a special event where people from various other Pacific Island nations entertained with their native dances and music. It was very nice.
It seems that we have come here during Tuvalu's party season. The people have all been friendly and as we've been here longer, we are meeting more and more folks and getting better acquainted with the traditions here.
We did enjoy a day away from the town. We went with some new friends, Bill and Sue, aboard the catamaran, "Lady Nada," for a sail across the lagoon to another island, Funafala. This was the island to which the Americans moved a lot of folks from Fongafale during World War II. After much bombing on this island (Fongafale), they felt it would be safer for the residents to be further from the runway. After the war, some families stayed on Funafala, but most moved back to the capital city. We went there and anchored away from the settlement. The islands here are very idyllic – classic Pacific atoll islands – beautiful turquoise water, sandy beaches and lots of reefs. We went for a nice snorkel and saw some great fish – though we had hoped the water would be clearer. It was a nice sail over and back – and we enjoyed the day away from the town and a chance to see some of the rest of the atoll and lagoon (which is huge). It was the perfect day to go – sunny, clear and a nice breeze.
Monday it was quite squally and after our visit to town, we were glad to get back to the boat in time as the wind had shifted to a more westerly direction (not good for where we are anchored). That put us with a reef directly behind the boat. Luckily the big wind was short lived and it settled to under 15 knots, and overnight, the direction went back to easterly breezes (which is much better!). Today, Tuesday, it is a clear sunny day with a nice light breeze. Hopefully the boat races will take place this afternoon (canceled from yesterday). We have offered to be a "committee" boat with our dinghy if they need help.
We'll celebrate Tuvaluan Independence this week and start looking for a weather window to head north soon.
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