Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sienna's 3rd Birthday

Our little girl is now 3! I'm afraid that I couldn't quite get my head around a proper party - Saturday's are out for all the Seventh Day Adventist school kids (she would know 3-4 outside school) and Sunday is probably out for most of the rest (not that we know many anyway). So we took our birthday roadshow to the island!

Off to school for Friday in our Kia Orana day mufti wear, and Jamie told everyone in the middle of chappel that it was his sister's birthday. The school sang her 'happy birthday to you' and 'happy long life to you' fininshed off with rousing 'hip-hip-hurray' in English and Maori (I'm not sure what the difference was).

We had opened presents before school - the kids were so excited to receive so many parcels. Thank you for all your gifts of clothes, jewellery, stickers, books, balloons, sand toys and knickers! The boys were quite chuffed to see one or two things for them as well. We had a quick cake cutting with Michael before we took the cake to school for lunch.

Now, you know you are becoming a fixture when one of the kids calls you 'Auntie', as in 'Auntie, school hasn't finished yet' when I picked Bailey up early one day. We are even more of a fixture now we have shared our 'Girl in the Moon' cake amongst every kid in school.

We then took the cake to see Annie, and took a trip through her plantation for bananas, limes, guavas and even a late pineapple. Off home to get the remaning pieces into the fridge - buttercream doesn't last too long in the heat up here! Poppy and Stephen dropped around after school to exchange their piece of cake with lolly cake and a gossip.

We went out to dinner at the Boat Shed where we had a lovely dinner outside (kids off catching crabs) before a rain shower chased us inside. Then home for a video call with Nana and Poppa, and Fiona, Rose and Harrison. We had a very nice day and thank goodness for Skype Video calls that bring everyone much closer to Aitutaki than a phone call does.


PS We went to church today and I have been invited by the Mama's on a special girls only outting next Sunday afternoon. You've got to be up for things I suppose, so off I will go. Report to come....pray for me...:-)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It finally happened

As I sit here typing away, licking the chocolate cake mixture from my fingers, the chocolate cake that I made with my cake mixer and measuring cups, that will be decorated using my piping tools and colours... and look at my photos on the wall... and listen to Jamie riding his squeaky bike on the deck... you guessed it.. THE BOAT HAS ARRIVED!!!!!

At the end of last week we heard that the boat was due on Friday, so I ran (strolled quickly) down to the beach while the kids had breakfast and a beautiful sight awaited my - Voyage 115 (as it is known) - hovering outside the reef, cranes unfurled (??) lowering containers onto waiting barges which bring them through the reef and to the 'dock' in Arutanga (town).

Of course it was exciting to think that all our boxes would be arriving, but more exciting for the island was the arrival of the petrol. We ran out of gas 3 days before the boat arrived, though Michael had some in his work vehicle. Using the work car for school pickups is logistically problematic so we did as most of the island did - kept the kids home from school. The roads were very quiet - the only people moving about were those with deisel vehicles. Then at around mid morning, we heard a strange sound - cars! The fuel must have been the first thing off and in short order there were scooters and cars all over the place.

For the past 7-10 days it had felt like the island was slowly contracting, turning inwards and settling down into something akin to survival mode - unneccesary travel was eliminated, people ate what was in their cupboards instead of venturing out to the shops, fewer people were out and about and the ever present toots from passerby's vanished. It felt like the island was taking a bit of a nap. Then the boat arrived like an alarm clock going off and the island awoke and life started buzzing again.

We waited until late Friday to get our fuel, thinking that things would have settled down. Instead we parked ourselves in the queue at the Aquila station. We sat under the trees and shared our grumbles at the tour operator who had rolled up with a truck load of 44 gallon drums to fill, and the van that opened up to reveal half-a-dozen jerry cans. The rest of us in our cars and bikes slowly took our turn to fill up and 45 minutes later drove home with a feeling of freedom.

So for following days we watched people carrying jerry cans of various (illegal in NZ) descriptions on scooters and trucks alike and filling them to take home, either to fill other vehicles or to stash for later on - the later I suspect. It was the closest I have ever come to panic buying. And now a week later the sign outside the Aquila pumps says, predictably, "no containers being filled, limit for cars $20". The big problem with this is that for various, contentious reasons, V116 is not due for another 5 weeks.

The lions share of the blame belongs off the island though. Issue number 1 is that there is only one ship servicing the Cook Islands now - Reef Shipping. Towards the end of last year the second carrier, Pacific Fourm Line, decided that the run wasn't making them any money so they pulled out. The first effect of that was that there wasn't enough capacity and containers got left behind in Auckland. Those containers then started getting taken to Samoa so that the ship had to make longer runs - Auckland-Raro-Aitutaki-Nuie-Samoa-Rarotonga-Auckland.

So now the situation is that any delay during one voyage (such as cyclones Joni and Ken over the last few weeks, or making a diversion to Apia) slides into the schedule for the next voyage, resulting in any supplies that have been ordered to cover the estimated 4 week turnaround of a typical voyage needs to stretch out until the boat actually does arrive. Now because of the time frames involved, it is not as simple as ordering more - often the news of a ship diversion comes too late to order additional stock.

The second issue so far as fuel goes is that the fuel suppliers in NZ and Raro now demand payment in advance of shipping. The businesses here are too small to stump up with $30k plus to ensure adequate fuel supplies, and the more often fuel runs out, the worse the panic buying gets. Things might be improved by major purchasers - resorts and tour operators - paying up front to ensure their supply outside the supply for regular buyers, but it seems that either they are unable or unwilling to tie up their cash in that manor. (Happy to say that Pacific Resort is the exception!)

Woops, jumping off the soap box now!

So our boxes arrived, with suprising efficiency, on Saturday afternoon and the kids are in 7th heaven playing with their toys, I can finally do some baking and there are books to read, medicine cabinets to stock and photos to view. There are still half packed boxes everywhere, and stuff for Africa, but things are a lot more homely now.


Mikey's Bit -
Now about I've been at it for 11 weeks and I certainly feel at home at the resort. I like to think that there aren't many things I can't cope with but the odd thing creeps up to suprise me. On the face of it the resort is deservingly worthy of it's many awards and without a doubt guests love the place - the ambience and the setting are amazing. I constantly hear how much more beautiful we are than Taihiti, Fiji and even Hawaii, but it is the very charming and genuine service that guests seem to enjoy. There are a few areas that, after 7 years, are flagged for attention and will be my focus for the next few months. It's a challenge working 6 day a week - yes that's the standard for expats and I am looking forward to my first 3 month off island break.

There is never a dull moment - no matter how hard I try. New menu and wine list are due out in a week or so...I need to remember to take time to smell the roses (hibiscus anyway) but there's always something to make you smile ---

This week at a cocktail party for some travel agents one of the staff offered to pass around the cannabis - that's the small bite sized snacks you have for CANAPES and I was asked to order some more 'snoggles' - those are the tubes you breathe through when you're snorkeling!!!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This just in

Just in case you were worried, I haven't lost my philosophical outlook, and I'm fairly sure my sense of humour is somewhere close at hand.

Because after all, things are much the same as home, just with a smaller toolbox with which to manage things.


PS A boat update - it hasn't even reached Rarotonga yet! I could paddle my vaka faster than that! I better buy a car tomorrow so I can get some gas!

PPS a picture of the kids in their Kia Orana Day (mufti day Friday) wear, featuring Sienna in her new dress, Jamie in his (fake?) tan and Bailey with his missing teeth!

On the price of things....

The price of things can be measured many ways - money, time, aggravation, frustration. Here are a sample of Aitutaki prices:
  • Petrol: $2.40 per litre when there is gas on the island; priceless when all the pumps are empty...(add a big aggravation and inconvenience tax on that one)
  • School Fees: $10 per term (admittedly the school has a few less resources than most NZ schools...)
  • School Uniform: $10 per shirt (white, button up), $7 per shorts (khaki) - beats $35 per short sleeve in NZ, in fact I got Bailey's entire uniform for $68!
  • Doctors visit: $10 plus 1 hour waiting time.
  • Antibiotics: $2 plus 15 minutes for the dispensary to find the change for my $20.
  • Milk: $4 per litre UHT or $2.15 powdered (chocolate milk on special $2.50/l).
  • Cruskits: $11 plus aggravation levy upon finding they expired 6 months ago and are totally stale.
  • Family sized block of Cadbury's: $9 less delight bonus upon finding the last block of Caramello.
  • Child with fever not responding to Pamol and no medicine cabinet in the fridge full of other stuff, nor fully stocked chemist down the road: pretty decent level of frustration.
  • Being bumped to the front of the queue at the doctors clinic in front of the 10 other locals there just because we are "papa'a": well no cost there yet...and my concience will get over that pretty quickly, besides Sienna's cute factor always gets us something.
  • Sleep: More that I can afford, right now hot, sweaty Sienna wakes all night because she feels crappy; before that is was the rain on the roof...
  • Missing Marcus and Debs' wedding in Tauranga: pretty darn huge, though there was a slight rebate after chatting with Marcus and seeing the photos and vows. Congratulations guys - we love you!
  • Missing yet another wedding in Melbourne with Jo & Fred: aaiiieeeeeeee no wedding invitations in years and then two in the same month when we are miles across the ocean! Have a fantastic time this weekend guys.
  • Rain filling up the water tank: free, plus a massive credit for keeping the temperature down.
  • Fresh baked sandwich loaf: $4.50 - not much for than Tip Top!
  • French stick: $2 - cheaper than the Warkworth Bakehouse!
  • Cheese Bread: $2.50 at the petrol station and $4 at the Heinekin shop
  • Power: $50 per week so far......Yikes! And that is without any aircon!
  • Custom made pareau (island print) dress for Sienna: $15, plus a bonus for the end of the nag nag nag...
So it has been a long week. I have had the flu since last Wednesday - interestingly it has progressed without the Codral/Night & Day as it would have without it, and it is much cheaper! Then Sienna started sleeping in our bed as she is scared of the rain at night and lo-and-behold she comes down with the bot. Except after 1.5 days of low grade fever she started to go downhill, looking quite spaced out and untogether.

So off we went to the hospital where the doctor (some days 2 doctors) have their clinic. (At the same time we were trying to get money together for our car which would hopefully have some gas in it). Into the full waiting room, the nurse takes temperatures (glass mercury thermometer under the arm!) and issues records cards. Our little girl get bumped up the queue (past the German/Austrian with his 8 year old who has had a sore throat for half the day). Into the doctor, same old drill as in NZ (thank heavens I pay attention to these things) and some big lymph glands behind her ears. We didn't get a look in her mouth but went down the antibiotics route anyway. So today, she is still hot and sleepy but has started eating which is nice (and seems happy to sing along to Play School). I think we have a few crabby days ahead, but fingers crossed she'll settle down before the heat starts back up.


PS 1MORE DAY UNTIL THE BOAT ARRIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Map of Aitutaki

Yes, yes, you have seen the tourist maps and the hotel maps, but where do you actually live in this place? Where do things happen? Well here is the definitive (until I amend it) map (thanks Google Earth) of The Shah's Aitutaki!
In comparison, Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf is 7km by 5km, and Motutapu Island is 7km x 3km. There is a tar sealed road that runs around the island and several unsealed roads that cut across the island. We have only found one that we would honour with the title Wyllie Rd. The roads here are repaired with crushed coral, which is excavated from the lagoon just off the beach. This is actually a great thing for the locals as they get a nice deep swimming hole instead of the shallow 27 degree lagoon at our place. Fortunately there is such a trench a few doors up from our house.

So home for now, at Retire's house (C), is 2km from the Pacific Resort (A), which is 2km from Tekaaroa School (D). In 4 months we will move to the Rapae Village (B) which is the Pacific Resort staff village.

The best shopping is over the island at Neibaa Store (N) (as in 'your friendly neibaa store' - sound it out....) which is run by a Kiribati family. The have the biggest range and the prices are pretty good. Just like a 4 Square really but smaller, darker and more crowded. The Heinekin shop (L) has lots of imported dairy products - essential for growing Shahs - including 1kg yoghurt for $14 (gulp) and big blocks of chocolate for $9 (eek). It is also the icecream shop to stop at after school. There are a lot of variety type stores around including Mango Traders (also at B) which is Auntie Moira's store and who have just finished making a dress for Sienna (more on that later).

Teina and Annie Bishop run Bishops Cruises and their other businesses from their house (E). We visit them several times a week after school to swim in their pool. The kids are becoming experts at 'breaking in' to their banana safe! Stephen and Poppy's Docherty house (F) is near the highest point on the island Maunga Pu. Their deck and (unheated) spa pool have one of the best views on the island. They are currently our lending library (though I need to slow down a bit or will run out of reading material!).

Our two favourite places to visit are the Marine Resource Centre (G), which we can walk to in 45min along the beach, where they breed giant clams and have a rescued turtle. There was also a big stone fish there the other day which was downright scary looking. The sailing club (I) consists of a good beach with a swimming channel and a few shipping containers. The sand bar just off the beach is shallow enough for the kids to stand up, so the sailors have a rest out there when they want to. The church we go to (once a month) is the CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church) in Arutanga. There is a specific section for each village (ours is Amuri) and there are kids everywhere.

So that is our world, complete with roving chickens and pigs - not that much different from Wyllie Rd......


Sunday, March 8, 2009

A weekend on the water

We have had a great weekend on the water here in paradise.


The boys had their first sailing lesson. Jim (Etu Moana) runs the Aitutaki Sailing club every saturday morning from 9am and has 6-8 Optimists and 4-5 lasers. There are about 15 kids down there each weekend. Jim started Bailey off with short runs out from the beach and back and then I took over the coaching while the other kids went further out on the lagoon. He did very well, clocking up half an hour in the boat. After that he seemed more interested in swimming in his life jacket!
Jamie was desperate to try so we did a little tacking practice on the shore and he took a run out from the beach and then tacked and returned for another tack. Unfortunately as I caught the boat at the beach the boom klonked him a good one across the forehead - not a happy boy. He was brave enough to try again 15 minutes later but got into a panic and started going around in circles. I swam out to get him and that was that for the day.
Sunday...(and friday night)

We have just come back from a day on the lagoon with Stephen and Poppy. We had a great night out with them on Friday at the Pacific Resort Island Night, complete with incredible seafood buffet and dancing from one of the local island groups. We have found a babysitter - one of the mums from work so this was our first night out without the kids. Michael has seen the show before and has managed to avoid the public embarassment of being called up to dance, but Stephen (who is also the MC for the night) made sure Jenni and I couldn't avoid it.
The kids loved Tav (our babysitter) and her 5 year old daughter Tara and her husband. Tav left us with 6kg of bananas and 2 kg of FRESH LIMES from her garden.

Back to was another awesome day on the lagoon. Stephen and Poppy are so lovely. Poppy looked after the kids on board, and around their 6m runabout while Jen and I got to snorkel with Stephen and friend Mark. At the first stop, even before we threw in the bread, there were hundreds of beautiful reef fish around. From trevally to parrot fish, eating out of our hands. The water is AMAZINGLY CLEAR and warm. we swan around for a while and then found 'Hurricane' the Napoleon Wrass. He is enormous and just slowly drifts around the bottom by one coral head. He must be 100kg.

All the kids got in the water and Jamie and Bailey got masks on and just LOVED seeing the fish. Bailey has been snorkeling more and more, and Jamie tried it today - he is a natural and was away on his own almost immediately. Next stop was to the GIANT CLAMS. There were dozens of them 100 - 200 - 300kgs. Bright blue lips, flourescent green, on the sand or in coral beds. Again the kids just loved seeing it.Then onto One Foot Island for lunch. Mark had been baking and bought fresh banana bread, Poppy had avocados and mangos and we supplied the NZ apples ($32 for 5kg flown in from Raro). Mark hadn't had an apple for 2 months!! One Foot is just magical. I can't describe the peace, the vivid colours, the warmth, it is incredible - truly a paradise. Some other friends - Jo and Jim (he's the sailing coach) sailed in on their hobicat for a few beers, then they left to catch the breeze. We stayed some more to collect crabs (see pic) the kids just love the hermit crabs. and then home. It is amazing how quickly the kids have come to love our new friends and Jen and I are starting to feel quite contented living here, but I can't wait for some cooler nights!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

AIT Life In Pictures

Well I feel like I have rejoined the world - we are in our new house, our phone is finally connected and I am online! I feel as if my missing limb has returned! I have so much news I don't know where to start....


Well we are well settled at Retire's house. It is one of the newer houses on the island and is quite comfortable. It stands on short stilts...we were recently told that the house was going to have a basement but one of the builders trimmed off all the extra tall posts until they were 1 meter off the ground whilst Retire was in town, so now the house is on short poles!

One Foot

Below are some photos of our trip to One Foot Island the other weekend. The first pic shows Annie Bishop helping the kids find crabs, the second shows us all on the boat with Teina at the helm.

You'll note Sienna's short hair cut below - I cut it on our 4th day here as she was getting so hot with all those curls - and the kids playing by the boat while we relaxed under the trees on the beach. The colour is for real. I always suspected filters and touchups on some of those photos you see of the Aitutaki lagoon, but the proof is here - the aqua and tuquiose colours are just incredible.

So now we are up to date a bit, stay tuned for installments on school, Aitutaki WILD life, and the arrival of the container ship (OK, so might just be exciting for us...)

Signing off with another beautiful sunset....ka kite