Reality or fiction?
On Funafuti, no one wears a broom around their hips, we don’t live in huts made by palm leaves and our shower is not in the closets spring. The people here might not have tasted ”fenalår” og ”flatbrød” (Norwegian dishes) before, but hot dogs, fries, ketchup, toast and peanut butter are part of their daily diet. Funafuti, housing half of the Tuvaluan population, and NRK’s Vanuatu are like two different worlds.
In the reality show ”The Big Journey” we got a peek into the lives of a village on the island of Vanuatu. NRK wanted to show us how people live in other parts of the world, more specifically on Vanuatu, in Mongolia and in Ethiopia. I followed the series with great interest. The societies in the different island states of the Pacific are said to be quite similar. But those thinking that life in the Pacific is like it was on NRK, are making a huge mistake.
Life on Tuvalu is like a lot of other places in the world. There is a small airport, there are several small shops here. The two main roads of the island are crowded with motorbikes, smaller cars and occasionally a four by four (did somebody say climate change?…). The neighbour plays Eminem, Rihanna, Beyoncé and a lot of other stuff that sounds like the hottest on MTV. And every time Waka Waka (Shakira – the World Cup 2010 song) starts playing – everybody starts laughing (waka waka is the Tuvaluan expression for transvestite).
I have not yet seen the banana-leave-cake that the (name of family) got when arriving in the Vanuatuan village (though I tasted it in Fiji, in a restaurant selling ”local food”). On the other hand I have seen tons of Chinese noodles and sauces (thank God for soy- and sweet chili sause), Indian spices, potatoes, onions and everything that can be stored until the monthly ship arrives with more supplies. We have an Indian restaurant, a Chinese one and several places that serves the available food of the day.
We are not finding our eggs in the bushes (as Ronja did on Vanuatu), but we are buying them in the local shops in cases of twelve shipped from New Zealand. Fruits and vegetables are luxuries and we are lucky if we find a banana or two in the shop. Most people grow some papaya, bananas, cucumbers and salad in their gardens, but almost nobody has any leftovers to sell.
Nothing we can buy in the shops is produced on Tuvalu. Funafuti is overcrowded and the arable land is replaced by houses and buildings. On the outer islands, the problem is reversed: The rural exodus has lead to a lack of work force. The young people goes to Funafuti, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia or Samoa to study, try to find a job abroad or on Funafuti. Then, when they are 50, soon retired and entitled to a seat in the elders council (Falekaupule), they return to their islands.
Contrary to the Norwegian family’s linguistic confusion on Vanuatu, everybody speaks English here (in addition to Tuvaluan). Even though there are just two Internet cafés (that sell extremely slow internet quite expensive), are most young people on Facebook. Every night they play soccer, volleyball or rugby (on the runway!) and the different island communities have their respective teams. Before Christmas they arranged a soccer tournament (they even have a B-series) and a rugby tournament and the results of the different games engage most people I have spoken to.
The list is much longer, but I just want to add some more points. We don’t live in palm-tree-houses, but in a real house. The walls are super thin (and the room is like an oven during the sunny hours), but we have both a toilet, a shower (with cold water only) and access to aircond (but we stick to the fan). In the kitchen we have a gas stove, a fridge and a freezer, a sink and all we need to wash our dishes.
In other words, life in the Pacific can be totally different from the Pacific life NRK brought to the Norwegian population this autumn. The untouched and isolated societies probably exist, but they might belong to the rarities?
When comparing my impressions on Tuvalu to Vanuatu in ”The Big Journey” I wonder if NRKs TV-series can best be compared to a bad tabloid newspaper. In its search of telling a sensational story, NRK just (told half of the truth and) contributes to strengthen the myth about the uncivilized bushmen of the south. In their story, people in other parts of the world drink cow blood as an energizer, use goat and cow shit for almost everything and walks around like Adam and Eve in paradise – only covered by a palm leaf or two. Is this really showing Norwegians what the world really looks like or is it just another fiction movie?