Penrhyn - in-between worlds

There is so much so write about this little place here. Probably because for the first time ever I got so spend some time with the local people and have a chat about their lives. So I will try to pass on some interesting information I was given (of course it's all personal view of the one who told me the stories).


Living in a remote place

Living in a remote place means you mostly live of what you can catch. That's coconut and fish. It means also that you will be depending on the rare supply ships or small planes arriving to bring other necessities like unhealthy food, onions, rice, toilet paper, soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco. But here we experienced something we'd never seen before: complete freezers full with fish are being put on the small ship that commutes irregularly between Rarotonga and the island.  Receiving families (and their friends) in Rarotonga. Those freezers are sent back from the families (and their friend) full with frozen goods like chicken drums and ice cream.  Those freezers „live" on the second deck up on that ship. Outside with some protection that can be rolled down. There is only space for a couple fo freezers, so there is always a fight over who gets the space for his freezer – and that can delay the leaving time of the ship. I also asked about the transport of the beautiful hats that are being made here: The mostly are being sent in emoty freezer (unplugged) and thos freezers come back filled up with food in the value of the hats (each hat sells for about 200NZD to Rarotonga and there for about 250NZD mostly to people from Tahiti). So the only money that is in the game really is paying for the transport of those freezers. That can go up to NZD400 for a big freezer plugged in. Unplugged it's way cheaper. A person on the ship by the way costs 600NZD without food and 650NZD including food. But for that money you do not get a cabin. You lay on the floor, outside, and pray that there will be no rain. I can get a decent cruiseship-trip for that price...



Living in a remote place means you get lots of aid. New Zealand and partly Australia are putting millions of dollars into these islands (Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga). Probably becuase they want the people to go back and live on their islands instead of living in NZ and Aussiland receiving welfare, which – so we were told from many locals - by far most island people do. We also learned that these people, especially the young ones, tend to steal things, break into houses...Together with groups of Maori kids. That happens even here. That's very sad but reflects what is happening in the rest of the world. They probably lack a meaning in their life. They don't learn to work hard, study hard, and make something out of their life. Money comes in anyways. Just like most of the people receiving welfare in my country. Why get off the couch when everything is delivered and paid for. Argh, makes me sick and angry.   Yet I have met people who do work hard. Especially the women are making hats, fans and necklaces to send to Rarotonga. Day by day. Beautiul pieces of art. Hard work. At their timing.


Trying to leave

Just like youg people are leaving the villages in my country moving to cities for work many young people try to get away from these islands. At least to Rarotonga, or to there and on to NZ or Australia. Often sadly ending up like in article 2, receiving aid there as well. The best way to leave the outer  Cook Islands is every 3 years: constitution day. For that event the Cook Islands rent boats from Samoa and French Polynesia and bring in all the people to Rarotonga who want to come and celebrate. Many take this opportunity to leave the atoll and never return. They could not pay for their trip to Raro otherwise, but since it's free for constituation day it's a welcome opportunity. This his how the population has drastically decreased here. People left, shops closed. And now because there are fewer people, planes and ships come less frequent. And as a consequence everything got more expensive. Sad. Again.


Coming back

There are, however, people coming back. Too much work, they told me. Not good having to get up every morning and go to work. Just to make money to barely survive. I do understand them. All this work just for a place to live and food to eat. They can have that for nearly free here. I would prefer the atoll in that case. Most who left and went to NZ or Aussiland however don't have enough money to come back . They are stuck. A trip to Penryhn is expensive. Too much to afford. Yet all the places on ship and airplanes are full. I wonder?


Pearl farms

Black pearls used to be a big income here. People had come to here just for the pearl famring and the money involved, for example the nurse (Hina)'s husband, who came from Tahiti. But then a couple of years ago the water got too warm, the oysters got  infected and died. No more money. Maybe all these expensive aluminium boats are remains from that time? No one tells you where the money really comes from.


The baby job

One lady told me, her income are babies. She gets paid 50NZD per two weeks („a fortnight") per child living with her. She has 8 (like so many) kids. But, only four of them live here with her. And one is already too old for getting the support (it ends at 12 years).  So 4 kids live with sister and parents in NZ. Amoungst them even a 4 year old one. Strange for you? Normal in this culture. Babies are being shared and exchanged. Got another girl but wanted a boy? Change with a family member or friend who has a boy. You adopted a child (on a basis called „feeding") and you are on governments aid (welfare) in NZ or Aussieland? No problem, the original parents will have to pay for „your" child.  You adopted with full paperwork and took over the responsiblity? You pay for that child.


Here some more things I learned:

·      Highest infantile birth rate in the Cook Islands -> decreased by 30% thanks to informations by nurses

·      Highest smoker's rate in the Cook Islands -> Anti-smoke posters everywhere to get awareness of the consequenes

·      High rate of diabetes -> as in all South Sea countries we've been to (beacuse they are all overweight)

·      Lots of alcohol consumption 

How they finance it (especially smoking)? I will never know.

What I do know is that I got to know many very nice people and that I had a great time here once my cold was over. I had fun with the kids and their parents and grand parents.  I loved talking to each and everyone that I was talking to. Trying to understand their culture and life without judegment. And yes, it is like every else in this world here. Just more obvious and people openly and honestly talk to you. So no judgement. I am only writing what local people told me.


To me, it is a beautiful place and yet a world between. Between of what was their culture (you hear that when you talk to the older people here) and what the western influence brings and creates in the heads of the young generation.  The young ones want to play on their phones all the time, watch (music) videos and play games. Just like anywhere else in the world, we shall see what happens, they (like we all) have to redifine their way of life. At least they are starting programs for envinronmental care, health, and so much more. And when the next war comes, they can still live of fish and coconuts and sit and look out over a beautiful ocean. We can't do that at home. So who has the better position? That's why people do start to return to their island paradise and use what they learned abroad. Good by Penrhyn. We're leaving saturday but we keep you and all your souls in our hearts.


Here are some pictures of my last week here. Enjoy!

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