It is a flyspeck on the map, the merest hint of a place, a lonely tropical coral atoll in the middle of a cerulean Pacific. The place is the Republic of Kiribati, in the Gilbert Islands, an island that, while not quite at the back end of nowhere, certainly lives in that general neighborhood.
J. Maarten Troost’s book The Sex Lives of Cannibals chronicles his two-year stay on the island of Tarawa. Accompanying his wife (who works for a non-governmental aid organization), Troost meanders into Tarawa with unrealistic expectations of a tropical south seas paradise. What he found was an over-populated, stiflingly hot, polluted (and occasionally toxic) island, infested with stray dogs, lackadasical and corrupt bureaucracy, and an overabundance of La Macarena playing at every turn.
Troost looks at life among the Kiribati (whom he seems to regard with a fairly odd mix of wonderment, fondness, respect and bemusement), moving from varied discussions on the general attitudes towards work, the desperate quest for some island foodstuffs not based on fish, encounters with sharks (and some flotsum that is too disagreeable to outline here), the Kiribati fondness for stray dogs (think back to what I said about foodstuffs… ’nuff said), and the daily trials of infrequent and intermittant electrical power, poor water supplies and government bureaucracy. Of particular note is when the beer ran out—on the entire island—for four weeks.
He also, on occasion, seems to have captured part of that particular magic that the south seas seems to possess.
Here’s a brief excerpt From The Sex Lives of Cannibals:
Landing on a rock-strewn strip cleared of coconut trees was exactly as I expected it would be. Terrifying. The passenger door jammed, and we scrambled out through the rear cargo door and soon we began to feel like Martian invaders. I-Matang I-Matang, said a chorus of tiny voices. But they quieted when I bared my teeth, and the youngest even scattered into the bush. Parents in Kiribati tell their children to behave or otherwise an I-Matang will devour them, which has led to the wonderful result that the younger segement of the population believes I-Matang to be cannibals.
I, of course, did nothing to dissuade them.
As an added bonus, the lurid title of the book seems to excite some interest, particularly when reading it on crowded subway trains… again, ’nuff said. All in all a throughly enjoyable, highly funny read.
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