I have a piece half written. I wrote it last week and once again it was about the statistics of women in the Pacific and how domestic violence must be brought to the attention for the rest of the world (I know, I tend to dream big). I was writing this piece as a submission for a women’s online magazine and I was excited to write it. I wrote the first draft within 2 hours and I was so pumped to get it finished!
But then, suddenly the most unexpected things happen that make your world stop revolving and life comes to a screeching halt.
The day after I wrote my first draft, I rang my parents to double check some family historical stories. This is when I found at that just the day before (when I was guns ablazing about my women focused piece) my cousin Kairo had died.
Kiaro and I were born exactly 4 months apart. He had lived most of his life in Kiribati except for 6 years when he moved over to Australia to complete his primary school years and the first couple of years at high school. We went to primary school together but had gone to different high schools but they were only down the road from each other and we saw each other as much as we could.
Kairo was cheeky, had the brightest smile and a boyish giggle that did not match his physical appearance. We played endless hours of hide and seek in my backyard and I was always so jealous of his ability to climb the huge gumtree in our front yard. He ended up moving back to Kiribati and many years past before I saw him next.
Late 2011 was the last time I saw him. Our first meeting after so many years was when I flew to the tiny island of Marakei and he was there helping my Mum with her political campaign. When I landed, I was running around looking for my luggage when a tall broad local man stood over me and asked ‘What can I carry?’. Worried about losing my luggage, I assumed the man was wanting to steal my things (okay maybe being a little too travel safe) and I stormed off towards the arrival shed. It was only when I couldn’t see Mum waiting to pick me up did my eyes settle on the tall man following me.
‘Who are you?‘ I asked
‘What is your name?’ He asked back in retaliation, ignoring my question.
‘Nei Marita. What is your name?’
‘I am Rota’s son and I call your mother ‘Mum’ even though she is my Auntie’
And then he grinned, took my backpack and swung it over his shoulder while I stood there stunned. He hopped on the motorbike gesturing me to hop on behind him.
‘What, you didn’t recognise me cousin?’
I stared at him for way too long.
‘Kairo! You’re so tall! And handsome!’
The motorbike ride through the island was unforgettable. On Marakei it is the custom to drive around the island and pay respects to the four corners of the island as soon as you arrive. It took about 2 and a half hours for Kairo and I to drive around on the motorbike. We spoke of how our lives had changed: what I had studied, his wife and children, where I had travelled, how he hunted for fish and my favourite topic, how much we had missed each other.
Over the next two weeks we spoke about our times together as kids and what life was like now. There were moments where my heart ached for him when he said he didn’t feel loved even though our family surrounded him, supported him with love and looked after his family. Looking back now, it was these conversations that clearly showed he wasn’t happy. In our chats late at night, he would speak of darkness and sometimes he became so anxious and upset. There were nights where he would sneak off and drink even though drinking is banned on the island. Some days he wouldn’t come back until early the next morning and my grandma, Mum or uncles would try and ask him not to do it. Admittedly, I too became angry with him for drinking so much and not supporting Mum enough on her campaign.
Back on the main island, he got angry at me when I told him I couldn’t give him any money and instead gave money to his wife to buy food for their two children. But I didn’t care what he thought and I knew it was the right decision. He also knew it was the right decision, he was just annoyed at me.
Kairo wasn’t perfect but he was my cousin, my brother, my blood. He carried a burden on his shoulders that I could see but he couldn’t vocalise nor did he think he could fix it.
On the 22nd of January 2014, Kairo took his own life, leaving a wife and two children (Tebeta and Tekaii) behind.
So I don’t really feel like ranting about womens issues right now. The break won’t last for long. I’ll get going again soon enough.
But for now, I mourn the brother who climbed coconut trees to get me coconut water when I was sick. I remember the brother who taught me how to climb gum trees and hunt for mud crabs. A tall, handsome, wonderful brother who stayed up late to singing 90’s pop songs with me under the Pacific stars.
‘Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody’s gonna slow me down. Oh no. I got to keep on movin’