Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and I wanted to write a piece for you all about Kiribati women and how freaking amazing I think they are. I wanted to write a piece focusing on five women, singing their praises about the work they do.
But for some reason I’ve been stalling.
I’m stalling because I keep thinking about my cousin Kairo and his ex-wife.
Kairo and I were born exactly four months apart. Although I was born in Australia and he in Kiribati, he moved to Australia when he was nine and we spent our last years of primary school together.
We were close for all of this time and I have the most wonderful memories of climbing trees, singing songs, playing hide and seek and him and I both winning spotlight at our Grade 6 school camp.
Kairo was quick, cheeky and a real softie.
In 1999, Kairo moved back to Kiribati and for me, I really felt the loss our closeness. As a 13 year old, I had just assumed we would be living life alongside each other forever, but our paths diverted – his off to Kiribati.
From then on, we didn’t stay in touch. I heard that he was doing okay and that he had been living with our uncle Iabeta for a while. When Iabeta died, Kairo I think floated around a while between our family and his father’s family.
Kairo and I then reunited in 2011 when I returned to Kiribati to help for my Mum’s run for parliament. I have written about our reunion and relationship before which you’re welcome to read.
Where I will repeat in my last piece on Kairo is that in our late nights spent on Marakei, Kairo spoke with such sadness. He asked about his Mum back in Australia who he hadn’t heard from for years. I hadn’t either and I didn’t have an answer for him. He asked what life was like in Australia, if I went out partying, what University was like and how much money I earned.
He asked questions that I felt very uncomfortable asking because I had the guilt of growing up more privileged than he.
Kairo suffered from depression. I have no doubt about that at all.
But that depression did not excuse him from hitting his wife. That depression did not excuse him from drinking and leaving his wife and two children for days on end. That depression did not excuse him for emotionally abusing his wife. That depression did not excuse him for earning money and spending it on alcohol above food for his children.
For too long, Kiribati culture has upheld the dignity of men in favour for hiding the experiences of the women they abuse.
Kairo hung himself from a tree in 2014. I cried a lot when I found out.
I especially cried about how the last time I had seen him, we had argued about the fact that he had asked me for $20 and I lied and told him I didn’t have any money. I knew he wanted it for alcohol. And then to show my anger at him, I went straight to his wife and handed her $20.
He said he was disappointed in me as a sister and that I didn’t love him. I told him he was selfish.
This International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about Kairo’s ex wife. A beautiful woman, with long legs and a huge laugh. The mother of my niece and nephew who stood by Kairo as long as she could. Who is no doubt, pushing on with her life.
A woman who I saw nurse her face after being hit by my cousin. As well as nursing her face, she comforted Kairo who was crying and no doubt apologising for hitting her while he was drunk. She wiped away HIS tears, while she tended to the bruising on her face he caused.
This day, I’m thinking of her.
To the Kiribati women in my life, near and far.
I love you.