George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Tuesday 23 October 2007
Missing Country A: Tuvalu
Full story to follow...
Alex Horne - 23rd October 2007
When I was about 8 years old our family dentist moved his practice from Midhurst in West Sussex to Alton in Hampshire. Showing unusual and perhaps unnecessary loyalty in the field of teeth, we then spent the next ten years travelling twenty one miles West North West to have the same man make our mouths hurt.
Up till now, therefore, Alton has been a town of uncomfortable memories for me. Yes, we got given a sticker on the way out of the surgery as some sort of compensation but I mainly remember the painful needles, grinding drills, blinding lights and weird pink water.
I'm going to the dentist for the first time in Chesham this Friday, by the way, so I guess I might be a tiny bit preoccupied with the whole business.
Today, however, my view of Alton was altered forever and favourably by Suliana and her husband Paul who not only welcomed me into their home but even picked me up and dropped me off at the station (without once mentioning things like fillings, dentures or headbraces).
They met on the main island (and capital) Funafuti when Paul was working there as the People's Lawyer from 1990 to 1993. Some of you may have read a book called Where the Hell is Tuvalu? by a man called Philip Ells. I have. He was also the People's Lawyer in Tuvalu. In fact, he took the job over from Paul. I contacted the author a few months ago, he replied and we ended up having something of a fun dialogue. But he didn't know of any Tuvaluans in London.
He did, however, know Paul and Suliana, having gone out for a couple of drinks with the former before going out for a couple of years to Tuvalu. They haven't been in touch for a good few years so I've promised to pass on each others' email addresses (I found Suliana through Patrick and Philomena, my Kiribati contacts, incidentally*).
Anyway, Suliana has lived in Alton for fourteen years. The last time she flew back to Tuvalu was on September 11th 2001. Suliana, Paul and their three children were meant to be flying via America but were rerouted through Hong Kong. It's not the easiest place to reach at the best of times.
'When do you think you'll next go back?' I asked.
'When I win the lottery', she replied.
Suliana confirmed definitively that there are definitely NO TUVALUANS LIVING IN LONDON. There are three in her house (her niece and mother also live there at present), one in Scotland, one in Exeter and one in Sheffield - but that's it. Her cousin was also living in Cornwall but she's not there at the moment.
We also talked briefly about global warming, the subject for which Tuvalu is most (if not solely) known.
'If it's mentioned in the paper my workmates get excited and say 'have you seen what's happened? It's going to disappear! You should phone home and check your family's ok!' It's nice they are worried but they make it soundsso dramatic. I know what it's like. It's not really happening. Slowly, yes, the sea is coming. But the people there just don't want to move away...
Yes. I miss home.'
* Argh! Inci-dental-ly! I can't stop thinking about it...