Depression induced by Politics and Plunging into the Culture
Topics of the day: Public transport (or maybe not), overconsumption, corrupt and/or lazy politicians, poverty, uncertainty, hospitality and culture
People we met today (just to add another category): Terri Vallaux (the energy minister’s RE-consultant), Steve Finck (from the establishment for (public) transport and development (town planning) – if I translated correctly), P. (independent consultant), Rudolf (Eric’s friend, Temaru’s bodyguard), Thede (wind-power-pioneer), Toni (Thede’s friend) and Tia (Toni’s wife)
Today we got up early to go downtown with Manuel, do some research online and actually meet Steve Finck from the establishment for town planning and development (if I translated correctly)) at 8:30. We quickly popped into Terii Vallaux’s office (and used the opportunity to arrange another meeting with him in order to talk about the situation in Ra’iatea (he seemed fairly clueless – I’m starting to get the impression that he can learn more from us than… never mind) and the feed-in-tariff (I want to ask him (diplomatically) why (the hell) it’s not working). He pointed us in the direction to Steve Finck’s office (which was in a different building – unfortunately the government isn’t completely consequential when it comes to centralization). We got lost and turned up half an hour late (just to disprove the cliché of german punctuality).
Steve stressed that Pape’ete was an unplanned city (everyone pretty much built what they wanted and wherever they wanted), the population doubles every fifteen years and people like to be “traditional” (have their own little house instead of living in an apartment – so the suburbs are expanding) but on the other hand they over consume (are “spoiled children” (becoming rich without really working for it – I wonder if he means the money that came with the French and their nuclear weapons) driving big SUVs, etc.) and since most of the jobs and schools are in or near the city centre the majority of the population commutes to Pape’ete every day (but I guess Pape’ete isn’t the only city in the world that’s in need of decentralization…).
He regrets that politicians fail to see that the public interest/common good is not the sum of all individual interests. Steve thinks a good solution to the capital’s transport problems would be a suspended monorail (like in Wuppertal or Memphis) above the ground since there is not enough space for a lane on the road dedicated to public transport only*. But looking at the financial aspect he thinks a proper network of trams on tires is the only possibility which is currently feasible.
“Le truck” only covers the main circular road that roughly follows the coastline around the whole island (which is also a problem: whenever there’s an accident, the “tar-aorta” is clogged up hindering everyone to get into or out of the city) but not the branches which lead into the valleys and up the mountains (imagine a doughnut (the aorta) with lines (arteries) leading towards an imaginary centre). They (Steve and his team) have done a study (yet another one – every government seems to produce a heap of paperwork but then doesn’t have enough time to implement anything – or only make a start just to be knocked on the head by the next government) and are planning on introducing a tightly knit network of buses/trams on tires (concentrating on the area between Fa’aa (where the airport is located) and Arue (close to where we are currently living) which has the highest population density) which have (structured) timetables – very (gulp)… innovative!
At 10:00 I rushed to the Parc Bougainville (while Raphael finished talking to Steve) for our meeting with P. who appeared to be very friendly and quite relaxed (his grey hair and beard seemed to emanate wisdom – which I could later validate). We talked about the government (being corrupt and failing), Terri Vallaux and the feed-in tariff (not working), Nuihau and his book (he finds it too diplomatic), poverty (he said we should go and have a look at the hidden parts of Fa’aa – apparently they resemble the favelas in Brasil) and cultural “decay”. I think P. knows too much… I felt very drained and hopeless after this intensely informative meeting.
To sum it up (P.’s thoughts): politicians are passive, overpaid and corrupt “jen’veuxpaslesavoirs” who don’t know what they don’t know (if one of them is ever intelligent they are malicious as well) and are too lazy to read his study (which has all the necessary information for a transition to 100% renewable energy in it) and end up not even paying him for his work (I can’t verify this because I have only heard his side of the story) – he thinks the (energy) tax-system needs to be changed.
After three hours of mostly listening we met Thede again who was in town with his friend Toni (a local police officer – another nice one – I think I’m starting recover from my police-nightmares). Toni is from Maupiti and supporting Thede’s energy-autonomy-plans there. I talked to Thede (in german) about Dithmarschen, Equilibrism and Eric (being such a perpetual optimist – I really admire his dedication and discipline) while Raphael and Toni had a conversation in French (Thede only speaks English).
Then we met up with Rudolf who was a bit down – he didn’t seem as optimistic as the last time we met him. He apologized for not having finished reading the book yet – he’s been having problems with his job (and the government – he’s not sure if he can keep working in Tahiti). He complained that he had gained a lot of weight after his return to Tahiti due to stress – the future (with the government changing as fast as the seasons – French Polynesia does have seasons) being so uncertain. He is sad that so many of his culture’s values were lost – that he can’t run around in his bare feet anymore because people spit on the streets and just drop their rubbish everywhere…
I told him that in Ra’iatea we had heard rumors of a(nother) putsch – he said that wouldn’t surprise him but didn’t exactly look any happier afterwards (I should have been a bit more sensitive and spared him this information). From a “selfish” point of view: a putsch would really disrupt our project here too…
After rushing over to the tourist information (Manuel almost left without us) we went “home” to get the book (our last copy of the Tahiti Projekt which is actually for Eric’s friends) just to go downhill again and hitchhike to the airport where Toni picked us up (an hour later – luckily I had a book in my backpack). He had invited us over for dinner earlier today. Thede had made duck accompanied by typical german vegetables (at least the duck didn’t feel lonely in its last hour). Toni’s wife Tia, her sister and husband (I’m awful at remembering names) also had dinner with us. We had some interesting conversations about renewable energy, Maupiti, a sustainable future, police brutality (in Europe) and Polynesian culture (food, music and natural products like healing oils). Tia showed me the jewelry she crafts out of pearls, hog tusks and coconut-fibers (among other natural materials) and gave me a necklace she had made out of seeds – a very generous gift (I can imagine how long it took to make). She offered to teach me how to make them – I can already see our last 7 weeks here evaporating – there are so many (cultural) things (which are not related to our project) that I would like to learn…
Toni got out his guitar and sang a few songs in Tahitian with Tia who later told us that she is starting to learn Tahitian again – the French had successfully suppressed it in school… (this reminds me of something Rudolf said earlier today: he is grateful for the British who wrote down the Tahitian language – he thinks if it hadn’t been for them it may well have been lost today).
*I guess my point of view is a bit more radical: prohibit individual motor car traffic – then there would be enough space on the ground for public transport (which makes the construction cheaper too). Some more advantages:
+ less noise
+ no more traffic jams
+ less stress
+ cleaner air (ground and water)
+ no more individual vehicles (that stand around unused most of the day)
+ more space in the city (for local recreation, green spaces,…)
+ long-term economic benefit (money stays in the country, isn’t wasted on expensive oil-imports and lower maintenance, insurance,… costs per inhabitant)
+ less accidents
The only problems (which are almost negligible 😉 are the fairly high initial investment and convincing the people of letting go of their prestige-vehicles…
Final thoughts of the day: The first part of the day was quite stressful and really draining (depression induced by politics) but it really had a good end – I am so thankful for the Polynesian hospitality and getting the opportunity to plunge into the culture – we really get to live here – not like tourists only scraping the surface.
Raphael mentioned that microcredits in developing countries are often only given to females because they spend it (more) carefully to build a better future for their children. I never considered myself a feminist (more of an “equalist”) but I must admit that females sometimes appear to be the more responsible gender. I wonder if the world would be in such a mess if women got to make (most of) the decisions…
Power to the people: I think we would achieve a more sustainable society (more quickly) if the centralized government (Pape’ete in “our” case) gave all its money (and maybe a list of ideas and know-how) directly to the communities (islands/atolls) so they could decide and implement themselves instead of trying to “fix” everything from the top…