Yes, We Have No Bananas

Tuvalu is full of little stores. They all carry a few imported canned goods, and onions. The biggest one, the “supermarket” also has imported/refrigerated apples and oranges and a handful of other items. When we asked about a produce market, we were told, “Friday morning at 5am, near the end of the airstrip.” We were also told by a policeman at the airstrip, “Down the main road 150 meters. Open until 8am.” Having no fruit left on board, Bob and I got up at dawn and went for it.

Seeing no market in the 150 meter vicinity, we asked, and were told, “Across the runway, on the ocean side of the island.” And on the other side of the runway we got further pointers to a place where a couple dozen women were waiting with plastic baskets and tubs. Tables were spread out, mostly covered with seedlings. But also cucumbers and lettuce. Someone told us to put our name on the list (we were number 36) and they would call us by number. But not seeing any fruit, we asked, and were told the fruit was already gone. And when we asked specifically about bananas, the answer was, “I don’t think they have any bananas; they don’t have any banana trees…” Further questions led to a description of a market across the runway and down the road on the lagoon side, where we would see bananas hanging, and they also sell bread. Our spirits lifted, we crossed the runway again. (When an airplane is approaching, the fire engine blares its siren, and people stop crossing the runway.)

We asked several women sweeping in front of their houses. They all gave us puzzled looks, and the consensus was, “Maybe at the supermarket.” At this point we had walked in a big circle. But we knew where the ‘supermarket’ was, and thought maybe early Friday morning they had fresh produce. Not so. Asking there, we again got puzzled looks, and the clearest answer yet — “I don’t know.”

Feeling thoroughly thwarted, with no new ideas about where to try, we headed back to the dinghy. But we ducked into another store along the way. No bananas. Did you try at the supermarket? The gentleman tending the store was huge, and had a stammer making it difficult for him to get out a sentence, but he had a captivating smile. Bob told him how much I was wanting bananas, but nobody had them for sale, as we headed out the door. He said something unintelligible but commanding — perhaps “Wait!” in Tuvaluan. He raised up his massive self and padded out the back door. Probably gone to ask the woman of the house where to find bananas. But he was gone for a long time. We thought about leaving, but he was trying to help us, so we waited. And when he returned it was with a plate of bananas!!

Of course we offered to pay him. Of course he said no. I have a feeling the way my eyes lit up and the smile erupted on my face, he received his “payment.” In fact, he seemed to take enormous delight in having presented us with this gift. With a proliferation of thanks, we said goodbye and headed to the dinghy with a lighter step. It seems that you cannot buy bananas here in Tuvalu…

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