The World’s Most Remote Island: Tristan Da Cunha Through The Eyes Of A Ten Year Old

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Over the past week on the James Clark Ross we have had the pleasure of looking after a family from the world’s most remote island, Tristan Da Cunha. Mum Dawn, Dad Robin and ten year old Amber Repetto joined us last Saturday as we left Tristan and headed for St. Helena. They will be staying on St. Helena for a short while before venturing over to Cape Town and finally England where their eldest daughter is currently studying.  Although trying not to bombard the family with questions about their unique lifestyle I did manage to get the scoop on what it’s like living and growing up on the island from the point of view of the lovely Amber whose intelligence and maturity blew me away throughout her time on board, and if that wasn’t enough just look at that face! So without further ado….

Hey Amber! Thanks so much for letting me ask some questions about you and your life on Tristan, it’s all very new and exciting for us to have someone like you on board! Is this the first time you’ve sailed on a ship like this?

Well I’ve sailed on something like this before (RRS James Clark Ross) when we went to the Isle of Man. I can’t remember the name of it but it was like a mini version of this ship.

How are you finding it so far? Not seasick at all?

No, we (mum and dad) were a bit seasick at first but now it’s okay, we’re having fun.

Glad to hear it! So we’re currently on the way to St Helena where you and your mum and dad will be staying for a while before heading over to South Africa where you’ll be visiting your grandparents. You’ll then be heading to the UK to visit your sister who is currently studying, is that right? Are you excited to see everyone?

Yes! I last saw my grandparents quite a while go, I can’t really remember when. And I do miss my sister, but when they live with you it’s like ‘whatever’ but then they go and you do actually miss them.

I get that, I have an older brother who used to drive me crazy when we were younger, but now he lives in Germany and I always miss him. How old were you when you first visited South Africa, can you remember?

I was seven, I’m ten now. I turned ten on the 18th of March, so I’ve just had my birthday.

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I hope you had a fun birthday! South Africa is a big change from Tristan, how do you feel about being somewhere so different?

There is nowhere else like Tristan, it’s very unique. When you first leave and go to a new place it’s so weird because you’re so used to just seeing just one car on the road or just a few people walking around or in their gardens. Once you’ve been somewhere though you do get used to it but it is really busy to start with.

I can imagine, what are your favourite things about being on holiday?

Mostly sunshine, we do have nice summers in Tristan but even during those months we sometimes have very bad weather, heavy rain, pouring even, and floods. Also on Tristan you never get fresh fruit, especially grapes. Maybe we get grapes once every few years; it’s very rare to get fresh fruit here so I really like that when I go on holiday.

Wow! Once every few years! So fresh fruit is a definitely a treat. Do you miss Tristan when you are away?

Yeah, especially my friends. But the good thing is my friends got to come on board the boat with us to have a look around before we had to say goodbye, so I got to spend a bit more time with them.

I bet they’ll miss you a lot! But I’m sure they’ll want to hear all about your trip when you get back. I haven’t been to South Africa yet but I would love to go. Is there somewhere in the world you’d really like to visit?

France. Where my dad works there is a lot of French so we get to learn quite a bit about them; we are hoping to go to Paris this year actually.

So before I came on this ship I’d never heard of Tristan Da Cunha and I’m sure a lot of people out there haven’t either! It was a really special treat for all of us on board to get the opportunity to spend a bit of time on the island. How do you feel when the ships come in and people like us arrive on the island?

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It’s exciting but if you walk past someone who lives on Tristan they always say hello and ask how you are but when new people come they sometimes don’t say hello or are a bit shy. That’s okay because that might be what they do back home in their country, but for us it’s very strange.

Sadly in a lot of places simply saying ‘good morning’ is becoming a thing of the past. I think the world, the UK especially, could learn a lot from Tristan! A majority of the time these big ships arrive at the island with food, clothes, school supplies and so on- Is it always a surprise to see what new things arrive or it usually the same sort of cargo?

When the ships arrive they usually bring presents sent from my grandma, they send fresh fruit and presents. This one time my grandma sent strawberries, and the time before that she sent grapes- so that was really great. If there’s something we really want, like we needed a new telephone once and we just asked my grandma and she sent it over with a ship.

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Handy! Potatoes are the staple food of a Tristan diet and we know that the ladies on the island have created some pretty unique dishes centred around this starchy veg, even cakes and puddings! What is your favourite potato dish?

Some ladies make their own Tristan crisps, cutting the potato quite thin, frying it and then seasoning it; they sell them in the pub.

Yes I tried them whilst I was on Tristan, very fresh and organic tasting. Cooking and baking is popular on the island, and where there is a celebration there is food. For a party everyone is expected to arrive with something to eat, making for an impressive feast of traditional Tristan dishes. What is your favourite party food?

Everyone on the island makes delicious chocolate cake. One of the ladies’ daughters is getting married and I’m going to be a bridesmaid, she makes these icing cakes with a sort of crispy outside and a soft marshmallow inside, then they are decorated. When it was my birthday I had a detective cake because when I was younger I loved playing spies, I have more guns than a boy! They think because you’re a girl that you can’t have a sword, but you can. (I love this child!)

Islanders sure know how to celebrate! And not just on Birthday’s and Christmas either, there are a number of holidays and events in the year that are marked by the community as a whole. Unique events in particular include Queen’s Day (a village fete), ‘Okalolies’ on Old Year’s Night, and Ratting Day. Tell me about what happens on these special days? What’s your favourite event of the year?

Queens’ day is a school day, like sports day. We have races, raffle tickets and we have a game where pictures of penguins have funny faces and you have to throw wet sponges at them. We also have another game where you have to drop a ten pence into a bucket of water and if it lands on the circle at the bottom you get a prize. Ratting Day is one of my favourite days. There are lots of rats on the island that eat the bird eggs, so one day a year we all get together to hunt them. When you catch one you cut the tail off, and whoever gets the longest and the most tails wins a prize. Old Years Night is when people, mostly boys, dress up in things like masks, long hair and vampire teeth and go around the island and scare people.  Some people do get really scared because they chase you and throw you in the swimming pool, it’s really fun. Afterwards you go to this big gong (the same gong they hit to alert the fisherman that it’s a good fishing day) and at midnight it gets hit with a big hammer. Everyone shouts ‘Happy New Year!’ Some people shout really loudly.

That all sounds like a lot of fun; you’re all very brave to go running after those rats! Other than celebrating, what are your favourite things to do on the island?

Spending the day around the house and watching movies mostly, but at night time I get together with my friends and we usually go to someone’s house and we have drinks and dance. Then at nine or ten we go to the community hall if there’s a dance and it’s really good to socialise.

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Great! On Tristan the school follows and teaches the English curriculum, working towards GCSE’s and upon competition are offered the opportunity to continue with further education at a few chosen schools in England. How are you finding school, do you enjoy it? What are you learning about at the moment?

I like parts of it, some subjects I don’t like. Sometimes it’s a little boring obviously but my favourite subjects are maths and my least favourite used to be is English because I don’t like all the silly language stuff, but I do like story writing.

I like story writing too. Do you have any ideas about what you’d like to do when you’re older? What would be your perfect job?

I mean am only ten so as me again in a few years but I think I’d like to be a marine biologist around the island. On Tristan there are a lot of things we don’t know about the ocean. When the JCR or research teams come to Tristan they give you the National Geographic books and they have special cameras that go to the bottom of the sea, equipment that we on Tristan don’t have. They always discover new things that we didn’t know existed down there. They did this presentation of these really weird fish you’d think they’d found somewhere really weird like space or something, but they were in the waters around Tristan. We don’t have the right materials to study our conservation properly but when new people come it’s always interesting to see what they discover. (These were her exact words! Clever lady)

What does a normal day look like for you? Talk me through your routine. Now we are in summer my friends will come to my house and I’ll go to theirs and we’ll just hang out and we play with my Bratz dolls. Then the pool opens so we usually go there because when it’s winter we go to the playground but in the summer that’s always dead as we are all in the pool. Sometimes on a Saturday we’d go to the dance, I have a little pretend kitchen where me and my friends play cooking games, that’s always fun.

I had one of those when I was younger, so much fun! And finally what is your favourite thing about living on the island, what do you like most about it?

Tristan is such a beautiful place and everyone is so kind and happy, it just makes you happy. I could go absolutely anywhere on Tristan and tell you that it’s beautiful.

It’s so lovely to listen to someone, especially someone so young, talk so passionately about their home. Most of us are always so quick to judge and complain about where we live and forget to appreciate the simple things. If we just took a step back and took note of all the lovely aspects of our surroundings then maybe we could learn to appreciate what we have and the beauty of it.

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C.J.R xox

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