My first sight of my island was from the bow of the Baruku, an old rust bucket freighter that had been abandoned as scrap by Japanese fishermen, then resurrected by the Solomon Islands government to ferry faithful citizens to and from the outer islands. I stood there, not worrying, as I'm sure my mother and father were, about the constant discharge of water from the ship's bowels as the pumps worked overtime to keep equilibrium with the seawater seeping in. Nor was I concerned by the people pushing around me, chattering in a strange language of k's and gutturals.
No, my first thought was: "Is that it?" Floating on the horizon, barely distinguishable from the low lying clouds was what looked like a long, hazy hot dog. It grew hair, as the Baruku faithfully plodded over the waves, and then more islands began popping up on either side of it, like peas on my dinner plate.
Even though I didn't know the language, I began to sense a shift in my traveling companions' moods. The air began to vibrate with the anticipation of reunion and homecoming. I heard my mother call (the only English voice in the mix; very discernible) and I ran to her, my bare feet slap-slapping on the rusted metal deck, down a ladder and then reporting in front of her. My mother assembled her children to her, like a mommy duck hiding her babies under her wings as the rain approaches. She didn't know what was coming, but instinct told her to hold us close.
The ship moved through the passage in the reef like an old person with nothing but time. Now we could see each tree individually, and huts crowding up to the beach, and dark figures forming groups on the stretch of white sand. Dissipating. Reforming. Shorter figures ("Children!" I thought, excitedly) darted hectically in the crowd.
The villagers had already dispatched canoes out to meet us, and my father loaded the six of us into one, with a few of our bags. I set mine, which held my prized and priceless possession (my blanket) on the seat next to me, out of the puddle of water at our feet. Compared to the giant slowness of the great freighter, the canoe felt like a mosquito, whizzing along with its propeller in the water.
Suddenly we were there, at the beach, and the swarm of Islanders thronged around us. My would-be friends and playmates grabbed our belongings and took off into the village with them; in under a minute we had been stripped of all our worldly possessions. Fear quickly followed outrage then, as I stepped with my parents out of the canoe and into the unknown.