Saturday, July 31, 2010

Epic Boat Trip - Landfall

Once inside the lagoon, the waves were calmer and we sped along the top of them towards the beach. The ocean, as fiercely independent as a headstrong toddler, tames once it has been encircled by a firm embrace of reef. A lagoon is a well of life, an undersea Eden where plant and animal sea life abound in prismatic color. It is a world waiting to be explored once you break the surface.

The island we were speeding towards sat low on the horizon. Little more than a glorified sand bar, Sikaiana sprouted coconut trees and houses, looking oddly like a head submerged in the water, with only the forehead and hair sticking above surface.

The beach in front of us was filled with brown figures. Sikaiana was a sister island to our Luaniua, and many of the people on the ship were kin in some way with these islanders. They had come out of their huts to anxiously watch the drama unfolding beyond the reef.

We touched shore, and several boys ran forwards to drag the canoe further onto the sand. The occupants of the little life boat all piled out, and somebody lifted my sister, brother and I onto the beach. Although the rain had finally stopped, dusk had now fallen over the storm darkened sky. The beach quickly emptied of people. Anna, Matthew and I stood there, holding each other's hands. We had nothing with us except for the clothes we were wearing. I don't think we even had shoes on. I thought about my mom, dad, brother, and the Aussie teacher who had been on the ship with us. Out beyond the reef, the Baruku sat low and dejected, an almost indiscernible black spot against the lighter blackness of the sea. I looked around myself. We were standing in the middle of an empty beach in the semi-darkness. I had started contemplating sitting down and waiting to see if my parents would show up, when a kind faced woman approached me.

"Hamai inei, okou haikama emoe kehale anau la," she said. I looked blankly at her. She repeated, this time using summoning motions and came a few steps closer to us. We drew together even more tightly. I was afraid of her foreign tongue and the unknown village she was beckoning us towards. My younger siblings looked at me as I stood in indecision on the alien beach.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Epic Boat Trip - Shipwreck pt 2

I sat there, huddled in the rocking dinghy. A yard from us was the hungry reef, with ocean frothed above it in perpetual breakers. The receding waves showed a 5 foot channel between the jagged coral heads, repeatedly filled and emptied with each swell. The reef grinned at us from beneath the traitorous surf, dripping in malicious expectation. Salt water slapped up against the low sides of our craft. Low hanging clouds spit rain down in our faces.

There was a man piloting our little life boat. He sat at the very back, his hand gripping the outboard motor's throttle, his eyes inscrutable slits against the elements. A Polynesian Charon. He studied the rise and fall of the grinding surf in the little channel, all our lives depending on his skill of reading the water. One seconds delay would catch us in the backwash of surf, a flow too powerful for our little motor, and we'd be swept back out to sea at the best, or dashed against the rocks at the worst. The coral here was ribbed in rows of living stone as fine and as sharp as razor blades. Soft flesh and the weakness of human muscles would prove no match for all the vast, ageless pull of the ocean surf. Once in the water, the waves will tumble you up, around, and speed you down in a quick, vicious somersault onto the jagged reef. Pray that you will already be dead when the waiting sharks get to you.

We waited as our Charon judged each wave. I was perversely reminded of playing jump rope, watching the great curve slowly rise up, then fall again with precision through the moment of truth, back to the ground and up again. He suddenly gunned the motor, and we sped on the front of a rising wave, breathless and gripping each other. A wall of spray smacked my face as the bow of our little craft assaulted the tumult over the reef. Salt was up my nose and on my tongue. The boat rocked precariously to one side as the ocean angrily made its strength felt. Our driver urged his little engine even higher. There was a moment of gasping, breathless struggle. Then man triumphed over nature. Inertia was overcome, we surged forward and the next instant were safely within the womb of the lagoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


We lived for a few months in a little Anglican priest training school on Guadalcanal, called Kohimarama. Kohi for short. This was right after we got back from our US furlough my sixth grade year. I hadn't lived in the bush since village living days in Papua New Guinea, so it was an experience living more than one hundred yards from the beach.

Kohi consisted of a mix of adult students with their families, local teachers, and foreign teachers. My dad was filling in the bible translation teaching position, and I really wasn't thrilled to be there. I had been plucked out of sixth grade right after Christmas, just as I had been feeling like I was starting to fit in and make friends. I had learned important things like: '90210' is not somebody's phone number. It is very important where you sit at the lunch table. There is no such thing as a $2 bill in US currency (after a prolonged discussion with my math teacher).

Instead of going immediately back to Luaniua, where I already had connections and a reasonable expectation to fit in, we went inland to Kohi for a few months. Here, again, I was surrounded by the unknown. There was some crazy jungle bird that lived in the wetness behind our house, and shrieked a deaf child's cry of pain at all hours, day and night. The Melanesian culture was foreign to me, seemingly untrusting and closed off compared to the more open Polynesians I was used to. Instead of being viewed with collective indulgence as 'our adopted white girl', dark eyes followed me everywhere and people gave me the wide berth of an outsider. I spent a lot of time in my room, where I had stapled snapshots of Austin and West Ridge Middle School to my wall.