Seeing the sun coming through my cabin’s porthole early on Wednesday morning was a very welcoming wake-up call. I knew that this meant land ahead. Captain Mike had predicted an early arrival to Tanna Island and I was more than ready for some steady ground.
Unfortunately my decades of trips in the ‘tinny’ at home in Fiji, had not prepared my belly for the real truth behind seasickness. I know better now. The ocean does not care much for your work schedule. Nor does it mind so much about your sheer willpower to keep food down. The ocean will have her way.
Needless to say, seeing the rolling hills and aqua shallows of Tanna coming towards the bow of the Rainbow Warrior, was a relief.
Nothing in comparison to the relief I was about to learn about.
The fabulous crew of the Rainbow Warrior and the amazing Action Aid volunteers we had with us onboard, got to work as soon as we anchored just off the beach of Lenakel town.
We had just under 20 tonnes of aid relief goods to offload and no way of getting into the wharf. (Turns out those beautiful aqua shallows aren’t so kind to the hulls of big sailing ships.)
While the logistics conversations and container opening began, a team of us took a tender to shore, ready to begin collecting stories from those affected by Cyclone Pam.
Who we met and what we heard, moved me more than any open sea swell ever could.
We found the first family ready to tell their story within a matter a minutes. In the restaurant across the road. There was no roof on their house, the walls were made of fresh thatch, the pot was full of rice and chicken and the children were running cheekily through rubble.
A vivacious woman named Karen asked if she could talk to us. She told us about being frightened during the cyclone. She told us about still being frightened that another one would one day come.
“These cyclones destroy everything. Some of our people, they are dead. So we don’t want anymore.”
Karen was the first of many. Our ‘Greenpeace’ tee-shirts and big camera lenses became a beacon for everyone wanting to say their piece.. We were passed to uncles, friends, neighbours, everyone keen to tell us something.
Each word was heartbreakingly beautiful. It’s a funny thing when tragedy and light-heartedness mingle. It leaves you feeling very humble. And thankful to share this earth with such high spirited people.
Back on the wharf in the afternoon, we met Mary. She was waiting for her tent from Action Aid, a tent that was nobly destined to become a women’s and children’s rehabilitation centre in Tanna. Mary had a lot to say. First most of it was praise and thanks to Greenpeace and Action Aid for still being in Vanuatu helping during these later days. Then Mary said, “I want to talk to some governments.”
Mary was sitting on a mountain of rice sacks. The Rainbow Warrior crew and local volunteers were behind her, tossing and passing package after package, counting bags and packing trucks, all framed by the 3pm sun, clear blue bay and the sound of laughter.
Mary clenched her fists, raised them in front of her and said, “To the people causing and ignoring climate change, on behalf of the women and children of Vanuatu, I ask you to stop.”
The strength of the Pacific may not be in it’s walls. But it is there. You can see it in people like Mary. The true Rainbow Warriors.