We were already two hours behind our anchoring time.
Disappointed with the empty beach, I was resigned that none of the 560 islanders would be on the island to accept all the articles that my fellow passengers had collected. Boxes of school books, pencils, and notebooks for the many children were assembled by the crew and 352 passengers – to be donated to the island school that had lost all their supplies. We all hoped that it would make a small difference to the children of this very remote island but without anyone to receive the goods, what would happen to our bounty?
I looked toward the desolated beach again and saw it…movement! Taking my binoculars, I focused them on the small dock at the beach where the tender was headed. Out of the piles of downed palm trees, I saw small forms running towards the dock – jumping up and down! They were the smallest citizens of Samarai Island – the children. Our tender and the MS Paul Gauguin must have been an apparition, a dream to them. My heart exploded and tears were streaming down my face as I realized that we were going to experience a life-changing experience!
As our tender neared the small dock, the now screaming, hand waving children were running back into the village to bring their parents to come to see this unexpected sight. The extent of the devastation of their tiny 56 sq. km island was beyond belief, yet their smiles and gratefulness melted even the most hardened of hearts. As I walked off the tender onto the dock, I was surrounded by these children wanting to show our group the island and their hospitality.
Through a translator, we were told that they knew that we were coming and were inviting us to their homes for a small meal. The teenagers competed to escort groups of us from the dock to their homes to sample some of the freshly caught tuna. All I could think of is “you have almost nothing yet your generosity of spirit and heart is immeasurable.”
I have filled my life that day with experiences not things…a story to tell, not stuff to show other than some amazing photographs!
After an hour spent sharing a small meal, walking through the island and watching a dance performance, I reluctantly returned to the tender. The tears flowed freely as I handed out the last of the pencils and the chocolates to the children. On board the last of 2 tenders, I looked back towards the dock and beach packed with the 562 villagers of Samarai Island and knew that what I had experienced in the last two hours would forever leave a mark on my memory. I have filled my life that day with experiences not things…a story to tell, not stuff to show other than some amazing photographs!