A month ago, Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu, and in particular the island of Tanna. Several years ago I was lucky enough to visit Tanna, and it's a beautiful, unique place with some of the most wonderful, welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. I can't even tell you how magical it was to lie in bed at night in total darkness (no electricity after 8 pm) and listen to the roll of the waves on the beach, only metres away, and, in the distance, the constant rumble of the volcano Yasur.
For most tourists, Vanuatu is a another beautiful tropical destination. For my sister and me, it was a little more than that. Having spent our formative years in Papua New Guinea, sadly not a safe destination to visit anymore for the most part, Vanuatu felt a little like a homecoming. It was listening to a language we hadn't heard in a long time, similar enough to the one we'd learned as kids that we were still able to follow along. It was the smells of the marketplace, of fruit and fish and coconut oil and petrol fumes, that took us straight back to our childhood. It was seeing the Melanesian culture again, listening to the stories, and the songs, and reconnecting with old memories, and with magic.
Here are some of my favourite photographs from that trip.
This is a sand drawing of a turtle, done by the guide at the Cultural Museum. He drew this with his finger, in one continuos line, while telling us the story of the turtle.
This is my nephew Tom, who was delighted to discover that the Tooth Fairy did find him on Tanna, and even paid him in Vatu instead of dollars!
This is Tom and his sister Meg, forging through the shallows, looking for sand dollars. Collecting sand dollars became a thing for them. Every night we'd line them up in the bathroom, and Meg, who was still learning at that stage, would count them all.
A red starfish and a green sand dollar. These were both in ankle-deep water in the lagoon, which was only a few metres from the units we stayed in on the main island of Efate. There were thousands of them. The bumps on the starfish were soft and almost velvety to touch.
This is the view from the verandah of our bungalow on Tanna. The sand, which you can't see terribly well, is actually black, courtesy of the volcano. There was no electricity after 8 pm where we stayed. No television, no phones, and nothing to do except swim in the ocean, watch the horizon, and let the local kids practice their English on you. I was terrified I would be bored, but I have never been so relaxed in my life, and so sad about leaving a place.
Tanna is a magical place. It's one of the few places in the world where cargo cults still exist, and we were lucky enough to visit a John Frum village and see the people celebrate their faith.
If you want to know more about how to help the people of Vanuatu, please check out the Red Cross or your preferred charity for information.