Gauguin or Michener
horizon lust inspired,
The South Pacific desired.
From early childhood on.
Fiji in the 70’s all alone in
A Personal journey of self
and world discovery.
From the big island of
Viti Levu, embarked
on native small boat, fifty
miles out to the Yasawa group.
Reaching tiny Yaqeta with
300 souls living close to the bone,
No Running water, or electric spark
glowing. Remarkably bright stars
shine at night, no city lights showing
to hide their heavenly glow.
Unspoiled Melanesian Island people
Meagerly surviving only on the sea
and a thousand plus years of tradition.
I welcomed like a friend of long
standing, with smiling faces and
open sprits. Once eaters of other
humans beings, converted now to
Their Island beautiful beyond belief,
Azure pristine seas in every direction,
Coral reefs abounding with aquatic life.
Paradise found and deeply appreciated.
I swam and fished, played with the kids
and laid about in my hammock, enjoying
weeks of splendor alongside people
I came to revere, generous and loving
at peace with themselves and nature,
Embracing a stranger like a family member.
My small transistor radio warned big
Cyclone brewing, of Hurricane proportions.
My thoughts turned to Tidal Waves.
The village and all those people
living a few feet above sea level.
Tried to express my concerns to
my host family and others, getting
but smiles and shrugs in return.
Spoken communication almost
nonexistent, me no Fijian spoken,
Them, little English understood.
It started with rain, strong winds,
Worsening building by the minute.
The villagers’ merely tightening down
the hatches of their stick, thatch houses.
Content it seemed to ride out the storm,
As I assumed they always did.
Shouldering heavy backpack
I hugged my friends and headed
for high ground, the ridgebacks
of low mountains, the backbones
of the Island. Feeling guilty leaving
them to their fate from high water.
Perplexed, they ignored my warnings.
In half an hour winds strong enough
to take me off my feet, blowing even
from the other side of the Island.
On a ridge flank I hunkered down,
pulled rubber poncho over my body,
Laying in watershed running inches deep
cascading down slopes to the sea below.
The wind grew to astounding ferocity,
Later gusts reported approaching 160
miles per hour. Pushing me along
the ground closer to the cliff edge
and a 80 foot plunge to the sea below,
Clinging to cliff with fingers and toes.
For three hours it raged, trees blowing
off the summit above, disappearing into
the clouds and stormy wet mist beyond.
A false calm came calling, the eye of the
Cyclone hovered over the Island, as I
picked my drenched self up and made my
way over blown down trees and scattered
storm debris to the Village of my hosts.
Most wooden, tin roofed structures gone
or caved in, the few Island boats broken
and thrown up onto the land. Remarkably
many of the small one room “Bure” thatched
huts still stood. Designed by people that knew
the ways if big winds.
The high waves had not come as I feared.
Badly damaged, yet the village endured,
As did most of the people, some broken
bones, but, mercifully, no worse.
Back with my host family, in their Bure,
new preparations ensued, the big winds I
was informed would now return from the
opposite direction, and would be even worse.
For another four hours the little grass and
stick House shook, nearly rising from the
ground, held together only by woven vine
ropes, and hope, additional ropes looped
over roof beams held down by our bare
hands. Faith and old world knowledge
is a wonderful thing.
Two days past and no one came to check on
the Island, alone the people worked to save
their planted gardens from the salt water
contaminated ground, cleaned up debris and
set to mending their grass homes. The only fresh
Water well still unpolluted was busily used.
With a stoic resolve, from these self-reliant people,
life seemed to go on, this not the first wind blown
disaster they had endured, Cyclones I learned
came every year, though this one, named “Bebe”
worst in the memories of the old men of the island.
On the third day a boy came running,
having spotted and hailed a Motor yacht,
which dropped anchor in the lagoon on the
opposite side of the Island.
I swam out to the boat and was welcomed
aboard by the Australian skipper and crew.
Shared a cold Coke, ham sandwich and tales
of our respective adventures of surviving.
They agreed to carry me back to the Big Island.
A crewman returned me ashore in a dingy.
I crossed the island and retrieved my things,
Bidding and hugging my friends in farewell.
I asked permission to write a story about the
storm and the village, the elders' smiles agreed,
they had nothing to loose, seemed pleased.
One last time I traversed the island and stepped
Into the yachts small rowboat, my back to
the island. Hearing a commotions I turned
seeing many people gathering along the
shores beach. I climbed out and went among
them, hugging most in farewell, some and
me too with tears in our eyes, fondness, respect
reflected, shared, received.
As the skiff rowed away halfway to the ship,
the Aussie mate made a motion with his eyes
and chin, back towards the beach.
Turning around in my seat I saw there
most of the island population, gathered,
many held aloft small pieces of colored cloth,
tiny flags of farewell waving in the breeze,
they were singing, chanting a island song,
slow, like a lament of sorts.
Overwhelmed, I stood and faced the shore,
opened wide my arms, as to embrace them all,
tears of emotions unashamedly ran down my face.
Seeing the people on the beach, the Aussie crewman
intoned, “****** marvelous that. Good on 'ya mate.”
Yes, I remember Fiji and Cyclone Bebe, most of all
I fondly remember my Island brothers and sisters.
Two years later I returned to that island, lovingly
received like a retuning son, feasted and drank
Kava with the Chief and Elders most of the night,
A pepper plant root concoction that intoxicates
And makes you sleep most all the next day.
My newspaper story picked up by other papers
Galvanizing an outpouring of thoughtful support,
A Sacramento Methodist Church collected clothes,
money and donations of pots and pans and Gas
lanterns along with fishing gear and other useful things.
All packed in and flown by a C-130 Hercules Cargo plane
out of McClellan Air Force Base, U.S.A and down to Fiji,
cargo earmarked for the Island of Yaqeta and my friends.
On my return there was an abundance of cut off
Levies and Mickey Mouse T-Shirts, and both a
brand New Schoolhouse and Church built by
U.S. and New Zealand Peace Corps workers.
This island of old world people were some of the best
People I have ever known. I cherish their memory and
My time spent in their generous and convivial company.
Life is truly a teacher if we but seek out the lessons.
This memory may be too long for HP reading, was
writ mostly for me and my kids, a recall that needed
to be inscribed. Meeting people out in the world, on
common ground is a sure cure for ignorance and
intolerance. I highly recommend it. Horizon Lust
can educate and set you free.