November 2012 was a time of innocence and naiveté in my Nauru journey. I was blissfully ignorant of the dynamics behind the scenes. All I saw were the needs of the men and I tried to find ways to be “with” them in this situation.

I went back into a classroom situation for the first time in years – and loved it! It was daunting at first. I’d taught basic English to children, but never to adults. But humour and patience and a love to see people learn can take you a long way.

The classroom became an oasis of thankfulness. Each lesson men would shake my hand as they left class saying, “Thank you teacher.” I had never been so thanked for teaching anyone anything. It was such a joy to teach people who wanted to learn. Although they may not have had much English, the men could still show their senses of humour, they were still cheeky and asked personal questions that I would fend off with a laugh.

Each morning men would sit along the edge of the common area and wait for the classroom door to open and then they’d rush to get in to get the best seats! One lesson I sang “Waltzing Matilda” for the advanced class who then tried to come to terms with such notions as a jumbuck or a swag.

Then there was the day it rained (when does it not in the wet season?!). Men came to class bedraggled with their notebook under their shirt. Others who had made it to class in-between the downpours would laugh at the ones who came in dripping. Others decided that a soccer game was the way to go – the soccer “field” was calf-deep in water, the footy boots were thongs and the field itself only gravel. Grazes, lost thongs and a water-logged ball were no deterrent to men who were going play football regardless.

That month I asked over and over: what do I do with this when I get home? I knew the experience was expanding my internal capacity, that I was being changed, but I didn’t know what it would all lead to.

The innocence of that month for me is summed up in an event on my first full day of work there. I was given the IDs of about 6 men who I had to find and then ask a series of questions about their age, home etc. I started off squatting next to one man I was working with. Another man gave me his chair. Then as I was trying to fill in the answers another man brought me a flattened water bottle box. He had seen that I needed something to lean on and he gave me what he could. That is one of the most significant gifts I have ever received: a man who literally had nothing to give gave me of what he had.

I went home in early December, never anticipating that I would return.