Working on Nauru was not something I ever anticipated doing.
I had never had a burning desire to work in a less-developed country, nor to live and work in the tropics. And prior to beginning this work had not had any particular interest in working with asylum seekers or refugees.
However, there were many many days when I would figuratively pinch myself, amazed and so thankful that I had the opportunity to experience the numerous things I did working with asylum seekers on Nauru.
I find it really very difficult to describe why this work impacted me so much.
Part of it is that I felt I was actually doing something quite significant. I was in a situation that was rife with political impact. It was a unique work environment, one that many people were opposed to. Also, it was not the sort of work that many people get involved in, and certainly not people like myself who were brought up in the 1950s and 60s under the White Australia Policy in a white homogenous society.
I worked alongside people of a number of nations, often with conversation swirling around me in a Farsi, Arabic, Nauruan or Tamil, becoming comfortable with not knowing what was being said, or waiting my turn to speak while someone else interpreted. I conducted Bible studies in simple English in a group where we started with a Scripture reading in Farsi read as a prayer, followed by the simple study often interpreted by those who had a grasp of English and ending with a prayer in Tamil. Not understanding the language was never for me a barrier to communication. Good intent, body language, hand signs and the minimum of shared language could take you a long way.
So many images:
Mornings waiting for the bus, watching the sun come up over the ocean.
Sitting at the bus stop up at the main centre oozing with sweat, looking out over the green undergrowth.
Driving to a centre between the moonscapes left by phosphate mining.
Coming round the corner in a car to be confronted by a huge Moxi mining truck.
Finding the remains of an American bomber shot down by the Japanese during WWII and being reminded of my dad.
The eeriness of Japanese prison cells constructed between limestone outcrops.
Beautiful Buada Lagoon – serene but toxic.
A family of five on a postie bike, or two big men on a motorbike with a large tuna wedged between them. A spear-fisherman with multi-coloured fish or lobsters hanging over his shoulder.
Small children waiting for the school bus by sitting in the frangipani tree.
Green army tents, white marquees, sun reflecting off the gravel and burning your legs.
Lining up for meals at the mess, staying in the shade wherever possible.
Dark-haired and dark-eyed adults and children looking lost but trying to make the best of it.
An incredibly rich experience. No wonder I feel changed.