It was my 17th birthday when our 120-foot brigantine Eye of the Wind arrived at Green Island. Aside from the occasional supply boat from the New Guinea mainland, this old WW2 dock had seen no other visitors from the outside world for almost five years now.
As we approached, it became clear that this was to be a cause for celebration. All the children had turned out to welcome us, with songs and with wide smiles and, after we were secured to the dock, they each took us by our hands and led us inshore to their village, to partake in the ritualistic preparation of that night’s feast to be given in our honor. It was our captain’s singular privilege to slaughter the pig himself, using a traditional hardwood club and a rusted machete (my first of many lessons that being captain can have its drawbacks, too). A huge fire pit had been dug and, after depositing the carcass onto the coals and covering it with earth, we returned to the ship, now with the entire village accompanying us.
We had brought school supplies and medicines with us and the morning was spent with our two ship’s doctors tending to the villagers at our onboard clinic. Meanwhile the crew enjoyed the opportunity to give tours and to show off our ship.
Cabin light switches were a constant source of amazement to young and old alike. Chocolate bars and cans of soda were likewise enjoyed, and all the more so when we taught the young ones how to first roll the cans down the length of the main deck before opening them. Who would have thought that such simple items as candy bars and soft drinks could create such a stir, even with the adults? The things we take for granted.
For the most part the kids appeared unfamiliar with the concept of cameras and photography. Many of them appeared suspicious, some outright alarmed, at these strange-looking devices that we were all pointing at them. So we soon stopped doing that. Which makes the ones I did manage to get all the more precious.
In the afternoon I joined the kids as they spearfished from the dock, using the rusted spokes of an old umbrella they had apparently obtained from a German missionary several years earlier. The skills these kids displayed with these simple tools was amazing. I was useless at it, but had fun nonetheless.
That evening, for the Grand Finale, we set up a portable generator by the campfire and, as we happily feasted on roast pork and sweet potatoes, we enjoyed a slideshow depicting snow-covered rooftops, high-rise city blocks and various pictures of the British royal family. (There exists, to this day, a rather inexplicable degree of admiration throughout these islands towards one member in particular, Prince Philip, to whom the locals referred to reverently, in their pigeon tongue, as Man Him Belong Queen). Needless to say, they all loved it.
Even at the age of seventeen, I found myself greatly heartened to discover that such places as these still existed in our world. But it did spoil me a bit, I have to admit. Tall ships and tropical islands at that age? How could I possibly stop there?