The image is from late August in 1972. Only a couple of hours before, I had arrived on the island on a copra boat called the "Aoniu". It had set sail three days before from the wharf in Suva, Fiji's capital. I was very glad to plant my feet on dry land. In six weeks' time I would be nineteen years old.
The young man with the long blonde hair and the garland of sweet-smelling tropical flowers round his neck is Andy Summers who I replaced as the island's Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) teacher at Rotuma High School. A couple of hours after the picture was taken, Andy would have been on the "Aoniu" heading back to Suva and then on to England via Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York.
I remember the names of the two girls in the picture. The girl on the left is not in fact a Rotuman - she's an Indian. I used to teach her. Her name was Indira Lal and her father Mohan, was the owner of the village shop in Motusa where Richard and I lived. That family was the only Indian family on the island. The other girl is Maria. She was always round at our house cleaning up or collecting laundry. The money we gave her was very important to her family. Her laugh was infectious.
Behind us is a breadfruit tree and beyond that a copra shed where sacks of roasted coconut meat were stored. It was the island's only cash crop and prices for copra were always fluctuating. Making copra was hard work.
Fifty years ago I had no idea how my life might unfurl or indeed how that memorable year on my special faraway island might unravel...
You are truly a Lad o'Airts.ReplyDelete
As well-travelled as my literary hero, R.L. Stevenson.
The South Pacific, no less !
For non-Scottish readers, Airth or Airts is the point on the compass.
Airts is in the Scrabble Dictionary, I am told.
From the Scottish Gaelic *Aird*.
It is not a word I have come across before but I rather like it.Delete
There is a sea-haunted Stevensonian novel in ye somewhere, laddie.Delete
Indira Lal could be the name of your heroine, a young woman out of her element in late 19th Century Sheffield.
Many read Treasure Island and Kidnapped.
Not so many discover Kidnapped's sequel, Catriona.
Fewer still, The Master of Ballantrae, the story Thrawn Janet, and the unfinished masterpiece, The Weir of Hermiston.
The latter haunts like Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished The Last Tycoon, and the novel Max Sebald was planning before his death in a road accident.
How privileged we are to have lived so long, when children and teenagers are dying all around us.
Your travels have made you the man you are.
Shame about Stevenson's cerebral haemorrhage that meant "Weir of Hermiston" would remain unfinished.Delete
Louis went to Samoa for the health of his lungs.Delete
He spent much of his childhood in bed, coughing and fighting for breath.
His home is now a museum.
Think of the climate of Edinburgh with its haars, blotting out the Castle and Princes Street Gardens, in a veil of mist.
We don't get haars in Glasgow, just the rain and wind.
And then he died from that cerebral haemorrhage.
His American wife saw the change in him at the last moment.
*What has happened to your face?* she asked, or similar words.
He died in her arms.
I like that photo of Louis sitting in his bed playing the flageolet (having just looked up flageolets online).
He entertained his Samoan servants with some old Scotch air.
When Dorothy Parker saw Scott Fitzgerald on his bier she said:
*Poor Scott, he didn't even get to finish his book.*
Scott and Stevenson left us with substantial fragments of their visionary stories.
Your father left you and your brothers his adventurous memoirs:
I hope to hear more about them.
What an exciting opportunity! I love these old stories of yours. I imagine that living these far off adventures has opened your mind to many different cultures, foods, traditions and people.ReplyDelete
It is often said that travel broadens the mind but that is only true when you have learnt how to look and listen.Delete
We’re you already a qualified teacher at the age of 18? Or were you winging at?ReplyDelete
What a great experience and how fortuitous that the picture arrived right after you wrote about your time on the island.
I was not a qualified teacher but I had been through a rigorous interview process and had a two week crash course in how to teach and survive the classroom.Delete
I can only imagine how excited and scared you must have been but that's me projecting. Fabulous experience.Delete
Enviable, especially as at the time I was miserable as an articled clerk in an accountants office in Leeds, but no less an intense experience.ReplyDelete
Accounts office in Leeds or pristine white beach with the blue Pacific crashing on the reef? Mmmm, let me see.Delete
Wow, Rotuma is very isolated, but what an Amazing Experience to have as a Young Lad! The fact you remember the Names means that it left a deep Impression on you. Glad your Friend's Twin Brother found the Image and sent it to you, must have stirred up some Memories, huh? I Love it when someone Shares a Blast From the Past Image of me that I either never knew existed or don't have... it's Priceless. Some of my Friends and I, now we're Old, are sending each other the Old Photos we think might be most Memorable... or passing them along to the next Generations to hopefully Cherish, especially if they're in the Image.ReplyDelete
Thanks for dropping by Bohemian. When I saw that photograph I suddenly had a memory of that moment with Richard behind the camera telling us to smile.Delete
Rotuma really is a remote island. What a wonderful experience at such a young age. How did you cope with the local language?ReplyDelete
These days for the crash course you'd need to face some schoolchildren, you'd probably be given a crash helmet, flack jacket and a few lessons in the art of self defence.
In the school the medium of teaching was English. Rotuman is only spoken by a few thousand people in the world and if those schoolchildren ever got to leave the island English would be an advantage. Many islanders spoke a bit of English so I never felt out of it at all.Delete
I love that you can remember the names of these people. Even Indira's father's name. What a formative experience this must have been for you.ReplyDelete
It certainly was. A year seemed a hell of a long time back then. I wasn't always happy there but in several respects I am and always was pretty tough.Delete
I was teaching English in a grammar school in Hamburg then. How the years have flown by.ReplyDelete
Fifty years ago. I bet you were a kind teacher.Delete
I just looked up Rotuma on You Tube. It looks like Heaven on Earth. What an experience.ReplyDelete
Richard and I referred to it as "a funny kind of paradise". It wasn't all a Bounty commercial.Delete
Definitely sounds like quite the experience. I wish I had heard of such things when I was that age. My life might have ended up quite differently.ReplyDelete
Like Robert Frost, we take different paths when we reach the places where they split.Delete
What an adventure! And only 18. I imagine you grew up quickly.ReplyDelete
I am still growing up now Catalyst.Delete
You've had a much more interesting life than I have.ReplyDelete
It's about absorbing, processing and relishing.Delete
Your work experience in the orient changed your life forever.ReplyDelete
I have never heard of Fiji being referred to as an oriental island group.Delete
It sounds like a wonderful introduction to adult life for you.ReplyDelete
I couldn't even phone home because there were no telephones.Delete
What an adventure to look back on. It is funny how life comes back and hits you in the face. Typed on tablet just in case I come up anonymous. ThelmaReplyDelete
Your second sentence is so true Thelma but you don't realise that when you are living those moments.Delete
How good of Richard‘s brother to have sent you this picture, triggering memories which you chose to share with us!ReplyDelete
In the face of the almost 19 year old YP, I can see Frances.
Like you remember the names of the people in the picture (and others), I can look at old photos of my youth and tell everybody‘s names.
In 1972, I was four years old and lived in Großbettlingen where I attended kindergarden in the mornings. Our „Tante“ (as kindergarden teachers were addressed back then) was Anita, a yound woman with blond wavy hair who seemed to me the most beautiful lady around.
Our neighbour‘s cat had just had babies, and those kittens took all my attention.
It was also around that time that I learned my very first English words. They were Please a drink.
"Please a drink"? What were you after? Perhaps some schnapps or a shot of Jägermeister. You are right about me and Frances. She is definitely a chip off the old block.Delete
*Please a drink.*Delete
Those are great First Words in English.
I wish I had met Tante Anita for German lessons.
Tante Anita might have taught you other things Mr Haggerty...such as how to behave like a proper gentleman.Delete
In those days it was quite uncommon for ordinary young people to travel afar.Delete
What a fabulous picture to commemorate such a significant time in your life. Your parents must have been a bit nervous as you headed off on this adventure but I'm sure they were mostly proud. You were a brave and determined young man, (and cute as a button too!)ReplyDelete
What an amazing picture to get in the mail! That must have been a terrific surprise. I'm impressed you went so far at such a young age. To be in the Peace Corps one has to be a college graduate, so 22 or so. (I think you mentioned previously that the rules have since changed for VSO as well...?) I was 25 when I started my Peace Corps service.ReplyDelete