With much excitement we left Brisbane to fly to Fiji, my three sons Michael, Geoff and Scott, their girlfriends Felicity, Sonia and Alison. After having left Ocean Island 24 years ago, we were finally going to go back there.
Arriving in Suva, Fiji, we went to the wharf, there was no ship, the "Katika" was nowhere to be seen. We booked into a Youth Hostel for the night and met up with Stacey and the rest of our fellow travellers the following morning. The "Katika" had broken down in he middle of the Pacific, we had to find another way to continue our journey.
A large ferry, the "Sofe" was to take us via Koro to Savusavu. From there, a bus took us on a four hour journey to the end of the Island. Another little boat ride, and just before dark, we arrived on Rabi. I can only say that we spent a most wonderful week there, one that my family, myself, and I am sure mort people will think back on with very fond memories. The hospitality, the friendliness of the Banaban people was second to none.
One of the highlights was visiting the schools, the children touched me deeply. On a personal level I got to know some of the children at Tabiang Primary School as much as that is possible in one short afternoon. Their friendliness, innocence, and lovely smiles will stay with me forever, I will never forget them.
Our wonderful day at the High School, so much effort was put into that afternoon by the teachers and the children. The play, it was so funny, our effort in trying to entertain them, the food, the warm welcome, we had a wonderful time.
Our visit to all the Pre-schools, the children waiting so patiently till we all arrive, it was hard to be everywhere at once, and we did want to meet you all. Everywhere we went, they shared their food with us.
The wonderful picnic we had at Motawa, such a beautiful spot to swim and fish. The fundraiser for the Catholic Church, I don’t think we had laughed so much in a long time.
Our morning at the church, all those wonderful welcoming speeches.
On a personal level my visit with Sue and Helen to the Banaban Woman’s Craft Centre, my thanks go to Tatauea and the other ladies who helped us make a fan. And all the women at the Guesthouse, Rotaria, who let me share her room, who looked after Geoff like a second Mum when he was sick.
Diamond, Waitai, Tamariti, what a pleasure it was to meet them and spend a week in their company.
Katake, the Kindergarten Supervisor, who took so much time to show us around.
A most interesting day was spent with Thomas Teai and the Elders, and of course the wonderful evenings we spent at the guest house being entertained by the Banaban Dancers. We had such a good time joining in, though some of our dancing left a lot to be desired.
My one regret is, that we were unable to spend our time on Banaba with all our Rabi friends, we should have all been there together.
Our departure on the "Sofe" was sad, we had made so many good friends.
Back in Suva, a few of the people in our group decided not to go on with the trip. They were not the only ones that felt like not continuing the journey, at times some of us felt the same way, but we carried on, and we did miss you, as you made a great contribution to our group.
Then a wonderful surprise. After our story was published in the "Fiji Times" a Japanese Business man and his wife came forward, and offered to help us with our finances. And what a lovely couple they were, they opened their heart and wallet to our plight, it helped our Banaban Dancers to finally get to Ocean Island.
We then flew from Nadi to Tarawa, where once again we were accommodated by a wonderful couple, Tom and Temare Awira. They just opened up their house to us, with all our luggage, their kindness and hospitality I will never forget. Nothing was too much for them, they made us feel at home.
Then we saw the new boat that we were supposed to go on for the trip across to Ocean Island. Well, more despair, it only had one engine working, and none of us fancied going even out of the boat harbour in it.
Some quick phone calls, a bit of leg work by our fellow travellers, David and Sue McDonald, and we had a boat. A catamaran.
After two days and two nights at sea, we finally saw it, Ocean Island.
Well, I cannot describe the feeling I had adequately, it was magic for me to be here. Once the boat was in the boat harbour my boys jumped into the water, and swam ashore. Scott kissed the boat harbour steps, anybody that has lived on Ocean Island will remember them.
We stayed at Banaba House for seven days and it that time we explored just about everything.
Yes, it was sad to see all the buildings had deteriorated, but it took nothing away from our wonderful feeling of being there, of walking the Island, there is something spiritual about that place, I think most of us felt that.
Even the people that had never been there, they felt our affinity with Ocean Island, they too did enjoy it.
Our house in Tabwewa was still there, of course for us, that was such a bonus. To see the house where I spent 10 years of my life, where my children grew up, where I brought Scott to after he was born on the island, the emotions that went through me and the boys, it was something else.
Once again the Banaban People made us feel very welcome, they put on a feast and dancing which we enjoyed very much.
Ken Sigrah, our wonderful guide, took us up to Buakonikai, a very sacred place, we felt it.
We explored the Island as a family, went to the B.P.C. Camp, where we had spent many happy hours in the past.
Our second last night we went to the beach, what a wonderful bonfire we had, and the singing around the kava bowl, we had such a great night.
Then it was time to leave, the boat had arrived, we had to say good-bye not only to the people on Ocean Island, but to our Banaba friends from Rabi, most of them who had arrived that morning.
When would we see each other again? As I was standing on the boat harbour steps, I caught the eye of a little boy, he couldn’t have been more then 8 or 9 years old. He saw my tears, he too had tears in his eyes. I caught him looking at me again a few moments later, as I was crying, he was crying, he ran away then.
Was he one of the boys who was waiting at the boat harbour every afternoon for Michael, Geoff and Scott to come down and play with them, swim with them, and talked with them, I wonder.
To leave was hard, all the old memories kept flooding back, all the new memories we had made in that one week, all the wonderful people we had met. It is a time I will never forget.
We spent one more night in Tarawa with Tom and Temare, they waited for us in teeming rain at the boat harbour, we felt we had known them forever, they were just so good. Most of us flew back to Fiji, the rest flew home to their various destinations. It was time to say good-bye.
One last photo at Nadi airport, of all of us that were there, and we went our separate ways. It almost felt like the break up of a family, we had spent 4 weeks together, had been through thick and thin, we had grown quite close.
Stacey, I would like to thank you for the opportunity of making this happen. It wasn’t always easy, not everything went smoothly, but without you we would not have ventured on this journey, this "Homecoming Trip". Thank you.
Marion Laritz 10th. Sept, 97
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