I grew up in New Hebrides which has since gained independence and become Vanuatu. The course on climate change that I just completed brought up a lot of emotions for me because it focussed on the pacific islands which are under immediate threat from climate change. It hit home with me, took me back to my childhood and revived many memories.
I guess I want to put this poem out there because I want people to really stop and think about who they are affecting and because I see this blog as a record for my children.
I Was There
I was there and I saw.
I saw you
And your people.
I loved you.
I watched you climb the coconut tree
I tried to do it too
Again and again I watched and tried.
You made it look so easy.
My sister learned to shimmy up.
I never did.
I think I was not brave.
I was there and I saw where you lived
In little huts with wild food growing.
You didn’t have toys or books
You kicked around an old tin can.
I wished you had some toys like me.
But that can game looked like fun!
To the beach we went together
We played and walked and climbed.
Above the beach was sharp, dead coal.
With naked feet we climbed together
My feet were strong like yours.
I was there talking to you
For hours and hours on end
As we played and ran my accent changed.
I spoke my tongue but in your accent
My sentences peppered with Bislama.
I became like you when I was with you
And then became me again at home.
I was learning my lessons from overseas while the big kids sat in school
We brought so much to teach you and helped with building too.
I remember the day we taught you to sew.
A girl stood on a needle
The cotton broke and the needle was buried
So on a launch went the crying girl.
She went to the hospital.
My father loved you too
I saw it every day.
The respect and care showed as he worked alongside you.
The pride I felt as a little girl when I said my father’s name.
I knew he was important and I knew that he was good.
I was there and I saw you dancing
A pig was tied to a pole.
I was sad for the pig but you were amazing.
You moved and chanted and sang.
You looked so good and so many and so strong.
I was little and I watched.
Your land was paradise but I did not know.
I had nothing yet to compare.
I loved the land and I loved the sea but thought this was the world.
But then one day I left you
It tore my heart in two
I didn’t want to leave you.
They took away my choice.
I was not yet grown up and big
So I had to go away.
I was on the deck and leaving
Strange people and strange clothes.
They watched and felt my pain.
They tried with words to help me.
But I just wanted you.
So now I’m home and lonely
I really don’t belong.
I will find a remedy
I can make myself a fit
I can change myself, the way I speak.
I’ll morph and turn around.
I’ll forget where I belong.
With shoes and clothes and attitude
I become part of the scene
As I age I fit just right.
My God can I consume!
I party well with all the rest,
I’m fussy with my diet.
I love to eat at restaurants ,
I love to talk to boys.
Slowly life is trivialised as I learn the social fit.
I do it well as I madly consume alongside my new friends.
Slowly I grew away from you.
It was another world.
An idyllic world of sand and memories, of open casualness,
Of people who liked people for who they really were.
No time to reminisce, a new life to achieve.
I need to work and shop and plan.
I’ve children’s needs to organise.
I know now what is happening
Our greed is killing you.
We’ve shopped and bought, we’ve had our fun
We’ve consumed beyond our means.
We’re doing it to us as well
But that doesn’t seem to matter.
We just want more and more and more
Too indulgent to re-assess.
I can’t begin to describe my remorse
I want to change what has begun
but I don’t know what to do.
I am here now and I see
It was me who should have been watching you.
I could have learnt so much of life.
I’d love for you to teach me now.
But you can’t.
I want to go back to my childhood and start all over again.
I want to go back to where we were before we damaged our whole world.
It was we who caused the damage.
It was not you.
But you’ve been left with the urgent mess.
We took away your natural skill and left you, ostensibly enhanced by ours.
It makes me sad to say it but
I can’t go home.