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Homecoming 1997 - Secretary's Report
by Stacey King, Australia
Taken from Issue No. 26 of the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News' - July, Aug, Sept '97
To cut an amazing drama short (that soon gained the titled of the ‘Cama Drama’) our happy and excited ‘Motley Crew’ was soon to discover on arrival in Suva that the ‘Katika’ was behind schedule due to very bad weather on her way down from Kiribati. We were assured we shouldn’t worry too much as the ship was already within Fiji waters just off Rotuma. As each day passed and the ship was still reported struggling in heavy seas now with engine problems, we decided to try and keep up to our original schedule, by getting up to Rabi ahead of Katika’s arrival. With the wonderful help of Justin Smith from local shipping company - Consort Shipping, we received discounted passage on the local inter-island ferry "SOFE" for an overnight trip up to Savusavu. After an epic bus trip, and 3 boats across to Rabi, our original 4-day stay ended up being a full wonderful week. (Please look to our Feature Stories commencing page 6 for more details).
During our stay on Rabi, we learned that the ‘Katika’ was now fully adrift in the Pacific and heading north-west towards Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. One of our Australian crew members had already taken bets on Katika’s arrival date, (they say Australians would bet on two flies crawling up a wall) and Michael Laritz was to win the prize money with his estimation of ‘NOT COMING AT ALL’.
Bye, bye Rabi...
After Michael’s joy at his winning the ‘Cama Drama’ Sweepstakes, depression and panic began to set in as we realised the rest of our trip was now in jeopardy. It was soon decided that nothing would stop us trying to get to Banaba and for once luck seemed to be going our way when we discovered that ‘Air Nauru’ just happened to have a cheap fare to Tarawa. Another miracle was about to unfold when Justin Smith from Consort came to our rescue again by offering to bring the SOFE direct into Rabi and also sponsoring the fares of our 25 Rabi dancers.
Now with the great help and assistance of all our Banaban friends, we bade a sad ‘Farewell’ to Rabi and headed south again for the capital city of Suva. In Suva luck was again with us with the lovely Fiji manageress at Tropic Towers coming to the rescue to accommodate our Matang contingent within our budget and Rev Eri from the Banaban Methodist Church looking after our Banaban contingent.
In a hectic few days of setting up media interviews, Banaban Dancing fundraisers, hours spent with the wonderful help of Colin Hinchcliffe, Bure, and David Christopher sending out fax after fax trying to get our money back from Captain Cama, a new drama was unfolding...
The big problem facing us was the fact that we were short $6,000 to sponsor the rest of our Rabi Dancers for the airfares. An urgent Council meeting was called and I was asked to attend to address the issue of sending the dancers back to Rabi - a thought that upset me greatly. All Colin and Richard’s PR work miraculously paid off when I received an unbelievable phone call from a Japanese man willing to help. And help is just what he did... in a big way by financing the dancers’ fares. (Look to page 7 for the full story)
Yes, ‘Air Nauru’ came to the rescue with a very special fare but unfortunately due to over booking on their usual weekly flight, we would have to split our group into two and one would have to wait back in Suva. This led me to one of the hardest decisions I had to make, but again, after much discussion with the Rabi Councillors and Office, I was assured our Banaban contingent should wait for the second flight due to the tight connecting flight schedules of many of the Matangs and the fact that most of the Banabans had never traveled overseas before and wanted to travel together as one group.
Unfortunately, three of our members, Christine, Richard and Nicola decided not to proceed any further on the trip while Guy decided to proceed to Tuvalu where he had many old friends to catch up with. We had to bid them and our Banaban contingent ‘Farewell’ as we made our way via bus to Nadi to finally board a very overbooked Air Nauru flight with two of our Rabi Councillors - Nei Makin Kororo (and her husband and son) and Bureia Fiamalosi.
After the flight was delayed for more than an hour trying to get all our group aboard (3 seats had disappeared during check-in), which again miraculously we finally did, we jetted off into the wild blue yonder. Fellow Society member David McDonald who was waiting for us in Tarawa with his wife Sue. Luckily for us, David had relatives and business connections in Tarawa and was busy trying to secure charter vessels to get all our party across to Banaba. I knew that my in-laws Tom and Temare Awira would be waiting for us, and hoped and prayed that they’d be able to help us. Also patiently waiting in Tarawa were Manabu & Noriko and the Japanese contingent who were on very tight schedules, my Mum - Annie and her friend Margaret, Nei Aii (Kaiea’s Mother from Rabi) and Jeremy and Alan from the BBC, London.
After near chaos and mutiny when our group saw the first suggested ‘charter vessel’ David & Sue McDonald were quick to offer a solution by negotiating a deal with our very limited remaining funds to charter not one but four separate vessels to take us across to Banaba. This was also necessary because we were already 2 days behind our original schedule by this stage, and our Japanese contingent and that of the McDonalds could not be altered.
Our first vessel was a small catamaran that could carry only 13 people and set sail a day later. Meanwhile, the rest of us were accommodated in Tom & Temare’s home - an amazing feat when you consider over 20 people moving into a house with only 3 rooms. Bodies were everywhere, strung up in hammocks, strewn across the tradition ‘kiakia’ (small traditional day sleep out), and covering every inch of spare floor space. We were not only comfortable, but Tom and Temare’s hospitality was second to none.
Our group finally set sail on Friday afternoon aboard the larger catamaran out towards a wonderful Pacific sunset. Look to Garry Hawkins ‘Feature Story’ page 19 for more details or our boat journey and Marion Laritz’s ‘Feature Story’ page 17 for details on our wonderful Banaba stay.
Banaba at last!
Unfortunately for the McDonalds and our Japanese contingent they only ended up with a 3 day stay on Banaba, while our group had a full 7 day stay waiting for the Banaban contingent to arrive. A few of us stayed behind to return with the Banaban contingent - Natalie, Ken Sigrah, Nei Aii, Nei Makin Corrie, Buria Fiamalosi and myself. This allowed us a two-week stay on the island before we all reluctantly headed back for the long trip home to Tarawa, Fiji and beyond.
We arrived back in Tarawa on Sunday and flew out for Fiji on Tuesday. Another mad rush in Nadi sourcing and organising cheap overnight accommodation for our group so we could give a ‘Farewell & Thank You’ Concert for our generous Japanese sponsors Masa & Fumi and friends. It was great to see familiar smiling faces waiting for us at Nadi airport - Colin, Clive, David Corrie, Masa & Fumi.
The following day we attended the concert for Masa & Fumi at their development project in Nadi and what a concert it was! One filled with joy and sadness as we all realised that this would be our final ‘Good bye!’
A trip to the homeland is always an emotional experience but the ‘Homecoming’ trip seemed to have left us all in an exhausted state of ‘emotional overload’. So many wonderful experiences shared amongst a group of people from so many diverse cultural backgrounds. Memories that will last a
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