My journey started with an amazing opportunity to jump on a plane and go to a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific. For a month, I was to teach English to the local school children at Tanna Island, one of a small chain of islands off Port Vila, Vanuatu. These islands have been untouched by man and the raw beauty of this place forces you to step back and take a breath. There are more trees than humans, no paved roads, and friendly smiles everywhere you go.
When I reached the island. after about 52 hours of travelling, I was greeted with warm smiles and welcoming hugs. I sat in the back of an old white pickup truck for 30 minutes whilst driving through the bush until we arrived at Lenakel Village. The next couple of days I adjusted to all the new culture and lifestyle differences. We went to bed at sunset and woke up at sunrise, breakfast consisted of fresh papaya and coconut from the trees, and the daily commute to town was a two-hour walk whilst carrying a machete to cut down branches.
I began teaching at a school about a 25 minute walk from the village. As I walked up to the school I began to feel extremely nervous - as if it were my own first day of school. The school held grades kindy (kindergarten) to year 5. The roof was built using palm tree leaves and there was no electricity in the classrooms. The walls were covered in artwork from the children and you could hear the kindy students giggling from across the field. Teaching english to a handful of children who only speak Bislama and French is as complicated as it sounds. Every time I stepped into the classroom I would feel the kids fingers poking my white skin and gently tugging on my long blonde hair. They were open minded and fascinated. Despite all our differences, we were the same.
After a couple days of teaching, I had the chance to see some more sights on the island. My first stop was the beach, of course. I walked through a field covered in lush palm trees that gently braided together. At the end of the path was white sand covered in pure white coral and crystal clear turquoise water. I jumped straight in and could have floated there for hours. There were coconut shells rolling under the waves and an abundance of colourful fish swimming around the coral.
Every day there is a local market put on by the locals who all come together to sell and trade their homegrown fruits and vegetables. You can buy anything from a single apple to a pample mousse - a sweet grapefruit. The colours were vibrant and the smells overloaded your senses.
I had the opportunity to see a circumcision ceremony for a young girl who had recently become a woman. The girls hide from their village from anywhere for a week to a couple of months. They are not allowed to come in contact with any of their family or touch food with their own hands until they are revealed to the village. I joined the young girl who was hiding and had my face painted to match hers. She was covered in colourful paint, a traditional grass skirt, and feathers in her hair. When she emerged back into her village it was such a pure enlightening experience. Everyone was celebrating her milestone, young boys tried to pull the large feather from her hair to show a sign of love and affection towards her. She was absolutely glowing.
After a long eye opening month on the island, my adventures were finally coming to an end. On my last day I decided to see Mount Yasur, I woke up at 3:25 AM in the pitch black and jumped in the back of an old white pickup truck. I sat with my hair blowing in the wind and my eyes closed. It was about a two hour drive to the volcano but once you arrived it was completely worth it. It was like stepping onto Mars. The ground was covered in a blanket of soft grey ash and dark clouds covered the morning sky as the sun tried to peek through. As we reached the top of the volcano, after a vertical hike, you're overcome with the power of mother nature. The wind would pull you towards the deep hole filled with lava and just seconds before you feel your body falling, a huge gust of wind shoots up and pushes you back followed by lava being shot into the air right in front of your face. In these moments I realised how easily your life could be taken away and how precious it really is. Being face to face with something that could instantly take my life away, awoke me.
I originally went to Tanna Island with the soul purpose to teach the locals my knowledge but wound up leaving with a heart full of memories that I will never forget. This island has humbled me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. The locals live with the bare minimum but were the most giving people I have ever encountered. If you ever find yourself craving a life changing journey I highly recommend paying a visit to this tiny magical island.