The fog had barely lifted from the ground when Peace Corps arrived. With bags in tow, we loaded into the bed of the truck one by one. Driving through the devastation was surreal. Are we leaving now? I wondered. Village after village people were collecting fallen debris and repairing what was destroyed the night before. Before I knew it, we were knee-high in water, wading towards the silver skiff. I boarded the boat and never looked back. The trip was rough. Peace Corps issued medicine was no match for the turbulent ocean. The sea, still rough from the storm’s wake, prolonged our travel time by hours, and by evening we were back.
Another welcome party awaited us, this time, at the Australian High Commissioner’s house. All of us were very happy to see each other again but shaken. The storm provided ample conversation for everyone, including the Australian High Commissioner.
We got the call from Australia, warning us of a strong storm from Papua New Guinea. As soon as I got the call, I phoned the Minister of Environment. He told me not to worry and to call him in the morning. I wasn’t sure if the Minister was extremely busy or extremely optimistic, but I was not taking any chances. I grabbed my pillow, a sheet, my life preserver, and slept on the embassy’s highest floor — hoping to be able to call him in the morning.
We spent two days in Tarawa before leaving again. This time Maiana Island, our home for the next three months. We would be adopted by a Kiribati family to learn how to walk, talk, and live again. All of us would be challenged in ways we never imagined to be better than we were when we first arrived.