“You must change your citizenship,” Thomas tells us. “You are from Ninigo now!”
Thomas is our host, the elder on shore from our anchorage at Mal Island in Ninigo atoll. After nearly a week on Ninigo, this sums up how we feel: a member of the family, newly christened citizens.
We’ve been anticipating coming to Ninigo for months. Back in August, while researching destinations in PNG, I came across the blog of the boat Anui. Sarah raved about their family’s experiences in Ninigo, as Anui returned to Australia from Thailand via Malaysia, Indonesia, and PNG. We were following a route similar to the path we were considering- just in the reverse, so I sent an email to Sarah. I know what it’s like to form a strong bond with people you meet while cruising, and could see how remote the Ninigo islands are, so asked her if we could bring anything from her family.
I suppose it is a testament to the spirit of trust and help between cruisers that Sarah readily sent us a box full of gifts for her PNG family on Ninigo. Not just a box, but a guitar too- to the crew on Totem, who she had never met or heard of until getting that email. We were so happy to help them with this delivery, carrying the goods for two months and many miles from our departure port of Bundaberg until we arrived at Ninigo in December.
Thomas and family knew, roughly (give or take a few weeks!) when we’d be arriving- his son in law on Manus has email contact with Sarah, and word had come through that we were coming with gifts from the Anui family. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that as we entered the lagoon, a boat motored up to see if we were Sarah’s friends. Yes! We invited Thomas on board, and he helped pilot us to a secure anchorage near his family’s village, while his son brought the boat (and occupants- this was the largest welcoming committee yet) back alongside Totem.
Our days flew by: playing on the beach in front of Thomas or Wesley’s villages. Holding baby Finn, named for Anui’s son Finn- hoping he’d lose his fear of my pale face. Sailing across the lagoon in an outrigger with Fidelma and family. Sitting under a palm tree while Wesley’s auntie weaves us a basket, braiding the girls’ hair with my new sister Mollina. Going to the garden with Thomas’ wife Elizabeth, learning about the different varieties of bananas, coconut, sweet potato and other vegetables they grow. Sharing recipes for eggplant, which they have grown from donated seeds but had no experience cooking. Sitting in the shade on a Sunday afternoon, watching soccer teams from around the atoll compete in a semi-weekly tournament. Going toward the outer reef with a boatful of our new friends for spearfishing adventures and a little snorkeling. Evenings hosted on Totem: eating the juicy fruit we brought from the lush Hermits that can’t grow in the atoll’s thin soil, counting the stars, watching the bioluminescence swirl in current around the boat.
It’s hard to explain how the welcome here felt, but it was as if we already knew them, and they already knew us. We were old friends, meeting again after time and space intervened. It was amazing. This will go down as one of our favorite places (the favorite?) in a country that we have found the most fascinating by far of our cruising adventures to date.
I am so grateful to Sarah and her family, giving us the awesome gift of getting to know these special people – for letting us be the ambassadors who turned citizens.