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Friday 3rd June

We are almost in Vava’u. The filthy tattered tarp the crew pulled up to protect us from the sun is dropping dirt into my bag and across my towel I laid out to dry out. I can’t move them because there is no room to move. Emily and I are slotted, tetris style, with three Tongan families returning to Vava’u, on the exposed landing bay of the cargo ferry Nuivakai.

I’m pleased though, I’d thought we were going to fry on that bay like offerings to the Gods when the Sun blasted in and dried the sweat on my forehead into salt. I was preparing myself to huddle in any space I could find inside the grimy hold. Be it the toilet - where Emily suggested practising squatting skills to pee safely, or the hallway between the cabins with people pushing past, when the crew appeared with the tarp.

It seemed more like a bright idea than routine practice. The word palangi came up a couple of times while the crew spun it up above us with nifty knots and tautness of a mainsail. The tarpaulin stinks of oil, it’s covered in dirt and practically falling apart, but it is perfectly erected. Everyone is shaded from the Sun, except for me, squatting to the left of Emily and closest to the edge of the bay, the afternoon Sun creeps in on me like embarrassment.

Craig, Carla and Michelle await us in Vava’u. We are cutting it close to get there in time for final boat prep, crew training and departure for the first island expedition to Hunga. The mission couldn’t have gone ahead without Emily, our nurse, the medical professional for mission 1 and key contributor to the training programme content and manual. We were meant to be on the June 1st passenger ferry, but when that was cancelled we were lucky to make it on board the Nuivakai as flights were fully booked. My cousin Kativi took us to the wharf five times, to book, get delayed, refund, rebook get delayed before we managed to get on the ferry. She has the patience of a saint.

Right now Emily has a song stuck in her head Young and Wild and Free, she knows the chorus and she’s singing it merrily, regularly. She’s really enjoying being on the cargo ship she says, the vibrations of the ship going through her body, being close to the Tongan families in this strange and intimate setting, the challenge of manoeuvring in tiny spaces, sleeping under the stars. My experience is more of a battle; against filth, prying eyes and discomfort verging on pain of my the weight of my body resting on my hip, on cardboard, on metal when I try to sleep on my side. But at least I don’t get sea sick.


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