Pinnacles in reflection
International teaching can take you to some amazing places. In 2022, Susan Bennett has been working in Nauru.
Drawn to the sea
Thoughtfully, I acknowledge the familiar pattern of my day. Repeatedly, I am drawn to the Pacific Ocean to watch the ebb and flow of the waves around the pinnacles of coral. Some unexplained inner connection entices me to reflect on this wonder of nature. Perhaps the association with open space, freedom, imagination or inspiration. Maybe a constant, in a world of unpredictability and uncertainty.
Nauru the country
Nauru, located in Micronesia, is the third smallest country in the world and stretches 8 km at its widest point, 21 square km in total. This pocket-sized island is girdled by coral reef, which at low tide, uncovers towering pinnacles, their jagged edges catching the sinking rays of the sun. Relentless waves carve away the shoreline, leaving little sand for the children who play in the shallows. Each swell breaks in a cocktail of colour; a wondrous display of blue, turquoise, teal and frothy white. My imagination is captured each day by the unique turbulent cascade of iridescence.
The narrow fringe of shoreline is ringed by palm trees which catch the sea breeze around the perimeter of the island. Coconut shells and palm fronds dot the terrain of sand and paved roads. A faint smell of frangipani and hibiscus drifts in the air, competing with the human tang from drains and waste. Further inland, the ravages of phosphate mining and irregular shaped limestone outcrops cover more than two thirds of the island. The landscape appears somewhat apocalyptic and forbidding. Sadly, the once tropical vegetation has disappeared, leaving behind a barren, rocky wasteland.
Nauru is home to a population of approximately 13,000 people, primarily Nauruan, but with a sprinkling of expatriate workers from Australia, New Zealand, China, Korean, Taiwan and other Pacific Islands. The merge of these cultures is the catalyst for the numerous “Mom and Pop” bodega, selling an assortment of food and essentials amid an eclectic jumble of other products. The cost of items is prohibitive as virtually all food, water and manufactured goods are imported from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Japan. The chatter in Nauruan is predominant, despite the national language being English.
The economy of Nauru is small and closed, with a limited private sector. Over 95% of goods are imported and the opportunities for market growth is minimal due to the population size and limited natural resources. The fingerprint of various aid programs litters the landscape with prefabricated buildings and machinery. All sectors of the community appear to have designated support programs in the development of sustainable practices and processes; to build industry, improve well-being, health and education services. Collaboratively, there is a hive of activity around the cyclic rotation of ‘fly-in and fly out’ workers.
As part of the aid investment, I have a role in a teacher training program to address the serious shortage of Nauruan teachers. The challenge for these young teachers is not dissimilar from other marginalized communities. Years of reliance on foreign aid has not been able to eradicate the issues of poverty, unemployment and indifference. This compromised background chips away at those energetic “movers and shakers” who are trying to establish a work culture, build confidence and inspire motivation.
Much like my connection to the ocean, I am captivated every day by the gentle, easy-going nature of the Nauru islanders. Beaming faces of barefooted children rush to join me as I walk past their adventurous, energetic games. Softly spoken adults with broad smiles extend hospitality and well-intended advice. Families gather naturally, cementing the sense of belonging and togetherness. Music reverberates from boom boxes, the harmony intwined with laughter; the acknowledgement of the sheer joy of the present moment.
Does this timeless lifestyle align with the perpetual motion of the waves as they head for shore? I wonder, as I breathe in the salty sea air and gaze at the never-ending succession of waves. A sense of gratitude and peace nurtures the promise for this tiny spot in the Pacific Ocean.
Susan Bennett is an Australian who has worked in education across 8 countries in managerial, advisory and curriculum writing roles. Her interests include working with groups who share her values in social responsibility. She is passionate about travel and seeks out opportunities to broaden her understanding of cultures and sharing her adventures with others.
Support Images kindly provided by Susan