Something about innocence and ignorance

Something about innocence and ignorance

Forty years ago, I became a mother for the first time.

Five years after leaving home in the UK, I ventured into the world of conflicting cultures on the Islands of the Pacific. Teaching, living, learning and adapting to the simple yet restrictive island way of life, then marrying into another culture. Building on my faith and desire to my trust in God, I pledged my life to the choices I made and said “I do” in Gilbertese with all my heart.

After four years of living in Kiribati, at the age of twenty-five, I was propelled by circumstances to living, teaching and existing a solo life on the Island on Nauru, one month pregnant, alone, new culture, new school, new people to understand and the prospect of becoming a mother!

Looking back, I can now truly relate to the meaning of ‘innocence’:

The quality of not having much experience of life and not knowing about the bad things that happen in life. Lack of guile or corruption; purity.

You may ask why I had ventured into the world of the unknown alone and pregnant; sequences of events changed the course of my life forever.

In the 1970’s, surrounded by British colonials grounded in post-Victorian diplomatic service, my union in marriage to a local Marine training officer (frowned upon and the first for the Islands), made me an unfathomable enigma to be tolerated, but not embraced. I was an ‘imatang’ (white) teacher working in a local school, speaking in English to classes of children who replied to me in their native language,

Independence from British colonialism which had previously joined two vastly differing cultures into one colony meant a tumultuous separation of these two cultures, thrust into two independent Nations.

At the time, it seemed such a victorious and impassioned outcome to regain their identity and independence, but when such a seismic change occurs, people realised all too quickly the consequences and the accountability that was to follow.

This was our time to move on. One to go back to the merchant navy, and me to a new teaching contract on the smallest but richest Republican island in the world. Nauru.

I remember clearly my interview undertaken at the airport by the Minister of Education who had flown in by the Nauruan airline jet, making its fortnightly journey. The whole process took thirty minutes, and as I watched the plane speed down the coral runway out over the ocean, I had my ticket out in one month’s time.

Reflecting on this so many years later, I can relate to the adage that ignorance is bliss.

Ignorance doesn’t mean ‘stupidity’, it’s more lack of knowledge or information, and that summed me up on the 28 December 1976 eight months after taking up my post at the Nauruan State High School.

I had just become a mother, with a husband sailing the high seas in the merchant navy. No family, yet supported by two splendid teaching colleagues and friends waiting outside, and my teaching post waiting for me after the Christmas holidays!! The personification of innocence in ignorance.

Having another human being relying on you suddenly alerts your being and senses to the enormous responsibilities required to sustain life. If only I knew then what I know now. In many ways, the innocence of life shielded and protected me from being anxious.

My ignorance of mothering and providing for a child while teaching and living alone became my norm. I didn’t have the luxury of advice from family, no family remedies for colic, teething or sleepless nights.

I didn’t realise until I had my son in Australia five years later, how basic and inadequate the health service had been on Nauru. Or how living within a western culture changes your thinking and actions. You adapt to anything when it’s your first experience, whether that be firsts in schooling, health, working or relationships; it all becomes about what you know or have experienced.

I had many firsts on Nauru, and looking at the refugee situation now, I can relate to so much of what they are experiencing. Finding yourself in an alien culture; seeing, living and trying to exist can be full of anxiety and fears. For me, I had chosen to be there; I accepted my life as an outcome of that choice. It was and still is impossible to change that culturally-limited Island mentality, and my heart aches for decisions made in the past to use Nauru as a nation for detention. There is only so much that can be offered on an Island with one main road – a 15-minute ride to navigate the circumference of its coastline. There are many other thoughts I could share, but that is for another time.

Parenting is challenging, full of responsibilities, honest reflection and putting someone else first. Not just when you feel like you want to, or have the strength to, but all the time. It’s continuous, unrelenting hard work. Depending on God was my source of gaining knowledge and understanding.

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

Psalm 25: 4-6

As I grew into being a mother, the common bond of love, protection, learning, understanding and pure exhaustion became my strength. I had undertaken a role that demanded total commitment, a realisation that part of me, my child, would grow and define themselves by my influence, in their great journey of life.

Never doubt the power of the purity of innocence. It’s there looking up at you, full of trust and faith, and as that little person grows physically, so your wisdom and knowledge drive away ignorance. As God imparts through you, his child, you can then trust his promise that as you teach his ways, your children will never depart from his Truth.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Psalm 22:6

Now as a Grandmother, one who has been through two pregnancies, adopted and fostered many children – the mates of my children, the young people from church who came to shelter within our family and stayed – the doubts, frustrations, discouragements and speechless moments have made me a much better and wiser person.

I am forever grateful for those years of innocence and ignorance because they were tools used by God to bring me to this place today. Still learning, still innocent of the latest speak, trends and uncertainties, but always knowing that I can look back and smile at those years of living, of learning.

After all, my past has made me who I am today. I would do it all again. Well, perhaps not all the antsy times! I have no regrets, and I feel honoured to be able to wish my daughter a happy fortieth and my son a happy thirty-fifth birthday. Both of them have grown into incredible, decent, compassionate and caring human beings.

My innocence has replaced my ignorance with wisdom.

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