Pristine white sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, crystal clear aqua coloured lagoons and coconut based cocktails; the western idealisation of paradise.
Away from the safety of a cruise ship, through the black stained volcanic ash plains, along the dusty dirt roads alongside dense jungle, we enter the slums known as ‘Black Sands’. Here, we witness something too often untold and more often unseen; another side of paradise.
In the villages, men and women introduce themselves and tell stories, each with a smile from ear to ear, each with a worn expression, the slightest sign that they have just survived the impact from the most devastating cyclone to hit the nation in recorded history, and are about preparing for the coming El Nino event. Children dance and scream in childish delight, hold our hands and climb the enormous tree’s that were toppled during 270km/h winds, the same winds which snapped coconut palms like small branches underfoot and sent shipping containers sliding across roads.
The concept of poverty appears in the western media as an absolute concept defined by ‘the state of being insufficient in amount or inferior in quality’. Village elders and kids alike invited us into their homes and into their worlds. Where they lack monetary wealth or formal careers, they own crops and soil. Where they lack medical facilities, they have neighbours who will selflessly assist rebuild a home day after day.
We quickly learn the complexities of their world, that the influence of western culture brings resources at the cost of culture, that global homogenisation provides modern infrastructure at the cost of real community values.
Back home in a concrete jungle, I search for the same honest human connections that ‘the happiest people on earth’ provided through their smiles and handshakes. In their place I find crowds of the overwhelmed, the overstimulated and the discontent.
Photos & Words By Darcy Tuppen
All images were taken in Vanuatu.