Over the past 35 years, Jim Mielke, a public health doc, has had the privilege of living and working in some of the poorest, most remote and under-served countries in the Asia-Pacific region where he assisted governments, international aid agencies and communities. In recent years, a big part of Jim’s mission has been to mentor students, members of voluntary organizations and other interested groups in the areas of international travel, study, and overseas volunteer and professional opportunities. Many people are keen for an overseas experience, and are searching for direction, but for various reasons never get there. Each year, Jim also sends a letter to friends and family to share some of his experiences. Having completed his two and a half year assignment with the YMCA of Western Samoa, Jim set off for some adventure travel through the Pacific and into Southeast Asia. Here is an excerpt from his 1986 Christmas letter:
Traveling Road Show 1986 (Part One)
It was like leaving two and a half years of summer camp. Blowing the clouds away, the winds of the tropical winter signaled a change in season – excited and a bit nervous as I prepared to leave Western Samoa, following my years at the YMCA – to be on the road for an indefinite period.
Smoke from Sunday umus (rock ovens) drifted through the coconut grove, and the morning sunlight filtered through, softly lighting up the leaves and tall trunks as I waited to take the final trip to the airport. Life was so full, and my time there had simply flown by. Who would have known that I would come to the South Pacific and fall in love with the place? My only worry was that some day, I would have to leave.
My girlfriend and I hiked to Lanato’o Crater Lake for our final outing – it was the clearest day ever. Barefoot all the way through the cool, green bush, up and over the rim, sliding down and once again hitting the water – we breathed it all in.
It was incredibly hard to leave, but apparently it was time to make a move, as the “Road Show” rolled on. I was comforted knowing that the place and the people are so deeply part of me. Friends are forever and the memories live on. With so much of life to live and wonderful friends to love, I wouldn’t stay away for long. Fa’fatai le Atua (Thanks be to God).
Camped on the deck of a tiny Fijian freighter for its monthly supply run to the Tokelau Atolls, I bid farewell to Western Samoa and joined 5 other passengers for a 3-day voyage into the vast remoteness of the Pacific, finally reaching three groups of tiny, low-lying islands. The lagoons were coconut-fringed and windswept. Our tiny freighter stood off-shore like the old clipper ships.
Lowering a dingy over the side, we counted the waves and surfed safely over the surrounding barrier reef and into the lagoon. Five hundred people live on each of the three atolls – healthy, happy and peaceful. There on not many untouched and unspoiled places like this left in the world. When I swam across the lagoon to a distant islet, I found only coral sand, coconuts, crabs, Fairy Terns, and utter peace.
Two island girls hustled me off to their fale (Polynesian house) and fed me coconuts and pandanus fruits – eager to play “touch” with this bewildered papalagi (the Polynesian name for white people). Papalagi literally means “burst from the heavens” as it seemed when the first European explorers arrived, their tall clipper ships appeared to emerge or burst from the clouds as they materialized on the distant horizon.
The Road Show continued to Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia. Culture shocked in Australia’s big cities, I was not used to tall buildings, fast cars, quick service and cold winter air.
Traveling up the east coast, I stayed with our cousins in the cool, scenic mountains of Queensland and dove on the Great Barrier Reef. In Port Morseby, I joined my brother Dave for a month of adventuring through Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya, Sulawesi and Bali, Indonesia.