Vision of Joanna - Final Chapter
04 August 2013
For those of you following the adventures of Joanna, my apologies for the delay in getting this last chapter finished for you. Our arrival home has brought many wonderful distractions.
When we left the story, Jim and Katie aboard the sailboat Vision Quest had stumbled onto a small dugout canoe floating far out at sea. When Katie peered down into the canoe she had spotted the body of a small child and screamed in fright!
This is the final chapter. Thanks for reading along. I've had fun! Hope you have too!
VISION OF JOANNA - A Continuing Blog Adventure Set in Vanuatu
CHAPTER 11 - Homecoming
Joanna stirred, woken by a piercing shriek. Her nostrils were filled with the unpleasant smell of wet, rotting wood. She felt herself moving; swaying gently back and forth. Joanna opened her eyes only to close them again as a small wave of seawater sloshed against her face. Her head was spinning. Memories came flooding back; the charging boar, dropping headlong over the waterfall, frantically bailing during last night's storm at sea, and then laying in the wet canoe, exhausted, cold and alone; pleading to the stars for help.
Joanna quickly lifted herself up from the bottom of the dugout canoe and looked up. A green sailboat was looming overhead! The faces of two white people stared down at her, looking very concerned.
There was another shriek as Katie yelled out, "Jim! She's alive! Stop the boat!"
Shifting into reverse, he brought Vision Quest to a shuddering stop alongside the tiny canoe. Jim ran forward to where Katie was standing and looked down, shocked by the apparition below him. Never in his life had he seen such a sodden and bedraggled child. But as the girl sat up in the canoe and looked up at him, her big brown eyes wide with excitement, she smiled in a way that totally disarmed him. Jim had the strange feeling the little girl had been there in the canoe waiting for Vision Quest's arrival. Adding to this aura of mystery, around her neck hung a boar's tusk that formed a near complete circle, the mark of a chief. Even stranger, slung at her side like a sword, was an old and well used carving knife in a leather sheath.
Dazed by what he was seeing and feeling, Jim struggled to set up the boarding ladder but finally got it in place on the side of the boat. He then climbed down to the canoe. Without hesitation the little girl reached out to him. Jim lifted her up, depositing her on the deck where she stood, still smiling. She looked about; studying her new surroundings as if getting her bearings for future reference. Katie knelt down and hugged the little girl, holding her tightly to her chest. Tears of relief streamed down Katie's cheeks as she whispered in the girl's ear, "It's going to be OK now, little one." She took Joanna's hand and led her back to the cockpit while Jim found some line and tied the canoe to the stern of Vision Quest. In the bottom of the dugout he noticed a broken paddle and half of a coconut shell.
Katie hurried below and came back with a big fleece blanket that she placed around the little girl's shoulders, feeling the maternal need to bundle her up in something even though it was quite warm. She disappeared down the companionway again, returning with a plastic cup filled with cold water. Jim stepped back into the cockpit beside Katie where they both sat silently across from the rescued child, watching her, wondering what to do next. Joanna took small sips of water from the cup, still looking about, holding the edge of the blanket in one hand, enjoying its soft and comforting texture. She felt safe for the first time in several days.
"Do you speak English?" Katie asked, moving over beside Joanna.
"A little," she replied. "My brothers taught me some words. They learn English at school."
Katie nodded with relief; communication had been established. "My name is Katie and this is my husband, Jim. What's your name and where do you live?"
Feeling no threat in revealing her identity, the little girl said, "My name is Joanna but my friends call me Jo Jo. I live on Ambrym, the island with black beaches. And there are two volcanoes."
"Really? You're from Ambrym?" Jim said excitedly, joining the conversation. "We're on our way to Ambrym right now!"
Joanna nodded, smiling brightly.
Jim and Katie exchanged glances. The little girl did not seem too surprised by their destination. "What is the name of your village, Jo Jo?" Katie asked, and then added, "Is it OK if I call you Jo Jo?"
"It's OK. I like being called Jo Jo. My village is called Ranon. It's right by the sea. "
"That's exactly where we're going!" Jim exclaimed.
Joanna nodded again, put down her cup of water and pulled the blanket tightly around her, relieved she would be home soon. "When will we get there, Mr. Jim?"
"Soon, Jo Jo; we'll get there late this afternoon." Jim replied. "Tell us what happened. How did you get way out here? Ambrym is very far away."
"I was on the other side of Ambrym and I had do get away from old Chief Watson before he learned my name because he wanted Papa to pay him three pigs because I accidently fell into a cave with stars on the inside and he told me the cave was taboo! And then I fell onto a pile of bones. That was also taboo. They were bones from people the chief's family had eaten. I had to escape. So I borrowed an old canoe to get away and paddle back to my own village. I found the chief's messenger coconut and put it in the canoe so I thought I was safe but then there was a big storm and I was blown out to sea."
Jim and Katie had stunned looks of disbelief on their faces. Then Jim shrugged his shoulders at Katie, as if to say, "Don't ask me, I have no idea what she's talking about. Great story teller, though." Wanting to keep the flow of information going, Jim pointed to the boar's tusk and asked, "Jo Jo, that's quite a tusk you're wearing. Where did you find it?"
"I didn't find it, Mr. Jim. It found me! A wild boar chased me through the jungle. I hid inside the vines of a banyan tree but he found me there and tried to rip the vines away. It was very scary. I picked up a big rock and smashed him on his snout and broke the tusk off. Then he ran away." She touched her necklace. "Chief Watson didn't know my name so he called me Little Tusker and put black war paint on my face. Is it still there?" Joanna moved her hand from the tusk to her cheek. Katie swung around so she could have a better look. To her surprise there were streaks of black paint still visible on the little girl's face.
Jim's mouth was now hanging open. He was sure this was just a child's make believe story, but there was something about the way the little girl recounted the events that troubled him. He sensed she was unable to make up such a story; she had not hesitated for a second in the telling. Continuing to try to understand who she was and how she wound up floating directly in their path he asked Joanna another question. "Jo Jo, I've never seen anyone in Vanuatu wear a knife like a sword, let alone a little girl. And if I'm not mistaken that looks like a carving knife for making wooden sculptures; an old one that's been very well used."
Joanna reached down and pulled the knife out of its sheath and handed it to Jim, handle first, to look at. "Yes, Mr. Jim, it is a carving knife." she said. "My papa gave it to me. It's what got me in so much trouble. Some boys from my village took it and ran off with it into the jungle. They were teasing me. I ran after them and that's when the wild boar chased me!"
Katie had been thinking about Joanna's story. "Jo Jo, when did the boys take your knife? How long have you been away from home?" she asked.
Joanna thought about this for a moment. "That was four nights ago, I think." she replied, recalling all the strange places she had slept.
"Oh, my gosh!" Katie cried. "Your poor parents! They must be frantic with worry!"
A frown of concern spread across Joanna's face. "Yes, Miss Katie, you're right. They probably think I'm dead; that the wild boar got me and ate me up." She shuddered at the thought.
"Jo Jo, we better get you home to Ranon." said Jim, standing up. "We'll put your canoe up on the deck and get on our way. You're going to have quite a homecoming!"
While Jim hoisted the sails and got Vision Quest underway, Katie took Joanna below, toweled her dry and found her a small white T shirt to wear. It came down to Joanna's knees but she did not seem to mind. With her woven knife lanyard cinched tightly around her waist, Joanna appeared to be wearing a long white dress. She pulled out her tusk so it was visible on the outside of the T shirt.
The boat was now racing along over the waves, its sails filled with wind. Jim stood at the helm, steering the boat southward towards Ambrym. As Katie followed a few steps behind, Joanna went exploring Vision Quest, moving along the deck towards the bow of the boat. She had been on sailboats before but had never actually sailed. She felt the boat leaning over under the force of the wind. It was scary and thrilling at the same time! Joanna worked her way forward and climbed up on the cabin roof. She reached out and wrapped her arms around the sturdy white mast. It seemed a good place to hold onto and enjoy the ride. She looked up the mast, awed by the size of the two billowing white sails above her. Suddenly, a gust of wind hit Vision Quest. The boat heeled over to a steeper angle. Joanna hung on tightly. Spray erupted from the bow, flying back onto Joanna's face. Closing her eyes she was on the back of the great white bird again, skimming over the ocean, flying towards home!
Katie stood behind Joanna. Pointing into the distance, she said, "Look, Jo Jo! See that mountain just on the horizon? That's Ambrym! You're going to be home soon!"
Joanna turned around to face her and said, "Miss Katie, I can't see that far. I can only see things that are really close to me. Things far away are blurry; I just see shapes and colors."
Katie was stunned. She was an eye doctor but never would have guessed this little girl had a vision problem by the way she acted or moved around the boat. She walked towards the bow and shouted back to Joanna, "Can you see me clearly when I stand here?" She then moved a little further away. "How about here?" By the time Katie had reached the front of the boat it was clear to her that Joanna was extremely near sighted.
Taking Joanna's hand again, Katie led her back inside the boat to her eye examination room. "Jo Jo, sit up in my big chair. I want to have a look at your eyes. I think I can help you to see better!" Joanna climbed into the chair and sat on a fat cushion Katie had placed there. Katie swung her eye doctoring machine into position and began studying Joanna's eyes. As Joanna peered towards an eye chart projected on the wall, Katie flipped a series of corrective lenses in front of her eyes, asking Joanna, "Can you see the letters now? Say when you can see them more clearly. Can you tell me what they are? "
Joanna was silent for a moment. Then she said "Miss Katie, I don't know what those letters are called. I can't read. I don't go to school because my eyes are bad and Papa doesn't have enough money."
Katie was not too surprised. She had run into this before on many of the islands; no money meant no school. Poor vision made things even more difficult. Katie switched the eye chart on the wall to one with images of animals that she used for preschool children. "OK Jo Jo, tell me what animals you see on the top line. OK, how about the next line?" After fifteen minutes of trying to find just the right prescription, Katie was ecstatic! Joanna could now see even the tiniest images.
Joanna's vision problem had been corrected!
Reaching into her drawer of Kwik Glasses, Katie pulled out two pairs of small child-sized plastic frames. Holding them up she asked Joanna, "Which color do you like, Jo Jo, black or pink?" Without hesitation Joanna pointed to the pink plastic frames. Katie reached into a drawer full of lenses, selected the ones she needed and snapped them into the frames. She placed the completed glasses onto Joanna's nose and exclaimed, "Jo Jo, you look just like a movie star! Now let's go up top and see what you can see!"
Stepping out into the dazzling sunshine, Joanna stood in the cockpit looking about. She felt as if she was in another world where everything was new and bright and crisp. She could see the bow of the boat clearly! See all the way to the top of the mast. And the clouds; they had actual shapes! Then something very strange happened. Everything seemed to darken! Joanna removed her new glasses and was astonished to see that the lenses had magically changed color to a smoky green shade. They had become sunglasses!
Katie stood beside her, enjoying watching the little girl discover a whole new world. "Jo Jo," she said, pointing off into the distance again, "Look over there. Can you see Ambrym now?" Joanna looked where Katie was pointing. Then she nodded, grinning ear to ear. She reached over and wrapped her arms around Katie's waist and said, "Thank you, Miss Katie!"
Jim picked up Joanna's carving knife. It was still lying in the cockpit. Handing it to her, he said, "Jo Jo, you better put this back in its sheath before it falls overboard!" Joanna put the knife away.
"Your papa must be a carver; maybe he knows a man named Abraham Komo. That's who we're going to see on Ambrym. I think he lives in Ranon. Do you know him?" Jim asked.
"Yes, I know him." replied Joanna. "I mean, I used to know him."
"What do you mean, where did he go?" asked Jim, becoming alarmed.
"Abraham Komo was my grandpapa. He died last month. He had been sick for many years. He couldn't walk or even talk anymore. Papa was very sad when he died but said it was good. I still don't understand what he meant."
Jim was silent, disappointed by this news. Then he said, "I'm very sorry to hear that Jo Jo."
Joanna touched the knife and said, "This was Grandpapa's knife. He once told me it was a magic knife; that it carved the wood all by itself. When he got sick he gave it to my papa. He is a carver too. He makes beautiful things like Grandpapa did."
Jim reached out and removed Joanna's knife from the sheath and studied it thoughtfully. "How long had your grandpapa been sick before he died, Jo Jo? " he asked, wondering who had carved the amazing masterpiece that had passed through his gallery last year.
"Oh, he was sick for a long time." replied Jo Jo, "He was always in bed, ever since I was a little girl."
Jim nodded. "Well, Jo Jo, I have a feeling your papa, using your magic knife, is the great carver I am looking for. I'm can't wait to meet him and see his work. I hope to keep him very busy making carvings for my gallery in New Zealand. What is his name?"
Joanna beamed. "His name is Lucas Komo." She already knew Papa was special. And now he would have lots of carving work, possibly more than he could handle. Maybe she would be able to help him in his carving shed. Her head spun with the possibilities. She was so excited for Papa! And for herself!
As if reading her thoughts, Katie sat down beside Joanna and said "You know Jo Jo, if Mr. Jim hires your papa to make carvings for his gallery, there will be enough money for you to go to school, that is if you want to. Your eyesight is very good now so seeing the blackboard wouldn't be a problem. What do you think? If you go to school when you grow up you could become whatever you want; a teacher, a doctor, maybe even a great chief! You already have a tusk!"
Joanna was overwhelmed. She had never thought about the possibility of going to school with her brothers. The idea thrilled her; it would be a dream come true! She smiled up at Katie and said, "Yes, I would like to go to school, Miss Katie. I would like that very much!"
Katie looked at Jim. She did not have to say anything. They had played this game before with other talented artisans in the islands. Jim would commission Lucas Komo to carve for his gallery in Auckland, making him a wealthy man by Vanuatu standards. But in return, Jim would expect Lucas to put all his children through school, including Jo Jo. This would be part of the deal. For both Jim and Katie, helping to better educate the children of Vanuatu was one of the ways they could make a difference in the lives of these wonderful people. And tiny Joanna seemed to hold such amazing potential, her future yet to unfold. They knew she would become someone very special!
A few hours later Vision Quest dropped anchor just offshore from Ranon village on the northwest side of Ambrym. As Jim prepared the dinghy to go ashore Joanna stepped up beside him and said, "Mr. Jim, can you please put the little canoe back in the water for me? I would like to go ashore all by myself; before you and Miss Katie come. Would that be OK? But I'll need to borrow a paddle. Mine broke. "
Jim was no longer surprised by anything Joanna said. "OK." he replied, "That's fine with me. Let's get it into the water and I'll find something for you to use as a paddle. Katie and I will follow behind you in a few minutes in the dinghy. We really want to meet your mama and papa."
And so the little dugout canoe was lifted off the deck and lowered over the side of Vision Quest. Joanna climbed down the boarding ladder and took her place at the stern, paddle in hand. She was quite a sight, wearing Katie's long white T shirt, the knife strapped to her waist, her boar's tusk gleaming gold in the late afternoon sun. Her face was still streaked with black war paint. On her nose were bright pink glasses that matched the single battered pink flip flop she was wearing on her right foot.
A small crowd of villagers had gathered on the beach to welcome Vision Quest, as normally happened when a visiting yacht arrived. Jim and Katie stood on the bow, arm in arm, watching as Joanna paddled slowly towards shore. Then, word that something special was happening spread like wildfire throughout the village! More and more people appeared until the entire beach was filled with villagers, standing shoulder to shoulder along the water's edge. The crowd stood silently, dumbstruck by what they were seeing. Before them was little Jo Jo, the lost and nearly blind child, paddling slowly towards them, emerging out of the setting sun.
Papa, suddenly recognizing her, ran forward into the water, followed by Mama who was waving and crying out, "Jo Jo! Jo Jo!" The entire crowd followed, rushing into the sea, erupting in joyful cheers! Then, Joanna disappeared, lost in the welcoming embrace of her family and village. She was home!