What a flurry of emotions I am feeling today! While I am working with excitement on this side of the world to support a traveling evangelist, a British Airways Boeing 737-800 operated by Comair just landed at our spanking new airport in my homeland of St Helena Island.This is history! My emotions are very mixed, and I can shout for joy for two reasons only, but they are very important:
- Patients needing serious medical care will no longer travel for ten days round-trip by sea to Cape Town.
- Saints (which we are fondly called because of our island’s name) living and working abroad in the USA, United Kingdom, Falkland Islands, or Ascension Island will no longer feel reluctant to request time off from work to travel home because we will no longer take a “slow boat” and sail! Now we will have wings! Amazing! Amazing! Amazing!
When the news became public that St Helena Island would have an airport, the majority of locals did not believe it. I have lived away from home for half of my life; I remember well, during my visits home, the expressions of doubt about an airport. Who can blame us? First it was “yay” and then it was “nay.” Many promises have been broken, so why trust that a project so huge and life-changing would even come to fruition. But that day has come!
With the birth of the airport I know that I share a genuine local sadness about the death of our ship, the last active Royal Mail ship, the RMS St Helena. Only those who are “Saints” or those who have visited will understand what a high day this is when she rolls in to James Bay. My memories are locked securely into that “Bank” that only old age or death could make obsolete; not many people in the world can tell of a thirty two days ship trip from the United Kingdom, to home and back. I will personally miss that good old RMS St Helena, and I believe that each of my family members living abroad will miss her also.
Even though she takes ages to transport us, it really is a wonderful time on board; after all how often do I get to being so spoilt, with five course meals, laughter with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, and not to mention the “Crossing the Equator” ceremony. When the RMS St Helena arrives home, approximately fifty percent of the islanders and expatriates are at the wharf, not necessarily waiting for a loved one in travel, but just because it is always an awesome sight to observe the reunion of those family members who might have been separated for months, and most times even years. The airport will change all of this.
Then there is the flip side, the worst side which all of us who have travelled home will remember, the sadness in sailing away. When the good old ship has pulled her anchor, and that oh to familiar song “My Saint Helena Island” plays over the ships intercom, the majority of passengers are realizing the value of silence as being golden, and that tears are really wet! At this time some of us are realizing that it could be years before we can afford to travel home again!
And what about the tranquility of the island! Tourists visit for several reasons; curiosity about the island’s remoteness, tranquility, and uniqueness, and also to visit Napoleon Bonaparte’s house and tomb.
My husband and I visited in 2014-2015 and had the opportunity to observe the airport in it’s early stages. As expected there were new trucks, new buses, new roads, and new people everywhere! I really didn’t enjoy seeing what seemed like more expatriates than “Saints” and I am hoping that the worse is not to come. I am hoping that a fair job opportunity is being granted my fellow islanders, and also that in some small way Saint Helena Island can continue to be the safest and most tranquil place in the world.
My ninety three year old mother at home is living with mild dementia. I cannot help wondering what she would even think or say if she really understood that the much talked about airport is now in operation. And how about those locals who are no longer with us, who only dreamt about better transportation for Saint Helena Island! Many of them had not seen their loved ones living abroad for years on end, because of the duration of travel and expense. I believe they would join me and say ‘Goodbye and thank you RMS St Helena, you were the best! Hello British Airways, thank you for bringing our loved ones home to us…quickly… and a bit more frequently!’
So today I am thanking God for what He has done for my island and it’s people, and what He will continue to do in blessing each person who travels there and linger on our shores.