CNN’s Bill Weir traveled to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu for “The Wonder List” last year. CNN will rebroadcast that episode at 9 p.m. ET Friday to show a glimpse of local life before the devastating storm. Are you there? Share images, if you can safely.
“We have everything we need.”
Coming from a man without shoes or pants, those were strange words to my American ears.
But they made me smile, because this was the kind of person I’d traveled around the world to meet.
His name is Magaw, chief of the Yakel tribe, which has lived in banyan tree houses on Vanuatu’s island of Tanna in the same simple way, for centuries.
I came to his village in mid-November 2014 on a quest to find an island paradise, with blue skies, clear water and all the food one could grow or catch. I wanted to know how different tribes felt about the modern world closing in fast, and whether they were ever tempted to sell off their little slice of heaven.
While Magaw seemed perfectly content, I found his opposite on the island of Mota Lava, a 90-minute flight north. There I met Franklin, a farmer-turned-innkeeper who spent everything he had to build the four little thatched-roof bungalows of the Mota Lava Gateway Lodge.
He beamed with pride as he showed me the first indoor bathroom on the island, but was puzzled by one demand of a recent guest. “Do you know what a toilet paper holder is?” he asked me. “Do you know how I can get one?”
I was charmed by their warmth and values – roused by their decision not to sell half of their island for $30,000
A California developer made the offer with the condition they become waiters and maids in his new hotel.
And then came this month’s Tropical Cyclone Pam.
The storm shattered Franklin’s dream and Magaw’s contentment.
It upended 100,000 lives and the entire premise of “The Wonder List” premiere.
In Category 5 winds, concrete walls are not a modern extravagance, but the difference between life and death.
When tree houses are blown to bits, crops destroyed, fresh water fouled, a life of farming and fishing in the tropics loses all romance.
And in the wake of a storm this bad, the decision to sell a piece of paradise to a developer takes on a whole new dimension.
It has been an anxious week since the storm hit. With communication down, I’m still waiting for word that Magaw and Franklin and the rest of our new friends are OK.
Even if they survived the storm, the people who “have everything they need” now have nothing.
But their lifestyles are so modest, that even a small donation could make a huge difference. If everyone who saw the show and fell in love with Vanuatu could chip in just a few bucks, it would ease so much pain.
And if you are ever lucky enough to plan a South Pacific vacation, try to stay at Franklin’s. What he lacks in four-star amenities, he makes up for in generous spirit.
And he could really use the business.
“The Wonder List” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.