It was low tide and we went out into the lagoon. We had spotted 3 children sitting like little dots on a small sandy elevation in the shallow water. We wanted to get near and see what they were doing, greet them with “Mauri” and take a few pictures. When we arrived, we saw that they were digging for shells in the mud, collecting them in their plastic bowls. In between they again and again jumped into the azure shallow water for some refreshment. The oldest of the three boys may have been 7, the youngest hardly 5 years old.
We say “Mauri”, but hardly get noticed. Only one boy gives us a broad smile. We stoop down and start digging too. Viviana and little Maira are soon successful.
The oldest and most eagerly digging boy may have thought we had earned some encouragement and gave us one of his shells which was much bigger than the ones we had found. We thanked him and silently dug on. The boys did not speak English, we did not speak I-Kiribati. Slowly the flood came in, bubbling around us. It was time to leave. Even for the boys. Christina and Claudia had already reached the shore, the water was rising. Mark was following them, carrying the Camera protected on his shoulder. I carried Maira on my arms. Also the boys started for the shore. The ground was strewn with pieces of coral and with sharp edged empty shells. We imitated the walk of the three boy, slowly feeling with the feet for a way, following the elevated sandy patches beneath the water. Soon we would reach the shore, no danger was thought of.
Suddenly the three boys started to throw themselves with impressive jumps forwards and backwards into the deep waters around us keeping their breath, pretending to drown and then emerging out of the water, giggling. The smallest was hectically struggling in the water. The oldest swam beside him and was still laughing out loud. Mark looked back calling something unintelligible and turned to come back. The third boy dived for a long time, much too long. Gunnar grapped him and got him out of the water. The boy seemed panicked but otherwise OK. I kept an eye on the other diving boy. The seconds stretched. Something had happened to time. Somehow it wasn’t right. Nothing was right anymore. I took the panicking boy from Gunnars’ arm. The water was now almost 5 feet deep. I carried the boy on one arm and Maira on the other and made as fast as possible for the little elevation. It was now covered with water, the bowls of the boys had been long washed away, while Gunnar was wading to the diving boy to get him out of the water.
I put the children down to the ground, the water just coming up to their knees. They clung to my legs. I saw that the third boy had reached the shore, obviously he could swim. But the boy that Gunnar brought lying limp in his arms was hardly breathing if at all. Foam had gathered around his mouth and nose. His eyes were empty. In our misplaced bubble out of time we shook the boy, pressed his chest and his back. Some breath came back. Then Mark arrived and took over from Gunnar, shaking the boy again and again while Gunnar was pressing his chest. More foam came out. But there was no dry space, we could neither put the boy down nor could we press his chest with enough power or try respiration. But being now three adults we could make it to the shore.
Gunnar took the boy, foam was running again out of his n ose and he started crying like someone would cry in his sleep. He was alive, just. But indeed he wanted to get to sleep and Mark, wading behind Gunnar, started to slap the boy gently in the face, crying: “Wake up, dont’ you sleep!”. And in the direction to the shore Mark was yelling: “We need help! Get us some fresh water!”
Two men from the shore came to meet us. “Don’t sleep”, they said in I-Kiribati to the little head resting on Gunnars shoulder. Almost 40 people were waiting on the shore and 3 bottles of cold drinking water. Exhausted Gunnar was kneeling in the sand, still holding the boy in his arms. The boy wouldn’t drink but Mark just sprayed the ice cold water on his head and neck. This made him gasp and finally the salt water mixed with white foam streamed out of his lungs to the relieved cheering of all people around. “Look, the boy can breath again”, Maira said to me. I clasped her tightly in my arms.
Later, back at the car, we looked to our laughable injuries on our feet. Walking to the shore we had not heeded any corals or shells anymore. The siren of the Ambulance was wailing.
What had we done? What damage had we caused? Surely, this 3 boys had been out regularly at low tide. Even if they could not swim, they knew the sea. Again and again we talk about the three in our team. We had put them in jeopardy. Because of us, they had stepped beyond their limitations and abilities. We were the mischief-maker in their world. This was an instance of the uncertainty relation: nothing can be watched without being influenced and changed and you never know if it is for better or worse.
It was our first important overall lesson. For us and in this place. We need to take much more caution and be very careful in what we do and in our meetings with the people, whom as documentary film maker we want to encounter with respect and may not to expose to danger. (Viviana Uriona)