I walked into a little white house on the side of the new church. The walls were covered with old photos of those who had come here. In many photos those pictured were at very advanced stages of leprosy. One particular photo caught my eye. In it two young girls stand side by side. They are both wearing the same pretty white dress and little black shoes. They have identical braids tied up with ribbons and their skinny brown arms hang by their sides, unable to find an appropriate pose. One girl smiles shyly at the camera while the others expression is lost in deep folds of skin. It looks as if she was wearing a mask her appearance is so distorted. It was grotesque no doubt, but I couldn’t stop looking, searching for some semblance of the little girl underneath. I wondered what it must have felt like, to change so dramatically into something so dreadful. I wondered if they had mirrors on Kalaupapa, if this little girl had been aware of her appearance or been able to closely trace her decline. Or did she simply have to feel her face and conjure up her own image. Did people tell her? Or could she look around and find those who were in a similar state and guess that she too must look like this.
Wellington, New Zealand