The moment Nauru burst into view through the clouds, perfectly framed within the airplane window, my head was bowed, pressed against the seat in front in a kind of lethargic prayer. I’d barely slept the night before my 6am flight. There were many reasons for that: doubts about the reliability of my phone’s alarm, everything that I’d read about offshore detention, and my apprehension at all that was to come. Now, after five hours enduring Nauru Airlines’ glacial air conditioning, I was gazing down at the tiny island that is omitted from most world maps.
The contour where the reef bordering Nauru drops sharply into the depths of the Pacific Ocean could be traced from the plane. Small clusters of houses lined the sandy shoreline. There was no notable development or architecture to speak of, or any vestiges of Nauru’s mining boom in the 1960s. Inland, most of the terrain comprised desolate scrubland bisected by sandy roads that ran like veins through the island’s innards.
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