Sam, in his nonchalant way, suggested I should get hold of a copy of ‘Stealing A Nation’, an award-winning documentary by investigative journalist John Pilger. This I did and Liz and I sat down one evening and watched the hour-long story of how the Chagossians were kicked out from their own home, never to return, covered up by the British government for the last 40 years. After watching these old people describe how their relatives died of ‘sadness’ and suicide, one couldn’t help but feel shamed and shocked. No, sorry, that’s not strong enough. We were disgusted. Embarrassed to call ourselves British. The documentary had such immediate impact that Liz and I said people of the marina needed to see this because yotties know the Chagos Islands to be one of the most idyllic cruising areas in the world. We wondered how many people who had cruised the Chagos Islands actually knew about the Chagossian’s plight. We thought we’d find out.
The screening of the documentary was to be held in the annexe of the restaurant at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, where we could fit the ten or so people we knew were coming. We fly-posted the marina, announced it on the net and got chatting to people about it over a beer in the bar. We were so desperate for people to see this film we even got the kids involved in colouring in posters and sticking them up in the toilets. Even if only five of the ten people turned up we’d have been happy.
Around 15.45 the bar started getting unusually busy. “Do you know anything about this documentary?” people started asking us. Something strange was going on. More and more people started pouring through the bar and into the restaurant. At 4pm, when we’d realised the annexe wasn’t going to hold these people, we set the projector up in the restaurant. After preparing the laptop I turned round to see that, and we had this figure confirmed for us, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY PEOPLE had turned up! Bear in mind the marina has the biggest winter live-aboard community in the world, and sixty percent of them came along to watch this film. It was standing room only, much to the bemusement of the restaurant staff.
Liz did a quick hand count to find that some yotties had heard of the islands, a few had visited them, but only a handful knew of the political situation. We then played the documentary.
When the end-credits finished there was silence. Deathly silence. This was the second time I had seen the film in a week and I had tears in my eyes and I could sense that this film had clearly moved much of the audience. I still don’t know how Sam managed to get up and follow the impact that the film had on all these people. Even now as I recount this story I get shivers down my spine thinking about that moment. I have never been witness to a mass of people all experiencing the same thing at the same time but it was weird. Weird and wonderful at the same time because, even without the follow-up that Sam, Liz and myself attempted, we had already got the message across.
Sam, bless him, had only expected five or ten people to turn up and really hadn’t prepared himself to explain why he was doing what he was doing in front of so many people. He moved the audience with his story and had to field some difficult questions. Some were uncertain of the whole point of Sam’s quest, which, in simple terms, was to bring about awareness of the Chagossian’s plight and eventually help get some Chagossian’s back to their islands.
It was then my turn to stand and talk about the website that Liz and I had developed to document Sam’s progress, The People’s Navy.