After surviving a few few hundred kilometres with a friendly Nullarbor hitch-hiker with the unfortunate name "Ivan" (I kid you not), I think its about time for another update in retrospect and why don't I start chronologically back at our first week in the Solomons and our weekend with a family at Tomboko village as part of orientation.
The activity was to give us an idea of how the majority of Solomon Islanders live and it was valuable, as it is easy to lose perspective working among the wealthier areas in Honiara. Now when I say "we" I should clarify, I mean the group of project deployees that left Australia together in August. This included Danielle and myself (the horticulturalists), a couple working in forestry, a pharmacist, a midwife and a doctor. We have since joined a larger bunch of ragtag deployees but over the last few months it is these guys who I have come to know best.
It was still our first week when we were picked up from our temporary accommodation at one of the few hotels and taken on the half hour trip to the village. We had not secured housing and had only had a few lessons of pijin but away we went. Arriving at the village was a paradise in comparison to Honiara and a welcome change of pace after the intensity of the relocation so far. Our accommodation was among several timber huts with palm roofs under a tropical canopy and backdrop of various palms including coconut, betel nut and the huge sago palms. All the houses were occupied by members of the one family with an entourage of kids from each couple, making a micro village among the larger area of Tomboko. We were made to feel very welcome with customary sharing of food taking place after a general welcome, where we all tried our best (two lesson expertise) at introducing ourselves in pijin.
The welcome continued with the opportunity to sample some betel nut, a process that is quite complex and makes you wonder who stumbled on the idea. First you bite open an Areca nut (a type of palm fruit) to release the soft bitter kernel and begin to chew this. It makes chewers salivate like crazy, hence the betel nut spit plaguing the curbs of Honiara. The locals then dip what they call a bean (though I think it is actually a flower spike, not sure need to check). Anyway the bean is dipped into crushed and fired coral powder (lime) and chewed with the betel nut. This causes a chemical reaction and the mixture to become bright red and have a mild narcotic effect. So I gave it a go, walking around dizzy for a minute or two and got a good laugh from the local guys in the process. Once was probably enough though.
We were then given a presentation on the regions traditional shell currency. Wooden knock offs of the shell beads are sold at surf stores in Australia, along with some of the real deal, but the genuine ones used as kastom currency (particularly in exchange for a bride) are made by hand only on the island of Malaita. This island supplies the whole of the Solomons, not bad when you consider each 5mm bead is hand shaped and drilled. The shell money can be stitched into large scarf like tapestries for significant exchanges (e.g. a wife) with dolphin, turtle shell and other marine animal teeth also sometimes incorporated. Smaller crowns, necklaces and bracelets are also made as some of you we visited now know and own.
To round out the day we were served up an island special of banana and tapioca/casava pudding. A bit sticky and chewy but ideal as a starchy staple as it works as a sweet or savoury something like bread. With full stomachs, we were then treated to a "singsing" put on by the village kids which was great but unfortunately ended with us being put on the spot to do the same.... you could here the lone cricket chirping...after the last hour of choreographed dance and intune song, ours was a dismal kookaburra sits in the old gum tree indeed. Not to miss out on a piece of the action, just as we we ready to turn in, two of the older and larger ladies in the village came bounding out of the darkness. Fully suited up in red shirts and yellow grass skirts with white painted faces. They appeared to be charging at the group with spears of ornamental ginger, roaring as the ran before breaking into a song and dance of there own. The photos are there and the night was a good laugh all round.
On the second day a morning church service (When in Rome), with Melanesian singing reminiscent of the sound track of "The Thin Red Line" only clappier, was followed with a snorkelling session. This was on the families virtually private reef (more on Kastom land later) and saw the village lads venturing out fishing with goggles tied on with a piece of string and a hand spear about the size of a knitting needle. The catch of twenty or thirty pilchard size fish, a testament to their skills. After that we exchanged a few thanks and gifts of a footy and chocolate among other things but it was our decision to leave our slightly worse for wear masks and goggles with the village that really struck a chord with the gang. Thinking about it, what better, the kids can see the reef they otherwise wouldn't and the families will surely catch more fish, so as the tears flowed we left on the bus back to the chaos of the city but we will no doubt be back to visit the place again soon.
Ok that will do for this one. When I started this post I was on the Nullarbor, now I am on a plane to Honiara after yet another few hiccups and a thinner wallet. A mix-up in plane departure times saw me having to catch one from Perth at 12:10am this morning and all kinds of chaos for Danielle.... well hopefully things pick up in Honiara, although we are heading into December madness where everyone goes to their home provinces or just runs a muck for the period so may not be a siesta just yet.