It was well into the celebrations when the generals angered cries rang out and a twelve inch hunting knife was drawn, what followed would make the evening news in Australia but here, it was forgotten as quickly as it had begun...
A month or so into my current placement and a few weeks into the training program I decided to support the idea of a celebratory staff barbecue and orientation day for our new trainees. It was justified after all, after the recent stream of grandiose events that had had my guys working day and night to get the cities planted landscape to its current state. In the weeks before I arrived, Honiara had hosted the Pacific Arts Festival for the first time. The week of our arrival was the 70th anniversary of the WWII Battle of Guadalcanal, which saw U.S marines and Japanese visitors flooding the city and before anything could calm down, the city would host the visit of Prince William and Kate the duke and dutchess of Cambridge. An event that led to an unmatched buzz about town that had the majority of the residents of the city spilling into the streets and climbing onto rooftops to catch a glimpse of the royal duo.
But I digress, the month had been a busy one, so everyone was excited at the idea of being able to relax for a day at the beach for the barbecue. Arriving at our compound to collect the crew, I probably could have pre-empted some of what was to come if I had dwelt a little longer considering the welcoming but inebriated waves of a few of the crew at 9am, but everything is clearer in hind site. So we proceeded, several metre long barracuda were prepared into steaks and marinated along with chicken and a variety of other salads and dishes supplied with the generosity only the women of the Solomon's can offer. Everyone finally arrived and we loaded the trucks well beyond capacity to head to the beach. With crew, students and their families there had to be over thirty people on each truck, an impressive effort even for Honiara (check out the photo).
We arrived at the beach and while one of the guys, I mentioned had been waving to me earlier, had now bowed out for a nap in the truck tray, the rest of the crew went about merrymaking. Some got to swimming, others set up the music, while a large group concentrated on the food and weaving each person's lunch plate out of palm fronds growing by the shore (one of the undeniable charms of living in this place). Danielle set up the badminton set we had brought from Australia and I shared a beer with the supervisors atop the truck tray by the esky (a forty four gallon drum filled with ice and water) before doing the rounds and checking everyone was ok. But I was about to learn that I would have no control over who would be ok and have no consequence anyway if they weren't. We were white outsiders (araquao) invited into the chaotic world of a particularly wild islander (Tongahitchi) party and it was apparent that in this scenario we would have no influence.
It had been a few hours including a good meal and I suspect many a bottle of quaso (the illegal local spirits) circulated under the table, that the party started to get out of hand and I mean fast, if the day was graphed it would have shown a straight vertical drop from here on in. The first incident in a hat trick of chaos was to be the afore mentioned, first cheery, then sleepy workman. He had awoken from his slumber and having exhausted his time as the life of the party, proceeded to stagger fully clothed out to sea. He was dragged in among a crowd of onlookers to the beach where he continued (not much the wiser and a little damper) the nap he had began earlier.
Throughout the day a domestic quarrel simmered in the the background and often in the foreground of the celebrations. I won't waste too many words on this one but when the women came to show me the lump on her head from where a rock had been thrown at her, the scenario became number two in the days hat trick of chaos.
Undoubtedly trumping the earlier events however, was the conclusion to the hat trick and indeed the day. By this stage it had began to rain but it was a warm tropical rain and not bad to be out in. I was in mid conversation when the commotion started. I could only hear frantic yells at first and it wasn't until approaching another quickly gathering crowd that I saw "the general" clutching, not one of the local bush machetes (that would have been of little concern) but a fully fledged hunting knife. Picture Dundee's "that's not a knife" scene and double it. I don't know what had set off the situation or where the knife came from and probably never will but by this stage he was spinning around wildly with the blade screaming don't touch me! A few of the workers didn't heed the advice and as a result one suffered a collection of cuts and scratches to his arms and chest as they worked to calm the man. It took only a few words to disarm the situation from the boss (thats not me) but the damage was done it was clear to all that it was time to go.
Now I should state that this does not reflect in any balance what happens in this place, I could just as easily write about church on Sundays, the extra fruit and veg the market guys throw in when we shop or the hours strangers put in to help me find my lost keys but then, where's the fun in that. Rest assured I put myself in this situations and haven't seen much I wasn't privy to growing up in Adelaide.
Haha well thats enough of a story for now, just another day in paradise.