Sunday, 23 December 2007

Lead up to Christmas

It is a funny lead-up to Christmas here – there are a few things to remind us of the season but not many. The hospital wards have little Christmas trees, complete with climatically impossible, snowy-looking decorations. The two radio stations are having a competition to see who can play Mariah Carey's warbling take on “O Holy Night” most. There are several minutes worth of ads each hour where businesses, MPs, you name it, wish all and sundry a merry Christmas. Otherwise, it is business (and I use the term loosely) as usual.

We, of course, are thinking about what our families are doing around this time, and it is impossible not to miss them madly. In particular, we are pining for our niece and two nephews, who we relished spending time with in Melbourne. If you are not a Melburnian or a family member, you may not have seen our lovely little poppets, who are undoubtedly the three most beautiful kiddliwinks in the world. (I will make sure a photo goes in the album at some point.) So, Benjamin, Isaac and Mikaela, Uncle Steve and Aunty Kelly send you a big Solomon Islands hello and a hug. We are working on something special for you...xoxoxoxo

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Music (Torture) of the Night!

We have been requested to share our immense experience of the Auki nocturnal sounds. The first notes begin between 6:10 to 6:20 pm when on mass the cricket’s reverberation fill the night. This becomes the string section that the frogs and bats join in creating a peaceful tropical melody continuing till dawn. The brass section intrudes onto this in the roar of vehicle engines; the length and time of these appear random, one evening the sounds of a car outside our bedroom window trying to negotiate the clay slope started at 3 am continuing for 30 mins (until he slide sideways and got stuck). As for the roosters, I can’t fathom how starting at 3am will help their cause!

The woodwind: sounds of movies from our neighbours (great for movie trivia) at reasonable hours of the night, or an accompanied ghetto-blaster at unreasonable hours of the morning pumping out Shania Twain or the latest Solomon hits which include a Danish boy-band style song that coons the profound words “I am not an actor or a star, I do not even have a car . . .” (add two further lines of the same quality and repeat song 10 times!)

Percussion section: Depending on the weather, a gentle fall of water maybe heard with the heavier dropping of overflowing guttering and tanks or if a storm the pounding of rain with the crash and rumble of thunder and lightening. The fridge and water pump sound intermittingly.

Solo performances come in a variety of forms –bamboo and kerosene explosions (like fireworks), raging parties with 80’s style music, to the running of feet and screaming of a women in distress (luckily the neighbours came to her rescue).

However this is just the accompaniment, for the true performers are the neighbouring dogs (3 dogs belonging to neighbours above, 5 strays staking out the house under our bedroom window plus the many others whom they attract). Like prima donnas they via to out yowl each other. Each with their own form of vibrato, Rob can recognise each by howl. Not content with serenading us (our bedroom window provides the surround sound experience!) they often extend their audience to the rest of the region by setting off the dogs in the neighbouring areas – the ‘Solomon Wave’.

These nocturnal performances have resulted in 2-3 hours sleep per night which we endured for 5 weeks. However due to the impact on our ability to function, drastic measures were taken. Resulting in our plans to abandon our wannabe opera singers and move house! Countdown is on with moving day 5 January 2008! Yaay Sleep!!!! P.s. did I mention we are wearing ear plugs, and close the windows during all this?
Happy Dreams and a very Merry Christmas! Lara & Rob (& Steve & Kel)

The stock rock pile used to scatter the dogs who gather at the house below each night!

Monday, 10 December 2007

The nun, the bananas and the property boundary.

Some weeks back, Steve called out from the other end of the house, because there was a nun in our backyard trying to pick mangoes. Of course being the delegated Pijin spokesperson, I was sent out the back to ask her politely what she thought she was doing. Well, as it turned out, she had planted the mango tree, so it belonged to her. Who was I to argue with a seventy-something-year-old nun? Even though the mango tree is huge, given her elderly appearance, she could very well have planted it. She proceeded to inform me that the pawpaw trees next to it were hers, as were the banana trees, including the one with about six or so hands of bananas that I had been checking daily for signs of ripening. I must have looked suitably downcast, because she said I could have some pawpaw (and indeed she knocked on the door a little later with a large and a small fruit for us). Later, I asked David, our security guard about the fruit. He confirmed that the mango tree did indeed belong to Sister Bernadina, but that the banana trees behind the tank belonged to us, as they fell inside the property boundary that went from that coconut tree to that betel nut palm to that….. I was lost. Anyhow, I was looking forward to having our very own bananas, so preferred David’s take on the situation.

A couple of weeks later, I was working on a report at home, but noticed in the afternoon that the banana tree, along with its fruit, had fallen over. Big red ants, however, were quick-marching in formation up and down the bananas. I popped back inside to fetch our recently-acquired bush knife, and brandished it at the banana tree. The ants were unperturbed, and continued marching, some of them onto the bush knife as I began to hack, and some of them onto my jandals. After much sweaty chopping, I managed to free the bananas from the tree, and lug them (incredibly heavy!) from the slippery clay bank onto the concrete slab next to the outside laundry sink. I had already slipped in that spot this morning, and I did so again, but at least didn't sustain any further shin wounds on the second accident, but did kick the concrete particularly hard with my right big toe. (The slipperiness of the concrete prevented a theatrical hopping around in a circle-type affair, but I did emit a couple of wordless groans but not loud enough for the neighbours to hear.)

The wretched ants, however, continued their circuits of the bananas. I thought I could put them in one of the laundry sinks and run water over them, but I couldn’t physically heft the bananas off the ground. I tried sloshing buckets of water over the bananas, but I should have realised that ants are used to tropical downpours. That did nothing. Next up was the coconut broom (made from a bundle of the “spines” from coconut palm leaves), which was reasonably successful although I did manage to send quite a few of the ants onto my feet and legs. Eventually I decided to leave the bananas there on the concrete until Steve came home. I was wracked with guilt and worry that Sister Bernadina might come knocking on the door demanding her bananas (especially seeing as she had arrived spontaneously on the doorstep only a week or so ago with a bag of bananas for us. I wondered if it was a hint of some sort).

Steve arrived home, swept a few extra ants off the bananas, then carried them through to the front balcony, where he gave them a dose of his favourite fly spray. Even he found them a little difficult to lift, I might add. Then, being the wonderfully inventive orthotist that he is, Steve rigged up some Velcro straps and we hung the bananas from a rafter over the balcony. After about a week and a half, some were ripe enough to cut down. They are, I am sad to say after all that effort, not the most awesome bananas I have tasted. They are almost like a hybrid with cooking bananas, being a little on the starchy side. But hey, they’re ours (I think), and I am eating them on my cornflakes each morning. I took some over to the nuns’ place, but no-one was home, so did an anonymous drop-off of two and a half hands of the bananas. I also took some to a couple of the other neighbours, as several of the hands began to ripen simultaneously, and there are only so many starchy bananas a small household needs. I haven’t seen Sister Bernadina since, and am not sure whether to broach the subject of fruit next time I do…

The four of us returning from Alite Reef (see for a few more reef pics)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Auki Arrival/Solomon seasoning.

Hi everyone,
We have finally made it to Auki yaay! (well a couple of weeks ago on 26/10!)

A beautiful town whose main street, as others have previously commented to us, would be an ideal setting for a Western gunfight. Shopping reminds me of ‘little house on the prairie’ where entering you’re surrounded floor to ceiling with a massive assortment of items from tinned food, pots, hammers to toiletries in no particular order. Great figure-ground perceptual practice! Everything is behind the counter and after being served (there are no perceived queues) you load up your bags, the locals cleverly recycling rice sacks. The bus system is great here where you pay $2 for as long as you like. Wonder if it’ll work in Auckland?

We are slowly setting up our home in the new yellow house on the hill, (our address!) everyone seems to know it so if you are in the area, feel free to visit! Being so new our first weekend was spent on a single mattress and sofa cushions before we entertained the locals by buying a double mattress and carrying it home on our heads!

The battle of the ants has begun! They have fierce red ones that bite through paper packaging to attack food and people. After a few skirmishes we now have the upper hand resulting in a reduction of ‘Solomon seasoning’ to our food. We do have a long term plan that hopefully will result in domination of our kitchen, but we await time and resources prior to its execution.

Our first two weeks at Kilufi Hospital have been very insightful. In preparation for their 40th Anniversary all the staff (including doctors) are beautifying the grounds by designing and planting gardens and paths. It is looking great.

After being there for two weeks we are starting to get the picture of how much strain the hospital is under to even come remotely close to functioning properly. There are approx 160,000 people on the Island of Mialita & only four doctors. 95% of the people live in remote villages and can spend up to 3-4 days walking or going by boat just to get to the hospital.

If we had to hand in stats for work, Lara’s would look appalling. A lot of observation on culture, how things work in Solomon’s and CBR (Community Based Rehab) and rehab team, but extremely little hands on. In contrast Rob has been identified as Mr Fix-it with following projects completed: toilet repair, lab blood testing machine, dentist sterilizer machine, quote for painting all the hospital roofs and removing a water tank, just to name a few.

Everyone here has been so friendly and helpful. When our boxes arrived on the ship, a group of hospital staff and neighbours helped load and drive them to their destinations. Very overwhelming. Best be going to enjoy our downpour of rain.
Take care, Rob & Lara.

Who doesn't like to be on camera? (Rob down at a remote village)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Pelican Experience (or travelling to Auki by fast boat)

Steve, Lara and I left Honiara on the morning of Friday October 26th, a few minutes early, even, on the Pelican express boat to Auki. Rob unfortunately had to stay in Honiara several hours longer to continue the seemingly impossible task of forwarding our only-just-cleared-by-customs shipment to Auki. One's job is difficult when you are told each time you front at the customs office that another form is required, and that it is only available in the bookshop next to the pharmacy (there are three bookshops, all next door to pharmacies...). If Rob was writing this, he would tell you that was only the beginning of the mission. Anyhow, the eventual conclusion to all this was successful, and he was able to catch a flight to Auki in the afternoon, with the news that the shipping would arrive on the following Tuesday. (We'll try to get Rob to write about the Solomons Shipping Saga one day!)

We other three, however, had our own adventure to undertake. Our Pijin language teacher, Jonathan, is a Malaitan, and decided to coincide his trip home with our move. He is a tall, gentle, strong man; a self-employed builder with betelnut-stained teeth, a slight underbite, a very sweet and slightly nervous sounding giggle, and a wardrobe that is apparently entirely navy blue. He kindly helped us with our heavy suitcases, and sneaked us into first-class, where he assured us we would be more comfortable. The air-conditioning, he told us, did not always work in economy, and the section was often crowded. The air-conditioning, we found, works extraordinarily well in first-class, to the point where I am convinced I had mild hypothermia (it took half an hour of sitting on top of the boat in the sun for me to start shivering again, and for my toenails to turn pink).

I thought I was being clever in grabbing the window seat in our row of four, but the window seat receives the lion's share of the glacial blasts from that wretched air-conditioner. Lara, as we mentioned in the previous post, is easily chilled at the best of times, and she was in the next-coldest seat. Steve, next to her, was only mildly chilly in shorts and a light shirt. At the time, he couldn't understand why I had his jacket wrapped around my head, insisted he was fine, and kept laughing at me. The boat and the air-con was too loud for me to explain that the sudden cold had caused an almost-instant, quite spectacular headache, plus numb ears (I had visual images of an ear being accidentally bumped, and it shattering, a little like Terminator 2). The fairly obvious moral of the story is, when catching the express boat, don't sneak into first class, but if you must, avoid the window seat unless you have your thermals and beanie with you...unlikely on a sojourn in a tropical country, I imagine. The small consolation for me was the three dophins I saw leaping from the sea just out of Honiara. No one else saw them....can you get hallucinations with hypothermia?? Maybe that was it.

Stay tuned for more on Auki life..


A classic dugout canoe by the gorgeous Langalanga Lagoon on the west coast of Malaita.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Solomon Islands Taem (time)

Halo . . Hau nao?
Our first steps onto Solomon soil were not greeted by the wall of heat Rob was expecting but a gentle refreshing breeze. Amazingly (according to Jo, our country manager) the plane was early and so began our introduction.

Our first week has been filled with introductions: to other AVI members, the weather – heat, sunburn & a thunderstorm – local wild life in our rooms – rats, cockroach, rhino beetle and geckoes – and Kelly’s favourite. . . language lessons!! Much credit must go to Jono, our language teacher (from Malaita) for his patience, ready answers and constant smile.

Walking (wakabaot) around Honiara, local people walk or gather in groups, battered utes drive by fully (dangerously) laden with people, red betelnut splattered around the dusty ground, Westlife blaring from heavily barred shops and everywhere wafts the unique scent of the Solomon Islands! Lara feels at home, as most locals have bigger hair than she does (ah, the humidity)!!

Steve & Kel are pleased to see after their visit two years ago cleaner streets, well-kept greenery on median strips, completed footpaths and more shops open for business.

Rob totally endorses the Nutrimetics deodorant: “I’ve got the driest armpits in Honiara!” (thanks Sarah Wood!).

The fastest person to acclimatize to the heat has to be Lara who with the air con on low is wearing socks, thermal longs and Kathmandu jacket to bed under a sheet! Kelly fears that Lara has a thermal dysregulation problem..

We have been richly blessed and thankful for the amazing people who have made our first week so welcoming: from the AVI staff who have gone the extra mile for us, the judge who certified our marriage certificates without payment, an extremely warm welcome from the expats, to the houses that will be our homes for the rest of this time (a class above than what we lived in NZ). (P.T.L.)

Quote of the week:
In our first language lesson –
Steve: (about Rob) “Hem krangge” (Him crazy)
Rob: (about Steve) “Hem plonker” (No translation required!)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

We're Here!!

Just a brief message to you all, saying that we're safe, hot & sweaty in Honiara.

Didn't get too much sleep last night (loud roosters & children, and then there's the heat!)

Lots of meetings today, and language lessons start this afternoon.

Gotta get back to a meeting, so we'll update again really soon.

Steve, Kel, Rob & Lara

Friday, 7 September 2007

AVI Briefing in Melbourne

Well Rob, Lara & myself are in Melbourne without Kel - who's holding the fort back in Akld.
We're attending our 3day pre-assignment briefing with AVI, which covers everything from security to funding to health & HIV/AIDS. Lots to take in, so thankfully we're very well fed & extremely well caffeinated!

It was amazing how the AVI team kept our attention through 3 full days of seminars, and very reassuring to discover how they've thought about everything that could happen while you're miles away from anywhere! All the fine details like security plans, working environments, cultural issues, health concerns & evacuation were addressed - and we'll have to devise plans for the above once we're in country so we're prepared in case of an emergency.
We've been put up at the Travel Inn, right behind Lygon St. It was a perfect spot to get out for good coffee, some fantastic Italian cuisine & great gelato! We finished early on the first day, & I managed to get us a little lost on the way back from our jaunt into the city (it's been a while since I've had to navigate such a good public transport system!)
No really interesting stories to tell from this trip. However, it will be fascinating to hear the stories of other volunteers who are traveling all over - from Swaziland, Lebannon & Thailand, to Vietnam, PNG & Tuvalu (& more!). We are the only volunteers heading off to the Solomons from this briefing, and will be the first volunteers on Malaita.

So all in all, it's nice to be back home - although it's a little surreal being in town but not hanging out with family & friends. We managed to see one game of AFL- pity it wasn't the Pies though - and saw a few of the gang briefly tonight. An early departure for the airport awaits us in the morning (4.30am!).

Friday, 25 May 2007

Let's get this game started

Hi to all,

Ok then, let's see if we can't get a blog happening for our Solomons adventure -

I don't know if it will ever be practical to regularly post on a blog, considering the lack of internet access in Auki, but I guess it's best to be prepared...



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