Saturday, 20 December 2008

You know you are in Auki when:

  • Your hand gets tired from waving at anyone & everyone on the 10 min drive to work.
  • Filling up your water bottle becomes the main attraction for the National Psychiatric Unit.
  • You spend NZ$42 for 2 kg of basic cheese for a taste of home.
  • One of the mars bars you got for Christmas 2007 is still in the fridge in Dec 2008 (too valuable to eat!)
  • You see in a shop a tin of bake bean's used by date was 2006.
  • You stork strange 'whitemen' for conversation and entrap them into coming for dinner.
  • You pass a 3 ton truck crabbing while competing for the world record of passengers.
  • Four vehicles in a row is heavy traffic.
  • Power is off more than on!
  • The daily sunsets far surpass those on Hollywood movies!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Froggy challenge


Here's how the froggy challenge works. You get to write a caption each for the two photos in the comments section. The competition will be judged on Christmas Day with the best captions being displayed on our website.

Froggy B

This will achieve two things - 1) allows us to see if anyone reads these blogs! And 2) Gives us something to look forward to on Christmas Day rather than sitting around missing friends and family!

Have fun, think crazy and enjoy yourselves!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

On being white - part 1

I have been reflecting, rather seriously sometimes, on my experience of being in a racial minority group. We are white fish in a brown bowl, a walking freak show, objects of curiosity, a temporary distraction for crying babies, things to be gazed on, pointed at and whispered about from a safe distance. Even after a year in this little town of Auki, I can’t walk down our own road without attracting many stares. A stroll through the main street practically halts business and stops trucks. It is rare for people to be unpleasant in any way, rather most offer a smile, a raise of the eyebrows or a “morning”. Rarer still, though, is the prospect of anyone actually speaking more than a few words to me.

I walk through the hospital in the mornings, passing the outpatients department on my way to my own, and keep my head down as I hurry past, to avoid the stares, smirks and even outright gaping. Of late, it has meant I have not seen some friends who have been waiting there, but I am encouraged that they have been brave enough to attract my attention, even though by communicating with me, my peculiarity and “whiteness” envelops them too. For me, it means someone shares in my experience of being ogled, at least for a little while.

On any of the wards, I snatch the attention of at least ninety percent of the occupants. Silence often falls across the dingy concrete room as I slink behind the nurses’ desk to read a patient’s case notes. I sit down to treat a patient, and one or two onlookers will move to a neighbouring empty bed to observe my movements a little more closely, whispering knowingly to each other, “oh, exercise”. On the paediatrics ward, my presence alone will make some small children burst into tears, never having seen a European before.

I swing from being amused by my effect on people to being mildly annoyed. Sometimes, when a child calls out “bye bye white man” (the “bye bye” was picked up from the American Peace Corps, in Pijin it designates future tense, so doesn’t make sense on its own, and we are called “man” regardless of sex), I will mimic their tone and call out “hello black man” in Kwara’ae, the local language. Some of the older kids and the adults pick up on the irony, and we have a good laugh. Many don’t realise, and go on pointing and staring, “oooh, white man”.
One friend suggests that the reason locals distance themselves from we whites is that they don’t expect to be able to communicate. I think this is true for many people; recently I was speaking with a local motel owner who looked at me completely blankly even though I spoke to him in Pijin (spoken by most Solomon Islanders). He initially spoke to me in English, but I replied in Pijin, which usually elicits a surprised smile and an “oh, you know Pijin” response, and then the conversation segues into Pijin and flows more freely. This time, the Pijin didn’t work. My local friend repeated what I’d said, then translated it into Kwara’ae, to which the man was able to reply. It frustrated me that I was unable to participate in the conversation even in one of the man’s own languages, but I couldn’t help but smile at the way my white skin somehow created a language barrier where there was not one.

As I write this, I start to remember a few pleasant encounters we have had lately: a neighbour who lives down the road met us and spoke to us for the first time at the market last weekend (she knew who we were, we’d never seen her before!), a new friend called me at home for the first time wanting to give me some bananas, and a lovely girl working in a store shyly spoke with us last week, identifying herself as a relative of our landlord and has since greeted us with smiles and conversation. It won’t change the gasps and wide eyes when I go into town, but it’s comforting to know some Solomon Islanders are brave enough to reach across the colour spectrum to be our friends.


Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Unanticipated Suzuki drowning

Another wonderful weekend was had with Ants & KC down at Su’u. Filled of snorkelling, relaxing and regular bathing in the river - no bathroom could ever have such beautiful surroundings or clean flowing water. Thinking to extend this time we decided to leave early Monday morning to make the 2 hour trip back to Auki for work.

Everything was going to plan until we reached the river crossing near Maoa. Here on Friday we discovered two huge sago palms felled across the road. (Landowner’s dispute) A lovely local lady showed us an alternative route, transversing the river further up and then driving along side until connecting with the main road again. Unfortunately we were unfamiliar with this part of the river and forgot where we had crossed. No friendly local was in sight to share their knowledge so the attempt was made.

The water rose at one stage above the bonnet and the Suzuki went on, growling up a stony gradient and then. . . although the volume of growling increased the movement stopped. Stuck Suzuki! There it hung suspended, three wheels grounded as the river washed away the stones from under the fourth. The river continued its flow through the Suzuki. Fortunately rumblings were still audible and my mission was to monitor and foster these while Rob went for help. It was a surreal experience lingering, alone, gazing on a pageantry of tropical delight, cool water rushing around feet, hands grasping the steering wheel, foot hovering over the accelerator, ears intensely tuned on that vital grumble ready for action . . . yet frozen, inactive.

Rob emerged from out of the bush with about eight locals ranging from children to adults. As they approached the Suzuki a sudden silence filled the air. The engine stopped. Devoid of mechanical assistance Suzuki was surrounded and manually extracted from it’s peril deposited safely on the dry stony bank.

Unfortunately the Suzuki didn’t escape unscathed from its near drowning. Water entered the fuel system and the following two hours were spent in Maoa as Rob worked to restore it to life. God assisted having overseen the tools Rob had selected for the journey, so we were again journeying home with an operating fuel gauge, revived Suzuki (including an improved starter motor) and a great story to share.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Tropical diseases

Sorry it has been a while since the last entry from us, but Steve and I have been laid low recently with a rare but severe tropical illness known as Wantok Withdrawal Syndrome (WWS). [For an explanation of the term ‘wantok’ see below.] Symptoms include lethargy, malaise, intermittent whinging and low mood.

The problem is, we have been far too spoilt lately, with six wantoks in six weeks, essentially. And now, nothing. Sniff sniff, pout. The fun and anticipation began several months ago when we received an unexpected e-mail from a Sarah, a medical student in Wales, and later from her friend Aimee. They had chosen to do their five-week elective at Kilu’ufi Hospital, and found this website amongst very few others that mention Malaita. Not only that, they would be staying across the road from us – yay!

We were very excited when they arrived on Malaita Day, although slightly distracted by a last-minute invitation to the Premier’s lunch-time function (the joys of being white). Steve and I met them for the first time that afternoon, and proceeded to coerce Aimee and Sarah into being our friends, we think: gave them unlimited access to safe drinking water from our tank, hooked them up with our haos mere, Helen (cleaning lady/angel) to get their washing done, made them dinner, imparted some local knowledge, organised some tourist stuff, took them snorkelling on a reef… What we were trying to do was create dependency: if the girls needed us, they would feel obliged to spend time with us. Steve and I wanted to extract as much wantok time from those five weeks as we could.

Just a week after the girls’ arrival came the boys: another two medical students, from England this time, came also to do an elective placement (although for four weeks here, and a further four in lovely Wellington, NZ). Our strategy was the same: create dependency. The boys, James and James (aka Jim, to reduce confusion), arrived before the doctors did, so I got in quickly and introduced them to the girls, suggested they also stay across the road from us, perhaps they’d like someone to do their washing, etc ,etc. It seemed to be quite effective, as we enjoyed frequent visits, lots of chats, dinners, DVD watching, board games, swapping books (yes it may sound pathetic to you big-city people, but social life in Auki is based almost exclusively around these activities), ah yes they were happy times. But now they’re gone……..

I am hoping that Sarah, Aimee, James and/or Jim are reading this and thinking “oh I would love to do a guest blog on this website”, because I think their adventures deserve far more than I have mentioned here; obviously I have focused on Steve’s and my plot to suck them in and make them be our friends. (Fortunately, they all turned out to be nice wantoks, the sort of friends you want to keep, as we have had the occasional case where we lived to regret freely offering hospitality!) I must move on, you see, as I have mentioned only four of the “six wantoks in six weeks”. The final two, much to the surprise of many, were Steve’s mum and dad, Pat and John.

These daring travellers have begun their global roaming a little later in life than some. As much as we assured them they should not come to visit, a tour around Europe earlier this year convinced them that the Solomons were not beyond their grasp. P&J visited us for one lovely week, and experienced many things: the reliably unreliable Solomon Airlines, traditional Solomon Islands music and food, island church, our hammock, LangaLanga Lagoon (back to Serah’s little paradise again, see earlier blog entry), Friday’s weekly fish-and-chip ritual at Solomon Organic Café, the bustle of the market, power cuts, stifling heat and breathtaking humidity. They coped admirably, and Pat even made noises about coming back to help us pack up next year – impressive! I was so miserable to be saying goodbye to them on Monday evening, but was thankful for once that Solomon Airlines cancelled their flight back to Honiara that day. Instead, we had one last night together and then waved P&J off on Tuesday morning, which got them to the airport nicely in time for their flight back to Brisbane.

And so began our WWS, which has stricken us ever since. I do think that perhaps a cure (or at least symptomatic relief) may be found in a parcel that has just arrived for us at Auki Post Office…….thanks Sarah and Aimee, we’re sure it’s from you.

P.S. I did entitle this entry “Tropical Diseases”, and ran out of space to talk about Steve’s tropical ulcers on his ankle. Suffice it to say, it was a lot of pus from a tiny scratch. The saga ran on for a few weeks, but I am pleased to say that after some wifely nagging, a course of antibiotics and lots of debriding and dressing changes, he’s okay! It was just a shame we couldn’t have got our lovely med student friends to do the fun stuff.


[A wantok (from the English words “one talk”) is literally someone who speaks the same language as you, and usually identifies someone as being a relative (no matter how distant) or friend from the same village or region as you. It is contextual, however, because two Solomon Islanders from different provinces (who have different first languages) would be considered wantoks if they were overseas. We refer to other white people that we have at least a superficial relationship with as wantoks.]

Friday, 17 October 2008

Our Driveway

Our driveway is clay and very steep, the ferocious tropical downpours have rapaciously gouged trenches randomly over the surface. Numerous arduous attempts have been made to fill these in with dirt but the rain just laughs and washes the hard toil away in the next shower. It is difficult to know whether walking up or driving up is preferable. Driving includes the terrifying experience of being suspended at 45¡¡ facing the sky, not seeing the ground and avoiding dwelling on the steep drop on the right side of the track. The sounds of banging and complaining of the vehicle’s joints, the grinding and moaning of the 4 wheel drive as it struggles up slowly, laboriously, crunching over concrete with occasionally the wheels spinning out on the loose soil. Diesel fume overpower the smells of dust, sweat and dirt. Your breath is held along certain points of the journey as you yet again only just make it.

Walking, at least you have your two feet on the ground (unless they slip and go flying on the loose gravely surface)! However the amount of physical stress on the body equates to an hour aerobic exercise! Techniques vary with some taking the tortoise approach slowly and steadily does it, fighting the temptation of resting as to succumb may remove the goal from reach. Others go for the hare approach including the long rests. Overall the survival rate of the ‘tortoises’ is healthier. To increase the complexity burdens such as suitcases, 10kg of rice/flour/gas, or 40kg of concrete can be added! How else do they arrive?! I guess our driveway is a major deterrent for visitors but at least we know if people are serious about seeing us! And there is always a drink at the top. As for the view – it really is worth the endeavour!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Guest Blog: Visitors from Su'u

Rob and Lara have invited us to have the very honoured privillage of writing on their blog site. Our names are Antony and Cassey Wright, we are working at Su'u Secondary School which is 65km South of Auki in the bush. Cassey and I are newly weds (Dec 2007), and we felt strongly about giving our first year in marriage to serving God in a third world country, so here we are. Our time here in the Solomon’s has been one adventure and challenge after another. Stepping out in faith has been an incredible blessing for our marriage. We have had to learn, trust, grow and pray together on what seems like a fast track course in marriage and serving God.

Su’u National Secondary School is a large Christian boarding school in the middle of the bush. The school is in an isolated location, because Malaita is a big island and Su’u is very central, also because being so isolated means the students are forced to study away from the many distractions of village and city life.

Cassey is teaching English and taking care of the Library and I am teaching Science and Biology. There are only three schools in the Solomon’s that go up to 7th form (university entrance) level, Su’u is one of them and we have just over 400 students. The challenges are relentless; lack of resources, communication (limited VHF), power, water, bugs, rats, drunk locals and the biggest being the cultural differences.

Having Rob, Lara, Steve and Kelly in Auki, with their open invitation and friendship has been a lifesaver for us. Cassey and I finish in 6 weeks at the end of the school year and make our way back to New Zealand. Please continue to pray for these four amazing people. They are doing a great work for God, serving his people at Kalufi hospital. Especially pray for funding for the workshop Rob is building at the hospital, and maybe if you feel lead, even loosen your own purse strings a bit.

Thank you once again guys, you're legends.

Lots of love, Ants and Cassey.

Run-way Pigs

As yet no comment has been made regarding domestic airline travel. The short rural dirt runaways lined by idealic tropical bush and villages, sudden thunder storms and restriction of no night flying must challenge the most competent pilot. Since we have been here there seems to be a good flight record with no major air accidents. Like most places there are always exciting stories to exchange, some may wonder if they are fabricated. The following are from eye-witness accounts.

With the plane ready to go there appeared extensive conversation with the ground crew, pilot and two locals. The pilot at last wandered over to the waiting passengers and announced there had been a mistake and too many tickets had been issued for that flight so two people would have to say behind. One local man volunteered to stay and catch the next day’s flight but all other passengers for various reasons needed to arrive at that location that day. So the pilot put all their tickets into a ‘hat’ and drew out the unfortunate person. He happened to be an overseas visitor meeting up with his beloved for a two week holiday. Distressed he protested to no avail, left to spend a night in a strange town while the two locals not part of the conversation quickly seated themselves in the plane.

Another incident occurred while on route, when the passengers observed the co-pilot trying to attract the attention of the pilot who appeared to be asleep! It was only after much shaking the pilot was aroused just in time to assist his co-pilot in landing the plane!

Recently there has been many a delay and cancellation of flights due to air crafts (three at one time) being out for repairs. However in an unusual event a plane has left early without notification to passengers concerned who arrived to find having missed that flight no further opportunities were available that day. Please note that accommodation or taxi fares are not provided by the airline to people whose travel plans have been disrupted.

So the lesson is – always have change for a taxi fare and a ‘plan B’ when you fly! And you thought run-way pigs were all you had to worry about!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Our biggest project has begun at Kilu'ufi Hospital - we're building a 200sq-m workshop for the maintenance team, prosthetics and orthotics dept, and the community based rehab division.

Check out the website: for photo updates and a description of what's going on. Because we're having to find the funds for the workshop we're always looking for more donors (and it's tax-deductible for Aussie tax payers), but that's enough of a plug for now. We've sent a promo DVD back to Oz & NZ, and it's now on our website for you to check out...

It's all being done by hand, so it's extremely hot and sweaty work.
(We've been shovelling truckloads of sand and coral the last two weeks, and have just begun making the bricks by hand - we only need about 3000!)

Ok, back to work...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Serah’s Place

I am still trying to catch up on last month’s events amidst the power cuts, and as promised, this entry is devoted to the two-and-a-bit blissful days we (Steve, MD&A and myself) spent down at Langalanga Lagoon. The Langalanga region is only about twenty-ish kilometres from Auki, but feels a million miles away, and is home to an ever-increasing number of artificial islands. [I think I have made a brief note on the origin of artificial islands to accompany a previous entry, so please see that for background.]

It is close to an hour from town in a little banana boat to get to Serah’s. There are many leaf hut villages to gaze at on the way, seasoned fishermen paddling dugout canoes, a few other artificial islands, and if you are lucky, flying fish that race over the water with you. We also saw a stingray (who perhaps thought he was a flying fish) fling himself jubilantly out of the water as we passed.

My bottom and I were pleased to feel the boat slow down and coast in towards the little blue pier that perches daintily over the sea. A carefully hand-painted sign and Serah herself welcome guests to the island, and everything is only a few steps away: the bungalow over the water with its wrap-around balcony, two shelters to sit, eat, drink and relax, the separate bathroom, and Serah’s own house. Standing on the balcony can easily while away an hour, as a parade of marine life marches and swims by as you watch: a reef shark in the shallows, a fist-sized hermit crab, some moray eels and of course endless schools of tropical fish.

Not having electricity on the island immediately slows the pace of life from laid-back Solomon time in town, to impossibly long afternoons and evenings that seem to each last for whole days. We watched and learned about the making of the traditional shell money, but “ran out of time” for the other activity options: there are many aspects of Langalanga life that we could have learned about, but the lure of the water, the dugout canoe and time on the couch or bed with our respective novels was too great for us.

Unfortunately, dynamite fishing was a popular hunting method in the Langalanga region, which has put an end to much of the spectacular coral. There is, however, a good-sized area directly in front of Serah’s island that is perfect for snorkelling, and we gleefully explored just about every inch of it. The snorkelling was a good way to cool down after paddling practice in the dugout canoe – we proved that it is really much better to grow up using that sort of thing rather than try to master such a skill in one’s adulthood.

Hours of paddling, bobbing and floating around on the sea made for tired bodies, and it was with grateful sighs that we sunk into our crisply white-sheeted beds. Although we did try to stay up past 8.30pm with card games by lamplight and stargazing until our necks were stiff (spectacular, by the way), we just couldn’t.
I suppose there are some other important things I should mention: we were very well-fed (delicious burgers, scrambled eggs for breakfast, lots of yellowfin tuna), very comfortable in the bungalow (it is a leaf hut, but not grubby or dingy as that may sound to some), and Serah and her husband Gustav are wonderful hosts. Steve and I are glad to have the chance to go back again (and again) while we are in the Solomons. There are not a lot of tourist activities re-established in Malaita after the ethnic tensions several years back, but this is definitely one we recommend.

Friday, 25 July 2008

The power, the water, and then the power and the water….and then the computer.

I do feel I have a bit of catching up to do, blog-style, as the Green House team of Survivor Auki have been particularly lacking in utilities of late. As you will surely have read, the electricity is off more than it is on, but our troubles extend a little further back. During the time of the Telekom strike, our power was also under threat for a few days, and next came the water emergency…

A couple of months ago, our landlord signed us up for the new cash power system, where a meter is installed in your home, and you pre-purchase kilowatt-hrs instead of waiting for a bill. It works a bit like the pre-paid mobile phone system where you receive a receipt with a code to enter, which tops up your credit. Fair enough, really. In the provinces, however, the system is dependent on communications with Honiara, who doles out all the codes. When the telephones for the entire country are near-knackered though, the system’s flaws become apparent. It was a Wednesday morning, and with 22 kilowatt hours to go (usually we use 5 – 6 per day), we thought we’d top our credit up, allowing some time for SIEA to fax Honiara etc. We heard nothing from them, and the weekend (when the office is closed) was creeping closer. By Friday night we were down to 5 units, so it was a DVD-free, anxious weekend. STILL nothing on Monday, and our wonderful RAMSI friends had us around for dinner to save us a bit more power. Tuesday morning I marched (well, cycled) around to SIEA, and my heart sank when I saw a man on the telephone giving Honiara what for. I figured I would stand there and wait my turn to do the same, but was relieved to see the lovely SIEA lady smiling at me and handing me a receipt and code. Phew!! So with about 0.3 kwh to go, we were now in the clear. For a little while…..

A week later, we were looking forward to my parents and brother arriving on the weekend, when Steve happened to be outside and downstairs, and gave our main water tank (which supplies the tap water inside) a friendly tap. It answered with a very empty-sounding echo. I noted my shower that evening was quite warm….and I hadn’t turned on the hot tap. The penny was dropping…..perhaps it was significant that our tank had stopped overflowing when it rained….. Ah, such city people that we are. No problem, said I, we’ll just turn the town water on to fill the tank until we can get up on the roof to fix the presumed blockage. The town water tap was jammed in the off position, and now we faced a water crisis. No one in the vicinity had a ladder (a few people corrected me when I asked them in Pijin “oh, you mean landa”. Why??!!!), and it was early in the morning before the SIWA office opened. Lucky for us, one of the SIWA-truck-driving SIWA employees spends many of his waking hours driving up our road, and he stopped in at the place across the road. I ran over and begged him to come and fix our tap. He looked at me with little enthusiasm but said he’d send someone.

He was, despite my initial misgivings, true to his word, because by the time I got down to the office that afternoon, they told me the tap had already been fixed, and the stopcock would be replaced today too. And it was. And then a son of a friend came and fixed the drainage problem the next morning. Just like that, our water crisis was averted. Nice that (a few) things do work in the Solomon Islands.

Now even with the town-wide power crisis, we have huge amounts of water – even though SIWA can’t run their pumps, we seem to have come into another rainy season so our trusty tank is constantly overflowing again (that dripping never sounded so sweet!). Rob and Lara, in the Yellow House Survivor Auki team, however, continue to experience water shortages.

Our added headache has been the succumbing of our computer – something about the Solomons means that even previously functional items stop working at random intervals. I won’t describe this in detail, but just mention that Steve was exceptionally anxious without his precious machine, but has since started to implement a few healthier habits, such as starting to practice that guitar that he wanted so much but then has not actually picked up for more than a couple of days at a time. Due to his cleverness, he was able to accurately diagnose the condition as a blown power supply unit, find the only one in the country (over at Honiara) suitable to power up his machine, get a friend to pick one up in Honiara and send it over on a chopper. We are again proud owners of a functional computer, and Steve is smiling again.

Let's hope things get back to normal soon...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Survivor Auki

Scarce blog entries and emails may or may not have alerted you that we are currently undergoing our own ‘survivor Auki’. Initially Telekom employees staged a national strike as they wanted their CEO to resign. This resulted in no internet or mobile phone usage, in addition to this the emergency numbers for the police and ambulance in Honiara did not work. This situation has been resolved and now Auki is experiencing an electricity shortage as the power board is unable to pay its fuel bills.

To start with power was rationed to night times only, now it has stopped altogether. A knock on effect is without power water can not be pumped into houses so water supplies are under threat. Currently Rob & RAMSI personal are working with the hospital to find a solution to their water crisis as they have run out this morning.

Our prayers and thoughts go out to the businesses and organisations around Auki like the hospital and ice cream shop who are suffering during this time. We have been informed by a local this occurred last year and lasted for 3 months! We wait with baited breath and hope things are sorted out sooner!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Another feature in the month of the family

As it has been fairly difficult for us to access a computer lately, I am very sorry that this entry has been so slow in making it to the blog. It is certainly not due to the lack of importance of my family’s visit, just the logistics have been tricky. So, as I alluded to above, we had a visit from my parents, Jan and Karl, and my brother Antony, at the end of last month. This was their third time to the Solomons, but their first time to the provinces. So really, it was like their first real visit to the Solomons, as previously they had only been to Honiara.

They arrived on one of the wee Solomon Airlines flying matchboxes, not even too late by Solomon standards, touching down onto the grass runway, dodging the chickens and SolBrew cans (the pigs stayed on the adjacent soccer field, fortunately), close enough for me to see Mum waving to me from the window. After some screeching and hysteria (from me), we cruised back home on the Sol Air shuttle bus, and I felt a decent flicker of pride as they pointed out different things along the way and how extravagantly green all the surrounds were.

We treated Mum, Dad and Antony (hereafter MD&A) to a traditional cooking lesson with our friend Jerry and his family up at Dukwasi village. We got to consume the fruits of our labour the next day for lunch after watching some traditional dancing (with a few modern touches, such as the gold wristwatch of the male leader – a little incongruous with the grass skirt!). Dad had a large audience of goggle-eyed kids astonished at seeing a white man swing a bush knife to cut firewood.

Antony got very well-acquainted with the hammock, and ensured he had at least a couple of hours in it each day we were home. The onset of the power crisis meant that we had some enforced relaxation time, and Antony had a full afternoon in the hammock one day. MD&A endured a lot of walking up a lot of hills, but only Mum was able to hobble away from the experience with a black-and-purple toe…we’re not sure exactly how she managed that!

It was fun for Steve and I to get to do some “touristy” things with MD&A (not that there is heaps to do), and we finally made it up to the limestone caves with our friend Jerry. We had heard quite a bit about them from other visitors, and it was all true – the bats (they really stink!), the mud, the water…. but also some spectacular parts that you’ll have to come and see for yourselves: cathedral-like chambers with beautifully arched ceilings, and one part where the cave roof collapsed that has now become a lushly-overgrown clearing with hundreds of trailing vines, and you might see Gollum slinking by if you look very carefully..

Another big highlight of MD&A’s visit was our two night down at Langalanga, at Serah’s Lagoon Hideaway. It was so good, in fact, that it deserves an entry all of its own. Stay tuned..

Monday, 30 June 2008

Guest Blog: Dr John's Island Holiday

(The following has been written by Lara’s Dad. Disclaimer: we accept no responsibility for anything parent’s write!)
“Me hapi tumas fo stap long dota blong me Lara an Rob. Two weeks holiday on a tropical island (my first time)! Lara and Rob’s house certainly has a wonderful view of Auki township, wharf and fishing village. Only problem is a steep rocky drive up to the house goes with the view! Lara obviously concerned about her Dad’s fitness made sure we did the trip up and down frequently and also several walks including one to a water hole in a river and another to two large limestone caves one with hundreds of bats and a stream running through which suddenly disappears into the flour of the cave. Awesome experience! So much reminded me of Thailand – wet all the time from sweat or rain, coconut and banana trees, tropical vegetation, gravel roads, houses very similar to those of the hill tribes in Northern Thailand, the church consisting of concrete floor and roof, otherwise open, no overheads or powerpoint as they know the songs!

It was good to be at the hospital when the first shovel full of dirt was shifted for the building of the Maintenance/CBR/ Prosthetic workshop which is the major project at the moment, particularly for Rob, and an exercise of faith as AU$35,000 has to come in from somewhere for it to be completed. It was also good to share the frustrations, particularly for Lara, of having few opportunities at present to use her many gifts and abilities here. The trip ended with three days snorkelling on one of the Florida Islands. Thanks so much for having me and allowing me to experience some of your Island life and share some of your joys and frustrations. It meant so much.”

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The month of the family

June has been a wonderful month with the unexpected visit of Jamie – Rob’s brother, whom we spent three wonderful days with before he started his job as the engineer aboard a private yacht.

We then proceeded on our 8 day holiday in Gizo with friends – Antony, Kasey and Kasey’s sister Shelley (who was visiting from NZ). It was an amazing time with great company, delicious food, awesome snorkelling and romantic surroundings. We seem to attract wild life wherever we go as we shared a room with a rat, snake and mozies. Further down from our abode we spotted 9 sea snakes!

On our way back to Auki we picked up my wonderful Dad who spent the next two weeks with us. We had a great time with him at Auki and then 3 days in Maravagi. Unbelievable snorkelling there! We saw sharks (Rob touched one!), a turtle, octopus, sea snake (luckily only one) and thousands of multi coloured fish, it looked like a massive shower of confetti underwater!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Great bus service

As mentioned previously the local bus system around Auki is great. Everyone piles in, pays SB $2 and jumps off wherever they like. We discovered children were free one day when a small girl in school uniform stopped the bus, looked in with her lovely eyes and cheeky grin. Then suddenly we were ambushed by 8 other gorgeous giggly girls who acquired the remaining 3 seats. That was a very fun ride!
The buses themselves are mini vans with a driver and collector in charge of the sliding door. They come in a variety of conditions, often adorn with soft toys, CD’s hanging in the windscreen, rust, stain marks on all surfaces, with noises ranging from the radio, grinding of gears, to the psssssst of a local approaching his stop. On a journey to work one day the door of the van slid right off. It took both the driver and collector a wee while to replace it using two jandles to plug it in. At the next stop the sliding door preceded to fall out again. Meanwhile the driver had his own problems, while trying to drive off (he had no first gear) he rode the clutch leaving a much to be desired smell of burning.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Weapons of mass destruction

The battle of supremacy in the kitchen continues. We have brought out the big weapon – our ant-proof pantry! The concept was mine based on a childhood Thai cupboard, and the craftsmanship Rob’s! The tuna cans ideal size; filled with water at each foot are the key to its effectiveness. Vigilance is still required as we discovered an invasion after a piece of cellotape fell close to the wall and the ants formed a bridge to launch a counteract!

Unfortunately we have found this pantry is not rat proof! Much to my discomfort my first encounter with the rat was alone at night, when reading a book he appeared right under my feet! To my credit the scream was not vocalised and Rob was not notified of our new adversary until morning. The next encounter resulted in his eviction. As you can see from the photos a new method (as we have no traps) was designed. Cornering him by the fridge, one route to the front door was formed and when all was ready, Rob ‘encouraged’ him to exit. Rob did say it was an amazing sight to see the rat launch himself off the balcony into the dark! (As you can also see I took the safe advantage point – for recording purposes. Unfortunately the rat moved too fast to be photographed).

Thought it might also interest you of another weapon we use to great affect – the sieve!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Of greener grass

I don’t know how else to say this, but I am in love. We have just been to the most beautiful and idyllic place I have seen yet in this country; it was everything that I hoped the Solomons would be, really. And now I am suffering from a fairly severe case of “grass is greener” syndrome. It’s all relative, I suppose, we liked Honiara well enough until we got to Auki. Now we think Honiara is a hole. We liked Auki very much until we got to Atoifi. Now, well, fill in the blanks I guess!

Steve, his trainee Willie, and I travelled over to Malaita’s second hospital over on the east coast last week. Atoifi Adventist Hospital has no road access, like most of eastern Malaita, so for us it meant a good couple of hours getting over to Atori by truck, and then a half hour in a boat to Atoifi. I felt mildly unwell after the rough ride in the truck (I’m sure the potholes were enough to induce a slight concussion), so I hate to think how the patients feel when they make it, via whatever means they can, to the hospital.

We didn’t know what to expect of the place, and thought we should prepare for the worst-case scenario – three days of sleeping on the floor, being stared at and not spoken to, eating whatever we were able to purchase locally (perhaps an exclusive diet of bananas, seeing as they don’t require cooking). What we got was a lovely (by Solomon standards, and I am okay with this!) self-contained flat, multiple warm welcomes from a number of staff, vast quantities of lovingly prepared food from several local families, and requests for further visits. As if that isn’t enough, the surrounds are peaceful, the people are friendly and the staff really want to take better care of their patients and would like our help to achieve that. More than a volunteer could hope for, really.

The evenings are even more serene than the days, and as the sun sets and brief twilight settles over the bay and its artificial islands*, the locals walk down to the small wharf (built by the EU). People set off over the quiet waters in their dugout canoes, children splash in the shallows or jump off the wharf. Somehow this doesn’t frighten the fish, who are quite content to flip around and make ripples across the mirror-like inlet. Many of the makeshift rigs (metres of line spooled around plastic bottles) still reel in enough for a little bit of protein with the evening meal. And most importantly of all, people sit down, or stroll together to engage in the national pastime, “stori stori” (talking).

When the sun departs for the day, and only the moon is left to light the sky, even then Atoifi is peaceful. The trilling of the crickets seems somehow more muted than Auki, and the silence is palpable between their songs. Only the occasional cry of a cat can be heard, and the mangy dog population I would put at less than three. I slept without ear plugs, and it was bliss.

Ah yes, the grass is very green on the other side at Atoifi, and I am very pleased to report that this first liaison is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship. There are lots of lovely things that we look forward to doing with the team there, but I won’t bore you with work talk, rather I’ll just revel in the knowledge that we get to go back.

*Malaita (and probably a number of other provinces, I’ll let you know when I’ve been there!) has many man-made islands dotted around its coast. They have been built on top of areas of reef by some very enterprising people who were struggling for land. So they made their own, out of rocks they collected and deposited at low tide. These people are the “saltwater people”, who, naturally, tend to do most of the fishing. They depend on the “bush people” for root crops such as taro and kumara, as the soil on the artificial islands is not generally amenable to growing these. There is a huge amount of anthropology and history literature available, about most of which I’m not that well informed, really. But Roger Keesing is one of the gurus, so if you’re interested, he would be a good author to look up.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Taking the heat

After six months in the tropics, I’d say we’re about as acclimatised to the heat as we’re ever going to get. Unfortunately, I still sweat profusely with quite low levels of activity, talking to a patient, for example, or slicing our home-made bread on a Sunday afternoon. I am convinced that I sweat more than my fellow volunteers, although Rob thinks he rivals or surpasses me. That we sweat in the heat is not surprising, however we have noticed of late our increasing sensitivity to cold. Of course it never gets “cold” here in the Solomons, but our goalposts have certainly shifted.

Departing Australia in October, I remarked to Steve that it would be another 18 months before I had cold feet again. I and the other females in my family are rarely without our fleecy slippers at home, trying to prevent iciness of our extremities. Walking on chilly surfaces such as tiles in a Melbourne or Auckland winter borders on painful, but surely there would not be such problems for me in Solomon Islands? It turns out that twenty four or twenty five degrees these days is practically Arctic, and the kitchen lino in these temperatures is cold to the point of being mildly painful!

Sitting down in the evenings sees the temperature drop below thirty degrees, usually, which is comfortable. Lose a couple more degrees, and, with the fan running, I start getting cold. Steve thinks I’m crazy, and won’t let me turn the fan off, so I have been resorting to long-sleeved shirts and light trousers recently. I am not quite resorting to the winter woollies that the Solomon Islanders do, but all the same, would never have dreamed of feeling chilly here.

Our coffee and tea consumption has risen again as we have acclimatised, and we now think nothing of having a cuppa in the afternoon despite it being thirty one degrees or so. Steve’s favourite coffee mug, his Greenlane Christian Centre mug, has just lost its handle in an unfortunate fall during Steve’s haste to get himself caffeinated. He is distraught but consolable, and refuses to drink coffee from anything but the handle-less vessel. I may not be able to convince him to leave it behind when we go.

In nine weeks time, my mum, dad and brother are coming to visit. I’m hoping that they will sweat more than me….and maybe bring me a few more long sleeves.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

River Fiu Adventure

Many a discussion had been made on floating down the Fiu river on a tyre and finally today was the day. After being assured by our contact the night before that the truck inner tyres required would be ready at the local work yard the next morning, we arrived to find . . . surprise, surprise, they weren’t. In fact there was only one truck tyre, the other three were hylux tyres plus a car tyre and all needed repairs and pumping up.

2 hours later, a bit despondent we assembled at the starting point. The truck tyre had become flat during the 15 min ride to the river so that left Kelly, Steve & Rob with the hylux and Lara with the car tyre. John & Dave well prepared, both had their truck tyres.

The first part of the journey was spent experimenting with positioning in the tyres and how to manoeuvre them in the current while attempting to avoid the rocks and branches. There is only one way to ride the car tyre – on your tummy like a boggie board, knees and legs up to avoid the rocks! Two of us (guess who!) became rather chilly. I was able to scavenge a thermal top and gloves off Dave and Rob ½ way. The rest found the temperature rather pleasant.

The peaceful tranquillity was often shattered by John’s rendition of “That’s why I tell you . . . you’d better be home soon” (Crowded House) The water was so clear you could see the crocs coming a mile away!

Despite sore and hungry bodies, the 4 hours & 20 mins was totally worth it. Although an increase in water flow would have created additional delight. Unfortunately due to the isolation of the river route we fear we have inadvertently caused many a pikinini to have nightmares of whiteman floating down the river!!!! One wee fella was so terrified of the 6 whitemen he sat frozen in his tree petrified crying!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Cooking Class

When accepting a request to provide a cooking session for the woman’s group, I was unsure what exactly that would involve. After extensive questioning in pijin, I continued to remain in the dark about how these sessions usually operate, how many attend, with the only expectation verbalised – make a fish curry.

Rising to the challenge I delved into my cookbook, searching for enticing, healthy recipes that can be made with readily available ingredients. Keeping in mind the local kitchen consists of a fireplace so usual forms of cooking are via frying pan, pot or steaming with the food wrapped up in banana leaves. Selecting four recipes I proceeded to translate them into pijin. I did try to have these checked by a local woman.

The anticipated day arrived. 30 mins before intended commencement time, the 3 recipes (one I had never made!) had been mentally sequenced; ingredients and kitchen had been prepared so I was able to relax with a book. 8 local women appeared as well as Kelly. And so the fun began. I launched off with sweet and savoury pinwheel scones, followed by the requested fish curry, and while it simmered created a stir fry. I had not written out the stir fry recipe figuring that it’s such a flexible dish. This was however asked for. I hesitate to suggest that the session will be recalled for its fine cuisine as I suspect the most memorable incident was when the lighter didn’t turn off, causing the container I threw it in, to alight. Blissfully focusing on the fish curry, I turned just in time to see Kelly putting the fire out! Oh well. . .

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Wedding Anniversary

Yes we have made it to our first Wedding Anniversary (still no arguments)!! I’m sure relatively few ‘normal’ kiwis can boast of celebrating theirs in the Solomon Islands, having spent the last year in 3 different countries, 4 different homes and two different jobs each.

Our day was spent in Honiara as we had come over to catch up with Steve, Kris, Noah & Roman, the AVI crew and the wonderful National CBR therapists. We were shouted lunch at our favourite café – El Shaddei, and of course had the special ice coffee (best in SI). Evening meal was celebrated at the Honiara Hotel. Rob indulged on a big slab of medium rare steak, Lara enjoyed the titillating taste of fresh scallops and prawns smothered in a lime and butter sauce. Polished off with a rich chocolate mousse for desert. Guess who chose that?! This was still less than a night out in NZ.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

No Guarantees

Dedicated readers have questioned our failure to dedicate any blog space to “what work is like”. Given that we are here to work, and spend about a third of our day on work, a little piece on work is entirely appropriate. Let’s visit Kilu’ufi Hospital (approximate pronunciation is “Kee-LOO-fee”)..

Our workplace is one of two hospitals in Malaita Province, the other, Ato’ifi, is over on the east coast, and I don’t know very much about it, other than that they had quite a long time without a doctor. Kilu’ufi Hospital is the major healthcare facility for Malaita. People from south Malaita, however, are sent directly to the National Referral Hospital in Honiara for logistical reasons (no roads, and the distance by boat is shorter than to come up the coast to Auki). Kilu’ufi has 127 beds (some of those belong to the national psychiatric unit), and an occupancy of about 90 each evening. There are four doctors who are all registrars, and must work without the support of consultants here. The wards are set up a little differently to what you might be used to: rather than having “co-ed” medical and surgical wards, there are instead the male and the female ward, loosely sub-divided into medical and surgical areas. There are also the maternity, children’s and isolation (tuberculosis) wards.

If you are a hospital worker, or perhaps a frequent visitor to such facilities, you may have noticed an increasing tendency towards “cheerful” décor, to the point of garishness at times. Also a feature of the modern hospital is the array of floor coverings: tiles, pavers, carpet, linoleum, and a host of non-slip surfaces. Not so at Kilu’ufi, where the scant budget dictates concrete indoors and out; it is exceptionally slippery when a brief downpour or a morning floor mopping is added. This is not to say that it is a concrete jungle – there are plenty of flower beds with pretty exotic blooms, and green, green lawns (with that tropical, broad-bladed, low-growing grass) – just that it did strike me initially as very dim and grey. The grounds are well-looked after, and received quite a makeover in the lead-up to the hospital’s 40th anniversary celebrations last year, with my favourite being the (okay, kind of kitsch) garden bed out the front that spells out in leafy green, “Kilu’ufi”.

Design features aside, this is a hospital in a developing country, and I think an appropriate motto would be “no guarantees”. Just about anything you would take for granted in a Western hospital is, here, either not available, or is on a tenuous supply. Need a blood test? The machine has broken, so there won’t be any results until further notice. Need an ultrasound? Sorry, the radiographer is on annual leave for six weeks. You child’s got meningitis? We don’t have the facilities to diagnose what bug is causing it. We probably wouldn’t have the antibiotics you need anyway, so we’ll give you the best we’ve got. Had a stroke? Maybe it was caused by atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm disturbance) but we don’t have an ECG to check. Got a wound? It’s gauze, gauze or gauze for dressings, cut in lengths from a big roll in a very non-sterile manner, counted out on the nurse’s desk, and wrapped into paper parcels. Need a bandage to hold it all in place? There’s none on the ward, try the operating theatre, who suggest asking pharmacy. Pharmacy haven’t had any in stock for weeks. Don’t know when they might arrive.

I have seen parents, patients and relatives get angry over such trivial things in Western hospitals: a less-than-pristine bathroom, hospital food, the doctors being late on the ward round, a physiotherapist not performing treatment exactly the way they like, a wait for government funding for their mobility equipment, their favourite nurse being assigned to another patient. I wonder how long it would take for their attitudes to change in a place like this. Our children’s ward doesn’t have functional toilets, so the kids pee in the sink. Some taps in the maternity ward leak with such veracity that the staff have jammed a length of hose on the ends, and shut them off (mostly) with surgical clamps. The baby bathing sinks don’t work. Some of the ward bathroom areas don’t drain, and are constantly wet, scummy and slippery (arrgh, falls risk). The patients have to bring their own crockery and cutlery to hospital, and the food (every day) is rice, greens and a little bit of tinned tuna, maybe a slice of pawpaw if they need a special diet. There are only two or three nurses (not all RNs) looking after twenty-plus patients, and that’s providing everyone shows up for their shifts. People don’t have telephones to call in sick, or to get shifts covered, so it might be just one nurse for the ward that day. A patient is admitted with a neurological condition (undiagnosed) that has left her with lower limb paralysis, but we don’t have any wheelchairs to give out (although the village environment is not appropriate terrain anyway). Her daughter will have to keep lifting her on and off the floor where she sleeps.

There are a hundred frustrations every day, but there are rare and thrilling moments where we can help someone who wants to be helped, and make their life better. One was just last week, where Steve, Willie (Steve’s local trainee prosthetist) and I discovered the husband of our amputee patient had had a stroke recently. He was discharged from hospital with a pretty severe weakness of his right arm and leg. Steve and Willie rigged up a device (made from an old tyre inner tube) to help lift his foot, and almost instantly, he was able to walk by himself for the first time since his stroke. He is working on a therapy programme I’ve given him, and we will see him again at the end of this week.

Recently, I had a staff member come and see me with acute sciatica after injuring her back the previous evening. After about fifteen minutes, all her leg pain had gone, and she had only a little central back pain left. She was quite bewildered (and, to be honest, so was I!! As you know, I’m not a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, so it was very exciting to have someone respond so brilliantly, even better than the textbooks. It doesn’t usually happen here, as people abuse their spines in a very long-term way, and therefore take a long time to improve.) She has been doing her homework, and continues to recover well.

We hope you have enjoyed this short visit to our workplace, and will return soon.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Sarah's stay

Sarah’s guest blog entry should have alerted most of you of a new presence in our environment. Yes we had the great pleasure, of Sarah sharing our humble abode. We have offered to write references for future flatmates if required. Inside info includes frequent evenings beginning with dinner (she is still an apprentice in this area although the total master of Banooffee pies!), accompanied by pleasant and stimulating conversation. Then one would look at the clock to find it 10:30 pm! Therefore we recommend that if you need to study or work after hours flatting with Sarah might not be the most productive move.

Alas we do confirm Sarah’s suspicions of Steve and gambling but she neglected to mention her own skills at this game. The verdict is still out on Sarah’s poker playing abilities – did her two wins and second runner up indicate a skilled professional or lucky flukes? Is the reason for her always being three stages behind the rest of us a cleaver screen to lull us into a false sense of security, to disrupt the flow of the game, replace the ‘poker face’ with a ‘ditsy face’, just the way she plays (and quite successfully too!), or does the delays in response allow her time to receive her next instructions from her controllers via sophisticated camera and microphone systems? Well, as the phone is unreliable, I’m sure the communication and technology systems here will prevent the latter one from working.

One afternoon Rob, Sarah and I made our way up to the Telekom tower one of the prominent landmarks of Auki. The two Telekom workers appeared bemused when they understood we were wishing to climb the tower, they had yet to do this and it wouldn’t be anytime soon. With their permission (Rob had already got their boss’s permission earlier) we started up. You will be happy to hear no incidence occurred although OSH kept ringing through our thoughts as we descended with shaking (from tiredness) arms and no safety equipment. What a thrill and what a view!!! Great time had by all. Big Thanks to Telekom Auki for an adventure of a life time!

One of our last memories of Sarah is walking down our extremely steep road to the Ute awaiting to convey her to the airport. Laden with two heavy bags (mainly her books – thanks from bring them!) one side and the other with hot buttered jam toast. Next thing she slid over without using her hands to stop the fall! We were wondering if it was an attempt to stay longer (too injured to fly etc etc) but it appears she just couldn’t give up her toast!
Thanks again Sarah for coming and visiting us. We look forward to having you at Rob & Lara’s in NZ!!!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Life with a Knife

I remember some ripplings in the media recently about kids being overprotected in Western countries, and the adverse effects on their lives, their motor skills for example. Here in the developing world there are no such concerns – small children climb large coconut trees, walk barefoot through the jungle, and wield fearsome, curved blades known as bush knives. Yes there are a few tendon injuries and infected flesh wounds, but for the most part, Solomon Islanders are very handy with a machete, and they like to start them early.
Our little neighbour, Casper (we may have told some of you about his spectacular, vocal-cord-shredding tantrums, sometimes at three in the morning, other times, just three in a morning) couldn’t be more than two. He shuns clothing, for the most part, but loves to accessorise his minimalist look with a bush knife. The blade is almost as tall as he is, but he swings it quite handily at marauding weeds with no adult supervision. This is not an uncommon sighting here.
In fact, I am seeking advice and supervision from one of the local kids on how to use my small knife to open green coconuts. She has helped me out in the past where I have failed to breach the shell, and I am copying her technique but I just can’t do it like her. Fiona is about eight, I think, so I guess she has about eight years more experience than I do…

On the way to the hospital, I often ride past a few young guys on the side of the road, stopping for a chat, and leaning on their bush knives as they do so. When they all look up and call out “hello”, it is hard for someone from our safety-conscious culture not to be a little alarmed. It is, however, quite a normal thing here, and it is usually people without bush knives that I find more intimidating.

At the hospital, the national psychiatric unit is next door to the physiotherapy department. It is surely the only psychiatric unit in the world where the patients are allowed to wander around with 55cm machetes and open gates. It’s all in the name of gardening, you see, as everything (especially weeds) grow at a scarcely-believable rate. With a bush knife, you can “mow” the lawn, hack back the encroaching jungle, and dig small weeds out of the ground. And that’s aside from the myriad other uses – opening coconuts, husking green coconuts to drink, cutting down trees, and of course, general brandishing by children. We have also embraced life with a knife, in fact we have two – a large and a small one, for all our daily needs.

Monday, 17 March 2008

The promised entry - guest blog

Guest blog: Sarah Wattie (Kiwi/ Wellingtonian)

Well, it is my last night in the Solomon Islands and although relative peace has returned to the country, I remain in fear as Rob, Lara, Kelly and Steve have threatened that should I forget to fufill my blog obligations, there will be trouble. What this means and what they would actually be capable of is a humorous thought, since I am already in Honiara and they are stuck in Auki, devoid of transport and communication with the ‘Other Side’...

Despite their dictatorial stance towards blog duties, I will dearly miss the lot. After six weeks they are well and truly wontoks, Solomon Islands family and great mates.

I stayed with the romancing Rob and Lara, who looked after me like I was a daughter of their very own. Rob took it upon himself to give me a hard time, keeping my confidence at a healthy level. In my opinion, he asks for trouble. One moment springs to mind. We had just enjoyed a cleansing swim in a beautiful river ninety minutes uphill from Auki. Rob sees a pile of sawdust. Normal people would continue on un-phased, if they even noticed it in the first place. Rob however is a bit special and forgetting about his adulthood, took a running leap and jumped straight in, rolling around like a small terrier. Head to toe covered in peachy sawdust. From then on it was Rob a.k.a “crumbed fish.”
Lara on the other hand is a readaholic. She is perhaps the worst case I have come across. I must have known because I packed 15 sizely books into my Solomon’s luggage and she motored through them all! Rumour has it (source: her husband) that when they first arrived, she was down to one book and had to ration the pages. Suffering from withdrawal symptoms she began pacing back and forth in the lounge, lost, directionless. Things are improving but we are not sure that “handing out” books is the solution to the problem. We are worried it may lead to a further entrenched dependency (with Lara asking for more and more books) but there is no easy answer.

Steve on the other hand has tendencies to gambling. It is a good thing we play with chips. If he and Kelly weren’t volunteers there could be room for concern. Always the first to casually suggest a night of poker and next thing you know, game on! It is man against man, in a battle of skill, risk and courage. They say in a developing country it is all about relationships, but there is no room for relationship-building here. On a positive note, he is a really helpful bloke. I have problematic toes (rather knobby and lanky) so using his talents in prosthetics; he gave me some firm but fair advice over one of Kelly’s beautifully cooked meals. You see, it might sound weird to you but the air in the Solomon Islands encourages conversation and lots of it and one easily forgets their inhibitions, resorting to engaging debate on toes and other quirky matters.

I know I know, I am going on and on and I haven’t even mentioned Kelly yet. Please don’t make a big thing of this but a couple of times Rob, Lara and I had to baby sit her while Steve was in Honiara. Babysitting a mid-twenty year old is an interesting job, requiring quite unique skills. It was a first for me but actually rather fun and I am wondering whether there is any employment in this area back in New Zealand? I don’t want to paint the wrong picture though… Kelly shows much maturity in other areas. She is a dedicated, hardworking and intelligent woman (making babysitting an intimidating job at times) so this should not remain too much of an issue.

Now that the truth is uncovered, you might be wondering what my business is, perhaps even thinking that this is all a bit cheeky? All in love, all in love. I may have even exaggerated a little.

My business in Auki for the past six weeks has been as a World Vision volunteer for the peace building project in Malaita. This has been a huge time of growing, learning and broadening my horizons. I have been honoured to share many experiences with team of other Solomon Island peace faciliators. However I will leave the details for another blog.

For now, Rodliea to the Solomon Islands and to the famous four (Rob, Lara, Kelly and Steve). So many fond memories and you will be in my thoughts and my prayers always. :)

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Englis as a shecond langwits

Many Solomon Islanders speak English to some degree, or understand it at a basic level. As usual, some idiosyncrasies of the indigenous languages creep into their spoken English, with entertaining results. (This entry is not made to mock individuals or people who must tackle English as a second language [ESL], but merely some frequently occurring and, I think, amusing observations.)

Plurals are a sticky area for even the more advanced ESL speaker. Here in the Solomons, nothing gets a plural unless it doesn’t need it: Kilu’ufi Hospital is the “head quarter” for provincial health care, the physiotherapy department needs some new “equipments”, and sometimes patients with leprosy come seeking funding so their “childrens” can attend school.

Solomon Islands Pijin originally did not have “sh” or “ch” sounds, but as English pervades the land and language, these sounds mean many Pijin words resemble more closely their English counterparts. When English is used, however, it often contains Pijin-type sounds, or an inconsistent combination of both languages. Usually, in church, we “worsip” God because we love Him so “muts”, but today we “shelebrate[d] Jesus” and His “aweshome majesty”. Get that?!

It’s always a “strungle” (struggle) to know whether to include or omit letter “m”’s and “n”’s from words. It seems that Solomon Islanders are all for literary equality: if September and November get an “m”, “Octomber” ought to as well.
Stay tuned for an upcoming entry on the six-days-a-week hilarity that comes free with the Solomon Star newspaper….written expression in a second language is even harder than verbal

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Dial-a-drama, part one.

Solomon Islands Telekom (recently re-branded “Our Telekom”) has a monopoly in the telecommunications industry. And we all know monopolies are bad – poor service, high prices, lack of innovation. I don’t care how badly we thought we had it in New Zealand before Telecom got competition, the Solomon Islands is unbelievable. The old adage that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry indeed applies to all dealings with Our Telekom. Extra time must be allowed for any interaction with them due to the frequent pauses you will take to gasp in disbelief at all of the above perils that accompany monopoly status.

The saga had its beginning in late October, when we attempted to get the telephone connected. The wires were already in place, but during housing renovations prior to our arrival, there had been some damage to the jack or something. It took three weeks for Our Telekom to fix this problem and connect the phone (the job took five minutes). Hooray, now we wouldn’t have to deal with them again for a long time…..or so we thought.

Several days prior to Christmas, the telephone stopped working, and we heard a “beep beep beep beep” every time we tried the handset. Steve duly went down to the Telekom office and informed them of the problem. Oh yes, they would send a technician out to fix it. We waited a week and a half (and missed talking to our families on Christmas Day as a result), and then Steve braved the office again. Oh yes, they would send someone that day to fix it. That day passed, and no technician had come. So, back to the office again. On this occasion, Steve was informed that our phone had been disconnected as we hadn’t paid the bill. The conversation went approximately along these lines:
Steve: Haven’t paid the bill? We haven’t received a bill!
Telekom man: We don’t send out bills.
Steve: Then why did you take a billing address when we paid for the connection? And I’ve seen bills at the hospital!
Telekom man: You have to come to the office by the 22nd of each month to pay the bill. Oh, but sometimes we send out bills.
Steve: So do you have a bill here for us?
Telekom man: No. We tried to call you.
Steve: We are at work during business hours. But we have an answering machine – you could have left a message.
Telekom man: [blank look].
Steve: You haven’t sent us a bill, and you don’t have a bill…. If we had a bill we would have paid it! Why did you disconnect us then?
Telekom man: The computer said you hadn’t paid. And now you need to pay a reconnection fee.
Steve: You didn’t mention any of the billing procedure when we got the connection, you haven’t told us what we owe, but you have disconnected us anyway. I’m not paying the reconnection fee because you made the mistake.
Telekom man: [nothing].

Steve returned home, frustrated but pleased to have received several words of thanks from locals also in the shop (probably overcharged, too) who overheard the exchange. About a week later, a bill arrived at the hospital (how about that), demanding a spectacular $800+ dollars for the month. And there was that pesky reconnection fee again! I was horrified, and checked the sub-totals, but disappointingly, they were correct. Steve looked at the bill in a little more detail, and worked out that the dial-up internet charges were not what we had been told. The quoted rate was 37c/minute (for an outrageously slow connection), yet quite a number of connections were charged at 75c/minute. Given that it may take a couple of minutes for a text-only webpage to load, this makes for very expensive Googling (and hence, no Facebook, people!). We deduced that there was an off-peak rate, and another for connections between 9:00am and 7:00pm. This called for another trip to Our Telekom’s office..

Steve: I’d like to speak to the manager
Telekom man: He’s still on holidays
Steve: Right, we received this bill, and it has a reconnection fee on it. Remember we agreed I wouldn’t pay it because you never sent us a bill?
Telekom man: The Honiara office says you have to pay it because you didn’t pay until after the date.
Steve: You didn’t tell us a date. You didn’t send us a bill! And another thing, we were told that dial-up internet is charged at 37 cents per minute. We have been charged 75 cents a minute for these connections [shows him the items on the bill].
Telekom man: Maybe the charges have gone up.
Steve: No they haven’t, look, it is 37 cents per minute for connections before 9:00am and after 7:00pm. This is not what we were told when we paid to connect to this service. I am not paying over $800 for a fee we shouldn’t have to pay, and charges that we weren’t fully informed of.
Telekom man: Well, if you want an adjustment to the charges, you need to calculate what you think was wrong and write a letter to the manager.
Steve: But isn’t it your job to do that? Surely you should be doing the calculations and bringing up the issue with your head office? Okay, I’ll pay the call charges today to avoid disconnection, but I won’t be paying that reconnection fee. And I’ll wait for the next bill for the adjustments then?
Telekom man: [nothing].

I guess now Our Telekom has decided we are in the select few who are sent a bill, we will see what horrendous charges next month will bring…Watch out for the next installments of the Our Telekom saga – what will the manager say? Will that crazy reconnection fee ever get wiped from our bill? Why do Telekom employees not know what an answering machine is? All that and more is in store, when Dial-a-drama continues.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Solomon Radio snippets

Just a quickie today about a few of the quirky comments we've heard on the national radio broadcast.

  • Kid’s Quiz time- The Question: The planet known for a ring around it is The Answer: Jupiter! (Please note most scientists believe it is Saturn).
  • I would walk 500 miles“ was recorded by the Pretenders (everywhere else it’s the Proclaimers).
  • Songs and their artists seem to become separated by the DJ’s. Which makes a great game of true & false.
  • “A plastic parcel on a bus heading towards King George, if see please report.”

Bushman Rob taking to the garden with a lethal bush knife (Christmas pressie!)

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Rainy season blues

The wet season has arrived with a vengeance, and we are told it won’t dry up until April. Some even say June, but I hope they are just people prone to exaggeration. Wet season brings with it entire days of rain, with only a couple of brief interludes where it spits a little rather than alternating between steady drizzle and thunderous downpours. A pattern will arise for a few days, making you think you have this rainy thing figured out, but then it changes again. Last week, it had taken to raining heavily in the early morning, and stopping between 7:30 and 7:40am, which is just the time I have to leave for work. As the week wore on, the rain became later, and I began to take some Solomon Island liberties and arrive twenty minutes or so late. (Not that it matters, given that I usually do some non-clinical computer work at home, and the boss is never there at 8:00 to explain that to anyway). We also had a few days where a storm would blow in during the early hours of the morning, and I would wake to the caress of the curtains on my face as they billowed and deflated with the incoming gusts. I started tying the curtains in knots to avoid being woken, but then of course the storms stopped coming in the night.

We usually have a beautiful view out over the ocean from home, and can see clearly the Florida Islands, and south-east, further offshore, the mountains of Guadalcanal. In the wet season, clouds blanket the mountains behind us and the sea in front. Instead of seeing the islands, we see one storm after another roll in from the ocean, heading sometimes south, sometimes north, and sometimes straight for us. The sea is as grey as the sky, and the Floridas, when visible, are another darker smudge on top of the sea. (there’s a gorgeous panorama of a storm rolling in over the Florida Islands on the website – unfortunately it’s been compressed, but the full-sized original is sensational in its detail and stunning in its contrasts…)

We have undoubtedly picked the wrong time of year to have the garden attended to, because removing the weeds has left large patches of mostly-bare dirt. These have turned into channels as the runoff takes the topsoil downhill with it. There is an amazing network of mini-canals that run down the hill under the house, similar to the marks left by a retreating wave on the wet sand. They all feed into our accidental water feature at the bottom of the garden – a murky moat forming around a coconut palm, and a two-metre shallow ditch runs perpendicular to that. We were at Rob and Lara’s place yesterday, and they had an area in the yard about one metre in diameter that rippled constantly, a few centimeters deep in water, like some sort of misplaced desert hallucination.

The dirt-and-limestone roads have all the same things happening, and are incredibly slippery after even a quick tropical downpour. I have daily catastrophic visions of potential injuries as my bicycle and I hurtle down the hill toward the sealed main road, however we have yet to part company in an uncontrolled manner. The route from the hospital entrance around the back to the physiotherapy department is quite perilous, and guarantees mud splatters over one’s lower half – the almost-permanent puddles have doubled in size and are likely home to legally-sized fish, the once-safe, drier side of the road is now slushy and the bike slides alarmingly with attempts to steer. Where I leave the road to ride down to the department, the grass now conceals a two-centimetre layer of water that splashes up, perhaps to dilute the mud acquired on the earlier part of the journey? And once I pull up under cover, the mosquitoes, loving the damp, swarm to greet me. Every morning is now predictably muddy and itchy.

The roads have deep open drains dug along each side, which is eminently sensible for the conditions. At this time of year, they gush, sometimes a couple of feet deep, with rapids that would be at least grade two. The frogs faithfully perpetuate their species, and in the dry season, leave masses of tadpoles and tiny frogs congregate in the permanently wet parts of the drains. The current flow rate means they must live and develop elsewhere, but there is no shortage of suitably moist locations. I am sure that I have inadvertently crushed many a tiny frog in my travels this month, because everywhere is a puddle for them to play in – be it road, footpath or grass.

But most devastating, we feel, is the fading of our tans. All the rain means very little sun, and therefore I fear my usual ghostly pallor is returning. Living in the tropics, the flipside of all the sweating and heat is that for the first time in a long time, I actually look alive. I know it doesn’t sound very sun-smart, but the sun does not fry you viciously as in Australia or New Zealand. It has been a lovely change not to be the same shade of white as my t-shirt. However, the sun is out today, so I’m going to get me some.

The friendly little geckos thrive on all the bugs that come inside when it's wet...

These ugly little fellas are everywhere - particularly when it pours!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Friends, and the sounds of heaven

We've been to a few different churches here with the singing a taste of heaven! I've never experienced the people drowning out the instruments before! While singing this Sunday it really felt like Psalm 98:4 was actually happening -- “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth”.
Luscious tropical fauna and foliage burst forth colour and beauty both in and outside the church, the cooling breeze spread it’s blessings, flies buzzed around encouraging the swaying of people, whose voices and hands joined in praise . . . while a huge frog hip-pit-ty hopped to the front, then headed for the great outdoors. Great opportunity to read Psalm 148!

Gestures of Friendship in the Solomons
The international signs of friendship are present in smiles, giggles and chatting. The more cultural specific holding the wrist of a friend (of the same gender) while talking or holding their hand while walking. The exchange of gifts from baskets, to coconuts and bananas remains timeless. Traditionally the sharing of betel nut as an expression of friendship and trust on certain occasions now lost it’s significant as it’s become a common habit. Adorning each other’s heads or necks with flower wreaths and checking for lice -appears to be more a feminine gesture.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Solomon Star (newspaper)

Having travelled around the world it fascinates me what is considered ‘news worthy’. And how the media is utilised. So here are some snippets from the Solomon Star newspaper. The majority of the Christmas editions were dedicated for businesses, government departments and non-governmental organisations to write Christmas and New Year blessings.

International news includes NZ woman with text message thumb, Japan to build elderly-friendly jails and stolen boomerang comes back.

Advertising uncovers a goldmine of information. No fashion or clothes appear anywhere, but new and used vehicles dominate.

Lists of names appear announcing students with successful schooling qualifications to listing people’s job interview times with the lucky candidate identified in a following edition. Private views are commonly expressed from anonymous authors expressing concern about the corruption of managers of the national soccer team and identifying their own preferred players, to a previously convicted criminal writing a half a page article to defend his reputation when arrested by police and later released without charge.

Public notices also appear from matters of administer the estate of the deceased, hurricane warnings to timetables of sports leagues and entertainment clubs.

‘Street talk’ is a column which asks the option of different members of the public (photos included). The following is a 12-13 year old boy’s comment on –
How about the soccer riots?
“I think that in future soccer tournaments, they should have shared it to the provinces. This is because of neutrality. There are many soccer fans in the provinces that would like to see quality soccer. Therefore, by decentralising soccer to the other parts of the country, I hope that we will have the chance of avoiding riots.” Mmm . . . those are definitely the words of a preadolescent male!

Delightful quote:
“The southern provinces [of the Solomon Islands] are no longer a threat to cyclone Funa.”

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Solomon Sandwich

Mmm feeling like a sandwich you go to the fridge. Oh dear there’s no more bread. At this point many may turn back and make do with lunching on pineapple, pawpaw and watermelon. But if not . . . the next option would be to check out the hot bread shop. Luckily for us we can look out our bathroom window to see it’s red door which confirms what we already assumed – it’s closed (just like the last 2 months).
Only those craving for bread (and Auki AVI volunteers) would continue on to the next stage . . . making the bread. Equipped with bread recipe (starting to become second nature) the process starts. Shifting the flour is a necessary inclusion as it captures the weevils, bugs and occasional string. Even with this slight movement sweat rolls down your face. Depending on if your recipe requires milk powder or milk you will be making up the milk as more often than not, it too has run out. As the geckos chuckle from their vantage point oil is substituted for butter, extra yeast added for bread improver and you circumnavigate the rice in the salt which is trying to absorb the moisture from the air. Mixing completed, the bread is left to rise. 1½ hours later into the oven. Technical hitches threaten in the form of ovens that only do one temperature, the size of oven so small that the top of the bread may stick to the grill and gas that may run out at any time.

You sniff the air. . . aaaaah scent from heaven! And Volia!! 3 hours later your sandwich! It sure tastes great after all that work.

Monday, 14 January 2008

looking through the window

Looking through ‘the windows’ during “Playschool” brings back memories of anticipation and excitement. And now in our new house we have our own Solomon magic window. And from our window what can we see . . .
Canoes surfing on the reef.
A fight starting at the market place.
If the hot bread shop is open!
The fire engines lights flashing in it’s stop by the police station.
A man dressed in black cowboy hat, black with gold glitter cowboy shirt and trousers with sandals.
And a view worth millions!!!
So from our picture what can you see . . .

The view from Rob & Lara's over Auki town. A storm hits the Florida Islands in the distance, and Lilisiana fishing village settles down for the night...
The same storm as seen from Steve & Kel's

Lilisiana fishing village from Rob & Lara's deck


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