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.


Add yourself to our guestbook each time you drop in!