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..


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