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 CafĂ©, 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.]

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