Christmas Remembered - Quincy Beck Singing
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Papua New Guinea
Hello, good friends
8 Sept/06 � the anniversary: one year ago today we arrived on Guadalcanal.
Even so, we�re more in touch with our home-roots now � because we just got broad-band internet at the office, which allows us to see news at the CBC and Globe & Mail and PEI Guardian. Here, too, is a small-world symptom about websites ... Got an email from a man in Australia who has applied for a job here in Honiara, and wanted to know about things like shopping and toilets. He said he�d learned much about Solomons life from our blog. �What?� we wrote back, �What’s this about a blog?’ His answer: evidently he and his wife (who is somehow involved in entertainment) had searched for theatre stuff, and up had come the PEI-ACT website, where (as we ourselves just discovered because of our new broad-band access) our ‘SI reports’ have been appearing.
People have been complaining about abnormally rough seas, which have been causing a lot of sea-sickness and some cancellations because the two fast ships (as opposed to the old clunkers) were really built for Chinese rivers.
That has complicated the travel of our literacy organization�s field coordinators who have been making their way to Honiara for next week�s annual general meeting and workshops. Things have been hopping in the office as they come in to chat. There is certainly an atmosphere of excitement as things _seem_ to be getting going again ... and I guess we two are the only ones who realize how superficial the �new life� is that we allegedly are breathing into LASI: we are still miles away from retraining teachers, producing learning materials and firing-up villages to restart their local classes. But we keep plugging away.
Our children have been on the move or active this past two weeks: Ken and Wakako respectively back from work in the Dominican Republic and from a work-term in Japan; Graham from an opera program in Banff where he and his brother Alec hung out together; Meg and Chris pretty occupied with their newborn daughter Isla.
Social activity has been good ... A game of Scrabble and dinner with young couple James & Izumi ... Our theatre group put on a murder-mystery dinner � for which we got together a table of 8 and all dressed up as passengers on the 1940 �Last Train from Paris�.
With another very pleasant couple we had an interesting outing to Tabalia, an hour’s drive northwest of Honiara � the centre for the Melanesian Brotherhood. This is an order of Anglican ‘monks’ which has been around since the 1920s. They take vows of poverty, celibacy and service, and make commitments in 3-year periods. There is huge respect for them in the Solomons, and a mythology has grown up around them � example: crossing rivers on the backs of crocodiles. That happened particularly during the time of the Ethnic Tension (the 99-03 civil war) � when they acted as peace-makers, and everyone believed that they could literally stop bullets with the staffs they carry. To cap it off, 7 of them became martyrs when they tried to spend time with the somewhat crazy leader of one of the rogue militias. They are renowned singers, too, and that’s why some expats (us, for instance) like to attend a 7:00 am church service at Tabalia. After the 1-3/4 hour service, we shared breakfast with the trainees and leaders � we took bread, jam etc. as a ‘treat’ instead of the usual crackers or rice which they might eat. On the way back, we stopped at a secluded beach for swimming, storying and a late-morning tea with snack. A very worthwhile time indeed.
We have company: our CUSO pal Laurie is with us for her last few weeks before going home to Canada (she�ll be going from South Pacific sun to the start of winter on Baffin Island!). We�ve been planting: (i) orchids, along a fence a young neighbour and I built; (ii) some frangi-pani; (iii) pansies and lupins! (seeds sent from home).
Health: besides a bothersome bee-sting, Mar has had her fourth cold in a year; Rob had an ear-ache; each of us had one day of feeling punk ... but otherwise we are amazingly healthy, while people all around us are getting malaria and pneumonia, especially in the cool, wet weather we�ve had for about two months. We figure we owe a lot to the doxycycline antibiotic we take as a malaria preventative � it must kill off a lot of germs as well as the malaria parasite.
Political ridiculousness continues ... The Prime Minister has been using a discredited crooked lawyer-adviser and writing letters to the newspaper to fight his own Government�s Attorney General over the issue of a commission of inquiry about the April riots � into which he (the PM) sneaked some terms of reference which would try to show that the police and judicial system were wrong in arresting the known criminal who just happens to be the man he (the PM) appointed Minister of Security and Police, after this man was jailed on a charge of inciting the riots!
Let�s talk about our trip to Papua New Guinea. In 1972 we asked CUSO to post us to PNG, but at that time they didn�t want to place families with children there. Well, we finally made it 34 years later. We just spent a week there, on the northern coast in a small city called Madang. Lovely place: lagoons in town, big shade and flowering trees, everything clean!! Mar, as representative of volunteers in Solomon Islands, was involved in Asia-Pacific regional meetings of CUSO. I tagged along as a tourist: took in the cultural centre; good market with vegetables from the highlands (including broccoli and cauliflower � our first in a year!); several supermarkets (got dip for the veggies); second-hand clothing shop � got a shirt for Cdn 80 cents; harbour cruise and snorkelling; lots of storying with people around town; a productive afternoon with a respected literacy and community-development trainer.
The two of us, together with assorted other CUSO people, also dined well � would you believe fresh strawberries from the highlands! We bought some of the famous �bilum� woven/crocheted bags and hats and �Sepik� baskets. We learned lots from representatives of Vanuatu, PNG, Java and East Timor. We spent an evening in a village, eating custom-food and being entertained at a �sing-sing� � a group of drumming-and-chanting dancers in dramatic traditional dress of grass skirts, feathers, shells, carved head-dresses, etc. We all finished off with a picnic and swim on a beach beside the island where a Pierce Brosnan movie (Robinson Crusoe) was filmed, hosted by all the family members of the PNG participants.
- Frequent sound of laughter, especially women ... the state broadcasting company calls itself �Radio Happy Isles�, and generally that�s true.
- Occasional lack of consideration, despite living so close together � a blaring radio after 10 pm or at 5:30 am
- The smell of copra � coconut meat being dried: like a cake baking
- The pathetic look of our sandals, again and again wired back together in various places
- The contrast of atmospheres between the Solomons and PNG where everyone seems to live in fear of violence and theft by �rascals�. Even in relatively peaceful Madang, we were discouraged to find that security guards and dogs are everywhere; at the exits of the supermarkets, they not only check bags ... but even pat down some of the departing shoppers.
- Our CUSO conference van with different interactions among the languages taking place in every seat: SI and PNG and Vanuatu versions of Pijin, English, Indonesian, Javanese ... a delightful Babel or mini-UN
- The radiant smile of Janet, our ?mid-50s neighbour, the one who, despite her heaviness, is one of the hardest-working people we know ... always weeding, planting, making our valley prettier
- The �posse� of little (and sometimes bigger) kids who walk up and down the new cement walk-way along the side of our house and gather, for instance, to watch us plant or help us water and get a drink of juice.
- The roar of the Qantas jet which just swooped over our house, reminding us of our arrival a year ago, and the fact that we�re now into the second half of our adventure.
As usual, a reminder that we also like to get news back ... and promise to write a more personal note and send a photo.
Good wishes, from Rob & Mar