Community Theatre Festival 2016 - Lord Byron's Love Letter
ACT Out / Away
Monday, April 06, 2009
Reading Club and ACT Out
The next theatre reading will take place on Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m. in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. We will be reading “Belle Moral ” by Ann-Marie MacDonald.
For those of you interested in an ACT-OUT, we will be meeting for supper at Mavor’s Bistro and Bar at 5:30
Please contact me if you plan to attend the supper and/or the reading so I can make arrangements for both.
Theatre reading: ACT members: free. Non-members: $2.00
Hope to see you there!
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Monday, August 06, 2007
Schools Drama Project in the Solomon Islands with support from ACT
This is a good-news story. Over the past three months, an excellent thing has happened in Honiara in the Solomon Islands. It came to fruition on Thursday evening, 7 June. It was the HAMS Inter-School Drama Competition.
HAMS is our Honiara community-theatre group. Its main activity has been to put on two or three comedies a year, chiefly for the adult expatriate audience. We decided to do something different—to reach out into the community, to promote drama in the local elementary schools while bannering the Environment as a critical issue for the people of this South-Pacific archipelago.
The project was led by a chap in the British High Commission here. He was prompted by his teenage son who had seen the success of a similar competition (in a different field) in the UK. About ten others of us pitched in to help with planning and arrangements, and to serve as ‘mentors’, assisting the schools who took part. Sponsors included a bank, a computer company, conservation agencies and others—plus Prince Edward Island’s own ACT (a community theatre), which covered transportation costs for the school drama groups.
The competition worked like this ...
- The challenge was to create a 10-minute play—to develop the ideas, write the script, make the costumes, props and set (with a grant of about 14 Canadian dollars!), and present the drama using 6 or 8 pupils plus a 2-person stage-crew. The play was to have a strong societal-improvement purpose, deriving from the general theme of protecting the environment.
- Everything had to be done by the students themselves—at the grade 4, 5, 6 level—under the guidance of their teachers and with advisory help from the HAMS mentors. We arranged with WWF (World-Wide Fund for Nature) education specialists to visit each participating school to get the ideas flowing.
- All elementary schools in Honiara were invited to take part; 6 took up the challenge, and that turned out to be a perfect number.
There was a burst of creative energy over a three-month period. Besides the weekly work in a classroom or under the canopy of a giant rain-tree, each school had a day at the HAMS theatre for rehearsals and the chance to do some fund-raising, while showing off their play to classmates and parents. At a dress-rehearsal run-through, all the kids had a grand time watching each other’s plays.
Then came the gala performance evening. The theatre was full: the Lord Mayor of Honiara, diplomatic officials, the Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister, teachers, school-mates, parents and ‘wantok’ (kinfolk) plus a surprising number of people from the general public. Scores of student actors and assistants clustered outside, waiting for their turn on the stage.
What a show they put on. We were all astonished at the level of acting skill, the creative genius of the costumes and set, the provocative impact of the environmental messages about beating the degradation of clear-cut logging, thoughtless rubbish and dynamite fishing.
The prizes went home with a good spread over all six schools—certificates, trophies, computers ... for costuming, set, stage-crew, actor, actress, group acting, script, overall production/performance, and ‘spirit of the competition’.
The other outcomes were probably more important than the awards.
- A lot of publicity gave profile for the schools, for HAMS, for the idea of grass-roots theatre, and of course for protecting the environment.
- Participation: about 60 pupils were performers and stage-hands; dozens more got in on the action of developing the scripts, costumes, props, set and whatnot. About 15 teachers volunteered for the experience of learning and leading; most started in a rather shy or modest way, to be honest ... but then grew and grew in enthusiasm, imagination, responsibility and pride.
- We found that there is a great pool of dramatic talent and imagination among Solomon Island youngsters, and this developed enormously during these few months.
- What else developed was confidence and self-esteem. White River School is the outstanding example. A disadvantaged school in several ways, it found this project a big challenge ... and then factors like missing set and costumes contributed to a disheartening dress rehearsal. The kids bounced back two days later with a final show that had the audience rocking; that put mile-wide smiles on the students’ faces ... which lit up even more as they took home the computer for ‘Best Spirit of the Competition.’
Environment is crucially important in the Solomons. The effects of shifting from age-old customs to ‘western ways’ and of pillaging the forests and reefs have been killing the capacity of land-and-sea resources to sustain the people’s traditional subsistence living. The plays made the problems concrete and visually demonstrated that solutions are within reach.
There is no shortage, though, of other serious problems—urban drift, political instability, land tenure, inter-ethnic tensions, haphazard education and such. So there is ample potential for using ‘popular theatre’ as an instrument for guiding people to recognize and analyze an issue and feel their way toward remedial action ... and there is no reason to omit children from that process.
We can be almost certain that the HAMS Inter-School Drama Competition will become an annual activity.
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Saturday, August 04, 2007
This is our final monthly newsletter from the Solomon Islands—the 22nd to record our two years here which began on September 8th 2005.
Bae mitufala go finis fofala dei moa: four days from now we will take off from Henderson Airport. That is, by the way, the air-field which, because of its strategic significance in the Japanese spread across the South Pacific and southern Asia, was the cause of the horrific battles of Guadalcanal which made this place the grave for over 40,000 soldiers and sailors.
Much of our stay here has been (to put it in a best-possible light) ‘challenging’. We look back at the first half-year especially—at ‘aggrimatization’ to the filth of Honiara, the power and water outages, and particularly the total mess into which we stumbled at work, where no one had been doing anything for a couple of years and no one (employees, Director, Board, CUSO) seemed to be terribly bothered by that ... and we wonder: -...Why did we ever stay? Why did we bother trying?
Some things have improved. Power and water go off only about twice or three times a week. We no longer smell burning plastic so much and the rubbish covering everything is probably only about 65% of what it was, now that the town has some erratic garbage collection. We haven’t had a loot-and-burn riot in over a year ... although Chinatown (through which we walk twice a day) is still an empty un-rebuilt shell. Politics are still pretty ridiculous, to the point of some scariness, but the Solomons Prime Minister and Australia are still, for all their angry bickering, maintaining some sort of relationship.
But two kinds of thing keep us discouraged.
- Some significant attributes of Solomon Islands ‘culture’—particularly the (non-) work ethic of a majority of people and the attitude of dependency:—You white men are good at that; we black men are no good at it; we need you white men to do it—and the assumption that if something needs to be done, AusAid, the EU or Taiwan will fund it, and someone like the UN (or CUSO) will send ‘experts’ to do it.
- Which leads us to our work and the fate of LASI, our Literacy Association. The good news is that the new Finance & Administration person is competent: those aspects of LASI will run smoothly. But ... How telling it was, what our Director said in a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago: “Thanks to Rob & Mar for helping me ... when they go, I’ll have to find someone else to help me.” He has learned virtually nothing, and what he said reflected that he has had no concept (despite all our attempts at training / ‘skills-transfer’) that he should be learning ... There’s a presumption that there will always be someone else who will tell him how to manage. Then there’s Alex—the fellow hired in January as the literacy professional ... one of the three persons in the Solomons with a year’s formal training. What emerged a few weeks ago was that he (i) had reverted to porn-site addiction; (ii) had hugely mismanaged LASI money on his training trips; (iii) had, for all the typing he seemed to do, produced nothing of what he was assigned. He did give training to many of our field coordinators and about 150 village teachers, so that was an achievement. But quite sensibly, the Board fired him ... which means that after 2 years we’re back to square one, having no capacity to provide training and other literacy services. Aaaarrrrggggh.
Finished up in a more positive way with our HAMS theatre group—orchestrated the AGM, got a new constitution adopted and a strong executive committee in place. I can feel good about the theatre work—the comedy shows and other events like coffee nights, and especially the wonderful Schools Drama Competition we put on.
My (R’s) health has been a bother: a 2-day flu, mild food poisoning, cellulitis in an infected leg, ear infection again. Physical wreck. But we’ve been enjoying the cooler nights—three when we turned off the fan!
Family news ... Daughter Meg and Chris this week moved into their new house in Barrhead Alberta, and Chris is doing well at learning RCMP techniques in actual practice. Ken is traveling again, this week in Germany or Switzerland. Graham and Suzy have finished their Italian classes in Sienna and are touring for a couple of weeks. Alec and Allana are busy helping her brother Jimmy and his fiance plan their October wedding. We look forward to seeing them all in a few months.
Predictably, we’ve been socializing quite a bit in these final few weeks. A big farewell dinner at a hotel with representatives of all the various literacy agencies. Lunches with Paula, the CUSO office person. Dinners, big and small, with some of our favourite expat pals ... and even some new ones—example: Australian physician who practised in Saskatchewan; Malaysian epidemiologist working on malaria eradication. A ‘farewelling’ ceremony with songs and gifts and food, at one of our literacy schools.
Perhaps the most meaningful goodbye gathering is this afternoon (Sunday) when our neighbours from the half-dozen houses in our little valley - probably about 50 men, women and pikininis— will gather around our house for a ‘go-finis’ party, a sort of potluck at which we will barbecue hamburgers and the others will bring Solomons kai-kai of various kinds—kumara, taro, fish, cassava pudding, slippery cabbage, etc.
- all the greens of our valley—clover, shrubs, palm, frangipani, papaya, banana, cassava, etc.
- picking ants out of the cereal and off the toothbrush
- Solomon Islanders (most of them) are perhaps not so great at _doing_ and producing results ... but they are very good at _being_, at ‘storying’ and enjoying one another and being happy
- a comic note—a sermon at church ... the guy said that Islanders were just too busy; they needed to slow down!
- residue of Brit / Aussie vocabulary: you ‘ring someone on 22850’ (vs call them at ...)
- in Aussie vocabulary you ‘farewell’ someone (vs say good-bye)
- all toilets offer a sensible choice of full- or half-flush
- the scampering across our floors, walls, ceilings: geckos and big hunting spiders
- the mud on and in everything, after two or three days of rain
- more interesting Islander names: Tango, Relent, Styistel, Netherlyn, Modesta
So ... as we wend our way through Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan ... and Alberta (all those exotic places with inscrutable people!), we’ll be out of touch. We’ll land on good ol’ PEI on Tuesday, September 18th (phone # 902-628-6778)... bringing this 2-year adventure to a close, and opening up a fresh chapter. Thank you for allowing us to share our experiences with you.
Rob & Mar
Friday, July 13, 2007
Coming for a visit to my favorite island
I just wanted to let my favorite Island people know that I am coming for a visit (for the first time since I left three years ago!) in August and would love to see everyone. I am looking forward to seeing how my students have grown and what everyone is up to. I’ll be there between August 6 and 16th. I’ll be staying with Norman and Phyllis Hall in Charlottetown. My e-mail is also an easy way to get a hold of me.
I hope all is well. I can’t wait for some fresh Island air!
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Rob and Mar Update
For those who have been worring about Rob and Mar on the Solomon Islands, rest easy! They are not there and so have not been in any danger from the earthquakes and tsunami. Mar’s father has passed away recenly, so they had returned to the Niagara for the funeral. Rob is planning on returning a few days after Easter and Mar will join him a few weeks later.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Canadian Culture Sweeps the Globe
Hello, good friends
Surprise, surprise: here in the South Pacific, March came in like a lamb—a hot lamb. And we expect it to go out without any leonine blizzards.
On the work front, we seem to have a balance of advance and setback. With our very-active new Program and Training Coordinator in place, we gave a two-week re-training session to about half of our field coordinators (who oversee groups of local village literacy schools). They are headed home to make arrangements for teacher training in their areas over the next few months. It’s great that LASI is at last doing something beyond getting itself organized, something that will have practical results for reading and writing and numeracy in the villages.
The setback could be called ‘The case of the disappearing candidate’. Last month we advertised our other big vacant position, Finance & Administration Officer. We, along with several other NGOs, got little or no response. Our short-listing of five applicants left over from an earlier recruitment had these results:
- Applicant # 1 - screened out: a) no academic credentials; b) glowing letter of reference - written by his father (an ex-member of parliament)
- Applicant #2 works for the NGO that owns our building; we know they demoted him because of total non-performance of duties
- Applicant #3—dates looked fishy—e.g. graduated from college at 14 ... we realize all his certificates have been faked.
We arrange interviews for the two remaining ...
- Candidate #1 can’t handle the practical test and is pathetic in the interview. They ask why he does not list in his work-record his time at a certain office; after all, the owner was named as a reference and provided testimony that, for example, ‘He always comes to work on time.’ It emerges that the guy never worked there, and the owner is his uncle.
- Candidate #2 (the last hope) calls in sick and we reschedule for the next day. He arrives 15 minutes early; Mar chats him up a bit, then asks him to wait a few minutes while the panel gets ready. 10 minutes later they go to get him—he’s gone! A full search (even including nearby betel-nut stands!) fails to find him. Was Mar that scary?!
I should mention the other big setback: this month LASI‘s board of directors ignored all the evidence and our warnings about the need for performance appraisal, and renewed the Director’s contract. We are not confident (to say the least) about LASI‘s sustainability beyond our departure in mid-August.
Our organization, mind you, is better off than many. The director is completely trustworthy (though naive) with regard to money. A previous finance officer was either incompetent or a bit of a thief, but the disappearing money was on a small scale. Down the hall from us is a non-profit company which has the laudable role of marketing timber which has been harvested by villages in an ecologically friendly manner. Today we have learned that it has been crippled by malfeasance—tens of thousands of dollars have evaporated ... and this is the 3rd time this has happened in a year and a half! It seems endemic in the SI society, from top to bottom, in NGOs and government departments and corporations: people will steal for themselves or to play the helpful big-man with their wantok (kinfolk) ... and they are almost never held to account. There’s a toleration or resignation about it being natural, no matter how much people mouth anti-corruption platitudes. People have often told us: ‘Only you white-men can control money.’
On the brighter side ... Originally this CUSO posting was supposed to be about drama training for literacy teachers. That didn’t happen. But I have done several drama training sessions outside of LASI, and we’re into another one now: our HAMS community theatre group is putting on a schools drama competition, and several of us are acting as mentors, to help teachers and kids create and perform a short play about the environment.
Health ... we bragged about how healthy we’ve been. This month, though, I’ve been humbled.
First I wounded my tummy with a machete; then I had a day of flu; just now I have suffered several days of rather challenging pain from an ear infection. Mar, on the other hand, has continued healthy ... maybe it’s because cross-stitching is preventive or therapeutic.
Socially ... Our HAMS community theatre group put on a successful coffee + music-and-more evening and is planning a regular film night. Several visits by neighbourhood girls to chat. Supper here for two good friends; suppers hosted by two other sets of friends, one including videos of British and Canuck TV comedies (the Brits didn’t laugh at the Saskatchewan humour of ‘Corner Gas’.) Lucky we have books and cross-stitching and friends ... because our computer screen has been acting up so badly that we can’t watch TV episodes or movies.
Two ‘cultural’ things:
- A village wedding—wow, can Solomon Islanders ever put on a meal: our friend who was organizing this said it was going to be just a simple village party ... it was a magnificent seaside feast for about 500 people!
- An international soccer match: Fiji against a SI team (of which a friend of ours is goal-keeper)—‘we’ lost, but it was a good game and a good experience.
Politically ... Parliament closed without a promised vote of non-confidence taking place, and so tension didn’t bubble up too badly. However, the PM continues to insult and throw innuendo against Australia and the Aus-led police and aid mission ... and Australia refuses to apologize for writing an open letter urging Solomon Islanders to hold their Government accountable for its failures.
Nice: we got a grand Care parcel from Crystal (the PEI woman who came with us for a 6-month CUSO stint—which seems years ago)—things like oregano, pot scrubbers, anti-dog-howl-and-nightclub earplugs!
- Two traffic fatalities (pedestrians) last week—that’s virtually unheard of: mostly Honiara’s roads don’t allow anyone to develop enough speed to do any real harm
- One person doing another’s hair—whether making fancy braid patterns ... or else picking lice
- Easy snacking: people just use a stick to knock a star-fruit (‘5-corner’ in Pijin) out of the tree
- Tuna season seems to have restarted: only a few fishing ships are left in Honiara harbour to light up our night-time view
- Australian soldiers walking about, on patrol, but looking more like a pack of teenage boys with nothing better to do ... Trouble is, they’re toting monster guns, at a time when there’s been this big controversy about giving guns to SI police units—it strikes us as offensive
- Regrettably common: men drinking beer at 7 o’clock in the morning
- Men (and children) saying ‘Hello Rob’ even though it’s both Rob and Mar they are greeting ... when Mar is alone, they do say hello to her
- The friendly good cheer of the folks at the QQQ shop which we drop into almost every afternoon on our way to the Chinatown bus-stop—Matthew the Chinese Australian, Andy and Luz the delightful Philippinos, and the smiling Solomon Islander staff ... We get the same pick-me-up atmosphere at our next usual stop, Jennie and Chin’s shop, as we get set to climb the hill to home
- Garlands of clustered white flowers hanging down in profusion from ‘cut-nut’ trees, bees humming all around them
Oh ... why does the title say that Canadian culture is sweeping the globe? 1) The SI broadcasting corporation has played songs by Gordon Lightfoot and Ann Murray 2) For the re-training workshop, I taught our field coordinators a new literacy-teaching song—‘Alouette’ ... rendered in English and Pijin [‘Pretty birdie, bae mi kukim iu ... Bae mi outim hed blong iu ...’] A hit: the coordinators chose to present this as their entertainment for the wrap-up ‘graduation’ ceremony.
Good wishes to you. Hope your March goes out like a lamb.
Rob & Mar
Saturday, December 09, 2006
December SI update
I’ll come back to the NZ trip, but let’s start with a few notes about the latter part of October, before we went away. Mar was getting into a new cross-stitch piece; I was doing lots of work, some on the set but mostly publicity, for our community theatre production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” which is playing this weekend. I also gave a weekend workshop on drama to a group of young people. The two of us gave sections of a workshop for the new board of directors of our literacy organization.
There were a few more political-legal shenanigans—the Australian-led police arrested a government Minister for obstructing their investigation, and also seized a fax machine from the Prime Minister’s office, which drove the PM crazy; he succeeded in forcing the Solicitor General (a friend of ours) to go home to Australia, and tried to get rid of the Police Commissioner—but then things calmed down ... and the political news these days is almost boring. Ah well, let Fiji have its turn.
A fine Sunday at the end of October—with a friend-couple to church at the headquarters of the Melanesian Brothers (the guys everyone holds in awe) an hour northwest of Honiara. Surprise: we found it was a special day for installing a new group of ‘graduating’ brothers and also three of them as deacons. So we had the Archbishop and a group of impressive custom dancers and hundreds and hundreds of well-wishers. Then we drove further over a track for swimming/snorkelling on the reef - saw the 60-year-old remnants of a Japanese submarine. Picnicking and storying with a most interesting bunch of about ten people—people who have lived in Beijing, Nigeria, PNG, Darfur-Sudan, Albania, Pakistan, Malawi, etc. etc.
Company: for several days in late October we had the CUSO family (with their 3-year-old) who now live on Tetepare (the nature-reserve island we visited last Christmas) ... and now we have our pal Laurie for a few weeks—the ex-CUSO who went to live on Baffin Island ... she’s doing a contract job about designation of a Solomon island as a world heritage site.
Work: a week back in the office reminds us of the discouragement. We made a list of all the things which LASI (because of us) achieved in 2006, and we have to admit it looks fairly impressive ... but we can see that while this has saved LASI from death, (i) it has so far done virtually nothing for the actual delivery of literacy in communities; and (ii) it probably won’t last a month beyond our departure.
Another gripe: our water supply has reverted to total unpredictability. Oh, one more gripe: have we told you it’s hot in the Solomons?!
The main news this month is our 4-week holiday in New Zealand. Wow, it was great! Second-best country in the world, we figure. We flew into Christchurch and joined brother Jay and Shirley for a week of the South Island. So dramatically beautiful—the mountains, lakes, gushing rivers, hillside paddocks full of sheep, forests, even lots of lupins! What was so nice: four weeks of being _cool_, especially in the South. Indeed, even though summer was beginning, we spent several evenings sitting by a fire ... and had one day of snow!! Lake Tekapo, Arrowtown, Queenstown ... an overnight cruise on the magnificent Doubtful Sound in Fiordland. Te Anau, Wanaka, across the Southern Alps to the rainy west coast and its two glaciers ... On northward to Hokitika, then back across the mountains to Christchurch again, where we struck out on our own for another week on the South Island. Everywhere the glorious display—and smell—of roses. French-flavoured Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula which encloses the huge sea-filled crater of an ancient volcano. Kaikoura farther up the east coast where we cruised to see two mammoth sperm whales and a pod of 150 leaping dolphins. Back westward via Hanmer Springs, to the northwest corner of the South Island, the Abel Tasman national park ... then Nelson and Blenheim, one of the wine districts.
It always seemed to take twice as long as expected to drive anywhere—there is scarcely a straight road in the country—everywhere the narrow road clings to the edge of a hill or mountain. (I only drove on the right [i.e. wrong] side of the road once.
Half-way through, we took the 3-hour ferry [PEI Islanders take a ferry whenever they can] across to the North Island. And there we were joined for ten great days by eldest son Ken, who was on his way home from a sports tournament (Ultimate frisbee) in Australia. In Wellington, the capital, we browsed the botanical gardens and Te Papa, the grand national museum. On to Hastings and Napier for vineyards and astonishing art-deco architecture (because the towns were destroyed by a 1931 earthquake and rebuilt all in one style). From beautiful Lake Taupo in the central North Island, northward to two thermal areas at Orakei Korako and Rotorua, where you walk through bubbling hot mud springs and geysers. North past Auckland to the ‘Kauri coast’ on the west side of the northern peninsula, where we saw a fantastic museum all about these astonishing Kauri trees—second biggest in the world, after sequoia: they grow to 30 metres high, 5 metres in diameter, over 1500 to 2000 years; huge logs of ‘swamp kauri’, still usable for carving, are dug up from where they have been lying for 45,000 years! Seeing the big ones in the forest was truly awe-inspiring. At Waitangi, we got the history of the 1840 treaty-signing between the British Queen and Maori chiefs; this is considered to be a sort of cradle of the nation. We did a big-city day in Auckland (1.3 million). Then, having sent Ken on his way, we went round the Coromandel Peninsula and on to a village near Tauranga where we stayed with the daughter of our Solomon Island neighbour. We flew ‘home’ from Auckland on December 2nd.
What variety. We saw sheep-shearing ... soaked in hot springs ... climbed the face of a glacier ... took boat cruises ... hiked (NZealanders call it ‘tramping’) a half-day each on the Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte tracks and in the Wither Hills ... learned lots in a fun way at two Maori cultural presentations ... kayaked and sailed a catamaran ... tasted and lunched at wineries ... bought sandals, a lamp, some books, a Kentucky Fried Chicken lunch (!) A real treat: a cheap phone card which let us call all our kids and Mar’s Dad several times.
Especially because of the contrast with Honiara, NZ is so clean, so orderly ... and people everywhere are so friendly, so courteous, so unpretentious, so ... well, almost Canadian!
- Quite a few Solomon Islanders can readily lie and commit fraud, but the honesty of others can be so refreshing: one day in market I twice forgot to pick something up I’d paid for ... and someone came looking for me to give it to me. That sort of thing has happened to us a number of times, even with a wad of hundreds of dollars.
- Ants: you have to check your toothbrush before you apply the toothpaste
- Snoring: we do it less in this climate for some reason
- In NZ, as we wore shoes for the first time in 14 months, we found that our feet had changed shape
- Suddenly a Christmas carol starts up at the door: a group of young fellows with a couple of guitars has come to give a little serenade.
- ‘Christmas trees’: so-named because this is when they bloom (they are flamboyant or flame trees in other countries), and are they ever starting to bloom—what a glorious brightening-up of Honiara
Daughter Meg has sent us another sort of Christmas tree—a 10-inch plastic one ... plus a balsam-smell candle, some garland and even fake snow. So yule-like, our house will be!
Enjoy the Christmas carols and the feelings of good-will.
Rob & Mar
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
South Pacific Soap Opera
Here beginneth the second book of the Solomon chronicles.
A month ago we were at a CUSO beach picnic � including reef snorkelling and a table groaning with Solomon Island feast foods � to say goodbye to three CUSO colleagues who were heading for home (In SI talk, we �farewelled them�). There are now only two CUSO couples in the country � the other pair is on a remote nature-preserve island.
But last week, for Canadian Thanksgiving � on Sunday, since for some reason SI didn�t give us a holiday Monday � we did manage to round up 10 Canadians living in Honiara, and we had a delightful time, even without a turkey. A few days later we got a dandy packet from our daughter Meg: my mother�s recipe for pumpkin pie, with little bags of the necessary spices!
Mid-September was a busy time for LASI, our literacy association, because we put on an Annual General Meeting plus 2 � days of workshops for the two dozen field coordinators who (supposedly) oversee classes in scores of villages throughout the islands. [Actually, by sending out visiting coordinators during July and August, we discovered that only about a quarter of the classes which once operated are still active.] Our gathering got people excited and everyone believes a new era has dawned � except we two realist/cynics! The essential fact is that for us to serve our purpose � not only getting the organization back on its feet but also doing �capacity-building� and �skills transfer� (common jargon in development work) to ensure that it is sustainable � we would need to have someone whose management capacity could be built ... and we don�t have that.
The past month has been a very tense time in Honiara, because of politics and crime. A central fact is that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has wanted to show that he can stand up to Australia. Australia rescued SI from civil war in 2003, provides 90% of the military and police presence which maintains the peace, and has pumped AUS$800 million into the effort to rebuild this country. But Australians are often seen as bullies here; they are sort of the Americans of the South Pacific. Relations started to go sour because of differing visions of a commission of inquiry which was supposed to analyse the April riots. Jockeying by the Australian High Commissioner provoked the PM to send him home � an almost unheard-of insult. Australia retaliated by cancelling the automatic entry system for SI politicians: they must now apply for a visa every time they want to enter Australia � whether for shopping, medical care, or even just transit. Relations deteriorated, and have plummeted as the Julian Moti soap-opera developed.
Soap opera? Well, it may tax your patience, but the near-comic absurdity is worth your effort, I think. The PM fired the Attorney-General because the A-G opposed two terms of reference for the commission of inquiry � their obvious aim was to undercut the police and justice systems, trying to show that those police and judges and prosecutors had persecuted the two MPs who were jailed for inciting the riots (the two crooks whom the PM appointed as cabinet ministers after they were jailed ... one as Minister of Police and Security!). For his new A-G, Mr. Sogavare chose Julian Moti, a lawyer who is Indo-Fijian who holds Australian citizenship (i.e. not a SIslander). Mr. Moti has an interesting background. It looks like he bought a QC; he gave advice a few years ago which resulted in SI having two Prime Ministers for a few days; he had an out-of-court settlement at the end of the 90s in a case of the rape of a 13-year-old in Vanuatu. There was universal outcry against this appointment, and we think Australia and some others saw it as part of a plot to cancel the charges against the two jailed MPs. Now here�s where the fun really starts. Our pal Julian was in transit in Papua New Guinea on his way from Singapore to take up his post when he was arrested by the PNG police at the request of Australia, who wants to take him to trial for his 1997 rape charge (using a recent Aus law about sex offences by its citizens abroad). That night Moti jumped bail. He holed up in the Solomons embassy for a week. The public service commission suspended his appointment as A-G, but PM Sogavare continued to maintain he was the A-G. Then one night he was driven with some sort of escort to the Port Moresby airport and put on a PNG army plane, accompanied by the SI PM�s nephew and special assistant, which landed � with no flight plan and no lights � at a remote airfield in the Solomons. But the Australian-led SI police had been tipped off and were waiting. Moti and pals tried to run away into the bush but were caught and brought to Honiara, where he was charged with illegal immigration. He is in jail. The PMs of both SI and PNG have done a dance between claiming innocence versus letting people understand that they cleverly beat Australia�s plans. Our PM accuses Australia of persecuting Moti ... while the SI police (led by Australians) are determined to prosecute � a fine stand-off. The latest: on Wednesday the police arrested the Minister responsible for Immigration on a charge of lying to them about approving Moti�s entry and obstructing their investigation.
The Moti fiasco was one factor in the tension of recent weeks, because it was one basis for a vote of non-confidence in Parliament. I�ll come back to that in a moment, but first I need to tell you about the second dimension of the nervousness in Honiara—an upsurge in crime. This has been, in terms of most cities in the world, a very safe place - a place where people weren’t afraid to go walking, even at night. That changed a few weeks ago. Gangs of young men have done a series of break-ins in some areas, using knives and stones to intimidate security guards ... stealing and breaking things, and in one case raping a woman. And almost all of the victims have been expats. A bunch of the presumed perpetrators have now been arrested. But what makes people more nervous is a sense that this criminal activity is connected in a way with the political situation. One theory is that some group wants to cause instability as a way of intimidating the government; another idea is that the aggressiveness of the gangs is caused by the Prime Minister’s rhetoric and its suggestion that ‘it’s OK to put those bully Australians in their place!’
This latter idea was strongly evident last Wednesday as the non-confidence motion was debated in Parliament. For the ten days leading up to the vote there was rising fear that it would provoke a demonstration and possible outbreak of violence such as happened back in April. As it turned out, the PM readily survived, and that relieved much of the tension ... but the line he took in Parliament, with the nation listening on radio, was a jingoistic appeal to ‘national sovereignty’—translation: an implicit invitation to people to target everything from rudeness to theft against Australians. Meanwhile the Australian foreign minister has been saying that the misgovernment and corruption in some Pacific nations has got to stop, and that there may be no point in sending so much aid to a country that can�t manage itself. The SI PM has answered by saying that he may want to expel RAMSI, the Australian-led (but multi-national) peace-keeping and assistance program � which would most likely send the country back into civil war.
Sorry for that long-winded outline of the atmosphere here. The point is that expats have been on edge for a month; the level of unease has gone down a notch for the present; but the problems have hardly been resolved. Even so, we believe we are safer than we would be in most cities of the world (except Charlottetown, of course!)
The past week, though, was a particularly stressful one, because one of our friends was so stressed. She was ill, and found she couldn�t take the feelings of tension in Honiara, and we came to the conclusion that it was best for her to go home. The good news is that, after a few days with us and a lot of packing-up and arrangements-making with people who were very helpful, she should be successfully arriving home as I write.
Let�s have a major shift of topic ...
We�ve had a few nice social occasions. Example: dinner at the new pool-side bar and restaurant of the Honiara Hotel � which we�ve watched being gradually built for the entire year we�ve been here. Another evening, we had two nice couples here for dinner. We�ve been watching the second season of the TV show �24� � pampering ourselves almost every evening for an hour. Spent some time at the trade show a few weeks back at the Town Ground: mostly food stalls (very little trade and industry), but it had the atmosphere of a Canadian fall fair � the crowds, the yells and smells.
In the on-going beautification of our little valley, two neighbour girls and we went one Sunday morning to a hobby grower of orchids and bought (CDN 1.40 each) cuttings of various kinds. We planted them along a fence which will become a sort of orchid hedge.
Our community theatre group is preparing �Arsenic and Old Lace�. A good thing is that we�re involving a few more Solomon Islanders. Another thing is that we�re introducing some things taken for granted back in PEI � things like having a budget and a publicity plan. Mar�s major recreation is happy work on a new cross-stitch pattern.
- Participants in our LASI workshops complained and wore extra shirts because the room was air-conditioned (we sure have a different idea of what�s cool!)
- Smoke and flickering flames � from cooking fires, burning stumps of chopped trees, and of course burning leaves and rubbish
- History in the making: SolBrew beer is now being sold in tins
- We�d always assumed the size of office paper is standard ... but no, in the Pacific and evidently in Europe, they use A4 size, which is longer and narrower
- The wsk-wsk sound of sweeping with a hand-broom made of bunches of coconut-palm-frond spines tied together with a piece of inner-tube rubber
- Age of high-school students: many are in their 20s, having entered the system late, or because of missed years during the �Tension� civil war
- A developing country, where most people have almost no possessions ... but there are tons of cell-phones in Honiara
- Lilting sounds of a Solomons pipe band wafting up from the gathering-place under the huge rain-trees at the foot of the trail that comes up to our house. A pipe band is not bag-pipes; rather, it is people with bamboo sections ranging in size from a few inches to 4 feet long � played as pan-pipe wind instruments and as percussion, struck with flip-flop sandals
- The horking sound of throats being cleared, and of blowing noses onto the ground ... we will not miss this when we leave
- The edges of the blades on the fans in our house are usually black � from cutting the dirty Honiara air
- Handbills pasted up on shop-fronts, trees, etc. � announcing to �Passengers and cargo bound for eastern Makira� that an unscheduled ship will (probably) sail at a certain time
- Kids �sledding� down a cement-covered slope on the way down our hill � their bums on squashed plastic bottles
In a little more than two weeks, we�re going to take a big holiday. We�ll be in New Zealand! - from Nov 4 till Dec 2. In fact we�ll be spending the first week with my brother and sister-in-law, who are just now starting a holiday with friends. Over the four weeks we expect to cover most of the territory of both South and North Island, starting in Christchurch and finishing in Aukland. So there won�t be any November �SI report�, and we won�t be responding to any communication until early December. So ... farewell for awhile.
Rob & Mar
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
Friday, July 07, 2006
Winter comes to the South Pacific
Why was this past month so wonderful? Because more than half of it was cloudy. After all, June 21 ushered in ‘winter’. On two or three nights we have shut the bedroom fan off!
Much of the month was full of rehearsals for a play HAMS (Honiara Amateur Musical Society) put on this past weekend. “A Muffled Shriek”—a comedic spoof of the Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. 6, count them, 6 deaths. At the end the stage is littered with bodies, and the line is “Looks like the Yacht Club late on a Saturday night!” And yes, the Butler did it (well, 33% of it) ... and I was the butler. Good fun, and I met some nice people.
Several outages of power and water have reminded us what a pain it was during the first six months because of the rationing of utilities. One particular incident: our neighbour phoned us at work to say that the water authority was in the process of removing our meter and cutting us off. It emerged that the landlord had never registered the house, and so we were pirating water. Fortunately we were able to sort it out in a couple of hours. Interesting: on the monthly bill there is an item called “standing charge” which is almost as big as the charge for the water; it is for the cost of paper and postage for sending the bill. Again interesting: we learned from neighbours that before our house was finished, for awhile the shell served as a “kwaso” (moonshine)making place, and was raided by the police.
Over the past few weeks a team of bulldozers and excavators has been breaking down and clearing the remains of most of the Chinatown shops which were burned in the April rioting. It continues to be a pretty depressing sight that we walk through to and from work every day. Oddly, the work stopped when it was about 75% complete. The construction project at our house—building a concrete verandah at the front door and slab around three sides of the house—enjoyed a 2-day life-span before petering out. So typical.
With similar timeliness, a big rosewood story-board carving we had commissioned was delivered yesterday: it had been ordered 5 months ago. It depicts various aspects of the 19th century head-hunting days in the western Solomons.
Our own work stumbles along. We developed a ‘survival plan’ to see if it’s even possible to get our literacy organization (LASI) going again. Key feature: a ‘core working group’ of committed people as a sort of substitute for the moribund board of directors and non-entity director. Held a ‘life-or-death’ workshop for this group ... and about half of them turned up. Even so, we have succeeded in sending out a pair of experienced workers to see how many of the former field operations still exist, and one worker succeeded in getting a new literacy school started here in Honiara. Indeed, people may not be very effective as planners and thinkers and managers, but this woman arranged a bang-up official opening, complete with lots of speakers and a feast. So there’s a little bit of new-life spirit coursing, at least temporarily, through LASI‘s veins.
Some family news ... First-born Ken turned 35, while his wife Wakako is working in Japan for the summer; last-born Graham has just gone to Banff for the summer, where he should see quite a bit of second-born Alec who lives there; daughter Meg is due to deliver our second grandchild in a few weeks—and we won’t be there (self-pity, self-pity).
A spate of long weekends: Whit (Pentecost) Monday and Queen Elizabeth’s birthday in June, and SI independence day today (Friday). Our own July 1st Canada Day was a rather muted affair. Not much in the way of parades or fireworks going on here. At the end of last Friday afternoon, we toddled off from work to the CUSO office and had a beer or coke and some taro chips with the two office people. Biggest thrill on Saturday, the day itself: draining and sanitizing our rain tank to get rid of the mosquito larvae. Life is not always exciting.
Disturbing items in today’s Solomon Star newspaper ... We told you earlier that the man who was elected MP in our riding was imprisoned on charges of intimidation and inciting the April rioting ... and was then named Minister of Police and Security. His trial began this week—with a big problem. One witness revealed that he had been offered $20,000 (SI) to withdraw, and now several key prosecution witnesses have ‘disappeared’. Further, there are a number of independent reports of arms being moved into Honiara by this politician’s supporters. Oh dear.
Almost every night we watch a TV episode on the computer: it was ‘Lost’, then ‘24’ and recently it’s been a mixture of ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘CSI Miami’. We have silly reward systems like that. For Mar, her treat for making it back up the hill to our house at the end of the work-day is a can of Coke and a bowl of peanuts.
- Trees called ‘carborite’ burst out a few weeks ago into a profusion of hair-like pinky-purple blooms ... which then they shed, to form amazing magenta carpets on the ground.
- Neighbours’ houses erupting into cheers in the middle of the night—as goals got scored in World Cup soccer matches in Germany
- Amazing honesty and helpfulness: as I left a mini-van bus, $500 (Cdn70) dropped from my pocket onto the floor ... a man stopped the bus as it pulled away, in order to give me the money. On the other hand, someone bumped into Mar’s back-pack and pinched $400 (a bit less than Cdn 60) from it.
- Bare-bummed smalfala pikinini (little kids)
- As for adults, breasts are no big deal: many people show no shyness about appearing in their bra ... but thighs are a different story: many women even wear shorts under their skirt or dress.
- Ants: a tiresome pain - everywhere a bother, and they often bite (we kill the itch with vinegar)
- Big campaign here to get “The DaVinci Code” movie banned because it’s anti-Christian ... despite the fact that there is no cinema in the Solomons, and the movie-rental places got burned out in the rioting.
- Sundays in some ways are as busy as other days—because a big chunk of the population observes SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) sabbath on Saturday, and works, runs a market, filling station, etc. on Sunday.
- The handle of the big dipper has recently been visible, even though we’re at 9 degrees south of the equator.
- Neighbours Janet & Lyndelle’s tireless work to beautify our little (6-house) valley with flower and shrub plantings, and weeding so as to develop a carpet of clover; they like us because we also weed and plant.
- Smell: fish boiling on Agnes’ fire ’ yuk ... Smell: fresh French baguette as you pass the Hot Bread Kitchen ’ yum
- Sound: repeated playing of the current hit ‘Bon, mi Aelan bon’ (I’m Island born) ’ infectious (at first, for awhile)
That’s it for the 10-month report.
Rob & Mar
Again I apologize that this is a sort of bulk newsletter ... but again I tell you that it is really good to hear back from you, and then we always correspond on an individual basis, usually with a photo. There, is that enough incentive for you if you haven’t been inclined to write’
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Political Crisis in the Solomons
Hello, friends, at the 8-month mark. It has been a month of excitement � nothing like a political crisis and some loot-and-torch rioting to break up monotony!
It started off fine � with a few days at Tulagi, a small island an hour�s boat-ride from Honiara. We were there for an annual meeting of our small group of CUSO co-operants and representatives of the local organizations who have, or might like to have, a CUSO co-operant. The meetings were hardly a thrill, and the small town (well, sort-of town) was a bit of a dump, despite this being the pre-WW II capital of the British protectorate. But it was interesting to see a different place, and we had some good socializing and a day of snorkelling (in which Mar unfortunately lost her glasses).
Easter (Apr 16) was a bit of a disappointment. We expected big doings at church � traditional dancing and such ... but it appears the more impressive service had been the night before, and for Easter morning, all the flowers in the church had wilted, and we had a dull-as-dishwater sermon and no festive atmosphere. Pity. But we had some friends with two boys over for dinner, and that was good.
The excitement � the rioting � hit two days after Easter. It�s going to take a few minutes to explain what happened, and you�ll find it sounds a bit like a soap opera. It was caused by a combination of simmering anti-Asian feeling (because of the virtual monopoly on commerce and perhaps the reputation of Taiwan money influencing SI politics) ... together with popular resentment of old-style corrupt politicians ... and the trigger was the choosing of the new Prime Minister by Members of Parliament after the April 5th national election.
Because party allegiances don�t count for much (indeed more than half the election candidates were independents), this choice of PM boils down to wheeling and dealing for cabinet posts and such. There were two blocks � let�s just call them Camp A and B. One of the Camp A group � remember this name: Sogavare � decided he wanted to be PM instead of the nominee Camp A chose; so he took some MPs with him and formed Camp C. It is generally believed that he and his gang sold themselves for cash (supplied by a few Chinese big-businessmen) to Camp B � the group supporting the man (Snyder Rini) who had been Deputy PM in the previous government, which was tainted with corruption. The vote for PM was held on Tuesday morning, April 18th. Rini (Camp B) was chosen because after a token first round of secret balloting, Sogavare and his boys openly joined Rini. The 300 or 400 people waiting outside Parliament � some people think this was orchestrated � got vocal, demanding that the MPs make a different choice. Police started getting pushy, and then things turned nasty, with an anti-Chinese theme. People stormed down the hill into downtown and started to ransack stores and burn a few police cars. Later in the afternoon the mob migrated from downtown to Chinatown (where our office is). Break-ins and looting took off, and then the fires.
Mar was downtown, but as the tension made itself evident, she went home by bus. I was at the office, and got trapped with some others as the mob came into Chinatown; it meant an hour�s wait, but then I was able to get out and walk home. Our neighbourhood was in no danger � or so we thought.
We thought the police (local SI + Australian, NZ etc.) would gain control. They didn’t. The rioters burned 80 % of Chinatown to the ground. During Tuesday night there was an attack on the big hotel/casino/nightclub complex which is at the foot of our hill; it’s owned by a Chinese businessman. That was repelled ... but a huge mob came back on Wednesday afternoon and burned it, making off with all the beer and liquor. From our house we could see the flames, and we even got a whiff of the police tear gas. They evacuated the trapped guests by boat. Alcohol streamed up our hill in many hands, and Wednesday night was pretty scary because of the drunkenness and because a mob burned the collection of small shops at the foot of our hill. We got little or no sleep, as a helicopter flew round and round our house for hours. About 3:00 am we actually packed a bag.
By Thursday afternoon, though, Australian army reinforcements had been flown in and deployed, and that calmed things down � although schools, offices and shops stayed closed. The drama wasn�t over.
The new PM (Rini) refused to resign, and Camp A vowed a non-confidence vote for the middle of the next week. Camp A and B appeared to be tied at 25 MPs each, but then the police arrested two Camp A MPs for intimidation and inciting the riot. So it looked like the new PM would win, which would probably spark more violence. Surprise! When Parliament gathered, a half-dozen MPs crossed the floor to join the Opposition (Camp A). Guess who ... the gang of Sogavare � because Camp A had now promised him he could be its PM nominee. Whew ... are you getting all this?! See what I mean about the soap opera?
Everyone heaved a big sigh of relief because Rini was forced to resign. But then everyone remembered the problem of again choosing a PM � and that this would be complicated by the fact that two MPs were in jail (both Camp A and Camp B claimed those two were now on their side). So again the tension built up to last Thursday�s (14 May) vote. Again many stayed home; troops were everywhere; Parliament was closed off to the public and the media. The Governor-General made the decision to allow the two prisoners to take part, and so everyone listened to the radio description of the ballot box being escorted to the prison and back to Parliament. Sure enough, Sogavare, the guy who switched back-and-forth like a windshield wiper, is PM. Fortunately, the final count was more clear than expected—28 to 22 � and people are content. But we won’t count on political stability: MPs are sure to switch sides on subsequent votes for other issues.
The foreign troops have started to go home. Many shops came back into operation last week, and despite the gutting of the wholesale system when Chinatown burned, it looks like food distribution is working. Of course there are going to be some very serious long-term implications. The rioting and political crisis did terrible damage to the city’s physical facilities, to the economy and the prospects for investment, to race relations, to people’s confidence.
Flash: just heard on the news about the new PM�s cabinet. He has named one of the two MPs who are in jail on charges of intimidation and inciting the riot as Minister of Police and National Security!! He�s also the man who is known to have been the major gun-runner during the civil war years. Oh my, sometimes we do despair.
On a lighter note, a new ice-cream bar, the “Frangi-pani Ice”, opened two days ago ... and yesterday afternoon—is this a surprise?— Mar battled her way through the crowds to the counter to get a soft vanilla cone! Yes, we’re in a very different culture ... but some things don’t change.
By now you�ve realized that we�re not always �roughing it� here in the Solomons. We do have friends come for supper or coffee and chit-chat; we do go out to the fancy restaurant about once a month (had duck in flaky pastry this time); we occasionally swim at an out-of-town beach or the Honiara Hotel pool; we get �CARE� parcels with magazines and puzzles and snacks; we watch TV episodes on the computer. And we were able to talk to our grandson by computer-telephone on his second birthday.
- The rainy season (Jan, Feb, Mar, some of April) has ended. We notice it getting dark earlier (a bit after 6 pm) and light earlier ( a bit before 6 am)
- A grubby black coating on the blades of electric fans � reminding us what a dirty atmosphere Honiara has
- Our neighbour Agnes can �story� with us for hours � about gossippy things, but also about family dynamics and customs ... bride-price (in shell money, pigs and cash), giving-away of children, reconciliation of disputes, etc.
- �Service Announcements� on the radio station: in a land where most do not have access to phone or even the postal system, you can hear 15 minutes nightly of fascinating messages people send to one another on-air � inter-island ship departure times, telling the family about a death, directions to come to an employment interview, setting up a meeting.
- Geckos scampering across the ceiling, and their �cluck-cluck-cluck� chortling
- The (disgusting) sound of people clearing their throats and spitting
- The neighbours� pet cockatoo, whose foot is linked to a clothesline, swinging loop-the-loops round the line
- A strange �class� behaviour: showing you�re above someone by speaking brusquely, ordering him to wait, or even just looking down and pretending to work so as to visibly ignore the person
- A nice, friendly-feeling thing: just after dark, looking 50 metres down the valley to the warm orange glow of Janet�s sawdust-burning cooking fire, and hearing the rattle of supper dishes
Let�s leave it there, and wish you a friendly �So long for now.�
Rob & Mar
Monday, April 10, 2006
April in the Solomons
April ... ah, so glad about spring coming. Ha. The Solomon seasons seem to be Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot. Even so, during one week of rain this past month, two or three nights got so cool that we turned off the fan and actually pulled up the sheet. Wow.
Church ... We missed a number of Sundays for various reasons, but we figure we deserved some time-off for having joined our neighbours for a �visitors� Sabbath� one Saturday at their Seventh Day Adventist church. A service began at 9:00 ... at 10:00 we switched to an hour of discussion groups [Hey - we got assigned to the Youth group!] ... then at 11:00 the service resumed ... at noon we spent � of an hour socializing on the lawn ... from 12:45 there was a lunch. We left home at 8:30 and got home at 2:15. Whew.
Health. Mar is in the late stages of a nasty cold. But we�ve been remarkably healthy. In a half-year I think each of us has had a mild stomach upset for one day, and a couple of weeks ago I spent a few days on the couch resting a sore back like I had two years ago. Interesting: neighbours and friends came to visit the invalid.
Utilities. 1) In mid-March the electricity corporation installed a bigger-and-better-than-ever transformer and so fixed all the electicity problems—so the newspaper told us. About four days later the power went off for three hours ... then we had a series of brown-outs ... then there was a series of outages for about 20 minutes ... then it went off in the middle of the night for three hours ... then it went off in the middle of the day for 2 1/2 hours ... then—well, you get the picture, eh? However, in the past few days everything has been working.
2) Water has been working for more than two weeks now, and we’re almost getting ready to believe it’s reliable. Interestingly, the water corporation announced this week that it’s going on a crusade to shut down all the illegal connections � the ones which have mushroomed because the corporation hasn�t been billing for a number of years.
History in the making ...
1) Honiara re-introduced garbage collection � for the first time in more than 5 years (it stopped in the early stages of �the Tension� i.e. civil war). The results are actually noticeable: in Chinatown, especially, the bins and the piles around them get picked up; shop-workers sweep in front of the stores; there�s far fewer plastic bags and bottles under-foot.
2) The national election was Wednesday April 5th. There was a big build-up to it: for about a year there were teams going to the neighbourhood and village level to do awareness-raising about good governance and civic duty. Everyone talked about throwing out the old corrupt politicians (and subsequently the high-level civil servants) � who for years were being sacked for selling favours and raiding the Treasury ... and then getting recycled into different posts. A good number of these folks were leaders of factions in the civil war; some got imprisoned, but several of them were running again in this election. What surprised us was that, despite everyone�s recognition of the importance of this election, there was no hoop-la: there were some articles in the paper � mostly mud-slinging, but the campaigning amounted to a few computer-printed posters and neighbourhood mini-rallies and trucks of waving supporters driving around on the final campaign day. Smart technique for a limited-literacy country: each candidate is assigned a symbol as a recognizable identity: axe, rooster, paddle, lantern, bush-knife, tuna, etc. After three days we have almost all of the results, and they are disappointing: most of the people elected are incumbent or former MPs - a number of them with reputations of corruption or too-close involvement in causing the horrors of the Tension, or just plain petty and useless. No women were elected. Overall, it seems that many SolIslanders are more influenced by gifts of rice and school fees and boat fares than by concern with issues and competence.
TV. We virtually never watched TV in Canada, but � perhaps because the heat tuckers us out; perhaps because of not having the accustomed level of extra-curricular involvement; perhaps because of a sense of non-accomplishment at work � here we find we�ve been watching a lot of episodes of TV shows via CD on the computer. We lost the disks our son-in-law sent us with CSI Miami, Medium and Veronica Mars [more about that in the next section], but then a friend gave us two seasons worth of the show �Lost�. However, we still do read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, including several books about the Solomons.
Burglary. Two weeks ago we had a break-in. About 2:00 a.m. I got up for a snack. On my way downstairs I heard a noise, and when I got to the kitchen, things started registering: muddy footprints, a few empty spaces, a cooking pot by the partly open door ... the window: 2 louvres removed, a corner of the cyclone wire bent to create a hole big enough for a small body.
We were lucky—they got interrupted before they could do more ... so what we lost was a table fan, a cheap Chinese radio, a piece of cloth, a calculator, propane tank, a box of staples, 2 CDs with recorded TV programs, a flashlight and our address book. What a strange haul, eh? Presumably they hoped to get the computer, but we take it upstairs every night. The police also think that the propane tank and the cooking pot indicate that one of the purposes was to get equipment for making kwaso, the rot-gut moonshine. The two losses that gripe us most are the address book (phone numbers etc. for all the family and friends) and the TV episodes. We were visited by lots of police, and the ‘coconut news’ system in our neighbourhood went to work to find the culprits, but there has been no success. The good thing about this is that no one considers that there might be violence in such a burglary. So we’re disappointed that it happened, but not scared by it. As for the lost TV episodes, a friend has given us two or three seasons of �Lost�, the series about people marooned on a South-Pacific island. [Yes, we can sense an irony.]
Work. Yuk. Mar�s counterpart, instead of coming back from maternity leave, launched a protest against our literacy organization at the Labour Department. My counterpart did (eventually) return from leave; he has been very friendly, and has done maybe 2 or 3 days of work in the past couple of months. The leadership ... don�t ask. We�re in midst of a selection process to replace our counterparts. It is clear that nothing would have been happening in this organization if we hadn�t come � Mar, particularly, has rescued its relationship with the German donor agencies, and hence prevented financial collapse. But what is also clear is that this organization has done nothing for literacy in the past year � has not touched its main purpose of helping communities start up and run local literacy programs. And even though we might make a little progress at bringing some order to the chaos, we know that it will be months and months before LASI gets back in the swing of providing teacher training and support for community literacy. So we�re fairly discouraged, can�t you tell?!
Social life. A couple of birthday parties � one for an adult (Aru, husband of Canadian Holly who did her doctorate on the secret sex practices of Malaita young people!) with yummy pizza and the treat of wine; the second for our 5-year-old neighbour Tristie, which was held in our house (because it has more room than their stilted shack). Spent a nice Sunday with a young couple: at Boneghi beach about a half-hour�s drive out of town � snorkelling around a WWII Japanese troop carrier ... and then for late lunch and storying back at their place.
Impressions & Observations ...
- Women with a hibiscus or frangi-pani flower tucked behind the ear
- Johnny, the religious fanatic selling Solomon Star newspapers at the Chinatown bus stop every morning: �Good morning my friend � a new age is dawning!�
- Wholesalers� supply trucks parked in front of shops everywhere � loading or unloading with a human manpower conveyor belt, a chain of young men tossing cartons along the line ... and testing each other with a suddenly sharp throw and a laugh.
- Non-lining: SIslanders don�t queue � people push in front of you to get into the bus.
- Wag-tails: swallow-size black-and-white birds with a cute whistle, and a much cuter habit: as they alight, they wiggle; they wag their longish tail back and forth, back and forth like a windshield wiper.
- Pathetic infrastructure: here on Guadalcanal, the main island, there is one main road (sort of road) which goes along � of the coast; that�s all � the rest of the population is dependent on motorboat or path/track ... there�s essentially no postal service: even in town, to send or get a letter you have to go to the central post office; much communication is done by public service announcements on the radio, although a network of solar-powered email stations has been established and is starting to be useful.
- The central market: it�s relatively cool inside as the sea breeze blows through it; huge variety of produce, and especially of people � jam-packed crowded, but everything moves in a relaxed way; no bargaining � you know it�s just a dollar for a heap of green peppers.
- Great honey and, would you believe, peanut butter
- Ants: two kinds pervade the house, appearing within minutes if there�s a crumb of food or drop of water
- Tobacco: cheap factory cigarettes (Cdn$2 a pack), but more common is �stick� tobacco, which you scrape shavings from, and roll it in a piece of notebook paper.
- The most wonderful thing about the Solomons: virtually no one is �poor� in the sense of not having shelter, clothing, enough food to eat. The collective land-holding system + available materials means that anyone who wants a house can build one, and anyone can have land for a garden ... and anyone who needs a place to sleep or some help can just ask someone in his/her wantok (clan/tribe).
- The �middle-class� behavioural status symbol: you wear a flash-drive on a strap around your neck � showing you are a computer owner/user.
- As it gets dark (about 6:45 pm) the shrill chirp of crickets replaces bird-song as the background noise � it�s like a new act coming on stage.
What we miss at this time: the chirp of robins and the honk of Canada geese
Let me tell you how easily exiles like us can be amused ... For Mar it�s doing our income tax returns; for me it�s a trick when I shut down the computer. One stock wallpaper-background option in Windows is a wonderful photo of golden canopy of autumn leaves over a lane between two lines of old trees. If you click �Turn Off Computer� but don�t immediately confirm the shut-down, the screen bleaches out to black-and-white ... and the effect is like there has been a mid-autumn snow to just cover the leaves. Believe it or not, this triggers an emotional response: gosh we miss the seasons.
Again I apologize for the bulk-mailing newsletter approach. But we assure you that, given a response, we do write personal letters and often send a photo.
Our good wishes to you, Rob & Mar
Monday, March 27, 2006
Mtwara: March 26
Update Update I am going to have a house of my own Maybe this coming week!
But there is much to report from Phillip�s house. The frogs are in � yes in the bathroom but not in the toilet! And they seem to have a bit of an identity crisis! Oh dear.
They are intent on climbing the walls like their distant cousins the geckos, whose responsibility it is to rid the house of mosquitoes. And these indoor frogs have extraordinary markings � really quite beautiful. The other night at dinner in a really posh establishment, the gentlemen, after a few Safari Bia, got into a lengthy, in-depth conversation about the need to preserve these frogs, which the Kenyan environmentalist in the crowd insists is actually a toad, because they are an almost extinct species of breast-feeding toads! Who knew! Now in the morning we take them very gently outside to join their singing brethren in the field.
And now Phillip has a hired an �askari� ie a personal house guard. Before Joseph could begin to work, Phillip had to supply a bed and a bow and arrow. So now Joseph, the Askari, is hard at work outside on the porch listening to the radio but still has no second arrow for his bow. Maybe this week! In part it is because Phillip has received his motorbike, his piki-piki, that the Askari is now necessary. However, due to security concerns for said piki-piki, Phillip has been told that he must keep it parked in the living room for safe-keeping. Quite an addition to the interior d�cor!
Meanwhile, Mr. Joseph has taken on the lawn care as his task. He has his �panga�, a kind of machete thing with a right-angled turn at the bottom, with which he slices through the endless growth of tall grasses. The neighbours are beginning to be a little uneasy because apparently, the tall grasses harbour snakes! I�ve never seen one and neither has Joseph here.
And on to my house! It is a very small 2-bedroom establishment; Government issue Teacher�s House in the Teachers� College Compound � House Numba Moja (Number 1) which means that everyone else in the compound has to pass by my front door. In a horticultural move to enhance the environment, all the bushes (my privacy barrier) have been cut right down to their trunks. I am assured they grow very quickly and much fuller. Meanwhile, I think I will make curtains.
On first viewing, I thought that I could never live there. It was dark and dingy and not very clean. In rode the �White Hats� from VSO Dar es Salaam and Presto� The mosquito nets on the windows have been replaced and ALL the walls have been painted white. A little like a hospital you say?�
I prefer to think of my new home as a canvass for a work in progress. I bought wonderful fabric at the Market to cover all the cushions, the foam slabs that will be my sofa, my chairs and my bed. Fabrics are not quite as accessible here. They�re spread through many different shops rather than all hung out in the open as they were in Mozambique. I WILL find them.
Meanwhile, Phillip continues to be most gracious. Maybe it helps that he is not feeling very well, sleeps a little more, and therefore doesn�t see me as being in his space as much. He resents having a cold in a climate where the temp. never drops below 25C and the humidity today is 90%.
Soooooo � this is my shopping week! I will buy a fridge, a stove thing called a Baby Belling which is an oven with 2 electric burners on top � and of course dishes and cutlery and buckets and a broom and sheets and towels and pots and Toilet Paper and J-cloths and an electric kettle and a T-Fal frying pan and tea towels and laundry soap (doubles for washing dishes when you have them)� and. And -I�ll let you know when I get (a) home.
Cheers to all. Soon Love K
Friday, November 04, 2005
Hao nao iu?
Wow! It’s Friday afternoon, 4 November, at the CUSO office, harbourside in Honiara, Solomon Islands, South Pacific.
The CUSO office just hooked into broad-band, and so it is possible to use the Web cheap. So what a kick we’re getting out of visiting the ACT website.
Because the water is being rationed here in Honiara—we get water about an hour a day—we feel justified in toasting you all with an end-of-week beer.
Just wanted to say Hi and How are you (Hao nao iu) ... and Lukim iufala (See yous)
Mar & Rob
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Unbelievable. That’s what that airport goodbye was. We just cannot believe what good people we have as friends. You took us—and the rest of the airport!!—completely by surprise with your parade. Wonderful!
We are in Vancouver for a few days, enjoying the Western half of our family. And struggling to get the baggage down to 20 kg + one 5-kg carry-on per person. On Tuesday (6th) to Thursday (8th) we’ll go LA, Aukland, Brisbane, Solomon Islands.