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