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
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