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Sunday, August 17, 2014


Hello readers and Solomon Island Wantok! 

People have been contacting me about the Solomon Islands, what to bring etc...and I love to help them. BUT this blog is now almost three years old since its last relevant entry re: the Solomon Islands and its showing its age in design, topics and usability. In other words, its time for this old lady to retire officially from public life.

Where to get information about the Solomon Islands?
The wonderful folks at Pineapple Post contacted me recently and they are going to use some of my old blog posts, with some updated information. The Pineapple post is a place of information and connection for people living in Solomon Islands. It's a way to promote great work being done, adventures being had and what's going on around town. 

I'm stoked, actually, that my work gets to live on in some way and still help people transition to living in the Solomon Islands. Also, the Pineapple Post runs a much more informative site, without all my typos and waxing lyrically about kaleko shopping or drinking fresh coconuts. 

Please support these guys; they are there now and can give you a better understanding of what is going on than I can. Plus, they seem like genuinely great people. 

Good luck, intrepid adventures and lukim ui somewhere out there. 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

One Year Later

For those of you who are visiting my blog to find out how to live in the Solomons, here are a few quick newbie guides. I know these might be dated (after all, I've been away a year!) but I think most of the information is still valid:
Newbie Guide Part Two: What to Bring
(clearly I cannot count past two...)

And, of course:

For those of you who want to find out what happened to me, the wearer of said stilettos while living in the Solomons, read on:

It happened. And pretty much before I actually realized it. One year. Really? All I can think to myself is: where did the time go?

This weekend, I sat down with a box of tissues and some chocolate and read through this entire blog from start to finish. All 119 entries. My first impressions was: wow…I wrote A LOT.  This was probably due to having a great deal of time on my hands and all the stimulating newness that was the Solomons. But, looking back, there was something of a catharsis going on.  I can read through my process, which involved leaving a place I had grown to love and, more importantly, rediscovering myself after the breakdown of a marriage.  While the breakup was far from ugly, the process of self discovery was (and, at times, still is).  I made a lot of errors, in retrospect, and fumbled my way through the process the best way I could. 

Well, I’d like to say it was all puppies and rainbows since I've returned but it hasn't been.  Reentering my life has been harder than I had imagined. In fact, there was no “reentering”, it was basically me starting my life over again in a new city, without the benefit of family or ready made friends.  As with all transitions, this one was tough and I didn’t have the luxury of sunning myself on a white sandy beach or going diving to process. I just had to sit and process through stuff instead of running away.  I didn't blog about this process because it would have been like: hmmm, had a trim flat white coffee today. Meeting was very good, am going to make template for something that no one will use! Yay me!  Yeah, it would have a been low in the blogsphere ratings, believe me…

A year.  Really? How can I write about this year? Sorry, still in shock.   Right, where was I…for my readers who love the juicy stuff, here it is. I moved onto a hippy commune with a gay man in February. That was, perhaps, the best decision I made this year.  Mattie, my wonderful, kind, loving, amazing housemate has seen me through it all…rough transitions, heartbreaks, bad decisions, hangovers, the works. He has supported me and stood by me. I couldn’t ask for a better housemate or friend than Matt. I’m truly blessed and lucky to have him in my life.  Natalia, another French/American popped into my life around six months ago and, after moving here two months ago, makes my urban family pretty complete.

Right, more juicy: Okay, so, in April, the divorce was finalized the same week I fell in love, really in love, for the first time since the split.  As anyone could easily predict, it was a complete disaster (and this is coming from a woman who works in disasters). This is the problem when your heart has healed completely after a heartbreak, by the time you are over it, you get so excited at the prospect of being over it that, well, anyway, I overdid it, expecting just a bit too much too soon. The less said about that time, the better, I think.

By the time I was really over it, I was ready go back home to the States to see Mom and Dad. That was absolutely the best time, I bought far too many shoes and not enough underwear. But moving on...Nothing cements the future more than seeing where you’ve come from and where you have been.  For a long time, I felt adrift, by myself, alone and afraid. Going home made me realize that I still have a wonderful group of people who are forced to love me no matter what.

Okay, back to the juicy: I returned to Wellington with a hiss and roar, and, as predicted, overdid it but this time in the other extreme of “I’m not going to be the one hurting this time and commit too early” attitude. After having one failed marriage and an unpleasant breakup in my recent past, I had a certain mindset that possibly wasn't very conducive for dating, which was trying to protect myself from hurt. In classic Sara style, I sabotaged some good things.  Well, I suppose the best thing I can say is about the situation is that while I can't be proud of my behavior, I can feel at least somewhat comforted that I was honest when it would have been much easier to be less than honest. Now if I can really just get the f**k over myself and the past, I'll be sweet (I think).  

Right, enough juicy stuff. Work wise, I became a senior tutor at a university. Being a teacher was amazing and I really enjoyed the process. Also, I am about to start something really scary: my PHD. Yep, I’ll be Dr. Sara in three short years. Probably. Maybe. That’s if the literature review process and utter confusion doesn’t do me in first.  But, I have one very helpful thing on my side: I’m stubborn as hell and don’t give up easily.  So here’s hoping that stubbornness sees me through.

Before I start my PHD,  I'm taking a wee break to get mentally clear on the next three years. So, next week, I go back to where I began, to Christchurch for a ten day road trip.  I figure there is a kind of nice symmetry to it all; after all my PHD will be based partly in the broken City and, in many ways, it is where so much of my adult life began.  So, yeah, looking forward to seeing the beautiful Mackenzie country again, with its wide expanses.  I’ve added a few destinations that I haven’t been to before including Fiordland (yes, I know, I should have gone before!) and the South of the South Island.  I may blog it, I may not…

It’s been, clearly, an interesting year with unintended collateral damage. Returning meant establishing old friendships and some of those old relationships didn't survive the pressure of re-entry.  While I feel sad about that, well, there are worst things in life than losing relationships that no longer work for either party.  So I wish those people well on their journey.

The other collateral loss was my lack of diving. The thing that kept me sane and going for months in the Solomons, well, I haven't done here because the water is too cold. I know, I'm a wimp...but I hope to dive again shortly. 

As for the cast of the Stilettos in the Solomons, things didn't pan out the way they had planned either. Tessa and Mackenzie split up soon after I left and that was a traumatic event for all involved. Like all splits where a couple loves each other but just can’t make it work, there were broken hearts on both sides.  But that really isn't my story to tell and all I can wish for those involved is a quick healing process.   

Marco, well, he is somewhere off doing something (I have no idea what) but I get the occasional photograph from one of the Stan countries and he send me emails in Italian, so I have to use Google translator.Viola is happy in Australia, working hard (as always) and enjoying her life (probably, when she isn't over thinking it!).    

My wonderful and loyal counterpart Tina had a baby boy in March (her last, she claims) and is still working at my host agency. I think of anyone in the Solomons, Tina taught me the most. She always saw the good in me, despite my many flaws and encouraged me to be better. I miss her face, her smile, her eye rolls at my latest debacle more than anything else about the Solomons…we are so opposite but in the core of ourselves, I believe that we truly are sisters.   

Big events are happening too…weddings are coming up (congrats Will and Lenora, Katie and Sasha and all the happy couples over in the islands). Speaking of weddings, I’m very pleased to be acting as best man for an old friend  who taught me more about the Solomons than anyone else. I’m excited, I've never been a best man before, and, while I've got mixed feelings about marriage in general, there could not be a better suited couple.  It gives me hope to see that, despite many obstacles, people who are meant to be just…are.  

In some ways, I chose the wrong year to go. This was no doubt a big year for the Solomons: the Royals came and went from the Islands, as did the Pacific Arts Festival.  The Lonely Planet named it number 6 on the ten best places to go for 2012.  I feel honoured to have been there before it became a truly cool place to hang out. I hope that it doesn't get destroyed by fast food restaurants, Starbucks, Marriott and all things developed. 

I’d like to say that I think of the Solomons every day but I don’t. I think about paying my bills, getting dressed, my work and whatever personal issue is troubling me at the time. Like an ex boyfriend, the Solomons pop up on my Facebook from time to time and for a moment I think about the islands and wonder how it is. But the Islands are one of those places almost stuck in time, where everything and nothing changes all the time. If I returned tomorrow, I would only have a handful of friends who would remember me but within a week I’d have a handful of new friends to hang out with.  Such is the way of the Islands, long may it remain that way. 

Life here takes on a pace that is both much faster and slower than the Solomons.  Adventure is replaced with routine. I got into a car accident today, a minor fender bender which was upsetting but I kept on throughout my day, shaken up but no worse for wear. In the Solomons, 20 islanders would have come to my asssitance, fixed up my car, given me a cup of 3 in one coffee and kept me company. Here, even with the other driver around, I felt alone.  Drivers kept going, people kept walking. I miss the communal life, that taking care of each other.

But I would say that my biggest challenge in coming back is learning to be comfortable with routine and to trust that life isn’t going to fall apart on me, despite what happened in the past.  A part of me believes that I don’t deserve deep comfort or happiness. This deep guilt is probably pretty common, especially when we have witnessed incredible human suffering, like I saw at times in the Solomons. Or in the Christchurch Earthquakes. Or even much further back, in the Samoa tsunami…somehow I just question: why did I get so lucky?  And while we can wax philosophically whether I'm really lucky to live here, let's be honest: I am very, very lucky. But, then, why me? I met 50 people every day in the Solomons who were much more deserving and better people than myself, people who aren't nearly as self centered or self indulgent or lazy.  Great mothers and fathers who sacrifice every penny they make for their wontoks. People who don't make the litany of dumb mistakes I make every day, like leaving my house with my hairbrush still stuck in my hair or always being 30 minutes late to everything, no matter how hard I try to be on time...

So a year has passed.  And what did I do with all my luckiness? I can’t say that I continued with my philanthropy, other than a few short volunteer gigs.  I felt like I was exhausted and didn’t have much to give, which is stupid and pretty selfish. I think I’m learning about the small things, that I don’t have to do something big and dramatic like live in the Solomons to make a difference.  Looking on now, Matt, my housemate, is the consummate humanitarian, working in mental health. The man receives few, if any accolades and just goes to work, committed to quietly helping others.  Or my mother who works at the free clinic one day a week when she could be much more money a day or my dad who didn’t buy a new suit for 15 years so all us spoiled kids could go to University…and this list goes on. 

For all those people who said when I came back that I did a great thing by going to the Solomons, I would parry that thought with the idea that it was those who stayed behind,  worked quietly in the background and kept things going…those are the real heroes, now, to me.   

I think I didn’t appreciate how intense an experience it is to live there, especially as a volunteer. You can’t hide from the poverty, the violence, the disease…no matter how much you would like to escape it.  I have some deep regrets about my time there mainly that I wish I had done so much more. I was capable of more, so why didn’t I give more? Why didn’t I get to know people better or work harder? I know I could beat myself up further but then, I also figure that sometimes we are just there to bear witness to situations rather than needing to step in and stop it.  Hopefully that witnessing comforts the sufferer and teaches the witness something so mistakes are not repeated again.

Well, that is the hope.  It’s my hope.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Epilogue: Stilettos in the Solomons Style Edition

So, some of you might be coming here for the first time after seeing a Dominion Post article re: style in Solomons.  After thinking about it, I realised that I kind of forgot to talk about it much in this blog! I had always intended to write a second hand shopping blog about the Solomons but lost inspiration. The article gave me a sort of kick up the bum to get it written.
Here is how it works: clothes get sold or donated to a variety of charities in Australia and N.Z.  These clothes make it through a number of shops but eventually get put into bales and shipped off to the Solomons. These bales are put together by quality of fabric, newness of clothes and a variety of other things.  Shops in the Solomons purchase the bales and then place the clothing in either random order OR by skirts, tops etc...Bales typically come in on Saturdays and sometimes Mondays or Wednesdays.  You will know when new bales are being opened because typically there is a large line of Solomon Islanders waiting for the shop to open.

Typically there are days of the week when you can get half off of these clothes depending on the shops.  Now, this will be slightly difficult for me because a lot of the shops have names, but I have no idea what they are AND I left four months ago, so the memory is starting to fade. Anyway, you were warned!

The main shops I went to are:

  • Island Clothing: this shop across the street from the large BeMobile shop on the main street (kind of near the NPF plaza). Now, this use to be a rather bland shop but the owner has definitely made some good choices in bale purchases in the last four or five months I was there.  The variety is very good, as is the quality of the clothes. I bought several designer items there that I still wear today, including a favorite black, jersey knit wrap dress.  However, this is probably the most expensive Kaleko shop in town.
  • XJ6: now this USED to be the best shop in town until it moved to the Rugby Stadium (note: it has moved again, across from Central Market. Thank you, sources!)  Now the bales must be a lower grade because I used to go there three or four weeks in a row and find the same clothes on the rack.  This is pretty unheard of in the Solomons; good clothes go quick!  What IS good about XJ6 is that because the clothes are less desireable, there are some good winter picks there.  I purchased a Leslie Herbert paisely skirt (which I just love) that no Solomon Islander would wear because its far too hot! 
  • Hidden Kaleko Shop: This is, by far, the best shop in Honiara...its near the NPF (the opposite end of the Huts) and in a little alley way, tucked away.  Its also near the U.N. offices.  This place is pretty good for finding Coutnry Road items and some great dresses (its where I picked up the little green dress in the picture of the Dom Post)!  Plus they have new clothes in there as well.  This place is clearly popular with locals, so get in quick.  Seriously, the Hidden Kaleko shop is a real find; one I only found out about in my last few weeks in the Solomons.
  • $5 Dollar shop: this place is upstairs in a pretty perilious looking building on the main strip across from the new Hyundia Plaza.  This is a great place to find clothes for pretty much makes for great party Dress up fodder...I found a great peach prom dress for an 80s party there.  Honestly, you won't find much else there but at 5 dollars solomon an item, its probably with a go.
  • Lei Clothing-Its across from Island Clothing. I like Lei's and you can find some pretty good items there if you are searching.  There is also a good selection of bags and, the holy grail of second hand shopping in Honiara: BOOKS!!! YAY! The prices are reasonable but check out for specials days when everything is half off.
  • China Town shops: there are about three or four good second hand clothing shops in China town scattered around the place.  I haven't spent a lot of time there but if you work in China town, its a good place to shop.
  • There are no changing rooms in these shops.  Wear a tank top and a skirt to quickly try things on if you must.
  • If you like it, buy it. It will likely not be around when you return.
  • Always wash second hand clothes before you wear it...just sayin.
  • If it doesn't fit, pass it on to someone else.  You can arrange to sell items to other people but I always found that to be a waste of time. At less than three dollars an item (N.Z.) its better just to hand it on.
  • Take risks.  I found that I bought things that I would have never purchased in N.Z. and it looked great.  There was a bit of a gambling element to purchasing in the Solomon Islands; you are never quite sure how its going to work out until you get home. 
  • Don't spend too long in there.  Its hot and dusty. Its better to go at 10 or 20 minutes at a time rather than a full hour. 
  • Don't have an idea for what you are looking for.  The best items I found were complete suprises at the time. Just go with an open mind and hope for the best.
  • Take cash. There aren't credit card or EFTPOS operators in these places.
There are a couple of first hand shops in the Solomons.  My favorite is, by far, Chickaboos in Hyundai Mall.  I purchased a few new items but the best part is the wonderful purveyor of the shop, Megan, goes Kaleko shopping herself.  She brings back the best from the Kaleko Shops and sells them on.  Now, its a little more expensive, you might pay 100 solomon dollars per top (17 N.Z.) but finding Donna Karen and Marc Jacobs without having to sweat in a Kaleko shop is great! Megan has fantastic taste and the shop is a lovely wee place to sit down and have a chat. So if you are busy, don't want to cruise the Kaleko Shops, go see Megan.

(Note: friends in the Solomons, if you have any other suggestions, feel free to email me and I will put it on here).

So, you might be thinking, this girl goes to the Solomons and just talks about fashion when there is a heap of other issues going on....doesn't she care? Aren't the other things important?  Of course I think the issues in the Solomons are important or I wouldn't have spent a year of my life volunteering.

The article:

For me, at its best, fashion is a way for me to normalise my life experiences. I've worked in a couple of large disasters now and there is always a time, usually in week two or three, that I just stop wearing fluro or jeans or whatever I'm wearing and I want to dress up and look nice.  Why? Because it signals to me that life is returning to normal. I notice the same with a lot of my disaster working collegues.  Everyone seems to have something they do, whether its getting a haircut or shaving or something that signifies the personal return to normal.  In the Solomons, nothing was like it is in N.Z., so for me, maintaining a personal normal was important.  It may sound shallow or stupid but thats what it was for me.

Also, you might think, how dare this woman go over and buy perfectly good clothes when Solomon Islanders need it more! You might be right but I purchased items that would have been inappropriate in the Solomon context. For instance, I purchased a great velvet skirt from Leslie Herbert that would have given any Solomon Islander heat stroke.  Again, we often send short skirts or warm clothes to the Solomons and its completely inappropriate and no Solomon Islander would want to buy it.  I tried my best to purchase clothes that would not have been much use in the island context.

Anyway, thats my wrap up for the style part of the Solomon Islands.  Well that was a bit of fun...
Lukim ui,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The End.

Dedicated to the best woman I know, my counterpart: Christina Kwan Muge. I know your place in heaven is assured, Tina, if just for putting up with me for a year. Lukim ui, sista blo mei.
After 118 blog entries, more than 12,000 unique visitors, and many adventures, I am officially retiring this blog.

Actually this last blog has been written and deleted (on accident, after too much coffee and not enough sleep) a couple of times now.  Damn my quick mouse finger!

I wanted to write more (I could write a book with the amount of half written and edited blogs never published) but in the end, coming back has taken out some of my inspiration. The memories of the Solomons are starting to take on a dream like quality and I can't write about the place the same way right now.

I just realised that I'll have been back in N.Z. for about two and half months tomorrow from the SolomonIslands. In that time, I've gotten a new house (I'm moving again this weekend...probably  not the best idea considering its the Seven's weekend, but whatever, I can't wait!!!), a new job and a new iphone (ha!). No, really, its been a full on two months since my return from the friendly isles, no doubt.

The mighty Temotu volcano
I have to admit, I was struggling a bit to find my footing emotionally. It seemed like all these things had to be done right away and I just got into response mode, moving from one task to the next without really enjoying or understanding it. Now, don't get me wrong, I loves me some emergency response or else I wouldn't do what I do. But I became so tired it started to wear on me physically and nana naps after work became a regular routine, as did sitting in my pink fluffy bath robe after work, starring at the television screen and wondering how my life had gotten...normal.

See, here is the seductive and dangerous truth about living in the Solomons: its epic. Every day seemed tinged with a slight excitement, the not knowing how your day was going to go. Every day I saw something that made me laugh, made me want to cry and absolutely spell bound me. I know, I'm waxing lyrical but I think I fell in love with the Solomons.

Coming back is a akin to a piece of space junk entering earth's atmosphere; you feel the immediate slow down but you moved at such a different speed than everyone else (usually slower), that its a struggle to get back up to speed.

There is some stuff I have to own up to right now. Honestly, looking back at myself with a critical eye, I went to the Solomons for purely selfish reasons. I mean don't get me wrong, I want to save the world like every beauty queen drop out. But I guess I'm too old to know that I'm going to change things much. I set out on an adventure by myself and see what I was made of. In retrospect, I probably should have done this when I was much younger.

Who wouldn't want to live here for a year?
 To be honest, I'm not sure how much "good" I did. I think I got much more out of the experience than I gave. To my friends who have left the Sollies and those who remain, thank you. To those at home who kept the home fires burning for me, thank you. To those in Christchurch who welcomed me back from my journey with open arms and listened to my weird stories, thank you. To my family who patiently waited for the weekly or monthly scratchy Skype chat, only to be disappointed by power outages and bad connections. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Diving became a passion, an obsession, if you will, over the course of my time in the Sollies.  It provided me with an almost mediative experience and I am forever grateful to my dive instructors for teaching me how to dive.  Scuba diving is awesome, I suggest you try it (still haven't done it yet in N.Z...too afraid of the cold water!!!)

A final thank you to YOU, my readers! This blog started off a connection of people and activities that surprised me. Thanks for your support, questions and critiques of the blog. With your assistance, you made the blog worth writing...

A lot of people ask me if I would go back to the Solomons. I would. I don't know if I'd go on holiday, despite it being a fantastic holiday spot, I just have too many other places to go! But some places keep coming back in my life, like Christchurch, where my work is almost centered around now and will be for some time. Some places I'm done with and others, again like CHCH, still aren't done with me. I don't know why or how it works but it just does. I feel like I did what I set out to do in the Solomons and there is no unfinished business left there. However, make no mistake, if you were to ask me if I would do it again or if YOU should go, I would say yes. It was a hell of a ride and one well worth taking...

I realise that you are probably wondering where all the in depth commentary is about the Solomons. I know, I know, I never spoke much about the politics, the social dynamics, and you know, the things that really pissed me off and would have made me sound smart to bring up. Sadly I'm never going to get to that part. Why? Because this blog was always intended to be a light hearted travel log about my time in a special place. I stayed away from the political stuff because, honestly, its freakin complicated and deserves much more space than this blog could give.

I'm thinking "I get to keep this? AWESOME."

Suffice it to say, that yes, there are significant social and political problems in the Solomons. No, I'm not even going to try to solve them or puzzle them through here. I'm sorry if you expected more from this blog.

If you want to donate money or help in the Solomons, I would say that World Vision, VSA (New Zealand), Oxfam, Save the Children, the Solomons Islands Red Cross, and ADRA are all worthy charities to donate money to. I know people personally in all of those organisations and they are all great people who work with Solomon Islanders and locally run NGOs to help effect positive change in the Solomon Islands.

Beware the children with spears.
Send money, not goods as its better to always buy local. (Solomon Island friends: if I forgot your organisation, just flick me an email and tell me about it).

What does the Solomon Islands need most? People to care about the country, its people and its future. Solomon Islands is a isolated state, with 992 islands and 600,000 people. And while RAMSI is there, people forget it even exists. The Solomon Islands need tourists to bring in dollars (best diving in the world! Seriously.). The tourism industry is small and local, so be prepared to rough it. But its also very fun.

In some ways, I feel like the Solomons deserves better writers and bloggers than myself. I like a good story but I know I'm not the best writer in the world.  And because I felt compelled to stay away from the political or cultural stuff, I always felt that this blog was without teeth.  Solomon Islands is by no means an Melanisian Disneyland. Its filled with a bucket load of social and political problems.  And I just really wanted to keep this blog light because I don't want to scare the crap out of people. So if you are good writer, come and write the stories of the Solomons.  Its epic.

The ladies of the Solomons know how to dance!

Solomon Islands also need people to advocate for equal rights of their women. I will say one serious thing in this blog: the abuse and disempowerment of the women of the Solomons must stop for that country to go forward. The Solomon Island women I met are amazing and the fact that there is not even one woman in parliament shows just how difficult it is for women there. If you do donate to a charity, make sure its one that has a gender program element to it because honestly, the women in the Solomons deserve better.

Anyway, back to the less serious stuff. Now back in N.Z., letters come not by boat or from a distant province but by regular delievery on a daily basis. The days seem to spin faster and faster together. There seems to be a lack of space to sit and think and look out at that endless blue ocean. My daily morning yoga and espresso (thanks Tessa/Alle) sessions have lagged. I don't walk to work, even though I can and should. I found it too lonely, no one walks to work in my neighbourhood.

My clients, the best clients in the world.
I guess its a bit of a let down coming back but I'm finding my footing again, after a bit of stumbling around. My friend coined the term "mind lag" and that is exactly how it felt. It felt like my brain refused to process all the stuff that was floating around from being in the Solomons.

Could there be a more beautiful face?
So I went and took a good break over Christmas. My twin, Suzy, and the lovely Helen and myself packed up my faux Jeepie and took to the North. It was a great wee road trip and as I saw the snow kissed volcanoes in the centre of the North Island, the fog began to clear. Alice (I'm tired of using fake names), took me and another Sarah out to a tiny island in the Bay of Islands. We kayaked out there, the three of us chicks, out for an adventure. We camped and stayed on the island for a couple of days and it was pure magic.

Kiri, my tough talking heart of gold friend looked after me in Auckland with great meals, lots of laughter and more than a little patience. The final part of the journey was the long nine hour drive from Auckland to Wellington which I did in a day by myself. Now, when I started this time in the Sollies, I would have been anxious to drive nine hours alone. But, with the help of Jane Eyre audio book on my new trusty pink I-Phone, I was away...on my own. It felt great.

So that is me...driving away towards the sunset, with Jeepie and an I-Phone, with my fond memories and love of the Solomons. I guess there isn't one thing I could say that could ever communicate how I feel about the just was what it was. I don't think I miss it; it was there and I did it for the time I had to do it for.
My bird friend whispering sweet
nothings in my ear

I don't know for certain (does anyone?) what's next in my life but I do know that while it won't be as weird and wonderful as the Solomons, I'm sure I'm not done adventuring by a long shot. I do know that prior to going to the Sollies, I had this internal pull to do something like going to the Solomons. It used to drive me crazy because I felt this restlessness. That pull is gone now. I don't feel the need to do the extreme adventure anymore; my new adventures feel closer to New Zealand for now. But who knows? Could be room for a blog called wedges in Waikiki or mules in Morocco yet...

Honestly, I feel like for me, this new adventure is about settling down, putting down roots and starting something completely different. Since I've been back, I've been exploring internally my own stuff from a spiritual perspective.  In some ways, this journey is a lot more adventureous than the Sollies and I feel somewhat like a personal archelogist, digging in the dirt to figure out things about myself and my life.  Its a scary process at times.

The story of this blog is simply this: go for the adventure. Don't be afraid, it will be okay, because life wasn't meant to be lived from a couch or behind a computer screen. Believe me, playing it safe didn't get me anywhere. Take the leap. Learn the lessons, keep the love and leave the rest.
Now, step away from the computer screen...
Go out and have yourself an adventure!

Love (lukim ui, oleketa and wantok blo mei Makira!!!)

P.S. The Stilettos Collection grows with three new pairs of stilettos....long live high heels!!! Seriously you didn't think I'd wear jandels/flip flops/thongs forever, did you???

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Below the Waves

So as part of coming back, I've got the time and mental space to finally write about my last few weeks in the Solomons. I would have to say that, being in the cold, planned and organised world of New Zealand, I miss many things about the Sollies.  One of them is the chaos factor. Every day I walked down the street, something always made me laugh, made me slightly afraid and made me want to cry.  Mostly these emotions happened at different times.  But when those things come together, its a beautiful thing. And the most common place I expereinced them at once in the Sollies was while diving.

I'll be honest, there was a time in my experience in the Solomons that diving was all I had to look forward to.  It was right after the Christchurch earthquake and I felt completely and utterly depleted.  I took my first course around and it changed a lot for me.  For awhile, it was what I woke up for, walked for, ate for, slept for and worked for.  The first words out of my mouth when I met someone new was "do you dive?".  It become an obsession but a healthy one.  So, I just want to go through some of the life lessons I learned whilst diving in the Solomons:

My local divemaster. 

1. Sit at the bottom until things become clear: Look, I think we all know that life can be a confusing mess of crappy emotional issues. Sometimes we just can't see straight when we are going through things.  Some of us fight on, blindly swimming forward. Others try to swim out of it. Mostly, what you find is that the more you fight or the more you run, the cloudier the emotional waters get.  So, I learned to sit and wait till the cloudy water settled.  I remember sitting down at the bottom of the ocean floor and, in almost zen like position, just waiting until it was clear enough to see.

I guess, coming back here, I've had to do the same thing. There has been quite a bit of movement and upheaval and though my new job requires traveling, I've asked to stay put for awhile in Wellington.  I am waiting until the water becomes clearer and I can see more clearly where I am going. Now, this is a new thing for me cause mostly I would just power on through and say I was fine. So I've learned.

Me, looking up at the sun.
2. Your buddy will save your life, so choose a good one. Most people in the diving fraternity will agree that, as important as it is to chose good gear, its more important to chose a good dive buddy.  A good dive buddy will watch your back (literally) for sharks and all kinds of nasties. Your buddy has the potential to also share their air with you should something go wrong with your gear.  Your buddy can be your lifeline.

On one of my last dives, I got bad vertigo and was simply zoned out. My dive instructor, Gabe, was watching out and pulled me away from a jagged piece of shipwreck that my head was on a collision course with.  Twice. Maybe it was three times. Whatever, I was zoned out, on a high from a great Go Finis (leaving) pirate party the night before and was a complete bimbo underwater.

My other dive buddies were just as mindful, getting me out of scrapes.  I was really lucky; all my dive buddies were awesome, trustworthy individuals who had my best interests at heart.  But, as in life, we all make strategic errors in judgement. We trust people who shouldn't be trusted with our lives or our hearts. Luckily I never made that mistake underwater.  And, now I pursue closer friendships than before and even recently, I had a friend, out of water, point out that I was heading on another collision course with another kind of wreck.

It takes a good dive buddy to pull you away from a wreck.  It takes a great friend to do the same thing too, out of the water, so thanks friend, you know who you are.

3. Sometimes, you just have to pee on yourself.  So yeah, I promised I'd tell the story, so here it is:
Me checking out the wreck...mmm....wreck....
I was diving the Japanese submarine wreck off of Visale.  Matt, an intriguing sort of fellow and his friend Todd, took pity on me and took me out to the wreck.  We dove down and had a great time. Matt is the kind of great playful dive buddy that I love to dive with. He is engaging and fun, doing acrobatics under the water. You can tell he enjoys the feeling of weightlessness and makes great use of it.

So yeah, Matt and Todd both put me at ease instantly and I get comfortable with the sea life.  As we swim right over some unexploded torpedos, I get a sense of courage I don't normally have. I play. I engage with the sea life. I see a bunch of clown fish and go for the sea anemone.  It stings the hell out of my arm. I know I'm hurt as even under the water, I can see the swelling come up.  As we make it to the beach, Matt has to help me out of the water.

The stinging is intense and my arm becomes a mess of splotchy swollenness.  As we go to the next dive, the waves are up. I'm tired and cranky and in pain. I realise that I have a couple of options: hot water, vinegar, more salt water or urine. Now, there is no power points at the beach, so boiling ye olde jug is out of the question. As is vinegar, I left it at home in hopes of making a great salad dressing later.  Salt water seems to have no effect. So, finally, I crumble. The arm must be peed on.

Now, one of the great things about obeying rule #2 of diving (see above under choosing a good dive buddy), is that a good dive buddy steps up and says "Yo, Sara, I'll pee on your arm".  I shake my head and say no, its a lot to ask of someone to pee on you. "No, I actually have to pee really bad...."  I sigh, sad to dissappoint the boys.

"No, if someone is going to pee on my arm, its me," I say, to slightly disappointed faces. I think its mostly because everyone loves a good peeing story.  So the boys shuffle off into the water and sink below the waves, leaving me to my task.

I wander up the beach and do as we do in the Solomons.  Now is the time when my daily yoga practice comes in handy.  And its done. The pain decreases slightly and I adjust myself, pleased that no one saw.  Or so I thought. I walk towards the car and turn around in time to see a banana boat motoring past the beach, with men looking curiously towards my direction. Well, I thought, at least I only have another week and a half to go...

4. You can only worry about what you can see. This one I learned whilst night diving. Night diving is still one of the scariest and funniest things I've ever done.  It limits our power of sight and without much sound underwater, add the feeling of weightlessness and its akin to being a sensory deprivation tank. With sharks and all many of nasties you can't see.

Little Giant Clam!!!
But the great thing about night diving is that after a little while, you stop worrying about what you can't see.  Your torch can only shine light into the abyss to a certain distance and after that, could be Jaws for all you know.  I waited for the big shark to come and...well...I never saw it. So all that fear, that anxiety, was for nothing.  So I guess, my experience is that if the big shark is coming for you, it will come; there is no need to worry about it because I would have missed seeing the cuddle fish change from a cruisey sleepy blue into an angry violet when we woke it up.  And so on.

5. The sea always changes so let it. I think nothing taught me more about change than seeing buildings, like the Christchurch cathedral, in ruins.  The things we rely on, the structures and the relationships can crumble and change in a moment. One of the ways I came to find peace in the chaos was developing a better understanding about change through diving.

Why hello there fish friends
I used to dive Bonege 1 and 2 on a regular basis and instead of getting bored, I became fascinated with how it changed each time I dove it.  Fish and sea life react differently depending on whether its morning or night, whether its rainy or clear.  The wrecks themselves changed too, as the sea finally took its toil and rust and weight of coral moved the metal.

Every time I got out there, I marvelled out how different it was, day to day, week to week. Its what made the diving interesting and in a way, all these changes make life interesting too. Because who wants to be bored?  Being safe and secure is great but, for me, it isn't really living.  So yeah, change can be a beautiful thing, especially when you can take a moment to appreciate it.

Spot the blue spotted ray.
6. Don't panic. I've been deeper than I would care to admit while diving. And well, I've been slightly dumb at times, often being overly optimistic about a situation and not looking closer at a situation. What I've learned is that panic can kill you.  When people panic while diving ain't pretty.  Essentially, all kinds of bad stuff can happen to you, so its better to be as relaxed as possible and calmly make small changes if possible.
7. Enjoy the moment. If one thing diving has helped me out with, its to enjoy the moment.  Working in disasters, I'm always trying to predict what's next, what the worst case scenario is and honestly, it can be exhausting.  But when I dive, all of that goes away into a beautiful blue haze.  This is kind of like number 5 re: change but its also about relaxing into it.  I found the more present I was, the more relaxed I was.  The more relaxed I was, the more the fish seemed to just hang out with me.  It got to the point that I felt so relaxed in my watery environment that when I got out of the water, it felt foreign and difficult on land.  I much preferred my watery existence; weightless and floaty, to the harsh realities of life above the waves.  In a way, thats how I feel about coming back from the Solomons.  I feel like the Solomons, with its warmth and relaxed way of life, was a much easier life to navigate than the cold streets of urban New Zealand. 

Here, I've adapted by enjoying the moment as well. I stop and look at old buildings or trees.  I marvel at all the men in suits and women in high heels roaming our nation's capital. I try to find the moments and fill them with wonder but its hard.  Everything here seems to be geared towards future and past but there isn't a lot of people who celebrate the moment.  So I started climbing again because I find climbing very focusing.  While its not diving, I have to be focused on what I am doing in that moment.

8. You are never alone.
I think one of my favorite moments came at the very end of my diving life in the Solomons.  It was my last night dive with my great dive buddy Jo.  It was raining down and you could see the droplets of water splattering down like liquid diamonds about six inches into the waves.  As I looked up, Jo took my hand for a bit and just swam with me.  We just enjoyed that moment together and we didn't need to say anything to each other (well we were diving so we couldn't) but I felt her support and friendship through holding her hand. 

It was a special moment for me, to feel a person's unconditional love and support under the waves, in the dark.  When she let go, I could still feel that love, caring and support.  It felt really wonderful and, even though I knew that the transition back to New Zealand would be hard, I would never be alone.

And so endeth the lessons. I could wax lyrically for hours about how much diving has changed my life...but that would probably be boring.

After a month (today) of being away from the Solomons, I find the experience fading more quickly than I'd like it to.  This blog here has helped a great deal to record those little moments that made my life so special there.  And adaptation to New Zealand life continues, as does the polishing up of my final blogs.  I feel like I've got three more to go, so I hope you enjoy the final chapters of Stilettos in the Solomons.

*All photographs are from the amazing Adam Hatfield, who taught me about diving and how to say "stop f*cking around" under water.  Thanks Adam!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Big Chill

After packing up my things in a last minute rush (thanks Tessa!) I said my goodbyes and rushed through to the plane.  I boarded and sat and slept.  Mostly I wait until I board a plane to cry but this time there were no tears, just happiness and a slight feeling of being overwhelmed.

Brisbane airport staff were particularly friendly and chatty. I made it through customs easily, despite all the potential issues with my bags like carvings.  But, after declaring all the items, I made it through and was greeted by a happy, smiling face. 

Now, after a long journey like the eight months I had in the Sols, nothing NOTHING is better than being greeted by a friend, especially one you haven't seen in a long time.  I met Bonnie over last Christmas holidays and I must say, she is one of the most enchanting and fun people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  We drive along the highway and I feel completely disoriented.  Every small thing becomes large and in focus.  It was like being stuck in a slower speed while everything around me was trying to move fast. I find the feeling disconcerting and its great having Bonnie there to ground me. Bonnie is a perfect companion; soft, gentle and patient with my disoriented ways.
She takes me to one of my favorite type of food resturants: mexican.  When I get up to talk to the lady behind the counter, I speak in pidgin, forgetting where I am at.  She looks at me confused (apparently, English isn't her first language, adding to the confusion) and I quickly remember and order in english.  Phew!

After a walk around, I'm amazed at a couple of things.  First, how tidy and clean everything is. The extreme wealth is also difficult to fathom and the variety of choice.  I breathe through it and try to act as normal as possible.

We have a great meal and a laugh.  But around me everything is moving at speed, with I-Phones and I-Pads...I feel like a country bumpkin.  And its bizarre; I've only been away eigth months but I feel intensely disconnected from the world around me...I start to miss the roasted chicken cooked on large, blackened rusty barrels.  I miss the lack of caring about what everyone is wearing; style and fashion aren't high priorities in the Solomons. I miss the warm, smiling faces.  Everything feels sterile and cold.

I would get a greater shock going into Christchurch.  I've made a habit to get to the airport early; I've had too many close calls and stress outs.  I've learned. I've grown. I make it to the airport early, without stress.  And it helps me; the flight staff seem more friendly when you aren't running late or looking stressed.

I board the plane and I see black leather seats.  Without tears or holes or rips.  I see perfectly manicured faces and hands.  Everything is immaculate. And cold. 

I arrive in Christchurch, again greeted by friendly people but there is an odd stare in the eyes of Christchurchians.  A sadness, a tiredness from the earthquakes.  As I leave the terminal, I am greeted by another friendly face with big arms to hold me, my good friend Jamie, who has been a faithful companion and drinkng buddy for years.  It feels wonderful.

I'm whisked away from airport to a cafe where I meet up with friends for a good chat.  The rest of the two days seems a total blur but I manage to get a mobile phone, do a bit of shopping, pack up Jeepie (my faithful faux Jeep), have a party with some old friends and give away half of what I kept storage.

I always find it interesting how people respond to you when you return.  Some are slightly off put by you leaving in the first place, others are cold, some want to make it clear that they have moved on with their lives and don't have space for you anymore.  Others are warm, loving and happy to see you.  I am lucky in that the vast majority of my friends fall into the last category. 

I arrive at the pub for my welcome back party early.  No one is there and I'm worried that no one will come.  The pub is packed so I have to sit with an unfriendly young man who begrundgingly shares his table. After about 20 minutes, John, my mentor swings through the door.  I'm so happy to see him and share my thoughts about the Solomons.  John was one of the main inspirations for me going to the Solomons and I owe him a lot and a personal inspiration.  We chat happily while I sip on my whiskey.  As much as I love the whiskey, somehow it seems less important and less special. I'm much more interested in catching up with John.

Friends arrive with gifts and hugs and smiles.  As time goes on, and "my peeing on myself" story gets told one too many times (someday I will relay that story on this blog...but not today). I get the growing sense of how time has passed for my friends in the Shaky city.  Many looked tired and worn from the shaking. Most of them work in the emergency management field or for councils, so they have been worked off their feet.  I felt slightly ashamed; these people had WORKED for the city I loved and I had to walk away and go to the Happy Isles to finish my contract.  But no matter, they laughed and smiled and shared with me their stories.

I leave the pub late, feeling happy about the friends who showed up to wish me a good homecoming.

H and I pack up the rest of my stuff and take off in Jeepie to Kaikoura, one of my favorite places in Canterbury.  Its hard not to absolutely love Canterbury in the spring and H and I spend the time chatting cheerfully.  We meet up with some good friends and spend the night in long chats, under duvets because its cold (at least for me).  The purpose of going to Kaikoura, other than seeing the beautiful views, was to dive.  However storms prevent us from diving and in truth, I'm a little relieved.  My body still hasn't acclimitised yet to the cold and I'm not sure how it would fair under these conditions. 

Time goes too quickly and before I know it, I'm leaving Kaikoura in Jeepie, alone.  The drive is beautiful, with the sea waves rolling lazily along the jutting, rugged coast line.  There is no radio and so I drive alone, with my thoughts, uninterrupted. 

I arrive early into the beautiful Picton (something about this being early business...I'm really enjoying it).  I walk around Picton and realise how much the small city has changed.  With a huge variety of cafes and tourism shops, the Sounds have clearly become a larger tourist draw than I remember. 

I doddle around, enjoying my own company and I wonder to myself if this is what life will be like from now on; me, alone, adventuring with Jeepie.  The thought should fill me with dread but it doesn't.  If the past year and a bit has taught me anything, its to be comfortable being alone and enjoying my own company. 

Time flies by, again, and Jeepie and I board the ferry first.  It seems like I'm being rewarded by the Universe for my on time behaviour until I get stuck behind the stinky stock trucks.  The cows look at me through grates; large lashed eyes looking for escapes or even a sympathetic face.  I smile and chat to them...the driver looks at me like I'm slightly mad.  Maybe I am; I haven't seen a cow in eight months and its made me a little odd.

The ferry is beautiful and with many little knooks and crannies, one can easily find a place to sleep.  Which I do, until a guitar and banjo player start up in the bar.  Their beautiful tunes lift my already happy spirit and I leave for a moment for the upper decks.  As I look out across the water, I see the faintest of outlines of the Kaikoura Mountains. I mentally bid farewell to the South Island...but of course it isn't farewell, not forever. And I can't help but feel like, even though I may come and go from New Zealand or the Solomons or the U.S. or wherever I decide to travel, the South Island is a home to me, always. 

I turn around and look at the lush rolling hills coming towards me.  Wellington, my new home.  Its stunning in the sun light, with its blue waters and windswept hills.  I take in this moment...I'm between two great islands, drifting towards one and saying goodbye to the other.  In this moment, I feel complete and whole, proud of my time in the Solomons, at peace with my time in Christchurch (although I believe there is still much to do there too) and looking forward to a new beginning, with new friends, a new job, a new house...

And if the Solomons has taught me anything (other than being able to travel alone), its that whatever comes, I can deal with it.  Maybe not on my own (I have the greatest friends and family, really, I do.  You wanna argue with me?  You can't argue with the facts!) and it might take time, faith, some prayers, however misguided...

But whatever is coming, I'm ready.

Editors note: I'd just really rather it not involve me peeing on myself again. Cause that was no fun.  Just sayin.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goodbye Honiara

Today is my last full day in the Solomon Islands.

I can't believe I typed those words.  That this weird, wonderful, happy, difficult experience is over.  I mean, I've known for a long time this was coming.  It seemed to take forever to get here and now that today has finally arrived, it seems like it has come too fast.  I'm a mixture of emotions but under all the churning of feelings there is one basic theme: elation.  Happiness. Joy.

A couple of reasons for this.  When I came here, I was leaving a life behind, a life I loved.  I have wonderful friends and support people in CHCH.  But I knew that I needed to go, to start fresh somewhere else.  It was time.  I knew no one when I came here and I leave life long friends behind.  Here, I have a family of people who have loved me and supported me.  I am still in awe about how all this happened and I feel deeply humbled by it.

The Solomon Islands is one messed up little country.  There is poverty, violence, inequality to spare.  Things just don't work.  But, despite its flaws, I love this country.  It is, in a way, a home to me now.  So, if you are reading this, thinking about coming to the Sollies but not sure, come. Help.  Build. Live here.  This place is worth a year of your life.  And so much more.

I have much more blogging to do and a large back log of blogs to publish (especially my newbie guides) so this isn't the end of Stilettos in the Solomons by any means.  I purposely kept out a lot of stuff because I wanted to protect people and myself.  Now the gloves are kinda off...I'm calling it Stilettos in the Solomons Confidential.  HA! But fear not, gentle reader, its not going to get too crazy...just crazy enough.  My blog will probably continue till about January and then I will retire it with much love.

While everything is raw and churning in my brain, I just want to say thank you to all my friends and colleagues.  I am so grateful to all of you for making my time so special here.

Sigh...nothing more to write today, just love and happiness in my heart for those I am leaving behind and looking towards those people I am looking forward to seeing in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland (see you soon!).

All my love,