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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ch ch ch ch Changes...

Man, things progress quickly in Honiara.

At the beginning of the week, I was stuck in my tiny, oppressive little hotel room, feeling a bit sorry for myself, feeling a little homesick and fragile.  By the end of the week, my life was sort of magically transformed.

It all started with a little pasta party at my friend Tessa’s house.  Tessa and I had sort of been playing with the idea of moving in together (sorry not in a sexy way), with Marco, our other Italian friend. 

The house Tessa lives in is amazing; the woodwork is spectacular and it is shaped like a chalet; an odd design for Honiara.  She greets me at the door and tells me the house next door is for rent and in our price range.  I take a look and immediately fall in love, with what has now been dubbed, “Casa Turchese”(Turquoise House). 

The name stuck because of the alarmingly bright blue paint on the outside of the house and also because of the amazing sea views from the balcony and two bedrooms.  The master suite, which is mine, has a huge bed, ensuite, and again, an ocean view with the islands and hills in the background.

Along for the site visit is two Australian blokes, who volunteer to come with me and ask the technical questions so that I don’t make any rash decisions.  I tend to go with my gut on things and well, that hasn’t always worked out so well.  They ask sound questions of the landlord about power, water, and security. 
But no matter what the answers might have been, I knew within five minutes this house would have to be mine.  Before I arrived in Honiara, I had all these plans to get a kitten, grow a garden, learn to cook great food and get an expat family around me.  I was disappointed that it hadn’t worked out that in Sanalae but I tried to accept it for what it was rather than what I wish it would be.

I go back with the Aussie boys and tell Tessa my decision.  Tessa isn’t as rash as me but she is excited too at the possibility. 

The pasta party turns out to be a real treat; the company is fantastic and I make some more new friends.  But I can’t stop thinking about the house; houses like that go QUICK in Honiara.  I stalk my work mates at the host organization to get things sorted as quickly as possible.

Tessa hums and haws a bit but commits early on.  Marco took some convincing; living with two singles girls in their 30s must be a daunting thing for a single guy but he eventually came around.

The house is secured with a contact and all issues with the house (wonky staircase, bizarre layout of the downstairs bathroom) are quickly resolved.  The landlord will allow us to paint a mural to cover up the downstairs (Tessa is a beautiful artist and is currently taking painting lessons from a local man to master Melanesian art).   

The landlord promises us not one but TWO kittens.  His cat just had kitten yesterday and will give them over to us after Christmas. 

There is a great space for a little garden and wild cherry tomatoes and pumpkins are already growing.  For Tessa it is ideal; her last place is across the street and her old flatmate, Elsa, promises to visit daily. 
This is the place I have dreamt about. 

I was so excited; I got sick the following day and had to go in for a malaria test.  I went to a local clinic that was basic but clean.  The nurse stuck my finger and put a bit of blood on a slide. It took about 15 minutes and the results, thank goodness, were negative.  My local doctor was named Lazarus, which I think is probably the best name for a doctor ever. He is kind and efficient and gives me an antibiotic for a sinus infection. 

After an afternoon in bed, I feel much better and start getting up the courage to do something I had been avoiding: the PADI course.

Now, those who know me well know that I have what one might define as an extreme and irrational fear of sharks. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate sharkies; in fact I am fascinated by them.  I’m the first person to sit on the couch and watch Shark Week on Discovery Chanel.  I find them to be beautiful creatures that are sadly facing extinction due to overfishing and destruction of their environment.

I just never, ever want to meet one in the water. 

I take a deep breath.  I pick up the phone and call for my lesson.  The Solomon Islands has some of the best dive spots in the world, due to the plethora of ship wrecks, water clarity, marine environment and temperature of the water.

I sign up and hope for the best.

The next day, its another party, this time for the younger Australian volunteers.  It’s a hot night and a huge thunderstorm is hanging around, just over the water.  The thunder sounds like God is playing pool upstairs.  We talk the night away and before I realize it, it is midnight already and this girl is about ready to turn into a pumpkin.

During Christmas time, it is a veritable gauntlet of parties; one almost every night and new people to always meet.

I realize that it may seem like all I do here is party or go on amazing adventures, but I do actually do some work.  I chose not to write about it much because a) I don’t want my host organization to be embarrassed by this blog (or me) and b) its boring.  Who wants to read a blog about work?

But here is a moderately funny story. Today, I got invited to cover a signing of an important agreement between my host organization and another country.  As a comms person, I’m used to sitting the background, joking with the reporters and making friends with camera guys, listening to the radio jounros complain that they don’t get the same access as the t.v. crews…. But not this time; I was dragged up, front and centre, to represent my organization.  Now, I was wearing my organisation’s polo shirt and a pair of shorts, with jandels, no makeup and legs that hadn’t been shaved in a couple of days.

Now, the host country is very…formal.  So let’s just say I felt completely out of place and I inwardly scolded myself; the problem is here it is hard to dress fancy because the sweat wrecks your nice clothes so quickly.  So yeah, I looked like a university student in finals week.  I vow to step up the work wardrobe…
After that, the weekend perked up quite a lot with another party on Friday night and a beach party on Saturday.  We went to Kangaroo Point, where there is a lovely little house that you can rent for the day and you get the whole beach to yourself. 

We swam in the clear water and created a lovely flotilla of mismatched floaty thingys and gently drifted in the Pacific, with cool beer and good company.  I sit on the beach talking to friends and see a sword fish jump out of the water.  I'm the only one who sees it; everyone else turns around, looks, sees the wake and thinks I'm probably mad.

In the evening, the fire wood was brought out and a we sat around the bon fire, which worked pretty well until the skies poured down rain.  There was something pretty romantic about sitting next to the fire and getting soaked at the same time, with the waves lapping softly in the background. 

The next day was pretty much the same; we went to Bonege Beach.  Now, if there was one famous spot to snorkel and dive in in Honiara, it would be this one. There is a lovely sunken boat there and an artificial reef was created.  Sea urchins and brain coral have attached themselves to the bottom of the ship floor and through it sides.  I’m a bit nervous; the water near the beach is cloudy and the waves are slightly higher than I typically feel comfortable with.

Marco and Tessa stay with me the whole time and we make it over the bow of the ship.  Tessa holds my hand as we swim over the bow of the ship. The ship’s bow comes out like ribs from the ocean’s floor.  As I look below me, the whole thing feels like swimming in a gigantic fish tank.  Tessa grins as she see clown fish swimming in and out of a sea creature’s tendrils. After five minutes or so, I let Tessa's hand go; I felt absolutely silly holding her hand but it did make me feel more at ease.

When we surface she tells me why she loves the little clown fish so much.

“When I was back home, the school I worked with didn’t have enough money to go to the aquarium.  So I hosted a big party and called it “Funding Nemo”.  We made enough money that night to fund not one but TWO trips to the aquarium,” she grins broadly.
The ship's rusty old stack rise high about the ocean and local kids happily scale the structure and jump off from the top.  There are lots of people there; it’s a favorite diving and swimming spot.    

After the swim, we sun ourselves and dry off.  The beaches here are mostly rocky and have loads of shell and broken coral.  Note: if you come here, reef shoes are a very good idea!

I’m off to the airport; I’m dropping a colleague off and in return getting their truck for six weeks!   I am beyond excited at this point to be getting my own wheels.

I miss my Jeepie; a little Suzuki I picked up in Christchurch.  This year, after four months of not having any vehicle, I broke down and bought Jeepie.  It was an important purchase for me; it was the first vehicle I ever picked out myself.  I picked it because I wanted to be able to go anywhere; I wanted the freedom of doing what I wanted, when I wanted.  And I got exactly that.  Jeepie was a great symbol and it made me feel just good having her.

The new truck has that same feeling.  The environmentalist inside of me hates to admit it but I simply LOVE driving a truck.  I love the feeling of riding high and the visibility.  I like the feeling of power as well.  It makes all the men here smile when they see me, quite a short woman, climb behind the wheel and take off.

After the truck pick up, was a get together at a woman’s house to look at local art.  Many people are going home for Christmas (I’m not, I’m braving the orphan Christmas once again!) and they want gifts.  The artist’s work is beautiful; he works in three different media: carving, drawing, and painting.  His carvings are really, really special; he uses ebony and rosewood as well as stone.  He inlays shell to beautiful effect and has some 
real unique pieces. 

I don’t buy from him but enquire if he would consider doing a flying fish tattoo design for me (it’s something I’ve been toying with for awhile).  I like the concept of a flying fish; it’s such a unique, beautiful creature and I think it fits me.  He seems excited at the idea and I take down his phone number.  Time will tell if I have enough courage and/or desire to actually do it. 

The day ends with a visit with the new kittens.  Tessa and I pick a brother and sister; one is white with calico spots and the other is fully tabby with beautiful orange throughout her fur.  They are very small; only two weeks old but already the white one is showing his personality.  He talks a lot and playfully fights with his litter mates.  The little girl is the runt of the litter; small and petite and is quite shy but very laid back.  I can’t wait to bring them home. 

In the evening, we have a pasta feast by Tessa and some friends sit around the table talking about life and passion.  A great week, to be sure.

So from last Monday to this were monumental changes in my life.  My Solomon Island family grows; I have a beautiful home, great friends, kittens, a truck and am going to be exploring the underwater world. 
I don’t know how it happened. Maybe it is my constant worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (I mean, who can resist his noodlie appendages and the correlation between pirates and climate change?) or my belief that if are going in the right direction, things just work for you. Blessings rain from heaven. Whatever it is, I am so grateful.

I can’t take credit for any of it; I’m just a very lucky fish. 

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." -Anais Nin

Till next time,