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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three’s Company (Solomon Island Style)

Marco, our wayward Italian housemate, has finally arrived to a fully set up and furnished Casa Turchese.  Marco arrives with typical Italian panache, having spent much of his luggage allowance on Parmesan cheese, olive oil, chocolates, huge wine glasses, coffee, sharp knives and, of course, a pasta maker.  Our dining room table is covered in staples from Italy.  He brings gifts for me and Tessa; it’s like Christmas and New Year all at once. I don’t know how I am going to lose any weight in this house. 

It feels like, now that Marco is back, the house is complete.  His arrival feels like a breadth of fresh air as we discuss the garden in earnest (Marco has many years of experience in agriculture) and drink coconut water with lime on the balcony in the morning. Plus, he has an outrageous Italian accent that makes me chuckle inside and despite the tropical weather wilting everyone else, still looks clean and well dressed.

From Rome, originally, with a French mother, Marco has travelled all over the world to help people grow stuff sustainably.  Among his many adventures are owning his own monkey and mongoose (who, apparently fought like, well a monkey and a mongoose), being attacked by pirates in the Caribbean, owning his own Ducati and Triumph sports car, sailing around the world for two years…the man has lived an amazing life.   We both come from broken marriages, so we relate to each other on that level as well.

Tessa plans a dinner party on Monday, inviting the loveliest French couple imaginable and Elsa.  However, the party expands quickly to include three more Italians (yes, I discovered recently that there are more than the bishop, nun and the three Italians that live either with me or in the house next door.)  These Italians are a bit different; the wife, Greta, comes from Hungary, so we decided to call them the Hungary Italians…Anyway the party balloons to 10 people, which is a bit problematic because we only have nine plates and not nearly enough silverware to cover it.

The party becomes a chorus of Italian and French.  Pasta whirls around the table with fried chicken and salad for the second course.  I sit back in the corner with my friend Arno, exchanging disaster stories.  The night flies by and, at one moment, I simply sit back and watch in awe of the people around me.  The coconut lamps cast a warm glow over smiling faces and I sit in wonder, so grateful for the events that led me here. 

The next night is James’s farewell dinner.  James, our calm and cool kiwi volunteer takes Tessa and I out to the Honiara French restaurant.  Tessa and I dress up in our finest dresses.  My legs feel naked and I put on my black high heels.  I haven’t worn them since I got here.  Marco comments that he thought he would never see me dress up. Ha! Little does he know that I was quite the clothes horse in New Zealand, with my hot pink trench coat and six inch heels. 

Here, my clothes have taken a distinctly down market feel.  First, everything I own is covered in some sort of mystery stain, despite my best efforts to keep my whites white and my colours, well, coloured. Plus I don’t think it’s appropriate to wear expensive clothes here.  But I do start feeling like I need to bring my dressing up a level; even my white jandals/flip flops/slippers/thongs are turning to a grey with all the mud they are exposed to.  It can be easy to let your appearance go here; its hot and I sweat here profusely.  Sweat is not sexy.

Anyway, we head out to the hotel and enjoy a steak dinner with blue cheese sauce.  Now, I haven’t had steak in…maybe six months?  I can’t even remember when.  The steak is very good but so rich that my body doesn’t really approve, I struggle to sleep that night.

James has been a pretty constant presence in the house for about three weeks and all three of us have 
established close friendships with each other.  He has been our cook, our washing line fixer and has helped us with pretty much everything, even our massive dinner parties.  He has taken everything in stride with typical kiwi stoic aplomb. 

He will be missed by both Tessa and me.

Power outages start plaguing Honiara; we wake up to a darkened house and the distinct lack of noise from appliances.  We don’t have air conditioner in the house, which suits me just fine but we do have big ceiling fans that hum throughout the house.  The next day, the office spends half of its time in darkness until the generator is started.

During the day, Tina and I have been delivering our calendars to our partner agencies.  Every stop I go to (except for the Australian High Comms…and I find friends there, I swear!), I know someone.  Tina even comments about how I managed such networking in the past three months that I’ve been here.   I am not sure how it happened though; I guess I’ve just been lucky with my friends. 

On Wednesday night, it’s my turn to hose a dinner party, which exploded to 11 people.  I start cooking early, mostly fresh salads and noodle dishes, but struggle to keep up with the demands of cooking.  I decide to try my hand at a green papaya salad; an old favorite from Hawaii.  Eddy, thankfully, assists me in the kitchen. Eddy is a kitchen wizard, whipping up dishes quickly and giving me excellent tips on preparing the meal.
Dinner is served a little late, but the group doesn’t seem to mind.  This dinner party is decidedly different from the one on Monday night, filled with volunteers and Adam, a new friend from my American Wantok.

Adam could have been a typical New Jerseyite: coming from a prestigious university, going to law school, he could have taken a much generic path.  But nobody who comes here is exactly normal.  He is a self styled "Hindu, Buddisht, Jew" or a Hubujew.  Adam makes me laugh hard with his classic american wit.

Adam spent several years southeast Asia, writing and working his way around.  He came to our sleepy little country to look at the peace process.  Adam has the kind of infectious energy and rabid curiosity about everything that I appreciate.  I feel an instant connection with Adam and he is just fun to be around.

But by the end of the evening, Tessa is clearly over the dinner party scene for awhile.  It is understandable: we have had almost six dinner parties since moving into the house and we still have friends who haven’t visited there.  I am having trouble keeping up with who has been when and who hasn’t, the bureaucrat in me cries out for a spreadsheet.  Finally, Tessa gives the verdict: let’s chill out on the parties for awhile. 

I’m surprised; Tessa is the definition of extroverted; clearly I’ve finally broken her.

The rest does us good.  Thursday night, Marco brings home a data projector for us housemates to watch a movie.  Pinkie, my faithful laptop, is hooked up to the projector and we all climb into my massive bed to watch the movie.  Now, a word about my new bed. It is massive.  A small village of troglodyte gnomes could set up a village and make me toys and I wouldn’t notice.  It’s also a feather top, which makes it massively comfortable.  Like so many things in this house, it is simply the best thing I’ve experienced.

We sit and watch Bladerunner, which puts Tessa to sleep in about 10 minutes. Marco and I stay up talking about whether Harrison really was a replicant (I think it’s pretty obvious) while Tessa purrs quietly next to us.
The next day, I get charged with helping sort out Marco’s bed.  I get dragged along with ten Solomon Island men in a huge truck with a bedframe on the back.  Who knows what people must have been thinking about that scenario…Unfortunately, it is just the bed frame and Marco is left with a single bed mattress with a double bed frame.  Marco is devastated; it’s a huge blow to his Italian ego to not have a big double bed.

The next night is kava night.  Now, kava is a traditional drink of the South Pacific, known for its mild hallucinogenic/relaxing qualities. It’s not illegal anywhere due to its mild nature and I don’t think it would ever really catch on outside of the region.  First off, it looks like dirty dishwater and tastes like it too.  The mild pepper taste numbs the lips and tongue.  We all suck on lollipops afterwards.  Unfortunately I chose a blue one and it looks like I’ve been making out with Papa Smurf.

We head home for pasta (which Marco dutifully makes) and Adam joins us for a night cap. Adam clearly wants to bunk here; he says it reminds him of a zany Three’s Company and he would just like to be a fly on the wall to see the antics.  He remarks about Stan and Jean next door, as potential Ropers.  The place is rife with comedy; Tessa, Marco and I make up an interesting mix.

I sort of take on the role of the “wife” of the house; cooking and shopping have become largely my tasks (although Marco and Tessa help a great deal). Saturday rolls by with a huge shopping trip with my neighbor Jean.  We have to hurry because all the shops close at noon on Saturday.  After rushing through the dusty and dirty shops of Honiara, we escape to the Rain Tree café for much needed pizza and a gigantic jug of bush lime drink.  After a final trip to the central market, its rest time at Casa Turchese.

At night, I cook up chicken and local mushrooms with a blue cheese cream sauce.  It’s the first time I’ve ever made it; I have no recipe, I just fake it.  Marco smiles and says it is one of the best chicken and mushroom dishes he has ever had. I find this hard to believe given his Italian/French background but take the compliment 

Sunday is a World War 2 tour.  I have to admit by the time I take the tour, I’m a bit exhausted.  This has been such a social, crazy week and so much has happened that I’m still processing everything.  The guide is good but much of what he shows us really isn’t terribly impressive.  Most of the artillery and other stuff have been taken away by scrap dealers.  Other than seeing a beach, an empty field and the two war memorials, there isn’t much to see.  Usually, I’m the annoying tourist in the group, asking all the really probing questions but Adam takes on the role happily and I am able to just sit and think.

The large group goes to the Iron Bottom Sound and we munch happily on pizza.  I go home, exhausted. 
Marco sits down next to me outside on our balcony and we talk about how the house really feels like a home.  It’s true; even in the two weeks I’ve been here; this place feels more like a home than any I have lived in for the past ten years.  I’m excited to come home rather than feel a sense of dread that I used to feel in Christchurch, avoiding home as long as I could; dragging my feet at work.  This place feels like mine, every quirky little angle or misshapen corner feels comforting.  And the view…well who can argue with waking up and looking out at the ocean in the morning or watching the full moon illuminate the trees around us.  I’ve never been someone to put down roots but here I can feel myself enjoying the process here.

I feel like I’ve been here forever and that is the tricky thing about being here.  Three months feels like six months.  Life moves at a different pace here and I take a lot of time enjoying simple pleasures.  The slower pace, warm weather and beautiful environment are getting to me; much more romantic thoughts enter my brain. 

Even my friend, Carlo (one of the Hungary Italians), notices.

“You are a very happy person…it infects everyone around you.  How did you get so happy?” he asks me.

I’m stumped.  I have no idea how all this happened. 

Maybe it’s the new romance of this place.  Maybe it’s the sea or the trees or all of it.   Maybe it’s my amazingly fun, zany housemates.  Maybe it’s the influx of pasta and good cheese that Marco brought from Italy.

Whatever it is, I’m not going to question it or wonder how long it’s going to last…I’m just going to go with it.


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