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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Village of the (Damned) Bogans

“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
-Winston Churchill

Our boat engine has died.  Again.  Now, Solomon Islanders are particularly stoic people; they go with the flow etc…but when something goes wrong…really wrong, they try to settle the score with God so things can go back to normal again. 

 “Confess! Someone needs to confess!!!!!” the Boat Driver yells.

I swallow.Confessing my sins in front of my coworkers is the last thing I want to do...

Before I left on my Temotu/Wogasia/Weathercoast trifecta adventures, my country manager tells me to confess my sins to the smallest child I can find to ensure good luck with boats.  I’m not entirely sure I feel comfortable with revealing my sins to a child, so I pass it off as a joke.  He says it makes sense because the child won’t remember and can’t tell anybody.

It all seemed very superstitious and mystical; to confess one’s sins just to make sure a boat engine works.  Now I begin to wonder if maybe there was something to it…   

A tropical depression hits the Weathercoast hard, while we are still on the boat.  The seas rise and massive waves are generated, slapping the coast and the hull of our boat.  Now would not be an ideal time for our engine to fail.  Which, of course, it does. 

The second boat comes around and it takes the entire crew’s strength to hold the two boats together long enough for Regan and me to safely cross over.  As soon as our bums hit the hard seats, I breathe out a sigh of relief. 

The boys quickly repair the engine (sea water keeps getting into the petrol tanks) and we are all motoring again.  Until the engine on the second boat fails and we have to make the cross again.  As the engine threatens to fail a third time, I am about ready to confess every single bad thing I’ve ever done to some flying fish or maybe my chickens.  I’m a fan of whatever gets the engine started again, silly traditions or not.

We finally make what can only be described as rough and/or suicidal landing on a rocky beach.  More cracks in the boat appear, especially in the hull.  But it doesn’t matter, I am back on dry land.

“That was a little rough,” the boat driver says.  No kidding.  The Solomon Islanders are the kings of understatement.

As soon as we arrive, the tropical depression decides we need some rain.  The rain falls in huge, vicious drops as we hike up to the next village.  By the time we arrive, we are soaked.  The village welcomes us quietly and seems to understand that it has not been an easy voyage for our team.  They give us hot drinks, food and leave us alone to our guesthouse, where we sleep.  The program is supposed to be at night but the tropical depression continues to batter to the coast.  The wind howls outside and the rain sounds like live ordinances hitting the roof.    

We make a break from the rest house in the evening to go and meet with the community at the church.  We sing songs and clap.  Despite the horrible weather, I find this village beautiful and wish I had more time there. The large immaculately kept lawns are circled by tall leaf houses.  The young chief looks after us all night, and ensures we have as pleasant of a stay as possible.    

We leave the village, anxious for the last day to be over.  The tropical depression has died down now and it leaves a lovely sunny day out on the water.  I figure the worst had passed.  I was wrong. 


I should have known that no travel experience is truly complete without running into a pack of bogans.
Now, my experience with bogans has been…checkered.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are bogans.  As individuals, they are lovely, kind, good contributing members of society.  But get them together; add booze and/or drugs, and barbeque…suddenly the bogan tribe turns into an unmanageable group of hooligans crazies that engage in head butting, petty crimes and general mayhem. 

In New Zealand, I witnessed a number of fist fights and a general horrific disregard for other people in general at bogan parties.  I have had so many drunken conversations with at bogan parties where throwing myself at the burning embers of the barbeque seemed a sensible option to continuing any kind of dialogue.  The whole “I hate society and everybody in it” became taxing, especially when the bogans happily take advantage of things like electricity, running water (when there was such a thing in Christchurch) and transportation, without lifting a finger to contribute.  Ah the delusion of entitlement and “I’m going to blame someone else, it’s never my fault, it's all (society, parents, significant others, work, religion, politicians etc...) fault!” runneth strong with the bogans… 

The complete lack of empathy for others and arrogant entitlement really got to me.  It stills does, especially when I live in a developing country where even basic services are completely lacking.  And yet people carry on here and are pretty content with their lot in life…unlike the bogans I knew, who seemed deeply unhappy and angry.  It must be tiring carrying around all that anger all the time; I just couldn’t be bothered with it.

Anyway, bogan parties are not something I ever really want to go through again.  Which is why, of course, I meet the Solomon Island bogans…because that old adage does hold true: whatever you resist persists!

Our little bogan adventure begins on a beach, waiting for our broken down boat to return.  We wait for three hours on the beach during that time guys from the village come down to see us, drink Solbrew (the local beer) and then proceed to ignore us.  I ask for water and/or a coconut…some water comes several hours later; the men are too busy drinking to be bothered to look after the wellbeing of their guests.

Just as the boat finally makes it to the beach, the skies open up and pores down on us.  We hike through the rain to get to the village.

“You are going to be greeted by warriors,” I hear.

Great, I’ve heard that before.  But I enjoyed the experience in Temotu, despite getting grazed in the shoulder by a stray arrow.  I had a bad feeling about this.  

Bushes to the sides of me begin to move and shimmy.  Charcoal blackened faces begin to scream and a pack of wild men/boys jump out from their hiding places.  They are all completely drunk. 

They jump at us, brandishing weapons and wearing charcoal war paint.  The screams grow louder and louder.  There is hopping and screaming.  A club is repeatedly thumped on the ground around me.  Finally, a woman comes out and gives compensation to the warriors and we are promised safe passage.

We get to the village and the women are in full regalia, dancing their greeting.  It’s lovely and I really enjoy watching the dances BUT I’m soaked to the bone and would love to put on some dry clothes.  They wouldn’t let us for about three hours.  The partying had begun and no one could leave.

There was a stage with huge speakers and some mixers.  The speakers looked new, as did the generator that powered the whole set up.  A kind of Solomon Islands polka, with indecipherable words piped through speakers.  A gaggle of awkward looking boys hide behind the mixer, holding an IPOD.

The chief as drunk.  The M.C. was drunk.  The priests were drunk.  All the men in the village were drunk off their face. 

The evidence was mounting quickly. This village met most of the main criteria for being defined as bogans:
1.       Sound equipment (seriously, there were speakers seven feet tall with mixing boards) well beyond the financial means of any of the village members combined.  These guys would rather have access to an amazing sound system then have access to clean fresh water or toilets.
All males were completely off their face drunk, including the chief and M.C.
3.       Women and children looked moderately frightened the whole time.
4.       Partying until way past daylight.
5.       Fist fights and large amounts of swearing and yelling broke out.
6.       So many beer cans were crushed and laid lying around that we could have built a Toyota Hilux out of the recycled cans.
7.       Large amounts of pot and/or beetlenut were consumed.
8.       Locks on the INSIDE of doors for BEDROOMS.  Most villages don’t have doors for bedrooms let alone locks. 

  Wives and children bear the brunt of the party; kids can’t sleep due to the loud music and when any woman says anything about it, she gets a quick smack and is taken out behind her house for a full on beating.

A fight breaks out over a woman and a hilarious drunken exchange occurs that went something like this:

“Fuk’em ui!”

“No! Fuk’em ui!!!”

“No!!!! Fuk’em ui!!!”

And it goes on and on until I hear some punches being thrown behind a house.  The chief comes out, still drunk, yells at the boys.  Compensation must be paid immediately to the tune of a pig and 200 dollars.  The pig is slaughtered immediately.

I watch from the safety of the balcony and no one notices me until the boys downstairs start talking about hanging up the “misses” (term for white women, which means me) like a pig and taking her.  I’m not sure what they mean by “taking” me but I have suddenly flashbacks of Deliverance. I quickly walk away from the balcony and lock the door from the inside.


The music is so loud that I can still hear it clearly despite the speakers being almost a kilometer away and having ear plugs in. The music is the same ten songs repeated over and over again.  I assume it was ten songs, honestly it sounded so similar to each other that it might have been one song.

While this would be merely annoying in N.Z., you could at least call the cops or noise control for assistance to deal with these guys.  Or send some big fellah next door to threaten to smash heads in.  No such luck here.  My cellphone doesn't work here, there are no cops anywhere.  This place is the definition of lawless.  When one woman publicly announces that before my organisation's project, women were beaten and killed because the lack of a certain resource, I feel...slightly concerned about my safety in this village.  

It is impossible to get any sleep.  Regan and I are freezing because all our clothes are wet and we weren’t offered a blanket of any kind.  Our hostess is trying to get her two year old to sleep and doesn’t have time to look after us.   

I try to be calm.  I try to go through my personal spiritual philosophies.  I go through every spiritual belief I know to try and have empathy and love for the people outside.  I am love and loving.  Everyone is part of the universal subconscious. We are all interconnected spiritual beings. I take deep breathes.  I count to 100.  I think of a stone cottage in winter, calm under a blanket of snow.  I sing “I am a Child of God” to remember that we are all children of God. 

Nothing works.  I still hate this f*cking village with all my heart.  Well specifically the men, the women seem to be okay, the children seem to live in a constant state of fear.

As crates of expensive Solbrew come in, I finally realize that I'm really angry.  I mean, what is the point in doing any kind of development work here if people prioritize getting pissed over having access to clean water?  Or having an education? Or looking after their own kids to make sure they are healthy and make it past the age of five? 


Emotionally, I’m a wreck and I mentally write my own resignation letter out several times.  I question development as a whole and what my part is in it.  I suppose everyone needs that moment, where things are less fun, less novel and just scary or demoralizing. 

With the combination of bad boat rides, tropical cyclones, chickens, little food, sleeping on floors, no electricity or access to a hot shower...I face my first full on meltdown.  This was my "I'm completely disillusioned" moment.

The next morning we are continually delayed by the village elders because they are too hungover to say goodbye and by this time, our last day out in the Weathercoast, I am officially done.  Regan and I put on the only moderate set of dry clothes we posses.  However, as we leave, the chief finds it great fun to splash water all over us from the river, the muddy pond and finally the sea.  I’m about to have a serious freak out but I breathe and know that this too shall pass. 

I am so happy when we clear the bay, I give a shout out for joy.  Regan laughs and shouts with me; she hated the village too. The staff look rough and even they seem a bit shell shocked by the whole experience.  We all look like we have seen better days. 


The water is a lake, calm and smooth.  We have to take rest at a bay some 45 minutes from the last village and at least another three hours in the boat back to Honiara.  I don’t care; I’m out of the bogan village.

 As we round the point, the water seems to look clearer; suddenly, white sandy beaches appear.  The black sands of the Weathercoast are gone.  Reefs populated with fish appear underneath us.  As we stop into a protected inlet, I feel I have arrived in my own personal paradise.  It is quiet.  There are no people, no guest houses.  The sand is a warm golden colour and powdery and I sit down enjoying the sun.  I get a little nap to make up for the lack of sleep from Bogan Village. 

We eat some roast pig and I feed my chickens some greasy pig fat.  I decide not to feed them chicken because it’s just to Silence of the Chickens for me.  I feed some of the fish pig fat as well and we all wait for the second boat to arrive.  For another four hours.  But arrive it eventually does; we climb on board and make our way to Honiara. 

The water is pretty smooth until we see Savo and then it chops up.  I didn’t think I would get off that easy.  There are so many thumps and ups and downs I feel like I need an ass transplant.

When we finally get to Yacht Club, I am ready for a long hot shower and my comfy bed, having slept on woven mats for seven days. 

The program manager says that he hopes I like the Weathercoast because I am going back there in September.  For up to two weeks.

I grab my chicken Pricilla and, gently caressing her head, I begin to confess my sins.

(Editor's Note: I just want to say how grateful I am to the staff for getting me around the Weathercoast in one piece.  The development workers in the Solomons operate in very rough conditions and I appreciate the work they do.  I am eternally honoured for the opportunity to have been to the Weathercoast, despite the many hilarious mishaps and bogan run ins.  Thank you!) 

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