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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sex and the Solomons

Okay faithful readers. I'm going to talk about it. I sort of pinkie promised myself that I wouldn't talk about cause, well, its a bit personal. But love is clearly in the air here in Honiara (I leave it up to you to ponder whether it has struck me or not). Everywhere I turn there are people falling in love or hooking up. I don't know if its the time of year here or what but something is clearly up.

This is kind of my advice guide for newbies re: sexual interactions in the Solomons.  I've started this little series for newbies because I get lots of emails asking me about what its like here, where are all the hot men I thought, after 10 months of being here, I've amassed a certain amount of wisdom on the subject. Just don't going thinking I'm a slutty mcslut for giving you this advice: MUCH of it has been gleamed from others.

Let me say a few words to the non Solomon Island dweller: love here is a complicated thing. Not that love anywhere is straight forward but there are all kinds of taboos around sexual interactions in the Solomons. And, remember folks, these are ISLANDS. Hard to get away from people if it doesn't work out.

When I go to the village, me and the local girls often talk about men. There is a surprising innocence and propriety around sex in the Solomons but, from statistics, its clearly going on here. The birth rate is high and unmarried pregnancies are common occurrences.

Note: There is also an alarmingly high rate of sexual violence towards women in the Solomons. This needs to be discussed at length on a highly effective level and I don't feel I have the knowledge or technical ability to clearly discuss those issues right now in this blog entry. I have several friends who work in that field and they are my heroes. It would be disgraceful to pretend to be as knowledgeable or as adapt as they are at discussing these issues. So I'm going to keep it light.

Social sexual interactions are a strict no no in the Sollies. Men and women do not hold hands while walking down the street. Men hold hands with other men and women hold hands with other women but I have rarely seen a woman and man hold hands here. There is no public kissing or hugging of the opposite sex.

So without further ado, here is my thoughts on some of the key relationship terms or issues here in the Sollies.


Me and my faithful housemate Carol (who moved in about two months ago to Casa Turchese) attend a wedding on Saturday afternoon. There are certainly hallmarks of a very western wedding: the big white dress, the groom in a tux, and the bridal party all in matching pink outfits. The ceremony is Anglican and, in formal, quite similar to anything I've seen in the states or N.Z. But one thing is different. Instead of the “you may now kiss the bride”, the priest says “you may now lift the veil of your brides”. There is no big finish kiss, just a modest lifting of the veil.

I felt slightly sorry of the bride in her huge white dress. The girl, only 20, was sweating profusely in the heat, as was her young groom.

After the ceremony, the couple leaves the church and heaps of colourful confetti are thrown at the couple. Then we are off to another location for the reception. The bride and groom barely interact, as if slightly embarrassed by the whole situation. The reception is held at a school hall and the wantoks of the bride and groom have prepared a huge feast of motu (an above ground oven covered in rocks) kasava, fish, chicken and veggies. The wedding cake is banana with white icing (it was delicious, of course I tried it), three tiered with a white bride and groom statue on top.

I was, I must admit, slightly disappointed with the conventional nature of the wedding. I was hoping for something a bit more Solomon Island rather than the traditional boring old wedding but it all seemed very by the book, down to the line of handshaking.

Bride price

This tradition is common in the Solomon Islands. In most places, the original intention of it was to pay the family of the bride the amount of income they would lose when the bride leaves the family for the groom's home.

Now, bride price has become a totally new thing (according to some of my local matron friends). There is a very large ceremony and quite a lot of money is now paid to “purchase” the woman. The intention, again according to my local matron (older women) friends, has been warped beyond recognition, giving the man “ownership” over his bride. Many blame the influence of colonization and the church for the reasons why women are now much more subjugated than before. With only snippets of oral history, its hard to tell whether women had it better or worse in the days before Mendana found this sun dappled isles.

The tradition of bride price is controversial, as it creates a sense of women as objects that can be sold and bought, rather than individuals with rights and freedoms. However, not all people see bride price this way and some people stick to the traditional notion of it being simply a method to compensate the families.

Either way, it is an old tradition in the Solomons and not one that is likely to be changed any time soon.

02, 03s (pronounced oh-two, oh-three)

One not uncommon phenomenon here is the concept of having multiple partners, usually without the other partners knowing about it. Its not just a male activity, women here take multiple partners as well, especially in Honiara (its fairly unheard of in the villages).

I believe the concept of having multiple partners came, partly, out of the over abundance of women versus men at one time in the Solomon Islands. When I speak to my local male co-workers, there seems to be a perception that if you treat one woman badly or get bored, simply get another one because there are so many women.

In a recent meeting, I pointed out that, statistically speaking, there are now more men than women in the Sollies and a significant amount of more men than women in Honiara. My local male coworker was shocked, and explained:

“But there are so many women at the clubs!”

Despite the anecdotal evidence, this may turn into a problem very soon for Solomon Island men. With less women, there could, potentially interesting shifts in the dynamics of social interaction.

Bush Married

Living together is kind of a no no in the very religious Solomon Island context. Locals have created a work around called being bush married which is living together but not legally married but is recognised as being married by the local community. There are many reasons why this happens:

-It can be difficult if you live outside the urban areas to get the proper paperwork completed re: marriage certificate.

-Also divorce is also very difficult to get here, so many couples chose to stay married on paper, with the man or woman simply moving on to another relationship by living with someone else.

-It is not uncommon for men to leave their wives and move on to other women quickly.

-Women also run away from unhappy marriages only to find themselves replaced when they return to their villages. Often, women have to pay compensation to those who they have upset (usually the in laws) if they wish to return to their family home.

Creeping (a slightly Chosieul phenomenon)

Now, I'm a bit hesitant to discuss creeping, as I am not an authority on this issue and I have never been to Chosieul, so I can't speak from experience. I do know that this does not happen everywhere in Choiseul, so bear with me.

Choieul is a particularly gender separated culture; women and men rarely interact in a social setting. But, obviously, people need to interact somehow. The young available men go “creeping” at night. Creeping involves men taking ladders up to girls windows and climbing inside. Then stuff happens, the girl does not know who she is with and the man leaves. However, if the man likes the girl, he leaves out her bedroom door to meet with the father. This indicates his intention to marry to the family.

While lots of local people have problems with this tradition, its a difficult one to break because the mothers and fathers of the young people involved typically met or interacted in this same fashion. I'll leave it up to you, gentle reader, to decide what you think about it.

The non local context (EXPATS)

Dating amongst the ex pat community is not an easy thing, although I have several friends who met here and fell in love and have great relationships. But the expat community is very small and if it doesn't work out, pretty much everybody knows about it and why. The sense on anonymity is completely gone here and everybody knows everyone else's business. Essentially, my advice here is: don't be an asshole to people. If you want to shag around, that's fine, but people hear about it. If you treat people like crap, well, it gets around. I'm just sayin.

Now, the drunken hook up is common here, as is drunken behavior in general. And, like a drunken hook up anywhere, its slightly uncomfortable to deal with but here, you gotta deal with it at some point. My advice is: deal with it sooner rather than later and just be upfront and honest about your intentions. Everyone will be happier if you do that.

So, don't be an asshole. And if you do like someone, be pretty sure before you head in there cause it can get kinda messy if it turns to custard. Its very hard to avoid each other on this little island. Anyway, if things don't work out, my advice is to stay classy about it (which is my advice about most everything).

Expat/local dating

Now, this is completely a personal choice and I really have no advice here. I have heaps of friends, both men and women, who have had cross cultural relationships here and its worked out great. I've also seen it go horribly, horribly wrong.

The scenario of it going wrong looks something like this: I've seen ex pat men have relationships with local women, only to leave them when the contract is up, sometimes with little ones, and then the men are back off to Australia or N.Z., never to be heard of again. Or local men turning their backs on their families only to have their expat women leave them to another assignment and then struggle to reintegrate back into their wontok system.

Also, be aware that the drunken hookup is likely not necessarily a wise idea with this context. I know several people who got called out by this, only to find out their hookup was married or a sex worker or both. Threats of violence can occur as do demands for money. So just tread carefully with the drunken hookup.

I guess my only words of consideration is what it would be with any cross cultural relationship: respect the traditions and understand that there are significant differences between the two of you. Love and accept those differences. Trying to change anyone is an impossible feat in any relationship, so I wouldn't suggest trying it (believe me, its just not worth it!). That's my two cents.

Again, don't be an asshole to local women or men. No one deserves to be treated like personal sex objects (unless they agree to that and are totally on board with it), especially the lovely, trusting and warm people of the Solomon Islands. Sorry but I'm going to be judgy about any douchebaggery in this regard. If you do treat people like crap, and I hear about it, we are going to have to have words. I'm just sayin.

In conclusion, love is a complicated thing everywhere, even in these little sunny islands in the Pacific. So have fun, enjoy the sun, don't be an asshole and you should be just fine.

P.S. To all the ladies who email me asking me where all the hot men are...well, typically they are all stuck on the base and need a pass to get out. So good luck with that, ladies.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a difference a decade makes

Ten years ago today a tragedy of almost unimaginable scale occurred. The event, of course, is the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Now, I'm not doing this blog entry because I want to discuss the events of that day or the devastation of what occurred afterwards in Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed throughout the whole Middle East. Whatever you believe happened on that day, one thing is clear: everyone's life changed.

For me, this anniversary will also the mark the day I moved from the U.S. At the time, I believed I would return in a year, after my year of travelling around the world.  I never made it around the world, not till last year. And I never moved back to the U.S.

I remember the day clearly, arriving at the airport in Christchurch, being interviewed by Radio N.Z. Whilst watching the first scenes of the planes hitting the towers, in shock. I had just left the U.S. a mere 12 hours before and my home was under attack. I wanted to hop right back on the plane and go back. But I couldn't.  All the planes were grounded for two weeks. I was stuck in a country where I knew no one, the future uncertain.  Scared, alone.

I found my feet in the wonderful country I would later call home for the better part of ten years.  As for going home, I actually wouldn't return for another year. I stayed in N.Z. for lots of reason but when I returned to my home, everything was different. People were less welcoming, American flags waved on lawns everywhere. It was like walking into the Twilight Zone ...everyone was either afraid, angry or both. People still talked in somewhat hushed tones and it seemed to me that everyone was still very much in a grieving period.

I felt totally out of place; people had gone through something I couldn't understand. I felt like a foreigner in my home. In N.Z. I had been cushioned from the reality of the grief, the pain my country was processing. The stark reality of my choice was there, all around me, and it was intense.

Somehow, a decade passed. When I visit home, things have moved on but the effects can still be felt in the economy and in conversations. It is something so deep that I think no matter how much time passes, the pain dulls but remains in the background like a radio you forgot to turn off.

Grief does funny things to people.  Heart break can turn loving people into enemies.  I know from my own experience that it can turn best of friends to strangers overnight. 
So after some reflection about life and its strange, epic confusing and grief filled turns, I honoured the day, this sad anniversary, by doing what I call my Honiara epic day: five km run, a dive and a yoga session.(Here beginneth the lighter part of this blog entry).

I did a five kms run in the morning. The run was a part of the Solomon Marathon. All of us eager beavers started near the Heritage Hotel, bright and early at 8 a.m. On a Sunday morning. Little pikininis (children) barefoot and excited crowded the start of the starting line. And suddenly we were off, running down the main street on Honiara. I did well for the first 500 metres and then my lungs began to burn.

One thing stung: I was being outpaced by a little four year old with bare feet wearing a red shirt and matching red bandana. The little one screamed his battle cry as he left me embarrassingly in the dust. Its like when you are skiing and you see the little ones just zoom down the slopes past you while you are laying a pile of poles and planks having biffed it on the ice.

The race was typical of all of fun runs I've done: those competitive types go to the front and run their hearts out and then begin to walk, breathless and red. Now me, I'm the definition of a pack horse, slowly but surely running at a steady if slow pace. Yeah, its two kms down and the little rock star pikinini has still outpaced me.

Finally, I meet up with Viola who has decided to walk. I convince her to run to the half way mark with me; I'm proud to say I haven't started walking yet. We drink up, take a quick rest and then off. We run through the shade and then walk through the light. Our bodies are covered in sweat and sunscreen gets into my eyes, causing them to sting strongly. I used to love running but I gave it up here but its difficult to do (although I do show up at Hash occasionally but definitely not often enough).

We make it to last bit and rock out; finally I pass the little four year old, ashamed that I'm actually glad I beat him to the finish line. I am a sad, sad woman.

It feels great; the finish line is filled with people cheering us through to the finish line. The liveliness and happiness is like nothing I've seen before at a fun run and the atmosphere is down right festive.

I take a wee break but meet up with Stan, my fearless neighbour again after he finishes his 10 kms run. We hop into his Hilux and head back home. In the car, we both agree that its a beautiful day for a dive and why not? So despite my aching right knee and the voice in my head saying “oi! Don't push it”, we head off to Tulagi Dive to grab some tanks and weights.

Now, this is my third dive of the weekend, having done Bonege 1 and 2 the day before. But no matter, the ocean is calling both me and Stan. I'm on my tenth dive and now the gear is getting easier to put together. The water is calm to get into and the clarity has improved greatly on the day before. We sink down easily into the depths, right on to the wreck. After motoring around, we go deep. I'm not going to confess how deep because it was slightly unwise to go that deep with only 10 dives under my belt. However, one must follow their dive buddy and Stan is an advanced diver, taking me through the darkened rooms of the wreck.

I should feel nervous being this deep but I'm not. I feel perfectly calm because one thing I've learned in life: panic can kill you. Over the last ten years, I've learned that nothing is worth losing your calm over. Nothing. We make our way up and have a quick decompression stop. There are literally millions of fish, big and small, hanging around the wreck. Stan and I pick a spot and sit in the sand, watching the sea underworld go by.

I make it up first and even though the waves have picked up, my legs hold out underneath me and I make it out of the water without a struggle. We pack up and go home.

Lunch is bowl of soba noddles with slippery cabbage and bok choy. I sit, savoring it on my balcony, looking out at my peaceful tropical valley that ends with a beautiful view of the sea. The Galas, a series of islands, seem to float out miles away.

Then its on to yoga for some more zen time. I glide through the poses on my balcony, occasionally stopping to look out on to the sea.

So why am I telling you this? What does my “Honiara epic” have anything to do with the largest tragedy my country has ever known?

Because my way of commemorating this day is to live, to do the things I love. I feel like I am honoring the day by enjoying this moment. I am doing things I didn't know I loved to do two years ago or even one year ago. I think of NYC, Washington...even Christchurch and what sudden change like disaster has to teach us. In the end, all we have is this moment. All the plans in the world can be disrupted and changed.

I guess if this decade has taught me anything, its that you can always rebuild from the devastation of natural or personal disaster. As my thoughts go out to the families that lost their loved ones, through the attack or through what occured afterwards, I hope they have found peace with their loss and are rebuilding and recovering.

As rough as it is to pick yourself up after a devastating loss of a loved one or a home, you can always heal and start again. You can have a new life, a new hobby, a new relationship, a new career. A new home. A new view. I think I'm on my fifth new life chapter since that fateful day.  Each new chapter, each new beginning has taught me something very valuable and though these changes have sometimes been brought about by great loss and pain, I value those important moments of transition.

This beginning, this Solomon Island time, I've learned to slow down, to savour, to enjoy. Sure the past is there in the background enriching who I am and still teaching me things. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I honour what has come before, those who I have left behind. I am learning to be gentle with the past, including how I view my own and other's actions.  

Because life begins again.

And isn't that the beautiful thing about life?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Newbie Honiara Guide: What to Bring Part Two

Alright then...we've covered what to bring your luggage...moving on to the shipping allowance. If you are lucky enough to volunteer and/or work for an organisation that will pay for your stuff to be shipped to these lovely isles, here is what I think you should focus your packing energies on. Of course, what is important to me (e.g. shoes, pink electronics, diving knives) may not be important to you. So use at your own risk.

If you have a substantial shipping allowance:
Here are a few ideas of what to bring if you have a substantial shipping allowance.
        1. Bedding. BRING FITTED SHEETS! I hate making my bed at the best of times, so without fitted sheets, I lived a life of frustration and angst (just kidding). Honiara doesn't really have any fitted sheets, I HIGHLY recommend bringing your own. Also bring a blanket, I know it sounds crazy BUT you will get to the point in the cooler season when you might feel slightly cool at night. It took me about five months to get there but my little throw blanket is now always on my bed.
        2. Exercise equipment. Gyms here are pretty average and most charge about 50 dollars Sollie per visit. Its a better idea to get a nice home gym going. Running is fine here but be prepared to be followed by gangs of pikininis (children) screaming and laughing at you and to be harassed by men (if you are a woman). I recommend some weights (or those band thingys), a swiss ball, and perhaps a treadmill.
        3. Small appliances. Bring your favorite toaster, jug, food processor, blender etc...Small appliances are expensive here and not very good quality. Our toaster (which was quite cute, it had a plastic fish on the handle!) broke within two months. I had to bring one from N.Z. when I came back from Christchurch. I sent a few things over, including my stick blender that has a small food processor unit. It works great and takes up very little room. I highly recommend taking anything that is multipurpose and durable. Be prepared to leave it here.
        4. Knives-bring some good can buy decent knives in Chinatown but they are kinda pricey.
        5. Herbs, salts, oils etc...I'm a bit of a foodie and I love my hickory smoked rough sea salt. I also love my Nando's Peri Peri sauce. I can't get either here. Bring fancy herbs, salts, oils...anything you feel like you can't really cook without, here. If you have the room, why not?
        6. Bring your balls aka sports equipment. Bringing extra sporting equipment like soccer, rugby and basketballs will endear you to the locals. The Solomons Islanders particularly love their football (soccer), so consider bringing a few extra balls. Also a small air pump won't go wrong.
        7. Tupperware or Sistema storage containers. Okay, here in the Sollies there are ants, cockroaches and rats, oh my! They love food and you don't want them to get into your food. Bring really good storage containers (I love Sistema) but its up to you. Be aware that rats are particularly aggressive and can chew through the plastic so the tougher your containers are, the better.
        8. Bikes. You can bike around Honiara, in fact I've seen quite a few pedallers lately making their way to the beach, going for a snorkel and then biking back. What a great Sunday morning! If you are out in the provinces, biking is a great idea. Bring a mountain bike rather than a road bike, your ass will thank you. Oh and bring a bike lock! Again, be prepared to give it to a local person when you leave.
        9. Kayak and/or surf/body boards. Kayaking here would be amazing! You can purchase a dugout canoe here for about 500 sollies but the balance is quite different than a kayak and tipping out is a big possiblitiy. I recommend bringing one if you can afford it and have space. Surfing here is AWESOME (according to my wantok Eddy). The breaks have NO ONE on them and they are pretty amazing. A body board would also be pretty cool here too.
        10. Kids toys/equipment/etc...I am not a mum so I can't really advice you if you are parent. Here is what I Would recommend though: the toys here are pretty cheap and are incredibly breakable. Bring robust stuff from home or ask a local carver (there are many) to make you some wooden toys. Again, my housemate makes these, so send me an email if you are interested. Also, if you want to get in touch with the parents group, I know people who are involved, so feel free to email me for contact details.
        11. Life jackets. There may be a time when you have to travel by boat and there are no life jackets on board. Bring your own, if you want, to ensure you are safe should the boat capsize.
Furniture is pretty good here and most houses come with the basics. You don't have to bring your refrigerator, freezer, washing machine unless otherwise advised by your agency.
Don't Bring:
There are going to be some items that you will definitely NOT want to bring here. These are my ideas:
  1. Expensive jewelry. If you want to keep it, don't bring it. I would never recommend any bringing any kind of expensive or sentimental items here. The chances of it getting nicked or lost is high. If you are married and want to bring your rings, I suggest buying or wearing only a simple band. Wearing a big diamond around Honiara pretty much targets you for petty criminals. And also, in a country where the cost of your ring can feed a family for five years, do you really want to be flashing around that kind of wealth? I know I wouldn't be comfortable with it. But its up to you. Also, I purchased almost all of my jewelry here. I like the local accessories and I don't worry if it gets lost or broken.
  2. Your entire pantry. First off, don't bring tins of tomatoes or fruits, you can buy it here. By bringing your entire pantry from home, you are kinda a weirdo. Why would you want to come here and just eat the same food you ate at home? Why not just stay at home? It might be slightly more expensive here but by bringing your tin of Watties Beans (again you can buy it here) you are also wasting shipping room. Buy local, if you can bring yourself to do it. I figure the less processed food you eat, the better for a number of reasons.
  3. Your car. You can buy a car from Japan and ship it here, usually for a cheap rate or purchase it from another expat (someone is always leaving). If you love your car, don't bring it here. If you do decide to bring your vehicle here, be prepared to pay a mint when you return to your home country in repairs on shocks, tires and the chassis. This place is killer on cars. I recommend purchasing a little 4wd vehicle, the roads here are very bumping and there are lots of potholes. My personal favorite (and perhaps next vehicle purchase in N.Z.) is a diesel Toyota Hilux. I love those grunty beasts; they can go anywhere.
  4. Your designer clothes. Clothes take a beating here, from hard water to over enthusiastic house meres. Bring a small capsule wardrobe (see clothes above) and then go to the kalico (bale or second-hand) shops. You can purchase great stuff there. Plus, you don't want to be wanker showing off your expensive clothes from home. Remember, people make very little money here, so being understated in your wardrobe is probably best.
  5. Art: Don't bring your own art, unless you are prepared to part with it. This climate is killer on canvas. There are some great local artists (my housemate Mackenzie is one of them) who is happy to be commissioned to do specific work for you (email me if you want to know more about this). Again, doing this helps the local economy and you can take the art home with you as souvenirs.
  6. Your pet. Again, if you want to, go ahead. I do know a couple people who brought their animals and its fine. However, Honiara's animal kingdom is a brutal place. The streets are lined with feral dogs and cats and chickens (most are mine, I can't help but keep on adopting these cute fellas. Shade, my kitten, is the latest adoptee, and at five dollars Sollie per tin of Solomon Blue, he is fairly affordable to feed). There are lots of lost dogs and cats that need a good home and a little love, even temporarily. IF you bring your beloved cat or dog, keep them indoors or on your property at all times. Leaving your animal to wander around is a recipe for saying goodbye to your beloved pet.
  7. Chocolate. BRING AT YOUR OWN RISK! It will melt as soon as you get off the plane. You might be able to get away with it but pack it in a separate bag so you don't get liquid chocolate all over your stuff.
  8. Your important documents. Other than your passport, I would only bring copies of your important documents. Mold loves paper, so just bring copies and store the originals at home. Same goes for photos.
  9. High end electronics. Leave your Bose speakers and Wii at home. I mean, if you want to bring it, fine, but remember that by bringing it here, you run the risk of having it stolen. Expat houses DO get targeted by thieves.
  10. Wine. I mean, if you want to bring your 200 aussie bottle of wine, thats cool, but consider that you are going to have to run your air conditioner to keep it cool (if its a red). Also, there is no guarantee that its going to come to you in one piece or that some of the wine won't go missing. Save your money and buy locally. Yeah the bottles here aren't as great as it is at home, but you can still get a decent bottle of wine.
  11. Fancy china and glassware. Unless you are hosting state dinners, don't bring expensive china here or flatware or expensive glassware. Tessa and I purchased six beautiful water classes and within seven months, only one remains. Things break often here. Aus Pak is a great place to buy sturdy plastic plates and flatware for good prices. Most of the Chinese shops have a pretty good selection of affordable glass ware.

Basically, when packing, balance between needs and wants. Think about what you want to have, how much time you have here and how you want to use that time. Its great to have a WII and an XBOX 360 but do you really want to spend your time indoors when you could be out socialising, getting to know people and being active?

I know what my answer is.

And there endeth my two cents on what to bring to Honiara....

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The parable of the prawn and goby fish

The goby fish and the prawn chillaxing in their pad.

Bonege Two
After a run of a diving drought, I get a break with my friend Ned. We get up early; around 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday (!!!) to beat a path down to Bonege 2, an old WW2 wreck that I dived when I took my PADI course.

There is something about being the first person at the beach. Something slightly invigorating but also scary; you have no idea if there are crocs or sharks and no one has scared them away yet. So I guess that makes it our job to do the spooking of the large, scary animals away from the wreck.

Despite my neurotic tenancies, I get in the water and make the decent into the deep. The water clarity is pretty amazing; I can see the giant barracuda swimming calmly about 30 metres or so away and then it flits off into the deep. Ned is a perfect dive buddy; calm and relaxed. We do have to call the dive off early due to his ears not adjusting but it was totally worth it just to get back in the water. It leaves me wanting more, to discover more about the mysteries of the wreck.

Bonege One
The next weekend, I get my hands on some dive gear and commit to two dives; Bonege One and Two on Sunday morning. Its another early wake up call and this time my diving buddy is Stan, my eternally energetic neighbour.

The water is rough and I struggle in the waves, swimming on my back. I swallow more salt water than one should. Unfortunately, my buoyancy isn't quite right and I sink only a metre below the surface. We go back in and I'm a bit angry at myself. I need help to emerge from the waves and a friendly bloke holds me up as I stagger like ship wreck survivor onto the beach.

We take a moment and weight me down further. I get back into the water and sink quickly below the waves.
A great part of the dive is the beginning, right as you begin to sink under the surface. As you look up, the surface looks like rippled glass. As you sink below the waves into the deep, all the troubles of life seem to slip away. Everything becomes infinitely still as the feeling of weightlessness takes over. As I focus, fish come into view and begin to swim around me.

We float around a bit and then go down to the sea floor. The shelf quickly cuts down and disappears into the deep. As we swim along the floor a dark shadow appears into view. We have found the wreck of Bonege One.

I am sure that the designers of these warships never intended them to be stranded in the deep however the turrets, poles and hull seem to fit seamlessly in the underwater environment. Like a ghost, the ship sits quietly at the bottom, decaying and yet, with the coral, it grows and expands daily. It's original purpose of bringing death and dominance to the Pacific, now brings new life.

At first, I find his form of diving a bit unnerving. He sits on the bottom and just watches and waits. He is simply graceful underwater while I flail around, using my useless arms to motor through the wreck.

The wreck hosts the usual suspects: clown fish, trigger fish, large angel fish and a gazillion other specifies I can't name. I seem to struggle with my balance though and use my arms far too much. I'm terrified of touching the wreck, with its rusty pointy bits promising infected cuts.

I leave the water again but this time I don't require any assistance to get out (woot)!

Bonege Two (again)

Stan and I spend our surface interval talking about the dive and how I can improve my buddy skills. Stan is a big believer of getting down to the bottom and letting the underwater world pass by you. The key is: the calmer you are, the calmer the underwater life is around you and comes to you.

The water is decidedly much more rough. Even at the bottom of the sea floor, the currents are pushing us around like paper dolls. We quickly swim over Bonege 2 wreck and go deeper to get away from the currents. When we reach the bottom at 19 metres, Stan takes out his underwater torch and we begin to explore the chambers of the wreck.

Schools of small yellow fish hang out in the dark, waiting the storm out from above. They look surprised at our appearance and quickly swim off. As we look under the wreck, a small shark darts to escape the light from the torch. Its not a shark I've seen in the water before and we quickly identify as a baby tiger shark. I don't want to wait around to see its mother, so we circle back to shallower water.

You meet strange things at the bottom of the sea floor. Disco clams, jelly fish, blue spotted rays and my new favorite: the goby fish with its friend/symbiotic heterosexual life partner, the prawn.

The goby fish and the prawn live in perfect balance which each other. Their relationship works like this: the prawn is slightly blind but good at digging burrows. The goby has great eyes but no arms in which to dig a safe burrow for its eggs. The prawn digs and the goby keeps watch. These BFFs maintain constant physical contact through the prawn's antenna and the goby's tail. When the gobi flits into the burrow, the prawn follows. The fish earned the name as the “watchmen” of the prawns.

Together, they survive the predators of the deep. As we round a large circular piece of the wreck, we interrupt a pair of these weird prawn/gobys. Its to our credit that they just chill out and watch us, not at all bothered by these two weird looking creatures. The goby, which is about the length of my middle finger, watches us with big black dolls eyes while the prawn sits there, oblivious to us. I watch them for awhile, noticing their bizarre relationship of contact physical contact and complete genetic mismatch.

I have a couple of questions about these two. First, how did they figure out relationship ages ago? Did they get drunk one night and the prawn slurs to the goby “hey wanna come back to my burrow? I need someone to help me protect it. Plus I have Sky.” Second, now that they have hooked up through the ages, how do they find new ones each generation? I mean was there speed dating involved or ads in the paper: “wanted: one handsome goby to look after burrow for sexy blind prawn. Must have a sense of adventure and like sand.”

But more importantly, I wonder with this odd couple, if they ever fight? Do they try to change each other? Does the goby complain about the prawn leaving his dirty underwear around the house? Does the prawn wish the goby cooked more often and clean the dishes? Does the prawn ever think “man, I could do a lot better. This guy doesn't even care how hard I worked to dig my burrow!”questions don't get answered by watching them, they seem pretty happy to just let each other be...well...a prawn and a fish.

Despite these philosophical musings, I have to end the dive as my air begins to run low.

The climb out of the surf is horrific. I get washed up to shore with 50 pounds of gear on my back. Every time I try to get up, a large waves smacks me down. I swallow water and realise that I'm in real trouble if I can't sort myself out. I crawl up the shore, only to be dragged back into the water, then a wall of water pushes me back out onto the rough rocky beach.

I feel like every muscle and bone in my body has abandoned me. My body is getting tired and a small alarm bell rings off in my head. There are no other divers on the beach and Stan is nowhere to be found.

I cry out for help and a local guy comes out and grabs me, hauling me out of the waves. He cries out and says that its too dangerous to be diving. He's right but I'm too tired, embarrassed and pissed off to want to talk about it. After a moment of steading myself, I walk up the beach, bloodied knees and a bruised ego and meet Stan at the truck.

Despite the rough entry, I find that I can quickly steady myself and get the gear off. Two dives in a day for someone who isn't “diving fit” is exhausting and I make my way home quickly. I demolish a bowl of pasta and quickly beat a path towards my bed, thinking about the weird relationship of the goby and the prawn.

As I sink below the surface of consciousness, I think that if these two strange creatures, who really have nothing in common, genetically or otherwise, can live together, why can't the rest of us?