Search This Blog

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,


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Solomon Island Newbie Guide: SHOPPING (What to buy part one)

I'm going to go all Gwyneth Paltrow on you and talk about my favorite things in the Solomons.  

I've compiled a short list of stuff that is “uniquely” Solomons.  Things you might want to bring back and show the grandkids.  OR stuff that is made here, locally, that can help make your life easier, like soaps. 

I'm a big believer in buying local and keeping your life simple, so here is what I've put together.

(Note: I was not paid by any of the below companies to advertise their products.  I love them and use them and hope you will love/use this stuff as well).

  • Coconut Oil-Koconut Pacific (a company that shall be mentioned quite a bit in this blog) has a wonderful micro-economic business going on.  Villages around the country process organic certified extra virgin coconut oil in large tubs.  The tubs are then sent to Honiara to be either processed or shipped over to Australia.  You can buy a big bottle for about 70 sollies (price as of Sept. 2011), which is about 9 aussie dollars. The stuff is excellent; you can cook with it, use it for oil lamps or make cosmetics out of it.  It’s great for your hair as a conditioner or skin, if your skin is dry or you have a sunburn. It’s wonderful, wonderful stuff.  Taking it home can be an issue as it cools hard, so getting it out of the bottles can be slightly there is a custom thing to deal with.  Kokonut Pacific is located near the Melanesian Art building, down a very short alleyway in Point Cruz....this brings me to:
  • Coconut oil lamps.  These little beauties are WONDERFUL.  A great replacement for the very environmentally unfriendly Kerosene oil lanterns.  When you tip over a coconut oil lamp, it does not light on fire, so there is minimal fire risk.  Pick up a couple when you first arrive to light your dinner table at Kokonut Pacific.  Tip: if you don't want to use too much oil, put water at the bottom and then some oil on top. The two will separate and you only burn off the top bit of oil.  I recommend this as bugs love the oil and if you fill it up to the middle (like you are supposed to) you run the risk of wasting a lot of oil.
  • Sponges...real sponges! The World Fish organisation has a lovely little project where villages in Western province sustainably grow and harvest sponges.  These sponges are the read deal and absolutely heaven to use in the bath (yes I occasionally take baths here, when I'm sick) or in the shower.  I love them! If you want to take them home, the World Fish organisation provides a nice little factsheet about the sponges you can give to customs. I've heard this is successful in getting these guys through the fearsome aussie/kiwi custom officials.  You can find the World Fish place near Panatina Plaza.  Kokonut Pacific has also gotten on board and begun to gift wrap the sponges with the soaps (a great idea!), so you can pick yours up there.
  • Tapas from Temotu.  These lovely fiber paintings are amazing, easy to wrap up and make a truly unique Solomon Island gift. 
  • Carved bowls from Western-you CANNOT beat a beautifully carved wooden bowl from Western province.  The bowl has ivory inlays, usually, and shined so highly that you can see you face in it.  Beautiful.
  • String bags from Choiseul-What can I say about Choiseul crafts? I have a string bag, made from the bark of a local tree there, that I treasure. I take it everywhere with me and the string bag expands beautifully around almost anything.  I also get high marks for credibility from locals who comment on my “nice string bag”.  Hmm...
  • Fishing lures from Makira-I don't know if these things really work but it looks fantastic! At the top of the lure is a carving, usually depicting a family totem.  At the bottom is a porous stone or cork to keep the lure afloat. Attached to the bottom of the carving is string with a bone fishing hook. The locals of Makira throw the lures out, with baited hooks and then watch from the canoes to see if the lure goes up and down (typically these are small fish).  There is usually a smallish weight to keep the lure in place.  Anyway, it looks great on the wall, I'm too scared to lose it to try it!
  • Shells-shells abound here and you can find some good shells at Central market or at the Rain Tree Cafe.  Be careful not to pick the endangered ones...
  • Paintings- Solomon Island Artist produce some wonderful art at great prices.  I live with a local artist, so if you want his contact details, pop me an email OR go to the Raintree Cafe, where they have lovely stuff at good prices (you can haggle there).
  • Stone carvings or wood carvings.  You can get some seriously lovely carvings here. I prefer to take stone home as there are less issues with customs than the wooden carvings.  But remember to declare!  (Also, you can always declare wooden ones and customs can usually treat it).  If you have to prioritize your carving, I suggest buying a nzu nzu. This little fellow is quite charming. A sea spirit and a throw back from the head hunting days of the Solomons, it’s just a sculpture of a head, usually holding either a bird (for peace) or a head (for war).  Used traditionally at the front of war canoes to alert villages as to the intention of the canoe (peace or war), the nzu nzu is now an iconic part of the Solomon Islands.  You can go to the Melanesian Art Centre at Point Cruz as well as haggle with sellars on the street.  I like the Melanesian art centre because in the back, they have some VERY unique pieces that you won't find anywhere else.
  • Also, you can commission a local artist to make a special carving for you.  One acquaintance of mine got a bust made of his head (no, really, he did), and, given the amount of hilarious stories it has already produced, I would say the thing has already paid for itself.
  • Beauty products from Kokonut Pacific-again, these guys make pretty good coconut soap (my favorite scent is Island Kiss) and a lovely scented massage oil (Orchid is lovely).
  • The Lime Lounge Sweet Treats Cookbook- I love this little cookbook.  The recipes are yummy, the photos are amazing and it’s a great price.  I think it’s the only locally produced dessert cook book I've ever seen, so pick one up at the Lime Lounge Cafe.
  • Lava Lavas-having a lava lava is a must here if you are a woman.  Nothing is better than a lava lava to use as a wrap around when taking an outdoor shower or protecting your modesty on the beach.  In a pinch, a good lava lava can be used as a towel or a table cloth, you can use these rectangle piece of fabric for almost anything.  There are great lava lavas at the Central Market but you can also buy them off of sellers on the street.
  • Solomon Island Coffee-I'm not a coffee snob, so bear with me.  At about 50 Sollies a bag, these little Solomon Island Gold bags of coffee are wonderful gifts and great to use at home.  A lot of people don't like the blend but I think its fine.  Anyway, it is a novelty.  You can buy bags at Y-Sato (near the Lime Lounge) and other retail outlets.
  • Jewelry.  I like the coconut jewelry the best, shell jewelry and wooden jewelry which is just as nice.
  • Shell money-these long strands of shells are used, still, as currency in some parts of the Solomons.  In the past, it was used as the main form of currency but now, it is traditionally used in compensation ceremonies like bride price or land disputes. You can buy strands at the Central Market.

Humanitarian Considerations
Solomon Islanders can be (but not always) do I put it....unaware or unsympathetic about issues around animal protection.  Things like tortoise shell jewelry, dolphin teeth jewelry, endangered tropical hard woods like queen ebony and the like can make people queasy.  It’s a tough issue; clearly the law is there to protect the animals and I totally agree with it.  However, these people also need to make a living and feed their families.  Also, using things like dolphin teeth and tortoise shell is a part of their culture.  It’s a tough call and I'm not going to make it for you.  Just proceed with caution, is all I'm sayin. 

So that completes my list of favorite things in the Sollies...please feel free to add your own in the comments below!

A Plague of Goodbyes

I hate goodbyes. In fact I really don’t believe in goodbyes.  I know it sounds corny but I sort of feel like you if you truly made a connection with someone, a part of them lives on with you and that, in a way, you aren’t very distant at all.  But that’s the airy fairy side of me.  The cold hard logical side of me tells me that goodbyes are essential and that when someone is gone, they are gone forever.  I can’t say which side wins the most; lately I’ve been slightly hard and cold about things.  Probably because I’ve had a guts full of goodbyes lately. 

 This week I had two people leave and these two were particularly hard to face.

I learned some very important things from the two people who left here.  The first is my friend Viola.  A brilliant, random, fun, slightly forgetful character came into my life early in my time here.  I remember that the lovely Viola slept a lot when she first came here, a hangover from her hard working life in Australia.  She likes her own time, even spent Christmas alone with a good book. 

I literally owe Viola my life.  Myself and her “lovah”, Franklin, were diving off of the shelf in Maravagi. My new diving gear, which I dubbed Dr. Bubbles, came undone and my tank was trailing precariously behind me while I was at a depth of 20 metres.  I made a quick dash up (but not too quickly) and as I surfaced the water, I felt a warm arm encircle me, saying it was going to be okay.  We made it to the shore and I sat, sort of in shock, while Viola got my gear together.  She talked to me in calm tones and got me back in the water, something I was very hesitant to do.  But she was right; just because I got a fright before doesn’t mean it would happen again.

Viola had done a good job and my tank didn’t slip again.  On the same dive, I swam with her, not able to see the bottom.  Her confidence gave me confidence in myself.   I don’t think I’ll ever forgot looking up at her, swimming like a wee mermaid alone, happy and content.  It made me feel secure knowing she was around. 

She is also my hero in a number of other ways as well.  Viola bravely went to Kolombangara with the intrepid Stan.  It’s a trip I balked at because I don’t have that much confidence in my physicality and Stan is like an unstoppable human being.  He bashes his way through bush and has is totally confident in his ability.  Apparently Viola was hanging and climbing up rock faces for a large part of the Kolombangara journey.  Now, if it was me, I might have harmed Stan.   But not Viola; she took it in stride and said it gave her confidence. 

In the new year, it was Viola who sat and burnt words of the past with me to welcome the new.  Viola also sat with me a lot during some very tough phases of my journey here, when I was less than a pleasant person to be around.  Being around her for me is very comforting; I feel like I can truly be who I am with her around.  I will miss her.

The second person was my neighbor Elsa.  Elsa is a flamboyant Italian woman with spark and vitality.  Elsa also taught me a great deal about happiness in the moment and to savour the small things of life.  She also introduced me to Eddy, my wantok from Hawaii, who has I believe become a lifelong friend.  Elsa talked a lot to me about moving on with life whilst keeping your passion and innocence and belief in love alive.  For that I am truly grateful.

However, there was one happy return: Tessa has made her way back across from Australia to enjoy the last six weeks.  I feel for Tessa; she is here to witness the mass exodus of her friends.  For me, that would be too hard to take and I’d rather be starting a life somewhere else, far away from all the goodbyes.  But not Tessa. I’ve watched her diligently help her friends pack of their lives and assist in throwing big farewells.   She does it like a champ and I can’t help but be impressed with her endless energy for parties and packing.

Another happy development: I finally met my twin.  I always wondered what it would be like to meet myself somewhere.  However, Sasha appeared one day at Maravagi and we’ve been friends ever since.  Sasha was born on the same day, same year as me.  We both work in the same very specific field. We both were out in the Samoa Tsunami, working there.  That even changed both our lives. We moved from our home countries in 2001.  We’ve got a disturbingly similar relationship pasts. 

I thought I would always hate myself but I actually I am very fond of Sasha.  She is bright and cheerful but 
also thoughtful and occasionally sad.  She is a spiritual person and does Reiki (I’ve signed up for a course myself when I return to Wellington!).  Anyway, after about the second time we met, I just told her to take over my life.  Which she did, with gusto!  She has taken over the room in my house in Casa Turchese and has filled completely the hole I will be leaving.  We’ve arranged a big roadtrip over the Christmas holidays 
with H.  Its going to be blast.

So there is much to look forward to.  But first is the finishing of work, the goodbyes and the packing.  All of which I’m not terribly excited about but with Tessa helping me, I’m sure I’ll be just fine.