When I packed my little suitcase in August, I had nine weeks of traveling to get through before coming to the Solomon Islands, so I brought a wide variety of clothes with me. Now, those clothes are tattered, stained and, well, downright frumpy.
So after six months of living with the same wardrobe, I broke down and decided I needed a major overhaul in my look. The main problem is that here in the Solomons, clothes shopping, like food shopping, is not an easy task.
First off, there aren’t really any new clothes shops. There are a few tourist shops you can buy new clothes in but these are expensive and kinda tacky island gear.
However, the Sollies has a wide variety of “kalico” (or clothes) shops. These shops sell second hand clothes donated by Australia and New Zealand. So kiwis, when you put your used shirts and skirts in those big clothing bins, a lot of times, it ends up here.
After a complete wardrobe meltdown, where I threw everything out of my closet and on to my bed just to find something suitable for work on Tuesday, I realized it was time to take the plunge and get me some clothes.
With that in mind, on Wednesday, my wonderful, ever patient colleague Tina took me kalico shopping for the first time. Fashion here in the Sollies varies widely. One of the best parts of the clothing here is the unintentional hilarity of locals wearing kitsch or hipster shirts that say things like “Best Grand Dad in the World”, when the guy wearing it is clearly under the age of 30. Or the classic 60s Batman t-shirts worn by a mother holding a child, that would certainly go for a high price back home. “Make love, not babies” was a controversial shirt worn by one fellow, and Iron Maiden concert t-shirts are everywhere (Helen, that one is for you!).
The professional women all wear skirts; slacks are not common. Typically, there is sometimes a floral print; often there are two different floral prints warn at once with no matching colours. Walking down the street, the foot wear is clearly jandals/thongs/flip flogs/slippers. Closed shoes are a no no unless you are stuck in an office.
Anyway, Tina held my hand and led me into the store. The experience was pretty interesting; clothes were organized by type: skirts, shorts, tops etc…As soon as we walked in to the store, the power went out. Choosing clothes in the dark isn’t my favorite activity but Tina and I gave it our best shop.
Looking through the racks, there was a wide variety of fabrics, styles, and sizes. The clothes were all fairly modern with a few hilarious exceptions. One clothing line seen over and over was Millers.
Note to the Millers fashion group: stop making ugly clothes. Nobody wants those granny blouses you sell…I mean it, NOBODY.
By the end of it, I had grabbed several skirts and tops and walk away with a bag of clothes for about 35 dollars N.Z. Not bad.
This week was another marathon of dinner parties (Marco goes on strike on Friday night; I guess there is a limit to dinner parties for him); one of my favorite wantoks, Adam, came to two of them. Adam is always good fun and I laugh more around him than I have in ages and ages. We host an American Wantok dinner night with Daphne as well.
Daphne\ teaches Tessa how to Salsa. Tessa grabs my red stilettos (we have the same shoe size) and gives a go. Cautious at first, Tessa gets into it and adds flirty movements with her hips with a big smile on her face. She starts to beem and flounce.
Daphne has that effect on people; she is very good at convincing you to try something new and push out from your comfort zone. Now, my wantok Daphne is a stylish lady from NYC and she offers to help restyle me. After picking some pretty dubious things at the kalico store and with my current style being decidedly tropical frump, she sees that I need help. We make an appointment for Saturday to help me sort things out.
On Friday, it’s another dinner party and a wee excursion to the Kava Bar/Car Wash for some much needed dancing. Adam and I pose for photographs, going for a 1960s beach party look. The one thing I like about Adam is how much we laugh and get the same jokes. It’s like having a great, old friend that I never knew I had. We go home early, in preparation for what turned out to be the cooking challenge of my life.
Saturday started off badly; I lost my keys. I was hot and irritated. Marco and I went to the market and a big fight broke out. I got groped, again. Marco left me with a large fish, with scant instructions: olive oil, lemons, garlic. Put in the oven for a bit. He goes off to the hotel to do some work and leaves me with a fish a kind of fish I have never seen before. Thanks.
But by the afternoon, I center a bit more. Tessa brought her very kind and soft spoken art teacher, MacKenzie, over for a lesson. MacKenzie is a very well known local artist from Rennell province. His people are Polynesian in origin and were fairly isolated from the rest of the Solomon Islands. There is something very sensual and masculine about MacKenzie; I’m not entirely sure if it is his tattoos, his artistic flare or his piercing gaze, but he is gorgeous. I wonder how Tessa can focus on her art…Daphne came along as well, to do some painting and to help sort out my sad wardrobe.
Daphne throws herself into my closet with the passion of seasoned professional (which she is) and I felt, slightly, like her fashion talents are completely lost here in the Sollies. About two thirds of the items I purchased at the kalico shop get a veto. Daphne is very good about it but when I bring out a white skirt with roses on it, she looks at me like, why would you do that? What possessed you to go there? Or that shirt might be better as a pillow, not for a person… I find the experience both humbling and necessary…
I start wearing red again and my big belt. The curve of my hip starts to show more and my legs are peaking out of skirts. I start to feel a bit sexy again; I feel like I’m getting my groove back a bit. Daphne and I decide that my fashion icon should be Sophia Loren (another shapely gal) who was full of passion and fire. I can relate; it’s just my fire is current on the low setting. I have been so focused on the house, cooking, working, dinner parties and other things, I forgot to look after me. Again.
Daphne promises to take me shopping on Wednesday to give me a hand on making better choices while kalico shopping. When I come out of my room in my cooking smock, she looks at me with despair and mouths a resounding No! to my choice. I told her it was just for cooking, she looked at me like even what I was wearing wasn’t good enough to cook in, which is fair enough…little did I know that I would be wearing it
for awhile longer than I had hoped.
In the evening, the power goes out. For hours. Now I’ve got to cook for eight people without any power and only a coconut lantern to cook by. The bonus prize: I end up, through being convinced by my two housemates, to cook both chicken and fish and a veggie stirfry with noodles. The meals are complicated and would be challenging with power. Without it, some very interesting dishes come out.
I can’t read the labels, so I just assume I’m grabbing a soy sauce bottle. Wrong. It is a bottle of black vinegar. My good friend Hannah helps me out. Hannah is probably the best assistant chef I know; she is always patient, kind and supportive. But when I ask her to taste the veggies, even she can’t hide the fact that it tastes like feet.
“Hmm…it needs something…” she says.
I panic; I’m out of soy sauce. Thank goodness for good neighbours; I shout “COOKING EMERGENCY” from the kitchen and ask Stan and Jean if they have some soy sauce. They do. The bottle arrives but sadly not much can be done to the vinegary noodles. Everyone, except Marco, is very supportive of the noodles.
“You should be happy; you hava very nice friends who won’t complain about how bad that dish was,” Marco says. Thanks. Again.
Daphne points out that it was a ballsy move in the first place to even try and cook without power. She would have taken everyone out to eat. It seems such a simple solution; I wish I would have thought of it earlier. The whole experience left me hot (no fans and an oven!), challenged and feeling like a small failure. Like so many times in my life, I underestimate the size of the job and end up paying for it. However, we have good
company in Gretchen and Alan, two aussie volunteers who keep things light hearted.
Things are going pretty good with my housemates, however, a few concerning habits have started to emerge. Marco has gotten into a nasty habit of breaking things. It started about a week ago when he dropped Tessa’s beautiful espresso cup on the floor of the kitchen. Now, the tiles in the kitchen are hard and shiny; once you drop something on them, it shatters without fail.
Marco swears in Italian as the little cup shatters to pieces on the floor. I bend down to pick it up; there are numbers at the bottom. Numbers, especially those with only four or so, is not a good sign. Tessa runs down the uneven stairs, distraught as seeing her beautiful cup in pieces. Now, I understand that it might seem strange to bring something valuable here BUT we all need some little memory of home. For Tessa, there is nothing better than sitting out on our balcony in the morning, and taking a moment to enjoy the view, sipping from her beautiful cup. Now, her little moment of home and peace is shattered.
Marco looks sheepish but Tessa takes it better than I would have. However, this will not be the last time that Marco breaks something. The next evening he tops himself by breaking not one but two glasses; one was part of a set purchased only that day by Tessa. Even the neighbours next door hear the smashing sound. Our Italian neighbor next door yells out “Oh Marco!” in response, without even seeing him downstairs.
I guess one of two things is happening; either Marco has the most unsteady hands in Honiara OR he is taking out his secret rage about living with me and Tessa on our glassware. Marco is thereafter forbidden to hold anything breakable, which gets him out of all kinds of chores…I think it is a very good strategy…
Marco’s trail of destruction doesn’t end with the glasses. On Sunday, we have a key malfunction and can’t get in the house. Now, it’s Sunday afternoon, and that means one thing to Marco: siesta time. The door is between him and his comfy (actually the thing is hard as a rock) bed. He grows impatient, which is the first time I’ve seen him anything other than pretty cool and calm. Marco deftly caresses the door, takes a deep breath and bangs on it three times before it breaks open. The latch carcass lays sprawled out on the floor.
“I could have karate kicked the door but the door would have broken completely,” Marco says, looking a bit sad at missing an opportunity to kick the door.
I guess the door learned the important lesson: never get between an Italian man and his bed on a Sunday afternoon.
Maybe this is a good lesson for us all to learn.
Marco heads back to work, Tessa is away. I have the house to myself. The peace and quiet lasts four hours; the longest I have been alone in the house since I moved in one month ago. I play my music, and start putting back my closet. I put on my high heels and walk around the wooden floorboards, laughing at myself. I missed this part of me, the part that likes to be a glamour puss.
I enjoy the moment and then, with a knock on the door to let Marco in (thankfully, not a karate kick), it passes.