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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Below the Waves

So as part of coming back, I've got the time and mental space to finally write about my last few weeks in the Solomons. I would have to say that, being in the cold, planned and organised world of New Zealand, I miss many things about the Sollies.  One of them is the chaos factor. Every day I walked down the street, something always made me laugh, made me slightly afraid and made me want to cry.  Mostly these emotions happened at different times.  But when those things come together, its a beautiful thing. And the most common place I expereinced them at once in the Sollies was while diving.

I'll be honest, there was a time in my experience in the Solomons that diving was all I had to look forward to.  It was right after the Christchurch earthquake and I felt completely and utterly depleted.  I took my first course around and it changed a lot for me.  For awhile, it was what I woke up for, walked for, ate for, slept for and worked for.  The first words out of my mouth when I met someone new was "do you dive?".  It become an obsession but a healthy one.  So, I just want to go through some of the life lessons I learned whilst diving in the Solomons:

My local divemaster. 

1. Sit at the bottom until things become clear: Look, I think we all know that life can be a confusing mess of crappy emotional issues. Sometimes we just can't see straight when we are going through things.  Some of us fight on, blindly swimming forward. Others try to swim out of it. Mostly, what you find is that the more you fight or the more you run, the cloudier the emotional waters get.  So, I learned to sit and wait till the cloudy water settled.  I remember sitting down at the bottom of the ocean floor and, in almost zen like position, just waiting until it was clear enough to see.

I guess, coming back here, I've had to do the same thing. There has been quite a bit of movement and upheaval and though my new job requires traveling, I've asked to stay put for awhile in Wellington.  I am waiting until the water becomes clearer and I can see more clearly where I am going. Now, this is a new thing for me cause mostly I would just power on through and say I was fine. So I've learned.

Me, looking up at the sun.
2. Your buddy will save your life, so choose a good one. Most people in the diving fraternity will agree that, as important as it is to chose good gear, its more important to chose a good dive buddy.  A good dive buddy will watch your back (literally) for sharks and all kinds of nasties. Your buddy has the potential to also share their air with you should something go wrong with your gear.  Your buddy can be your lifeline.

On one of my last dives, I got bad vertigo and was simply zoned out. My dive instructor, Gabe, was watching out and pulled me away from a jagged piece of shipwreck that my head was on a collision course with.  Twice. Maybe it was three times. Whatever, I was zoned out, on a high from a great Go Finis (leaving) pirate party the night before and was a complete bimbo underwater.

My other dive buddies were just as mindful, getting me out of scrapes.  I was really lucky; all my dive buddies were awesome, trustworthy individuals who had my best interests at heart.  But, as in life, we all make strategic errors in judgement. We trust people who shouldn't be trusted with our lives or our hearts. Luckily I never made that mistake underwater.  And, now I pursue closer friendships than before and even recently, I had a friend, out of water, point out that I was heading on another collision course with another kind of wreck.

It takes a good dive buddy to pull you away from a wreck.  It takes a great friend to do the same thing too, out of the water, so thanks friend, you know who you are.

3. Sometimes, you just have to pee on yourself.  So yeah, I promised I'd tell the story, so here it is:
Me checking out the wreck...mmm....wreck....
I was diving the Japanese submarine wreck off of Visale.  Matt, an intriguing sort of fellow and his friend Todd, took pity on me and took me out to the wreck.  We dove down and had a great time. Matt is the kind of great playful dive buddy that I love to dive with. He is engaging and fun, doing acrobatics under the water. You can tell he enjoys the feeling of weightlessness and makes great use of it.

So yeah, Matt and Todd both put me at ease instantly and I get comfortable with the sea life.  As we swim right over some unexploded torpedos, I get a sense of courage I don't normally have. I play. I engage with the sea life. I see a bunch of clown fish and go for the sea anemone.  It stings the hell out of my arm. I know I'm hurt as even under the water, I can see the swelling come up.  As we make it to the beach, Matt has to help me out of the water.

The stinging is intense and my arm becomes a mess of splotchy swollenness.  As we go to the next dive, the waves are up. I'm tired and cranky and in pain. I realise that I have a couple of options: hot water, vinegar, more salt water or urine. Now, there is no power points at the beach, so boiling ye olde jug is out of the question. As is vinegar, I left it at home in hopes of making a great salad dressing later.  Salt water seems to have no effect. So, finally, I crumble. The arm must be peed on.

Now, one of the great things about obeying rule #2 of diving (see above under choosing a good dive buddy), is that a good dive buddy steps up and says "Yo, Sara, I'll pee on your arm".  I shake my head and say no, its a lot to ask of someone to pee on you. "No, I actually have to pee really bad...."  I sigh, sad to dissappoint the boys.

"No, if someone is going to pee on my arm, its me," I say, to slightly disappointed faces. I think its mostly because everyone loves a good peeing story.  So the boys shuffle off into the water and sink below the waves, leaving me to my task.

I wander up the beach and do as we do in the Solomons.  Now is the time when my daily yoga practice comes in handy.  And its done. The pain decreases slightly and I adjust myself, pleased that no one saw.  Or so I thought. I walk towards the car and turn around in time to see a banana boat motoring past the beach, with men looking curiously towards my direction. Well, I thought, at least I only have another week and a half to go...

4. You can only worry about what you can see. This one I learned whilst night diving. Night diving is still one of the scariest and funniest things I've ever done.  It limits our power of sight and without much sound underwater, add the feeling of weightlessness and its akin to being a sensory deprivation tank. With sharks and all many of nasties you can't see.

Little Giant Clam!!!
But the great thing about night diving is that after a little while, you stop worrying about what you can't see.  Your torch can only shine light into the abyss to a certain distance and after that, could be Jaws for all you know.  I waited for the big shark to come and...well...I never saw it. So all that fear, that anxiety, was for nothing.  So I guess, my experience is that if the big shark is coming for you, it will come; there is no need to worry about it because I would have missed seeing the cuddle fish change from a cruisey sleepy blue into an angry violet when we woke it up.  And so on.

5. The sea always changes so let it. I think nothing taught me more about change than seeing buildings, like the Christchurch cathedral, in ruins.  The things we rely on, the structures and the relationships can crumble and change in a moment. One of the ways I came to find peace in the chaos was developing a better understanding about change through diving.

Why hello there fish friends
I used to dive Bonege 1 and 2 on a regular basis and instead of getting bored, I became fascinated with how it changed each time I dove it.  Fish and sea life react differently depending on whether its morning or night, whether its rainy or clear.  The wrecks themselves changed too, as the sea finally took its toil and rust and weight of coral moved the metal.

Every time I got out there, I marvelled out how different it was, day to day, week to week. Its what made the diving interesting and in a way, all these changes make life interesting too. Because who wants to be bored?  Being safe and secure is great but, for me, it isn't really living.  So yeah, change can be a beautiful thing, especially when you can take a moment to appreciate it.

Spot the blue spotted ray.
6. Don't panic. I've been deeper than I would care to admit while diving. And well, I've been slightly dumb at times, often being overly optimistic about a situation and not looking closer at a situation. What I've learned is that panic can kill you.  When people panic while diving ain't pretty.  Essentially, all kinds of bad stuff can happen to you, so its better to be as relaxed as possible and calmly make small changes if possible.
7. Enjoy the moment. If one thing diving has helped me out with, its to enjoy the moment.  Working in disasters, I'm always trying to predict what's next, what the worst case scenario is and honestly, it can be exhausting.  But when I dive, all of that goes away into a beautiful blue haze.  This is kind of like number 5 re: change but its also about relaxing into it.  I found the more present I was, the more relaxed I was.  The more relaxed I was, the more the fish seemed to just hang out with me.  It got to the point that I felt so relaxed in my watery environment that when I got out of the water, it felt foreign and difficult on land.  I much preferred my watery existence; weightless and floaty, to the harsh realities of life above the waves.  In a way, thats how I feel about coming back from the Solomons.  I feel like the Solomons, with its warmth and relaxed way of life, was a much easier life to navigate than the cold streets of urban New Zealand. 

Here, I've adapted by enjoying the moment as well. I stop and look at old buildings or trees.  I marvel at all the men in suits and women in high heels roaming our nation's capital. I try to find the moments and fill them with wonder but its hard.  Everything here seems to be geared towards future and past but there isn't a lot of people who celebrate the moment.  So I started climbing again because I find climbing very focusing.  While its not diving, I have to be focused on what I am doing in that moment.

8. You are never alone.
I think one of my favorite moments came at the very end of my diving life in the Solomons.  It was my last night dive with my great dive buddy Jo.  It was raining down and you could see the droplets of water splattering down like liquid diamonds about six inches into the waves.  As I looked up, Jo took my hand for a bit and just swam with me.  We just enjoyed that moment together and we didn't need to say anything to each other (well we were diving so we couldn't) but I felt her support and friendship through holding her hand. 

It was a special moment for me, to feel a person's unconditional love and support under the waves, in the dark.  When she let go, I could still feel that love, caring and support.  It felt really wonderful and, even though I knew that the transition back to New Zealand would be hard, I would never be alone.

And so endeth the lessons. I could wax lyrically for hours about how much diving has changed my life...but that would probably be boring.

After a month (today) of being away from the Solomons, I find the experience fading more quickly than I'd like it to.  This blog here has helped a great deal to record those little moments that made my life so special there.  And adaptation to New Zealand life continues, as does the polishing up of my final blogs.  I feel like I've got three more to go, so I hope you enjoy the final chapters of Stilettos in the Solomons.

*All photographs are from the amazing Adam Hatfield, who taught me about diving and how to say "stop f*cking around" under water.  Thanks Adam!

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. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Love Below

As you may have picked up, my addiction to diving has grown from a slight, itchy discomfort to full on herpes like level…I talk about it with everyone, I dream about it, I do artistic renderings and interpretive dance about diving…it’s absolutely ridiculous.  If diving were a man, I’d be all Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction”, boiling his bunny and stalking his wife.

I’ve stopped drinking on the weekends because of my diving. I don't flirt in case a man takes me away from my diving obsession. Really I'm totally focused on diving as my main hobby (besides Texas Holdem Poker...I won against 26 contenders last weekend!!!  Great night courtesy of the Solomon Island Poker Association...check them out on Facebook!) 

Hello strange underwater night creature thingy!  Copyright to Joanna O'Shea ...
(Yes she has to admit that we are friends now....sorry Jo.)

I am literally becoming a nautical or diving nun.

Maybe its the breathing in and breathing out or the weightlessness or the communion with the fishies, I don't know.  But I feel amazing EVERY TIME I get out of the water.  I always have a few minutes of adjustment to this hard world, where everything is solid instead of fluid.  The underwater world is by far my preferred environment and only spending a few hours a week there doesn't seem enough.

Seriously, I haven’t loved a hobby so much…pretty much ever (except singing and playing piano).  I do about two to three dives a week right now, mostly on the Boneges because it’s close by and I always see something new and interesting on the wrecks. 

With my obsession in mind, I decide to sign up for an advanced diving course.  The PADI advanced diving course is designed to allow divers who have the PADI Open Water from an 18 metre depth to a 30 metre depth.  It also has things like night diving and navigation diving.  Good stuff!  The reason why I decided to do it now is because its warmer in the Sollies than N.Z. and I like Tulagi Dive.  The owner is a laid back and unnaturally dry humored fellow, so much so that when I show up for a night recreational dive, he mutters: 

“All right, your course starts tonight, Sara.”

Gabe, my former instructor balks slightly.  I can tell that with my slightly bimbo attitude and plethora of back talk, I’m not entirely his favorite student.  But he takes a breath, sighs out and takes it in stride.  It’s off to the beach we go. 

As the sun sets over the ocean, the crew of eight adventurous souls strap into their tanks and stumble into the water, with torches in hand.  We look like the Skexis from that movie the Dark Crystal, hunched and slow...slightly menacing.  

 He's one bad mother...Shut your mouth! I'm just talkin' about
weird rock crab thingy... Copyright Joanna O'Shea. 
Night diving is quite different from day diving, obviously.  First, you only can see what your torches illuminate, leaving an air of mystery and downright creepiness to the dive. Its like being in a horror movie and I'm just waiting for more torch to illuminate some toothy sea monster.  We all know the redheaded, busty slightly slutty types are the first to go, so obviously I'm on watch. 

Secondly, the creatures in the deep have fallen asleep.  Reef fish have covered themselves in a mucus membrane to protect themselves and jamming themselves in rocks or coral to for the night.  Sounds…gooey and oh so comfy.  Gabe warns me not to shine my torch on these fish because they wake up and escape their mucusy home, leaving them without protection. 

Torches (flashlights, for my yankie readers) can be utilized not only as light sources but also as a way to communicate information, like being okay is communicated by circling your torch.   In trouble can be communicated by moving your torch erratically.  Under no circumstances should you flash your torch in someone’s eyes. This will blind your buddies for about ten minutes, leaving them pretty pissed off with you.  Beer fines, apparently, are given immediately if this happens.

Not wanting to incur beer fines or wake up muccusy fish, I let the air out of my BCD, gripping my torch tightly and only shining it to the bottom.  There is something downright spooky and scary about falling into the deep and as the waves slip over my head, I have second thoughts.  I turn my torch upwards and it refracts back into the waves at an opposite angle, signifying to me that the rules of the over world have now changed and I’m heading down into a completely different reality.

We sink onto the sandy white floor. Gabe has brought along his big camera, which has a fantastic spotlight.  The camera looks like a gigantic arctic crab, spotlights all akimbo on dark metal arms.  He lets me hold it while he fixes another dive buddy’s camera…I’m terrified.  The thing is probably worth more than I’ve earned this year.  I gently cradle his camera and whisper that I’ll take care of it…the thing looks so animal like I can’t help but feel maternal towards it and slightly protective.  After all the spotlight alone saves me from having to peer in the dark with my pathetic torch that barely illuminates three metres in front of me.

Gabe and I do a few quick exercises including underwater navigation away from “Mr. Blinky”, his camera (sorry Gabe, I couldn’t resist giving your camera a name.  I called my BCD Dr. Bubbles...its what I do).   I can barely see, which adds to the creepy factor. As we finish the exercises, it’s off to the wreck for some alone time with the fishes.  There is surprisingly little going on with the fish; everything moves slowly and sleepily, not like during the day.  Even the night fish seem slightly bored and sleepy. 

As we get close to the wreck, Gabe motions for us to turn our spotlights off.   It almost becomes dark except for two more inexperienced divers who sit five or so metres above us, just following us around (to be fair, one of the divers was a) her first time since her PADI and  she was understandably nervous and b) her mask kept filling with water.  The fact that she stayed in the water is pretty amazing, I would have been outta there if that had happened to me!).  It was like being on a date or trying to have a romantic moment with your parents around.  The thing is about turning off your lights is that the disco and electric fish come out and swarm, as does the phosphorescence, which dances around us.  After a few minutes we just give up.

It’s up from 25 metres to the shallows to play around with the fishes.  We peer under a rock and see a cone shell (known for its poisonous darts that has a deadly neuro toxin at the tip…stay away), making a quick escape.  Now, cone shells are essentially big sea slugs, so making a quick escape is really a joke because besides send a dart out at you, these fellahs don’t do anything quickly.

Gabe grabs a small crayfish (rock lobster) at me and it’s not very happy.  We quickly release it and it escapes back to the depths.  My favorite group is probably a group of small, transparent prawns with blue outlines rocking out in a big group in one of the holes in the ship. These guys are hopping and dancing around like its Extreme dance club on a Friday night.

As we swim the dark, spotlights and divers everywhere, its feels like that movie,  the Abyss, from the 1980s. As a child, I loved that movie and I can see why, now, people would have all consuming obsession with diving in the dark.  There is nothing like feeling of absolute weightlessness in darkness.  Its creepy and sensory depriving, except for the crackling noises the sea life makes.   I can see now why Michael Jackson slept in one of those tanks, it’s a crazy experience.  You simple have to trust that everything is going okay.  You can’t worry about what is beyond your spotlight because, really, there is nothing you can do about it.

I feel sorry for Gabe; I am a bit nervous to go away from Mr. Blinky so I keep bumping into him, bringing up sediment with my fins as he is trying to get the perfect shot.  I know its no fun to be crowded by another diver but I can't help the shadows, there lurks things I'm slightly afraid of.  Plus he keeps highlighting cool things and I don't want to miss out. 

We pop up, and the air above is cooler than the water we are standing it.  Its cloudy and not a full moon which explains the lackadaisical nature of the sea critters. 

As we drive home, the crew speaks excitedly of a turtle which I didn’t get a chance to see.  Mark, my favorite dive buddy, is completely in love with the dive that night.  He has that far away look of a true addict, coming to me the next asking when we can go next.  I think he too has the diving is his blog account of it.

I can’t say I blame him.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Solomon Islands Newbie Guide: How to meet people in Honiara

One year ago today, I arrived in Honiara.  I was alone, weirded out and hot.  I slept for about 32 hours straight, after flying from Paris, and when I woke up, I realized that I didn’t know anybody.  I was stuck in a hot hotel room, by myself, watching episodes of Battlestar Galatica and X-Files (I played video games too.  Sid Myers Pirates, Monkey Island and Civilisation Four are personal favorites).  Oh feel sad for me!!! Ha!

I digress…. Anyway it wasn’t very fun not having any friends and not knowing where to meet people. 

So…here is my list of how and where to meet people.  Expats and locals alike are pretty friendly.  

Occasionally you run into the snobbish types or the ones who have just been here WAY too long and won’t make friends.  But don’t take it personally, it’s not about you, it’s about them. 

  • Diving: Diving is a great way to meet people.  If you aren’t a diver already, take a course.  I HIGHLY recommend Tulagi Dive.  The boys will look after you and you should meet people.  Done the course and still no friends?  Get some gear and go out to Bonege 1 on Saturday or Sunday mornings.  There are heaps of divers who will probably buddy you.
  • Solomon Islands Poker Association. I loves me some good Texas Holdem Poker.  And this group is a lovely, social, fun bunch of folks that will make you feel welcome whether you want to or not.  Their meetups are on Facebook, so friend them and enjoy the mayhem.  These guys are all about poker and having a good time.  Don’t feel bad if you are a newbie, the players are friendly and always willing to help.  There are also tutorial nights as well. Here’s hoping you get pocket aces or a flush on the flop.
  • Ultimate Frisbee-These guys play at Woodford School on Tuesday evenings. I’ve not been but I hear it’s pretty fun
  • Okay, I love HASH but I don’t find the time to go very often.  It’s a great place to meet people, run your guts out and drink, all at the same time (Why don’t I go more often? The mind boggles…).  Anyway, Hashers are a friendly and generous group of people.  Lime Lounge often has information re: meetups.  These guys, both expats and locals, run every Monday night in rain, shine or cyclones. 
  • Church.  Church is a great way to meet people even if you aren’t that churchie.  Solomon Islanders love church and you get an instant social network out of attending. So give it a go.  I recommend the South Seas Evangelical Church just for their singing and social stuff but its up to you.
  • Lime Lounge.  If you are keen on checking out the local expat scene, this is a great place to come and enjoy a nice lunch or coffee.  People often come alone OR in groups but starting up conversations is pretty easy.  Lime Lounge is in Point Cruz.
  • International Tea Group.  Yes, there is an international tea group.  These lovely ladies (and a few gents) meet weekly to discuss all things tea.  I’ve been before and I highly recommend this group to partners of people who are working, as it is during the day around 10 a.m.  These ladies are probably the most friendly bunch of women I know and they will graciously assist you with any questions you may have.   Meeting times and location information is available at the Lime Lounge.
  • Mommy’s group.  There is a group of mommies who have play group.  You can find out their meeting schedule through the kindies.  I know  a couple of ladies who are a part of these groups, so email me if you can’t find this information out.
  • Rain Tree Café.  This is a place to chillax and meet people…I love it there but make sure you have enough time to sit back and enjoy.
  • Extreme Night Club. Okay, this is a probably the most decent and safe place to dance at in Honiara.  Granted, Extreme has a certain Yuck factor about it.  I won’t lie, the music sucks and you occasionally get groped by some drunk guy. I don’t often frequent Extreme but you can meet some interesting people there.  Just watch your bag and those weird old expat men who sit alone in the corner with their beer chatting up 17 year old Solomon Island girls.
  • The Yacht Club.  It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere with a bar so if you are into sailing, boats or drinking, you should be in. 
  • The Iron Bottom Sound Hotel (IBS).  This place is a nice setting overlooking the ocean.  The pizza is pretty edible and you can always find groups of friendly people there.  Just walk up and start a conversation, you should be fine.
  • Yoga and Pilates.  There are classes every Wednesday and Friday at the Heritage Hotel.  I haven’t been but I hear its worth going.  Its about 50 bucks per class.
  • King Solomon Hotel Karaoke Fridays.  This lasts till about 12 midnight and usually pretty fun.  Great place to meet people and sing your heart out.    
  • Aerobics.  At St. John’s school.  Now I love this class. Its filled with locals and expats alike who want to kick it 80s style.  There is lots of hooting and hollering and people are very friendly.

Okay, there are a LOT more clubs and activities here.  The Coconut News is a great place to get all your information, ask around and you can get on their email list.

If you are STILL stumped and lonely, email me and I can send you some contacts of friends who like helping newbies out.  Once you meet people, you will start to get party invites and you are off. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Visitor: Part Three

After the volcano debacle, I felt the need to reclaim some of my pride, some of my dignity.  Sure I couldn’t make it and I crumbled like a stale cookie dipped in warm coffee.  Look, I am not unfamiliar with failure.  But I had to do something to make it up to H.

I guess, for me, I was deeply disappointed in the change of path regarding the volcano on Savo. It used to be a lovely three hour walk up a steamy river bed surrounded by huge cliffs.  The walk was a great little adventure with eight metre bamboo ladders and walking over logs.  It felt fun but still doable.  The walk we did was purely unfun and although I know I could have made it through, I just didn’t see the point. However, the walk fell prey to the classic Solomon Island excuse "land disputes".  Well, I get it.  People want to be compensated properly for their land...I'm not going to make a judgement call on whether its right or wrong.  But it is disappointing.

Anyway, enough of my whinging. I know most of you, especially the kiwis, are thinking “whoa, man up!”.  You are right…I should man up.  Moving on…

On our way out from Savo, I arrange for our patient boat drivers to take us to the little volcano, a place that I had heard of but not yet been too.  We see a nice pod of dolphins dancing in the waves near the boat on our way there.  The sun is kissing the water and the island of Savo looks like something out of Jurassic Park.   We zip around quickly to the other side of the island to see the small volcano.

After climbing our way through one of the nicest villages I’ve seen in the Solomons, we make it to the small  volcano.  There it is, a small cone, coming out of the hillside.  A hot stream glugs and splutters near the path and we make our way down for a bit of a foot bath.  The water isn’t as warm as I thought it would be but it’s enough to know that something volcanic is going on.

Villagers come up with piles of food to place at the base of the volcano.  They use it as an oven or motu.  Our guide lets us play in the stream and look at the bubbling mud.  OOO Bubbling mud!!!

Although it’s probably not as cool as the other volcano, H seems happy and that’s all that matters.
Then we trek our way back to Honiara on the boat.  As we get closer to Honiara, I feel the relaxation I’ve felt start to come under strain.  The truth is I prefer the villages to Honiara.  I dislike all the pollution, rubbish, smog, the harassment from men…I like the calmness of the villages. 

Anyway, we come home for the few last days in Honiara.

The next day is spent shopping (for Helen) while I come back to work.  We sit at the rain tree and enjoy some yummy pizza.  I love the Rain Tree café; its calm and quiet and you get to sit by the sea.  What I hate about it is that it takes two hours to get you your food.  No, seriously. Two hours.  I watched the waitresses take over an hour to serve pancakes the other day because they had to go out get the ice cream. 

It’s a typically Solomon Island place that is great on weekends, killer if you are on a tight schedule.

We wake up early for H’s last morning in the Solomons.  It’s off to Bonege Two for a quick morning snorkel.  Now, over the last few weeks there have been rumours and security alerts about crocodiles and bull sharks around the Boneges.  Mostly, I think its crap.  I think you have to be tremendously unlucky to see either of those creatures here.  But still, I can’t help but think about the crocs and sharks as we enter the calm waters…alone.  The beach is literally empty, there is no one about.  So, we make the first tentative swim out to the wreck.

The water is filled with jelly fish.  I get small, annoying stings all over my body, as does H.  As we get into the front part of the wreck, H lets out an enomorous scream underwater and, using my stupid instinct, I make a break for  the shore, waiting only slightly for H.

We arrive safetly on the shore.

“Oh…I’m sorry Sara, a jelly fish stung me on my mouth!  It hurts and I couldn’t help it!”

“I think you might need to pee on my face.”

Ugh.  After a few minutes, H doesn’t have anything worse than Angelina Jolie lips, so we decide to head out 
back into the water.

We stay out for a little while.  Snorkeling and diving in the morning is preferred in the Solomons. The water is calm and clear and the night fish and day fish are punching their time cards, so you get to see both in the water at the same time.

We leave Bonege 2 behind for a bit of mango breakfast on the balcony at Casa Turchese.

H has a lovely morning of resting and then its off to the airport.  As I wave her goodbye, I feel really sad.  H is the only adventurous soul to come see me here and I loved every minute of it.  I hope she enjoyed her time here too.

H’s departure also signifies the beginning of the end for me here in the Solomons. I’m looking down at three more weeks left to make a difference, do my job, enjoy my diving and create mayhem. 

But the truth is: I’m tired.  H’s visit was the longest holiday in more than a year.  I haven’t seen my parents in over a year and I won’t see them for another six months. My altruistic side got the best of me and I used my holiday helping out in CHCH and I feel spent.   Being here isn’t the holiday one might suppose.  Sure, its not 
stressville either but after awhile, it does grind you down.

My stuff is starting to break down.  Pinkie, my faithful Sony Vaio laptop, is showing her age.  Ants are climbing in and out of my hard drives.  My boardies (swimming shorts) are starting to decay with over use.  My trusty snorkel mask is cracking.  

I think in life one of the critical things is to know when to leave.  No one wants to be the last drunk at the club or that person who is holding on to that bad relationship because they can’t let go. Timing  is important because you gotta know when you have done enough and it’s time to move on.  For me, that time is in about three weeks.

Everyone has an expiration date here and I’m about ready to curdle.  So here is to the last three weeks of Solomon Island time. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Visitor: The Ballad of H and S

(Inspired and dedicated to one of my musical heroes, Bob Dylan, who this week learned how to play the bagpipes at age 70.  True story, well, at least as true as that old trickster Bob ever gets).

Verse One
Climbing up that old volcano
Hot and steamy
And we both a-know
Our hair is gettin too frizzy
To continue on this path
I’m starting to get dizzy

So we climbed up
Halfway to be exact
And I look H square in the eye
And said
This year’s been a little rough
And this trail’s a bit too tough
Can we turn around, babe?
And drink some coconuts?

Verse Two
Spiders as big
As my torso
Sentinels in banana twigs
Smalls Birds trapped in the web
Wrapped up like wontons (Editor’s note: I was clearly hungry at this point)
Probably thinking I’d make a good meal for a month

So we climbed up
Halfway to be exact
And I look H square in the eye
And said
This year, its been a little rough
And this trail’s a bit too tough
Can we turn around, babe?
And drink some coconuts?

Verse Three
She bows her head
Can’t look me in the eye
She could keep going
Climbing on up to the sky
But, she nods and says
Let’s go make a g and t

So we climbed up
Halfway to be exact
And I look H square in the eye
And said
This year, its been a little rough
And this trail’s a bit too tough
My legs are a shakin and you’ve had too much a-quaking (this year)
Let’s go and hammock, my H
And drink some coconuts?

Some experiences can only be told in verse, as above.  So yeah, I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t quite summit the volcano.  BUT H was a good sport about it, as she is about everything.  And I got to write a song. 
So every one wins. 

Next time, questions will be answered: Did H leave okay? What happened to the face peeing incident?  All will be revealed in the final chapter (without bad song writing) of The Visitor...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Big But (A minor interlude)

"Alas for maiden, alas for judge, rich repeiner and household drudge, God pity them both and pity us all ... for of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these:  It might have been."
-John Greenleaf Whittier

I know, I know…you are waiting to hear what happens to me and H. next…its coming but I had to do this one first.

As I near the end of my assignment, I find myself somewhat reflective on the last year and what’s happened.

When I decided to come to the Sollies more than a year ago, everyone I told said pretty much the same thing:

“Man, I would love to do that but…”

There were Buts all over the place.  I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve a kid or a dog or cat or a mom or an ingrown toe nail.  I’m saving for my car, my I-Mac or I’m in prison…whatever I heard it all. 

And here is what I have to say to all to the Buts:

I’m not particularly smart. Or sexy. Or funny. Or beautiful. Or talented.  Or rich. I just got off my Buts.  Cause life ain’t no dress rehearsal, people.  If you want something, you gotta grab it and fight for it.  Because if I can do this great adventure I am POSITIVE that you can do anything. 

Sorry it may sound self righteous or you might say to yourself “But, Sara, you’ve had sooo many opportunities that others haven’t, like access to education and good parents…”.  And you know what? You are spot on. You bet your balls I’ve been lucky.  I have awesome parents who supported my education and career every step of the way.  I’ve been very fortunate in this life to have had great friends, partners, mentors bosses and amazing jobs working for kick ass organizations. I mean it hasn't always been a cake walk and sure I've got my down days but overall I’m grateful for each wonderful, blissful moment of my life.

Having said that, it’s still no excuse, eh. And here is why I’m writing this: I’m tired from hearing excuses from people who feel they can’t get what they want in life and would rather whine and sulk then get off their But. 

If you don't think you can change your life and think I'm an over privileged bad example, consider my friend D. My favorite inspiration person here in the Sollies, D., who walked away from an abusive marriage that started at AGE 13 to self fund her way through university to become an amazing advocate for education in the Sollies. Her life was surrounded by Buts: she had six kids, no money, no parental support. She had nothing but she did something, built herself up to HELP OTHERS.  She is my hero because she made her life HAPPEN. She got her BUTs.  She is a humbling example to me, when I am lazy or self indulgent (which is more often than I would care to admit), to pull up my socks and get back to work. 

If this woman, who had to deal with extreme abuse, poverty, and sexism could fight through and make stuff happen in her life, so can you.

I also got the "its the wrong time" thing too.  Guess what? There will never be a sign from the heavens telling you it is a good time.  Sometimes, you gotta jump,bad timing and all and hope for the best. Now, don't get me wrong. If you are happy and content with living your life cruising along, that's awesome for you.  My crazy life certainly isn't for everybody and everyone has the right to enjoy their life on their own terms.  I support anyone who is living life with joy and pride in what they do.  What I'm trying to say is to those people who are holding themselves back from what they really want in life is just get off you But and do it.

You think my life is cool? Awesome.  I think it’s pretty cool too, in fact I wouldn’t change anything about it.  Guess what? I know you can do better than me.  Well, maybe you won’t rock the ginger curls and red crocodile stilettos like I do, but whatever.  

So next time you hear your But start looking for another way, cause believe me, anything is possible with your life.    

Just sayin.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Visitor

“I think you need to pee on my face, Sara.”

These are words that one never really wants to hear especially sitting on a beach at 7 a.m.  But there we are, me and my best girl, H, sitting on Bonege Beach 2 at 7 a.m., her with a swollen mouth from a jelly fish sting and me with peeing anxiety.  Not the most ideal way to end a stay in the Solomons, but not unexpected either. 
As H (my best girl) learned here, anything and I mean ANYTHING can and does happen.

H arrived the Tuesday before, the last to leave the customs room, which is pretty much the size of the Nelson arrivals airport.  Its tiny and hilarious and hot.

As I see her emerge from the customs room, a wash of emotions sort of come flooding in.  H brings an unexpected element to stay here in Honiara.  She is the first and only guest I’ve had here and I was both excited and nervous to have her stay here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s o for awesome having her come here but it also leaves me with a sense of slight dread.  H is the most supportive person I could have in my life and she walked side by side with me during some pretty dark times, from a sad, heart breaking separation to a city demolishing earthquake.  But she also reminds me of how far I’ve come and the zen, super adventurous life I’ve worked hard to achieve.
It’s hard not to love H; her enthusiasm and humour are infectious.  Her passion for her work (it has something to do with earthquakes and scientists) and her zestiness for a good adventure makes her the perfect companion.

It’s no rest for her as we zoom through the main streets of Honiara to Casa Turchese for gin and tonics and a good old fashioned catch up. Mackenzie, my local housemate, makes a fantastic local dish of fish in coconut milk with roasted papaya(!!!).  Awesome.  The neighbours come over for a nice visit and H begins her life in the Honiara social scene.

The next day, we drive along and she looks slightly nervously around.

“I still can’t believe you did this, Sara…I mean, it was really ballsy,” she says.

I guess I don’t know how to answer. I don’t feel particularly brave or ballsy.  I just felt like the universe aligned to help me out and carry me to this place, where I’ve found a really great life.  I feel like the luckiest girl alive and H comments about how much happier and together I seem.    

The next night, we celebrate the International Day of Peace at my friend Katherine’s house, with mediation, yoga and a violence free meal (vegan).   It’s all very peaceful and happy and when we leave the house, we feel too zenned out to really talk. 

H makes her way around Honiara the next day, much more confident than the day before.  She begins her process of getting use to the place.  I find it a bit challenging because Honiara is home now; everything seems normal and I don’t do the whole “hey isn’t that interesting” thought process anymore.  So for me, seeing Honiara through a visitor’s eyes is completely entertaining.    

We walk around the streets and sort out the weekend’s activities, though not without a bit of work.  EDITOR'S NOTE: when the Solomon Islands Visitor’s Bureau offers to book something for you, don’t do it! Just grab the number and do it yourself!  These guys are pretty useless!!!

Anyway, we go out to see my neighbor, Aidan, off.  I’m sad to see Aidan leaving; he is a very good neighbor, putting up with our antics and letting us play Band Hero till late.  Which H and I do, singing her favorite heavy metal toons until far too late. 

We can’t stay for as long as either of us would like due to an early morning appointment with the Sun Express to go across to Maravagi, my favorite resort, currently, in Central Province.

The ride over is totally unexpected for me. I’m used to bouncing around in banana boats, wondering half the time if we are going sink.  But the Sun Express cuts through the rough water quickly and I find myself slightly sea sick, a totally new experience in the Solomons. I guess I’m just a banana boat girl. 

Helen enjoys herself as we make our way to Mbike, a little island in the Galas.  It’s a beautiful stretch of white sandy surrounded by crystalline blue waters.  Three large houses tower of the white sand and it looks ideal but due to water issues, the resort has yet to open. I tell the Sun Express people that I’ll bring my own water, if they just let me stay there.  They say that I’m not the first person to offer…

Anyway, its off to Maravagi.  Now usually I jump off the boat just as we get close to the resort but the size of the Sun Express means I can’t.  We quickly unload and begin our holiday in earnest. 

In the afternoon, we snorkel around the home reef, spotting a nice sized black tipped reef shark.  Now that I’ve spotted a few of those guys, I understand a bit more how to respond other than swimming in the opposite direction as fast as possible.     

We eat, snorkel, beach, eat some more and generally have good chats.  Maravagi is a great place to just chill out and enjoy the best of the Solomons (although, this weekend I went to Nugu and that was freakin awesome).

Anyway, after our two days there, we make our way in a banana boat across the sea to Savo, the lone volcanic island hugging the northwest corner of Guadalcanal.

Savo is a totally different place to Maravagi.  Blessed or cursed with volcanic activity, it doesn’t have much of a reef to snorkel but it does have other things.  We hammock and enjoy the simpler, taster local food than offered at Maravagi.   

The next morning we wake up early to see a completely unique sight…the Megapodes.  Megapodes are little black birds that resemble small chickens, but with better posture.  There are several interesting things about megapodes, one being that their eggs are around thirty percent of the size of their torsos.  The yolk from the eggs are around 80 percent of the internal parts of the egg, making it yummy for omelets (I know, H and I tried some!). 

We walk up to an area where some Savo-ites are digging in the black sand.  The area is surrounded by a series of fences, covered with coconut fronds, giving privacy to the Megapodes.  A small group of Megapodes dig into the black sand.  The eggs are incubated in the warm volcanic sands of the islands.  After 31 days, the egg hatches and the bird digs its way out, never knowing its mother or father. 

Anyway, the locals have built up fences around their nesting area to protect them from dogs and to give them a bit of privacy.  As H and I pull the leaves of the fence apart, we watch these fascinating little birds chortle at each other.  Sometimes, it’s just holes in the ground with dirt flying up in small clumps.

The birds make a quiet exit once their eggs are safely laid in the holes.  The locals make the signal and it’s a mad dash of digging as they go for the eggs, sand flying everywhere.  The eggs are highly priced as a protein source but also sell for about 10 dollars Solomon an egg in Honiara.  After about 10 minutes, a good amount of the eggs have been dug out of their nests. 

The megapods have waddled their way back to their jungle homes, which one local points out to me as being a place that is taboo (sacred) to locals and no one is allowed to visit or disturb them. 

H and I make our way back to the Sunset Resort, to enjoy a meal of megapod eggs and pineapple. 
We needed to eat up cause our next adventure would require quite a bit of energy…