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Friday, November 12, 2010

Gizo Town

Honiara becomes cooler over the next three days; rainy season has finally arrived.  The city seems to take a collective sigh of relief; temperatures had soared up to 36 degrees. 

I go to a couple of parties and get an invite to join a singing group, a potential new flat and five new friends.  It’s amazing how quickly I’ve gotten to know people here; both the expat community and locals are so willing to make friends. 

Crissie*, my host organization counter part and I make plans to head off to Gizo at the end of the week to finish the comms work on a tsunami recovery project the organization has been working on.  Getting to Gizo is a little bit of an effort; planes get cancelled and we fly into a nice thunderstorm in our 30 seater Dash-8.

One of the panels above the heads of one of the passengers comes off and gently smacks him in the head.  He smiles, some of the passengers laugh and he replaces it, securing the duct tape.  I wonder to myself what else is secured by duct tape on the plane. 

Islands in Western Province
I sit next to the engine, counting the rivets as we fly high above sparkling little atolls and jungle islands.  It’s a beautiful flight to Gizo but it takes almost double the time because we stop at Munda and Sege, two little settlements.  It is difficult to imagine but Western Province is home to about 83,000 people scattered across hundreds of small islands.

Our Dash 8 and Crissie

As we fly into Gizo, I can see Kolombangara, which is a gigantic volcano.  It resembles a Hersey’s Kiss that a toddle bit the top off of. Because we fly in so late, we just go to our hotel. 

Gizo is like an antidote to Honiara.  In Honiara, there is a great energy but also a strong urban angst.  Here, everyone is laid back and pedestrians rule the road.  There are only a few cars here and people walk in the center of the road, surprised to see a truck when it passes.  The markets are packed; Gizo is a hub for the surrounding islands.  There isn’t as much variety but food is cheaper here and the fish is fresher too. 

Island Boys dancing...
Ben*, the office manager, takes me and Crissie out to see local music.  It’s basically an acoustic guitar jam, with about seven guitarists. In the middle, is the famous bamboo instrument.  This is an impressive instrument, about three metres long and three rows of bamboo high. The bamboo trees have been polished and hollowed out, cut to a certain length to create a note when a piece of dried coconut, like a stick wacks the opening of the bamboo.  When they finish, they take apart the instrument and it strikes me that it resembles the harps in a piano.

There is also local dancing.  Its only men and boys, painted with white lyme from coral.  It’s sort of a warrior dance but they also dance to reflect the birdlife there.  It’s totally different from any Polynesian dancing I’ve seen; its primal and jarring to watch.  Ben explains some of the dances to me and tells me the story of the Solomon Island icon, Nguzonguzo, which is basically a big head of a guy.  The head graces the front of canoes, and when he is carrying a bird, it means peace.  When he is carrying another head, it means war.  By the way these guys dance, I’m not sure I would feel very comfortable going to war with them.
Me and Ben.

The next day we head off to Simbo, one of the islands effected by the tsunami in 2007.  I thought we were going to take the “banana boat”; a common canoe with a small outboard motor.  Instead, we go in luxury on a 20 foot speed boat that powers its way quickly to the island.  As the boat starts on the plane, I get a familiar sinking feeling.  The first “whack” hits and I remember what this is going to be like.

When I was living in New Zealand, my ex father in law used to take us out in the Marlborough Sounds for holidays.  He is a typically stoic kind of guy, economical with his words and smiles but he still has the best mo in the business.  He loves speed and would typically go as fast as humanly possible, not caring if his passengers didn’t enjoy being shaken and whacked around.

Pretty beach.
In this moment, I am supremely grateful for my ex father in law’s ways; he turned a prissy, spoiled American girl into an adrenalin loving, sea faring wench.  I say a little prayer of thank you to him and hope it reaches him in N.Z.  I end up loving every minute of the hour ride over. 

It’s interesting how experiences we think are traumatic and unpleasant at the time just prepare us for some bigger purpose.    

My life jacket gets untied briefly and the straps fly out behind me, creamy coloured flags like I’m surrendering.  I’m embarrassed; my knots really SHOULD be better!  When I’m done tying the knots better, I notice the water, while deep, is totally clear and I can see the bottom; the water clarity must be about 200 metres!   

The islands are spectacular and we power around reefs and shoals.  Sea birds perch on floating logs and coconuts. Flying fish glide gracefully across the glassy water.  It’s a beautiful day on the ocean and I think to myself, not a bad day at the office.

We get to Simbo and clamber up a path to get to the village.  It has been completely rebuilt, although some houses still need to be completed by the community.  I talk to the villagers; the kids just stare at me the whole time and follow me around.  I’m surprised at all the good works my organization has done in the space of three years.  Rebuilding entire communities is no small tasks; recovery takes years to happen properly.  I feel really grateful for this job.  Anyway, we shoot some interviews, take some still photographs and are back on our way.
A bar made ENTIRELY of Bamboo...called the Bamboo Bar...what will the clever kids think of next???

The ride back is a lot smoother and quicker than the way over.  I feel powerful, alive and fearless; I greet every whack with joy and laughter.  I’m no longer afraid.  Sometimes, my own life surprises me; I never planned to be the adventure girl.  But here I am, powering my way in one of the most remote places on earth.  A million things could go wrong and no one would be able to help me. But nothing did.

I can’t imagine a better life for myself and the alternative of living in Christchurch, sitting behind a desk and living a life of routine leaves me absolutely cold.      

All good things have its price. When we get back to the hotel, I discover have a slight sunburn, despite my best efforts to slather myself in sun screen, wearing a hat and sunglasses.  And I have a lovely purple bruise on my side from to boat ride. Also, my camera got a good whack and deleted all the photos I had taken thus far! BOO!
You better not cause any trouble in Munda...or they will throw into the Police Shack!  Fear the BLUE POLICE SHACK!!!

We spend the night out again, this time we go to the Gizo hotel and watch another guitar group, with a bored looking bass player at the back.  The lead singer created a shaker using shells and a used water bottle.  Talk about reusing!  The music is beautiful and the performers clearly enjoy themselves.

Then there is dancing, tameray, which isn’t really local.  Polynesians have settled in parts of the Solomons and brought their dances over, so it’s sort of an amalgamation of Tahitian dancing and Hawaiian hula.  Afterwards, the dancers grab people from the audience to dance with them and Ben and I hit the dance floor.  I’m tired from my day at sea and walking but I feel alive; filled with adrenalin from the boat ride over.   

In that moment, I’m grateful for every disappointment and traumatic experience, for every preverbal “whack” of the speed boat, because it brought me here, to Gizo.