Sunday, January 07, 2007

bits and pieces

Not a very eventful week, and I still can't load images, so just a few notes...

Learned a new word in pidgin: ‘komanda’ used when someone does something really good or admirable. Discovered this when I forked out $2000 to pay the overdue office power bill so that the power wasn’t cut off over the Christmas break. Clearly the first admirable thing I’ve done…

Learned how to say hello/goodbye in Roviana, a commonly spoken/understood local language. Also discovered that soy sauce could have a completely different meaning in said language; soi being a rude word for men’s bits.

Found a leafy green vegetable that I don’t like (the first one!). In usual style I saw something new at the market, so asked how to cook it and bought it. When I took it to work two of my colleagues said they’d never tried it, and one said she grew it as a hedge. Maybe this should have been enough of a deterrent, but I tried it anyway. Not very nice; I hope it makes a nice screen.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

a gentle stroll, and all things tropical

I trust that everyone has had a happy Christmas, and that you are all gearing up for 2007 (can’t believe it’s here already!).

The condensed version for the screen-reading-averse… I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day walking up the volcanic mountain on Kolombangara Island, which is next to Ghizo Is. and about 1700 m high.
It was a great walk (with the exception of a few minor details, more below), and I think my legs have almost recovered, a week later. Other than that it’s been a pretty quiet week in the office, only tropical infections and tropical downpours to contend with. It’s raining lots at the moment, so a perfect day for sitting around writing blogs.

OK, more detail now…
Last Saturday I rode over to the beach on the other side of the island again, and swam out to the reef off the coast. Saw my first ray (a Spotted Eagle Ray), coral being grown on concrete disks, a couple of little nudibracts (I think), and a really cool coral formation with a cloud of little blue fish swarming around and through it. I forgot to put sunscreen on my back, resulting in a spectacular burn just in time to spend a couple of days walking with a backpack…

On Saturday evening we (NZ RAMSI called Andy and I) headed over to Iri Iri village on Kolombangara Island. We had to arrive after 6 as they are Seventh Day Adventists, so can’t take guests/tourists from Friday evening – Saturday evening. We stayed in the rest house; a very basic building with a trestle table, but nothing to sleep on. I had heard that they weren’t very keen or well set up for tourists, and this certainly seems to be true. I’m not sure if they’re not interested, or if they just don’t really know what would improve their operation. Or maybe they just figure that they’ve got a virtual monopoly on the walking up Kolombangara trade and don’t need to do anything else… We chatted to some of the people from the village for a while about the walk and life in Iri Iri in general, then had a quick dinner (cold baked beans on bread) and had an uncomfortable night’s sleep being smoked out by Andy’s mozzie coils.

We woke up early and set off on the walk with a guide (Gule) and two extra people to help carry stuff (George and Zino). We figured that we probably only needed one, but hired a second just in case. We took way too much gear (in my opinion); a tent and thermarest-type sleeping mats, and all sorts of stupidly heavy food (Andy had said that we needn’t bother buying anything as they had heaps of stuff to take at their house… ended up being lots of tins and ration packs). The first bit of the walk wandered past a few gardens and through a little bit of regrowth. I was feeling a bit tired and spectacularly uncoordinated (lack of caffeine? Sunstroke from the day before? Mozzie coil poisoning?), and I managed to fall over about 10 minutes in, scraping and bruising my shin, corking my quad muscle, and straining my shoulder. At this point I was glad we had a second person to help, and handed over my pack. Felt very pathetic, but I think I would have had to turn back otherwise.

The next part of the walk was bloody terrible, I have to say. Two hours of walking up an old logging road completely covered in a vine, which was purpose-made for tripping up clumsy walkers. It was really hot, and I think I fell over about five times. It was also just really sad to be walking through a vine monoculture, not really able to see any bush, while hearing from the guide how the MP of the time had given permission for the logging company to go in, and the landowners had not received any benefits at all. A pretty standard story, I think…

I cheered up considerably one we got into the bush – lots of shade, welcome distractions (lots of interesting plants, heaps of moss, nice views), and no bloody vines. Basically we went up a bit, down a bit, crossed a river, then up a really steep bit of track for around two hours to reach the camp in about five hours. Andy really didn’t enjoy the last climb, which made me feel better about not enjoying the logging road! The camp site was really nice – an open grassy spot with a view down to Iri Iri and across to Gizo. We shared camp with a community of orb-weavers (see photo), lots of frogs, some bush rats and lots of birds flying past. After a bit of a rest Gule and I wandered down to the stream to wash and get some water. Then a camp feast – Andy cooked up some mince he’d taken with noodles, and I shared my weird ration-pack sausage meal and some tinned fish with Gule, George Zino in exchange for some of their rice.

The tents (or one tent and a tarp) were set up while we were at the stream, and by the time I got back from a gentle wander to take photos everyone was working hard, checking that the tarp provided adequate shade…

After not-very-much-sleep I got up early, in time to catch sunrise and join in the Christmas morning prayer. I’m not sure if it was the blessing we sought or the vanilla coffee, but I felt a bit more coordinated than the previous day. A quick breakfast of a little box of cornflakes (remember those ones you used to take on family camping trips?) and heaps of tinned apricot (funny the kinds of food that end up being exciting over here), then off to the top to try to beat the cloud which rolls in over the mountain-top most days. It took about an hour and a half to reach the top, and it was like an alien landscape up there. Everything was completely covered in moss, quite a bit of bamboo, and very eerie feeling. It was a bit hazy and cloudy, but I still really enjoyed it. I’ve put up a couple of photos of the top, with Gule, and Andrew near the top.

Andy had the shits because he wouldn’t use the local facilities, preferring to wait until he got back (he informed me on the way down that the record for holding on was 24 days, which is how long they’re allowed to detain a suspected drug smuggler while waiting for the evidence to come to pass…). So it’s no joke – RAMSI really are careful about what they take and leave behind!

We stopped in at the camp on the way back down, and I had my Christmas lunch with Gule at around 9:30 – masses of rice and tinned salmon (thanks RAMSI). The other boys had already eaten, and Andy was sticking to low-volume-high-energy muesli bars. Then back to Iri Iri – I was a bit slower than Andy and the boys, enjoying the bush before getting back to the road. I caught the end of a bamboo band performance when I got back to Iri Iri, then straight on the boat and back to Gizo.

All in all a good trip, and I think my leg muscles have almost recovered now. I’ve got a lovely tropical infection from the scrape, and am on my first dose of antibiotics since getting here. This required a trip to the hospital, which accidentally has caused me to test my allergy to penicillin – but that will have to be the subject of a later post because it’s hot, the air-con doesn’t seem to be working, and so I think I’ll go home. The tropical rain from this morning, which was keeping things cool, has finished and the building is like a sauna.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

the Tetepare website is back

In one of my earlier posts (this one) I talked a bit about Tetepare Island, which is supposed to be a pretty amazing place. Their website is up and running again, so go and check it out. I'll be going there briefly on 2 Jan (helping with training in putting microchips in leatherback turtles there and on Redova Is), so will provide a more personal perspecive after that...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

happy christmas!

Just some photos from my work Christmas party the other night...


Saturday, December 09, 2006

exit strategies 1-10

Well, last week I came as close as I’ve ever been to marriage… Steph and I had been talking to Gen (Honiara housemates) about the beauty of Frank, who guided us up the volcano on Savo Island (see Savo Island post). He is pretty darn spunky, and also deaf and dumb (I’ll leave it up to you as to whether this is a positive or negative attribute, and I will post a photo as soon as I’m able!). Gen went back to Savo and, wanting to see Frank with her own two eyes, mentioned to Victoria (who runs the village rest house where we stayed) that I was keen on Frank. This resulted in Victoria’s husband Noel looking me up at Ben’s party in Honiara, to let me know that he and Victoria fully approved of this situation, and that all I had to do was send word back and I would be a done deal (oh, and possibly buy a couple of bags of rice, and Frank could do with a new screen for his DVD player, just for starters). Suspecting that this offer had little to do with mutual attraction on Frank’s behalf (I’m sure he saw me as a lumbering, awkward whitey) and a fair bit to do with my potential to be a benevolent provider of all things western to the village, I wrote to Victoria explaining that, where I’m from, two people usually get to know each other a bit before jumping into a lifelong commitment and besides I’m moving to Gizo. Exit strategy #1

Now I've finally left Honiara (exit strategy #2). Things here in Gizo are pretty good – it really is a beautiful place; nice and clean after Honiara, and soooo quiet at night. One of the med students at Phoebe’s mentioned a noisy rooster close-by, but I sure haven’t noticed it after the raucous mob outside my window at Tanuli. I arrived on Thursday night at around 7:30 (the boat ended up taking about 12 hours all up), fairly zombified from the constant drone of the engine, the snap freezing, and too much sitting in the sun to thaw out. I dropped into Nings on the way for a polo bun, then decided that I should limit consumption for the rest of the trip to avoid the toilet, and conserve my limited paper supply. It was a good plan… typical that my only real, ongoing stomach problems coincided with a 12-hour boat ride! I can’t say that I really enjoyed the boat trip… too cold inside, and crowded, windy and wet/sunny/smokey/vomity outside. The video clips being shown on the DVD were pretty funny, but by the end of the trip I think I new them by heart. I woke up from a quick snooze at one point to see footage of Madonna performing live at some Live-Aid event – very surreal.

When I got to Phoebes Jaffar was there with three of the Swedish med students we met on Savo Island and a British med student too. Jaffar works at the Gizo hotel (you’ll meet him when you come and visit, he’s a classic, completely camp and lovely), and came to cook for us last time I was here, demonstrating how to make coconut rice and deal with big fishies. Discovered that I was very hungry and ate about half a tuna and a good SI-style helping of really yummy c’nut rice. Mmmmmm. Then realized that belly still wasn’t up to scratch, and have been filling up on fluffy white bread ever since. Better than that gastro-stop stuff, I reckon! I reached new heights of mental density when I managed to ask the British med student - who wears a skullcap and who’s name is Gideon – what he’s doing for Christmas. I think my thought processes must have the same problem as my bowels at the moment… bypassing some critical step on the way to the outside world, resulting in unplanned and somewhat undesirable exit strategies…(#3&4)

I went for a bit of a walk along the road that follows the southern coast of Ghizo Is this morning, through a couple of villages which have the most amazing settings and views out past the reef, across to the other parts of the island etc. The road is pretty reasonable, and I think it’ll be perfect to ride along; the furthest point on the road, Sasikola (or something like that) is about 12 km away. Someone rode past me on my way back, and he had front suspension, so mine definitely won’t be the swankiest bike around (‘though I think his bike was even noisier than mine, and didn’t seem to be working on all gears).I still have to put my bike together, and hope that it hasn’t rusted solid. The bike box lasted for just long enough… after being unloaded onto a wet wharf at Gizo the bottom fell apart when I got to Phoebe’s.

Now I’m just chilling in the office, quite literally; the office here has air-con, and toilets that flush! Or at least they do when the water is on. Seems to be off pretty often, but I think the shower at Phoebe’s is rainwater, so at least I can still wash.

The others at Phoebe’s are going to Fatboy’s tomorrow, so I might tag along for a snorkel. I’ve got a pretty crazy week coming up, and all this staring at nice-but-unswimmable sea is going to drive me ‘nanas!

Oh, and the other six exit strategies? At the moment they're to do with work... both what's being written into workplans for finishing up projects and my fantasies for the increasing times when the beauracracy and financial difficulties just seem completely unworkable, and 'boring' Canberra looks attractive again.

Monday, November 27, 2006

wha- whe- how- ???

only a condensed version this time, you'll be pleased to hear... I'm still here, alive and kicking (lots of kicking, not so much life). Have just been to Port Moresby for a few days for a meeting, and now work is even more crazy than it's been so far. Surely it will let up soon, all these jobs have their lulls, right?

Other developments:
1. I'm forgetting how to speak English... couldn't decide whether 'operationalizing' was really a word when I was reading through someone else's bit of a funding proposal. Certainly would be in pidgin (along with classics like developmentis-im, strategis-im, plann-im, etc.), but not so sure from the point of view of a US donor.
2. A fellow AYAD hassled me the other day about working too hard and not doing my job as far as the AYAD program is concerned (not enough 'capacity building'). After agonising moments of extra guilt and feeling even more hopeless than before, have decided to apply Solomons Time to this dilemma, for now.
3. You'll have to make the rest up... I'm tired and going home for now.

This is a picture of my workmate/counterpart John Pita and a new friend he made while at the meeting in PNG.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

confused roosters, mysterious substances

I've moved into a new house until I go to Gizo - on Tanuli Ridge. I'm living with three other volunteers; Ben, Steph and Gen. The house is pretty cool, and there's an extended hours canteen at the top of the exciting driveway where we can pop up to buy odd bits and pieces, or just gather gossip.

Good points = nice people, handy location (don't have to walk all the way through town on my way to work), ultimate frizbee.

Bad points = confused rooster next door, who wakes me up at around 4 most mornings, lack of internet.

We have weekly dinners for the volunteers, and anyone else who wants to come along. Last night I was all excited about making chick pea curry. I hadn't managed to get into town to stock up on spices, but I knew there were at least some at the house. Hunting through the cupboards I happily added some cumin or garam masala or something (bit hard to tell when everything's a bit stale), and a good whack of what I thought was ground coriander. Tossed in highly prized tinned tomatoes etc., tasted and was shocked by a very distinctive bitter flavour. After a few more tastes to work out what the bitterness was I realised my mouth was numb, and came to the conclusion that the coriander was kava in disguise. Probably not Fijian judging by the potency. I managed to salvage the dish by rinsing the sauce off and starting again, but everyone did seem pretty mellow by the end of the evening...