Friday, August 29, 2014

Slippery cabbage, soft rock and slidey slippers

As I wait in line to top up credit onto my phone, a familiar sound enters my consciousness. It's the nonchalant meandering of slippered feet across the tiled floor of the "Our Telekom" shop. Everyone wears flip flops in Solomon Islands, referred to as slippers, and they make a swishy sortof sound as people casually stroll the counter where they take a small piece of recycled paper on which to write their details, then cruising wistfully past the cabinet with the new smart phones in it, stopping to greet an acquaintance or two and then proceeding to the end of the queue. I realise I'm going to miss that swishy, slidey sound.

Given that this was my last trip to Solomon Islands, at least for a while, I was taking time to savour those sights, sounds and taste sensations that make a place unique. I tried cassava in coconut milk again the other night, because an Australian colleague was raving about it, but, this only served to confirm that I really don't like it. The taste is too bland and the texture too starchy for me. But there are taste sensations that I have enjoyed and will definitely miss. I like slippery cabbage (or ferns, yep like the ferns you would encounter on a bushwalk in rainforest conditions) cooked in coconut milk, which is sweet and green and delicious. I also got used to banana pancakes at the Lime Lounge, and omelette a la 2 minute noodles, a staple lunchtime meal at Red Cross cafe in Chinatown.

Banana pancakes
This visit, my colleagues had organised for us to hold our staff reflection workshop out of town at one of the community learning centres where we work. I like visiting communities. Apart from seeing what is actually happening on the ground, its also a bit like camping. You take a head torch on the midnight toilet visit, bathe in the sea or river, and tell stories into the evening. At our workshop evaluation, a few people said it was the best workshop ever, so that was a great note to end on.

Relaxing in between sessions
For my farewell, a few friends and colleagues kindly accompanied me for dinner and dancing in town. I think the Solomons might just be the only place where my preference for soft rock is shared by those who in every other respect are way cooler than me. We grooved the night away to the sounds of Elton John, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Billy Joel and some pacific island artists that I was less familiar with. I also learnt a new phrase in pidgin - "fillim up buckets", which I think would loosely translate to "crying a river", used to describe what happened when we thought of no longer seeing one another every three months or so.

Farewell at Iron Bottom Sound Hotel
But eventually the evening came to an end, and the next day it was time for my flight home. The goodbye entourage was there to see me off at the airport amid hugs and smiles. Fond farewells were slightly marred by the discovery that Solomon Airlines had changed the time of the flight and was taking no responsibility for onward connections. This risk was made clear to me during my handover 3.5 years ago, and had never eventuated until now. Having carefully planned a 90 minute connection in Brisbane, I was now left with 30 minutes in which to proceed through immigration, baggage, customs, transit to domestic, go through security and board the flight. Not being one to give up, I "mentioned" the issue repeatedly to the flight attendants until they upgraded me to Business class for landing and then I raced like I've never raced before. It turns out that particular connection can't be done in 30 minutes. 45 maybe. I have to say Virgin was very good about rescheduling me onto a later flight at no extra cost, and so all was well that ended well.

Solomon Islands sunset
I know I will look back on these years of Solomons travel with fondness and nostalgia. There were many difficult meetings, sleepless nights and challenging situations, but also times when I have never laughed so hard, and moments of immense pride and gratitude. I know that the APHEDA staff and the communities they work with are incredibly inspiring and dedicated people. I look forward to seeing where their careers and life journeys take them, and hope our paths cross again in the future. Lukum iu fella moa.

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