Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bits and pieces

Life has been plodding along of late, with exciting things scattered here and there. One such exciting thing was the piglet distribution I tagged along to. Piglets!!!! I got to carry the little ginger piglet from his pen to the truck. I'd googled the correct way to hold a pig ahead of time (always be prepared) so I think that helped me and "Weasley" to bond....well, he didn't wriggle or squeal too much. 
There were 27 little piggies to distribute, which involved stops at two farms (though the second was more like a stinking rubbish dump than a farm), a stop to pick up the 40kg bags of feed, and then wading across the river, which was about knee height to the village. At this point I had to decline carrying Weasley across, as I was actually there to film the process, and I was a bit concerned that we'd both end up in the water!
 But all the piggies made it across, and the families were very happy to receive them. The piglets cost SBD600 (AUD 93), and the families had each had to contribute SBD100 (AUD 15). After feeding them up for about a year, they should make about 2,000 (AUD 315), so that's a pretty great return.
 In other news, the cats may have become slightly traumatized by the laser pointer. Sometimes Brichant just stares at the wall, waiting for the evil red dot to appear....still fun though!
 We went diving on the weekend, and were almost at our destination when the tyre blew.
Thankfully it happened just in front of some houses, and there were lots of very helpful men around, one of whom is the nephew of one of our colleagues. A happy coincidence.
So while S and the men took care of the car, I wandered over to this canoe that was in the process of being carved. It's so impressive that such a thing can be made from a single tree trunk, and I was told that this had only taken a day so far to do. Very, very cool.

J and I moved into a new house over the past few days - we've got a lot more space, and a lovely view of the sea. I'll post some pics soon.

Reggae rocks

Reggae is absolutely huge in the Solomon Islands. The three radio stations we get in the truck are constantly playing reggae (with the exception of the awesome oldies hour at 6pm), and after a few weeks I've started to distinguish the most popular tunes.

Right now, the most famous reggae act in town is a Jamaican guy called Conkarah. Honiara was the last stop on his world tour last week, so Jess and I headed down to Cowboy's Bar & Grill to check him out. There were a number of local support acts who were pretty good, like 56 Hop Rod.

 But most of the acts seemed to play very slow songs that didn't encourage dancing. But when Conkarah hit the stage, it was a strong start with this song
 I think I actually enjoyed this one the most
It was a crowded, sweaty dancefloor, but so, so much fun (I got my 10,000 steps for the day in just over an hour!)
Conkarah was a great performer, he really seemed to be making eye contact with the crowd (even though I'm sure he probably couldn't see a thing), and he tried out some pijin which went down a treat. He saved his most popular song for last, and after playing about 30 seconds, stopped the band and restarted, changing the words from "Island Girl" to "Solomon Girl"...needless to say, the crowd went wild. :-)

There were the obligatory covers of Bob Marley, including my favourite "No Money, No WASH" (I mean, "No Woman, No Cry") which were really popular with the crowd. If you like reggae, check out Conkarah!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scuba fun

My housemate J is a scuba instructor and takes various friends diving every weekend. She had offered to take me out for a test dive to see whether I liked it, and last weekend I was able to take her up on it. We drove for about an hour to Visale, which is a beautiful spot, and J proceeded to give me and a visiting colleague a briefing on how the equipment worked and what to do (and not do).
We then did some practice drills in the shallow water, which included inflating and deflating the buoyancy vest, dropping the regulator, finding it, clearing it and putting it back in and also how to clear the mask if water got inside (I would never have thought it possible to do underwater!). That's me on the left, notice how clear the water is!

And then it was time to dive! We didn't have to swim out too far to get to the reef, and there were loads of little fish swimming around. J had forgotten to mention that the mask magnifies everything, so I was blown away at the size of a sea cucumber - it looked like something out of Starship Troopers! But even after finding out that things appear bigger and closer, I still think it was a ridiculously large sea critter. We spent about 20 minutes underwater, and went down about six metres. I really enjoyed the experience and am going to do the Open Water certification while I'm here.
I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the little shelter that had been constructed (yea for shade) and enjoying the view. The sunset was particularly spectacular!
Happy days!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brichant and the beach

This is Brichant (though don't quote me on the spelling). His name means something in Romani that I can't remember, but he's the kitty that spends the most time in our house. Yesterday, he was trying to catch a fly that was buzzing around the louvers. 
After that exhaustion, he decided it was time for a nap, and that he should take up as much room as possible on the couch!
 He has a very cute spotty belly, which sometimes he'll allow you to pat.
I introduced him to the laser pointer this morning, I think we're going to have a lot of fun with that!!

Yesterday afternoon we went to the beach. It was my first time out of Honiara and the scenery is just so beautiful. I had to take off my sunglasses to check that the coloured lenses weren't making it more vivid and vibrant than the reality...it was actually a better view without the sunnies!
 There's a shipwreck just off the shore, which you can snorkle around. I'll definitely go back another time to do that. It was a bit windy yesterday so the waves were a bit too big for snorkelling, but I think it's really cool that you can swim around and not have to scuba dive to see the wreckage (though I think I am going to learn how to dive!),.
The water was warm, there was a lot of shade...if the beach was made of sand instead of pebbles it would be basically be heaven!! :-)

Friday, September 5, 2014

2 weeks in Honiara

I can't believe how quickly two weeks have gone by! I'm enjoying my life in Honiara (the capital of the Solomon Islands) so far. I live with two of my colleagues (and the girlfriend of one of them, who I actually met working in Tacloban) and they are all excellent cooks - I have established myself as the household dish washer, so everybody wins (but mainly me, because I hate cooking but don't mind washing up).

We have a couple of dogs and three cats running around the compound we live in, and the cats are the most unusual felines I've ever met; they're all very beautiful, like March here, and incredibly docile - you can scoop any of them up and cradle them like a baby and they'll just lie back and purr.
There's also a brown one with really cool markings who tends to come running in to our place in the evening, plonk down on someone's lap and then after enjoying some cuddles, it then proceeds to bite gently and want to play. I've got to dig out a nifty little LED torch that has a laser pointer that I packed, as I think we can have a lot of fun with that!!

The weather is lovely, it's always warm and has only rained a couple of times since I've been here. There are a quite a few nice places to sit by the water and enjoy a Sol Brew, and with views like this, it's easy to not want to do anything else! That being said, I'm hoping a trip to the beach might be on the cards this weekend, as I'd love to get out and see a bit more of the place.
My work is off to an interesting start. I've been working with the protection team on conducting assessments of vulnerable families who missed out on government support after the floods in April. A couple of families we met were sharing a house and the access to it was crossing the river on a little floating raft. The float operator uses the rope to pull his passengers across, and charges 1 dollar (the currency here is the Solomon Islands dollar) which is about 15c Australian each way. 
One of the families had missed out on the second hand clothing the Red Cross had distributed soon after the floods. We got in touch with the Red Cross, and they prepared the bags, and we had the joyful job of delivering them. It's not often I get to directly be involved in such things, and it was really nice to know that we'd helped to make a difference for this particular family. I've also been designing a training course for community-based disaster preparedness and response which is really interesting and fun. And then there are any number of other bits and pieces that pop up during the day that need attention.

I've also been enjoying driving the big 4X4 utes we have, having not ever been allowed to drive on a deployment before. After spending a number of months cruising around quite low to the ground in my convertible at home, it's quite a change to be up so high. The traffic here isn't crazy like in other places, people tend to stick to their lanes, but there is a lot of traffic going through town. It's times like that where the little automatic Rav4 is preferable to drive than the manual. It's also very rare to go above 40km/hr. It's nice that it's the same side of the road as at home, it's just a matter of keeping an eye out for dogs who seem to think that the middle of the road is a good place to stop for a scratch.

I haven't been taking too many photos, but I will try to do better at that, and do better at posting them here!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

World Humanitarian Day

I really can't believe a year has past since last August 19. World Humanitarian Day recognises those aid workers who have lost their lives in the course of their work, and more broadly to celebrate the spirit of humanitarianism globally. There's a great website set up by UN OCHA with hundreds of profiles of humanitarian workers from all over the globe working in some of the most challenging areas. While I sort of object to the #HumanitarianHeroes hashtag (a bit self aggrandising - but that could just be my innate Australian fear of tall poppy syndrome) I do feel quite special being part of something this big.

Every year on this day I express my gratitude for having such wonderful colleagues, who are so hard working, dedicated, enthusiastic, and professional, and while I've very much enjoyed the last few months of funemployment, I have missed the camaraderie of being in the field. It was incredibly difficult to come down off the high of working in Tacloban in the Philippines, as I have never worked with such a motivated and fun bunch of people, and also to extract myself mentally and emotionally from the organisation I'd spent over 3 years with (i.e. the longest I've ever spent in a job!). So on this special day, I send a special shoutout to all of those colleagues who are doing fantastic work in South Sudan, CAR, Syria, Gaza, Iraq, and all of the other humanitarian crises that are going on around the world right now.

If you see one, hug a humanitarian today!

And for me, well it's time to go back to work, and I've happily accepted a position in the Solomon Islands for a few months with an NGO I've been wanting to work for for a long time. I leave on Friday, and am really looking forward to experiencing Pacific culture and getting back into work mode!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Holiday Time

I'm off to the States for 3 weeks. Yassmin is getting married!! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!! It's going to be rad. There'll be photos in a few weeks....