There are a number of stories — “mini stories,” I suppose — that haven’t really fit into the longer blog posts so far. Funny moments that might be worth sharing, so I thought I’d collect some of them in a “snapshots” post. Hope you enjoy!
* The guest house where Ali and I are staying is only a few doors down from the Kuri Resort, where we held the organizational development orientation meeting with our partners and where we hosted the program launch. The Kuri Resort is a small complex made up of a series of open air, grass-roofed meeting or eating areas, a few guest cottages, and a small two-story building with guest rooms. It’s a beautiful location—the open air meeting spaces are right on the tropical blue waters, and they have an interesting feature: the open air rooms surround a containment pool that is fed by the ocean (it has a gate between the containment pool and the ocean) in which swim five sea turtles and a number of different kinds of fish. The arrangement is fascinating but also very worrying because the square pool seems far too small to hold one large, two medium, and two small sea turtles in addition to a good number of large and small fish. The fish and turtles were fascinating and beautiful to watch as they swam around the pool, but we worried about them as the sun moved overhead, and they found very little shade. At one point, a worker came to the edge of the pool with a tray of cut fish and threw pieces into the pool. To our surprise, the large fish swam rapidly and practically jumped out of the water, attacking the pieces of fish. It was a little creepy but also very entertaining — it definitely made me think of a movie torture scene, where a person (James Bond??) is dangled a bit at a time into a pool while sharks or vicious fish are supposed to eat them feet first.
* This isn’t really my story to tell, but it is funny enough that I’ll share it anyway. While a colleague was admiring the sea turtles, one of the leaders of a partner organization approached and joined her at the railing. This leader happened to also be a nun. The sister was chatting with my colleague and at one point the issue of whether the turtles were male or female came up, I’m not sure why. Either way, my colleague asked how we could tell, and the sister replied that you can tell by looking at them. My colleague thought she understood, but then went on to ask a question about the largest turtle’s tail. After the sister paused for a long time before answering, my colleague realized that it wasn’t a tail. She laughed and said, “That’s not his tail, is it?” The sister then smiled, and with great wisdom and humor replied, “No, it’s not a tail. It’s his identity.”
* It is traditional in Buka to hire local musicians to perform at formal events, so our program launch involved music performed by the Tatok Group from Pororan island. This group was made up of women and men in grass skirts, singing through microphones, accompanied by an electric keyboard and—here’s the best part—men playing large bamboo instruments with the bottoms of flipflops! The bamboo were large and lashed together, and they sounded a little like marimba when played. The effect was very cool, although I’ll admit I had a hard time telling the difference between the various songs they performed. I think it takes a practiced ear, since after the launch concluded, audience members stayed to eat and listen to the music and made requests for different songs. The Tatok Group performed a welcoming song, an intermission song, and then played at the conclusion of the launch. But they didn’t stop playing… song after song kept coming. Which was great! …until a few hours later when they were still playing. We asked Wilson, (who is from Bougainville, near Arawa), when they generally stopped playing, since that would signal to everyone that the event was over. Wilson said, “Oh! They stop when they want to.” He pointed out to us that the group had “relief” players, and gestured toward a group of 12-15 men standing in a corner who would rotate with the men who got tired of playing the bamboo/flipflops. We asked Wilson how long he thought this might go on, and he shrugged saying, “Sometimes it goes all night.” Ummmmm…. Luckily for us, since we had the all-day trip to Arawa the next day and lots of meetings, the group wrapped up their music after several more songs. But a few days later, Ali and I heard them performing again from the Destiny Guest House. It went on pretty late into the night!
* Every morning Ali and I eat breakfast at the Destiny Guest House, where we are offered the same four choices each day: scrambled eggs with sausage and beans on toast, fried eggs with sausage with beans on toast, poached eggs with sausage and beans on toast, and boiled eggs with sausage and beans on toast. Each morning, Apollonia very carefully writes the exact same menu on the white board. Every single morning. We never order the sausage, since I’m pescetarian (a vegetarian that eats fish and seafood), and Ali was warned by previous visitors that the sausage is some kind of neon color and not very appealing. Otherwise, the only variation in the menu occurs when something runs out, such as eggs, or beans, or toast. When I get back to the US, I think I’ll treat myself to waffles somewhere and leave off the eggs!
* Dogs and cats abound here, as they often do in developing countries. They don’t seem to be treated—as far as we’ve seen—as pets the way Americans do, with lots of affection. But we often see the same dogs or cats at the same locations, so they do appear to have attachment to homes and people. I’m sure they’re fed regularly to encourage them to stay and guard the property or catch mice and rats. There is a mama cat and two adorable tiny kittens that live around the Destiny, and we most often see them at breakfast, when the kittens come into the eating area to play. They aren’t interested in being petted, so while they occasionally come close to inspect our bags or legs, they shy away from us if we try to touch them. But we get a lot of amusement watching them attack each other and wrestle, or try to climb the chairs and tables. Apollonia, who is usually on breakfast duty, seems puzzled by our interest in them. She will occasionally try to shoo them out of the room and a few times came close to kicking them to get them moving. She looks at us watching them and seems to think we’re a little strange for being so interested in common kittens.
* The local geckos seem to like Ali more than me, because I’ve only seen one in my room, and he scooted back under the door pretty quickly. So far, Ali has had five in her room, two of which popped out at her from an unexpected place (her food stash and the trash bin) to say hello! We don’t mind them too much because they eat bugs, but they do chirp kinda loudly when we’re trying to sleep. I think I have one that lives on my balcony, because around 5AM each morning, I get woken up by a loud chirping. Grrrr…
* Apparently, Ali is prettier than me by Bougainville standards because her skin is porcelain white, and she has very blond hair. People have occasionally taken her photo at random moments when we’re at events or walking together. One man at the launch even asked our program assistant if her skin was real – I guess he’s never seen a girl that white before. But to be fair, she IS incredibly white. Even by American standards. Hehe…
* Ali and I are finding it challenging to stay clean because we sweat like crazy in this heat and because we walk in flipflops on dirty and muddy streets. We also walk through frequent downpours. We joke about the amount of deodorant we’re using, but I don’t really think anyone notices or cares. It’s very hard here to clean clothes or keep houses clean because of a lack of infrastructure, materials, resources, or even buildings that keep out the bugs, dirt, rain, you name it. That’s just how it is. So we had to laugh a little when our driver, Francis, picked us up one morning in Arawa, and I noticed that the car—which is usually covered in mud and road dust—was wet and smelled of bleach. Francis explained that he was a few minutes late because he had been cleaning the car, and before I could say anything to compliment his efforts, he said, “You people are really clean.” Ha!
* There are many, many informal markets throughout Bougainville where people sell fresh fruit. There’s a primary market in Buka, but on the drive to Arawa and to Tunaniya, we saw lots of small wooden stands where people were displaying fresh fruit (and possibly other items, but the fruit was most identifiable as we sped past). Most of these stands have wooden tables underneath a rickety wooden shelter, to protect the contents and inhabitants from sun and rain. As we drove through the tiny town of Arawa on a Sunday, the formal market there was closed. But turning a corner, we saw a collection of women with fruit spread out on blankets on the ground, selling it to people who stopped by. Wilson turned to us and said, “That’s called a bendown market because people have to bend down to the ground to get things.” We all had a good laugh, but I think he might have been serious…
* Wednesday night appears to be karaoke night in Buka. We were told that there aren’t very many things for youth to do here, but they are big into sports (mostly rugby) and music (playing, composing, and sharing songs). Ali and I are sitting at Reasons restaurant catching up on work and email because we can access Internet here. From our table on the upstairs, outdoor deck, we can hear, blasting across Buka Passage, the backing track and shaky vocals of a jamming karaoke party somewhere on the other side. Currently, we’re hearing a heavily accented rendition of the Beetles “I Should Have Known Better.” The exuberance is contagious, even if the pitch is pretty far off, and I think Ali is laughing at me as I sing along.