This blog has taken a long time to write. Mostly because it has taken me this long to get my head around all that just happened. The last month has been such a roller-coaster ride of uncertainty and excitement that I don’t even know where to begin.
So there I was, mid-January, just a few days away from leaving my adopted home-town of Chipata in Zambia and heading for an amazing two-year contract in the South Pacific, when I received an email. That email told me to put all leaving preparations on hold, as budget cuts meant there might be big changes to my position, or even that I might not have a position at all. Shrouded by uncertainty, and the very real prospect of being homeless and unemployed, I decided to head to Lusaka as planned, to wait for their decision.
That trip to Lusaka saw me locked down in a central Lusaka hotel for 8 days, thanks to Zambia’s federal elections, and the extreme security measures put in place to protect us (other Australians and me) from the exceedingly unlikely event of political violence. This lockdown was a blessing in disguise, as it meant I had somewhere to live.
Finally, two weeks after “the email”, I received word that I would have a position in the pacific, but at a reduced initial contract of 6 months. Oh, and could I be in Melbourne by that weekend for a briefing. With just a day to close out my work and pack up my life in Africa, I booked my flights and six hours later was on my way to the airport.
Because I don’t like to do things like a normal person, I also decided that in my 3 days that I had to get from Lusaka to Melbourne, I would take a detour to visit my beautiful people in Swaziland for a day, then see my mates in Johannesburg for a day, making it to Melbourne in the nick of time.
For the next two weeks, I spent my days catching up with friends and family in Melbourne, Rockhampton, Calliope, Emu Park and Brisbane, before finally flying out to Honiara mid-February.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world……
Manyoni was in full-swing in preparations to join me in the Solomons. First task was an Australian visa which, the website informed us, required a birth certificate. Since Zambia destroys birth certificates after 10 years, this saw Manyoni take on an epic 3,200km 5-day public transport adventure, going from Chipata to Lusaka to Kitwe to Ndola to Kitwe to Lusaka to Chipata to Lusaka to Kitwe to Lusaka, in order to get a replacement. Only after he did this, did we find out he didn’t need it after all.
While waiting in a visa vacuum for the outcome of this application, he began to tackle the overwhelming medical requirements for his resettlement on a tropical island – not an easy task. Then, it happened. The visa came through. In a flurry, we booked flights, he packed up his 31 years of Chipatan life, and made his way to Lusaka to embark on his first ever trip outside of Africa and first time on a plane. Just to make sure that he got the full plane-flight experience, he had to take three flights (22 hours) to reach Brisbane, with the added bonus of flying into Queensland as a Category 5 cyclone was about to hit the state’s coast. Adventure, adventure!
In Brisbane (under the excellent hospitality of my bro, sis-in-law and nephew), he enjoyed what a rainy Brisbane had to offer, while my team in Honiara scaled up efforts to fast-track Manyoni’s tourist visa. With just 3 hours before close of business on Friday afternoon, it came through. The next day Manyoni took his fourth flight (and hopefully his last for a while) to join me in hot, humid, Honiara.
We made it! Despite being somewhat dazed and confused, I have managed to find myself in a great team with high hopes for me, while Manyoni has settled in beautifully, finding himself being highly sought-after by multiple soccer teams, and making friends with Malaitian Chiefs, Ministry officials, and a handicraft-market full of Islander women who yell out “Africa” when he enters the marketplace. So it begins…..