1. Hot. And Humid.
Okay, I concede that the “It must get cold sometimes….surely!” jacket probably was a huge waste of luggage space. For someone who grew up in central Queensland and spent the last 3 years in Africa, Honiara feels painfully hot. Maybe most of the pain comes from the fact that I am just metres from the ocean, yet am unable to cool off in its muddy, rubbishy, seweragy waters. The one bit of relief has come from the nearby cyclone, sending days of rain and the threat of natural disasters.
Australia is beginning to look like a budget tourist destination. I suspect that it would probably be cheaper for me to fly to Australia once a month to pick up a suitcase full of groceries, than it would be to shop locally. With rent twice my mortgage repayments in Australia, and electricity five times when I was forking out in Zambia (despite having solar hot water AND gas stove), I honestly don’t know how people survive here. My guess is point number 5.
3. Full of Australians.
I suspect this is what Bali feels like, except with fewer drunken party touristy types and more dinner party advisory types. Despite the apparent Australian invasion (meant in the nicest possible way), it amazes me that the locals here still seem to revel in any interaction with us whities, and will still ask where you’re from, knowing full well that there’s 99% chance your home is a 4-hour flight away. Of course, Manyoni’s “not-quite-Pacific-but-maybe-a-distant-cousin’s-cousin” appearance brings the novelty and excitement of these interactions to a scale unseen.
It seems the country’s self-designated title of the “Happi Isles” is spot on. That’s not to say that people here don’t have their fair share of problems – recent history shows that’s not the case. It’s more like there was a moment in time where the majority of people in the country were smiling, and then the wind changed, and the smiles stuck as a permanent feature. It’s incredible. And infectious.
From what I can gather, the average Honiaran can survive on a daily diet of coco nut and betel nut. Anything else is superfluous. On the upside, one can get a freshly-cracked, refreshing coconut water for about 50 cents Australian (compared with $5 a bottle in Australia), while our purchase of a coconut scraper has enabled Manyoni to eek out 2.4 litres of fresh coconut milk from half a dozen dried coconuts at a grand cost of about AUD$2. On the downside, the walk to work is a case of Russian roulette as I dodge the spit coming from passing mini-buses full of betel nut chewers, and my conversations with colleagues are constantly distracted by the red, rotten-teethed grins resulting from a life-time of betel nut damage.