When I returned to Honiara, I entered one of those surreal ‘where am I?’ situations.
Firstly, it was Diwali time. My Fijian Indian neighbours, who have never been to India, very kindly invited me to their place for Diwali celebrations. Like most Indians, they don’t do celebrations in halves. I arrived and was greeted by Nisa glamorously dressed in a sari, and laden with shiny jewellery. She directed me over the coloured-rice mandala lovingly created on the floor, to a table full of laddoo, burfi, halva, and fruit, that they had spent all day preparing. Then once I was full of that, we replaced the table of sweets with a table of dahl, eggplant curry, chicken curry and roti. Bear in mind that there was no-one else at this grandiose gathering – all that preparation for just the three of us. As I waddled out at the end of the evening, I was thankful that my place was downhill.
The following night, I received tickets to go to a Thai Buddhist lantern ceremony. This was the first time that I became aware that Honiara even had a Buddhist community, not to mention the fact that it was just around the corner from where I lived. After spending half an hour driving around, lost, it became very clear why I never knew about this place.
Firstly, it is very well hidden. Secondly, a few months ago it didn’t exist. In just two months, the dedicated monks (plus a bunch of volunteers from Thailand) had managed to reshape an old property into a garden of eden, complete with small waterfalls that made a welcome home for the dust-coated frogs. Finally, I never knew about the monks because communication is a bit challenging – they don’t speak a single word of English. However, their broad, never-ending smiles says a lot.
There was one monk, however, who did speak a bit of English. However, even that had hilarious limits. When I arrived at the event, my friend introduced me to this monk, and described my profession. Somehow bits of this introduction about “health” and “Isabel” got lost and misconstrued, and for the rest of the night my name was “Help, Isabel”. Or perhaps that should be “Help Isabel!”
As the evening went on, this monk guided us on the lantern lighting process or, at least, tried to. Needless to say, it was chaos. Given that the lanterns are nothing more than thin paper cylinders being lifted into the air by the heat from burning balls of fire, it was a huge surprise to me that there weren’t any casualties as the lanterns crashed into houses, power lines, trees and people. Ah, Solomon Islands.
With this experience still front of mind, I decided to take up the offer of trying one of the monks’ Sunday afternoon meditation sessions. I have tried meditation many times, and while I accept that my mind is in desperate need of some quietness, it has become abundantly clear that my mind is incapable of it. Today was no exception. As my mind darted from forgotten tasks to need-to-do tasks, I spent 30 minutes moving my numb legs around in a variety of a contortions while trying not to disturb everyone else’s zen. Then, as I tried to save face by making a rapid escape at the end, I was cornered by a Thai monk gesturing that he wanted me to do an on-camera interview about my meditation experience. All I could say was that it was a “starting point”.
It’s nice to know that there are always those little surprises out there in Honiara, if you’re willing to look.