31.11.2017 - In Solomon Islands, Danielle Jones is accompanying her partner, Nid Satjipanon, a legal adviser for the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening. Being back in the Solomons means she’s returning to her roots.
Some 30 years ago, Solomon Islands needed an accountant. Dad applied for the job, got it, came here and brought my mum along. While here, two of my sisters and I were born at the illustrious Number 9 Hospital in Honiara (Buildings and houses here do not have street numbers and so number 9 is not a street number. Rather its name comes from WWII days when American troops constructed their 9th building, which now serves as the national hospital).
Because mum had stakka chores, social life, and pikinini, she hired some house help. In the Sollies, they are called “house girls” by the locals, or “house mere” by PC expats, meaning “house woman”. Their duties range from sweeping, mopping and laundry, to cooking, buying groceries and babysitting. Having a house girl is common practice here in the Solomons especially for expats. If they stay with you long enough they’re almost like part of the family particularly if you have kids.
Last night, after a number of failed attempts, I was finally able to (re)meet our past housegirls, "Pepper Pots", "Martha Kent", and their two daughters.
To get to Honiara, Pepper needs to catch a ride on the back of a truck. The road from her village to the main road is “broken” and inaccessible by car so she walks 30 minutes to get to the truck stop. Turns out the weather was too wet for truck travel so she walks back home to try again the next day. Meanwhile, no one has arrived and I’ve been waiting all day for my guests. It doesn’t help that there is no reception at the village so I don’t get any texts. The next day, Pepper walks back to the truck stop and the weather is good. The truck eventually comes and it takes them two hours to get into the city. When she finally arrives in Honiara, Martha, who has a car and lives in the city, picks them up and brings everyone over for dinner. I am humbled by how much effort it took them to get here.
Because Pepper’s English isn’t as good as Martha’s, Martha storis about back then. Pepper and Martha looked after me and my three sisters when my parents were here. I am smug to discover that it wasn’t me, but my sister who was less than angelic. I show them some photos and tell them I gained two more siblings, bringing the tally up to six. Even though it’s been 25 years, they can pick out #2 with the “Chinese hair” and also easily recognised #3. #4 is a bit difficult because she was still a baby when we left and the last two they’ve never met. Mum looks the same, but Dad “befor, hem garem moa hair.”
We make spaghetti Bolognese for dinner reasoning that everyone likes it, it’s “expaty”, easy to make, and with cheese because that’s worth more than gold here. They liked the spag, the Bolognese sauce was a “nice soup”, and the cheese they barely touched. Maggie, our pijin teacher, tells us later that most Solomon Islanders don’t like spaghetti Bolognese, let alone cheese.
Over dinner and dessert, they tell us things about Solomon Islands, mostly food related. They laugh when we admit we don’t know how to “scrashem kokonat” (grate a dry coconut to make milk), are horrified when we say we’ve never cooked a fresh tuna before, and look forlorn when we say we don’t have an outside kitchen. Less than impressed, they tentatively ask us if we know how to eat banana.
Obviously, we are failed adults and they have insisted on visiting us again so they can impart some much needed life skills. There are over 200 varieties of bananas here, so, possibly 200 ways to eat them? Sounds like we’ll need a lot of life lessons.