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The Solomon Islands: The Journey Begins (Part I)
Journey to the islands
My reality was beginning to sink in. I stared almost eye level with the horizon as I sat, hugging my knee caps, on the edge of the lagoon. Islands were scattered in the distance like black stamps on a yellow and blue streaked canvass as the sun dropped below.
A group of classmates and I had begun our journey at the University of California in Santa Barbara 2 days ago. We had traveled across the map to the Solomon Islands, a country of over 900 islands in Melanesia in order to aid our professor with an ongoing marine conservation project. Our base would be a small village located within the Roviana Lagoon, part of the New Georgia Province. After driving from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, flying Los Angeles to Fiji, Fiji to Vanuatu, Vanuatu to Honiara (the capital of Solomon Islands) and Honiara to Munda, we had (almost) arrived.
Just two days prior, I was eating a Big Mac and looking at the Solomon Island as a string of dots on the map I had pinned up on my apartment wall. I wasn't positive of the work I would be doing here, which made the situation even more unknown. Nevertheless, I was excited to be part of a continuing 20 year conservation project. Even more so, I was excited to live on an island and to experience tribal life - numbers 4 and 5 on my bucket list.
It was now dark and we continued to wait by the water in Munda for our boat pick-up to Baraulu, the small village where we would be staying for the next month. I was focused on everything happening and not happening around me. The salty sweat beads on my forehead, the warm air above and water below, and the foreign sounds coming from the jungle behind me. An intense flood of energy hit me. Starting from my heart, rushing to my head and back down through all my extremities. It was beautiful. It was adventurous. It was pure and simple and life, right here and now. Everything was new, unknown and unforgivingly exciting. I could see the boat with Professor Aswani at the helm approaching in the near distance.
We stepped onto the canoe in Munda and loaded our gear under the small bench seats. As we set off towards Baraulu village, our boat driver Jimmy, AKA Satan (still not sure how he got this nickname), utilized the stars above and the tree line of neighboring islands in order to navigate through areas of exposed reef in the night. As we skipped across the water, Shankar Aswani, our professor from the Anthropology department at UCSB, explained that because of houndfish, using a light - like most boats would - to navigate through the areas of shallow reef is too dangerous. Why? It's an issue of safety. These fish, otherwise known as crocodile needlefish, are attracted to artificial light. They are known for jumping out of the water at high speeds, beak first, towards any light source - often including the unfortunate person behind that light source. Sadly, Shankar had lost a local friend of his after a houndfish shot into his chest years prior.
As we raced through the darkness of the lagoon, the boats engine began sputter, and then, shut off. After several attempts to restart the outboard engine, we floated and began using a floodlight to send out an S.O.S. signal. I lied down on the boat's bow and used my bag as a head rest. I looked up and watched the sky float by, every so often, bringing a cloud with rain, then a map of stars, rain, stars, rain. In the corner of my eye, the bright light flickered in morse code signaling for help. I imagined it also signaling for a houndfish to stab me in the face.
We drifted for nearly four hours before being rescued. In the Solomon Islands, there are no cellphones, no AAA 24-hour roadside assistance. There is however, wild jungles, sharks, saltwater crocodiles, and fish that will jump out of the water and stab anyone holding a light.
Arriving to Baraulu
Finally, we arrived to Baraulu village. The boat slowed to a stop at the dock. The village set into the jungle, up a set of muddy wood stairs from the waters edge. I was reminded of the feeling I once had as a child waiting in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. We docked and unloaded our gear. The crackling of fire could be heard from the cooking huts, which seeped a soft light from between their wood planked walls. Chirps and cackles from unseen jungle creatures in the darkness beyond. The water lapped between against the boat as some villagers came to help tie it to the dock. It was surreal.
I was greeted by my host mother, Gladis. I grabbed my pack and followed her down a path through the village and towards her home, where I would be staying. I could tell she was a heavy set woman even under her big floral night gown. Her dark black skin, curly blonde hair, and red beetle nut-stained teeth contrasted softly under the light of the gas lantern. Our conversation along the way was non-verbal. I had zero knowledge of Roviana, one of the almost 90 indigenous languages spoken thru ought the Solomon Islands (Solomons Pijin being the lingua franca). Instead, I just smiled, and she smiled. I was shown my room on stilts, hung my mosquito net over my mattress, and passed out.
- The Solomon Islands: Daily Life (Part II)
Daily life in the islands is beautifully simple. It's a lifestyle that many of us don't get the opportunity to experience, and for that I am forever grateful. Finding food to eat in the Solomon Islands, as in many indigenous cultures, is a daily task