It’s sunrise and raining and the entire sky is a dusty yellow rose. I’ve never seen the moon look like this before. It’s like I’m staring at the whole wide world through hip sunglasses or one of those colored visors that black jack dealers wear. I throw a kiss at the air and promise the morning that I won’t die boring.
I’m anchored in a little nook across the water from Lata which is the big town on the rabbit-shaped island. Everything here is so green and blue with flowers and fish bursting. There is a village on one side of me that has a baby blue spring-fed pool and there’s an Anglican technical college on the other side of me. The college looks just like a village with 75 people or so. The bay itself is jam-packed with villagers rowing around in their colorful canoes.
All day long the college boys on shore play this dreamy homemade instrument and the sound of it echoes across the water and vibrates around in my boat. The instrument is kind of like a bamboo xylophone except it’s made out of plumping pipes and played with a pair of old flip flops that are used to strike the end of the pipes. Their favorite song to sing goes “Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, you are full of Mosquitos.” (Santa Cruz is the island chain in the Solomon’s that I am on now.)
Personal space is communal here. People like to get real close to you and touch you and they’re always popping by my boat. Often they bring fruits and flowers and vegetables. In the Solomon’s you do not give a gift without receiving something in return. An exchange is expected and is a part of their ancient custom ways. So while my fridge is getting full, my stash of fishing hooks and flip flops is dissolving.
Guess which fruit they have here that I haven’t seen in forever? Starfruit!
When I first entered the bay of this island, there was a man sailing his canoe all around and I thought to myself- I’d like to meet this local sailor. Guess who my first visitor was upon arrival? The local sailor! His name is Chris. I didn’t know who he was at first so I was very curt, I yelled- “I’m busy” and “my boyfriend will be back soon can you stop by later” – then I saw his face and his sail and we started chatting and have become good friends. He teaches me the local weather proverbs…rain and wind always accompany a new moon. When you see a north wind blow it means a cyclone is coming. If the clouds run north to south, the seas will be rough.
Chris’s wife is the agricultural teacher for the college and they have a one-and-a-half-year-old boy named Paulson who weighs 17 kilos and walks like a sumo wrestler. In less than five minutes I watch Paulson steel a banana from me, take a stick and try to knock a papaya off a tree and pick up a pepper off the dirt and eat it. Right after all of that he walks up to where I am sitting on the grass, stands there buck naked and begins to pee right in front of my face. I am pretty certain he was trying to pee on me because I had to move to avoid the stream. Gosh I love that kid. If there was a TV show of Paulson being Paulson the world would watch it.
So far half the women I meet in this country are named “Hilde. Can you believe it? Hilde?!!! What kind of a name is that for a South Pacific Islander woman? When I hear that name I imagine a tall blonde woman standing in the snow with a live fish hanging out of her mouth. I don’t know why. Also I forgot to tell you that in the Banks I met more men named John Star. Now that’s a cool name for an island man. I guess people just hear a name they like and rename themselves.
People in this part of the world can see really far into space. This lady kept pointing on the horizon and saying there’s a boat like yours coming. None of us sailors could see it. We thought she was mad then an hour later a sailboat passed the island by. She said, “That’s the boat. That’s the boat.” I bet it’s because they don’t have phones or TVs and their eyes are gonna be in mint condition till the day they die.
The other morning I received the most glorious gift. I was working away down in my cabin and I hear a guy splashing around outside my boat. He says, “Juniper.” So I hid inside -I’m a bit skittish of all the men- then I get on the VHF radio and whisper, “Hey, this is Junie, what’s happening behind my boat?” Isis whispers back, “There’s a guy swimming back there. He’s one of the college students. We met him yesterday. He’s nice.”
Still I stay hidden inside and I don’t breathe a breath until I hear the college student sing, “Hello, I’d like to clean your boat, there’s algae growing all over it.” I die laughing and step out in the cockpit to meet him. He’s a total heartstopper, cross earring in one ear, some thin-lined black ink tattoos on his face and body- as is the fashion, and this dude is floating on a line stung between two red fishing buoys. His name is Wilfred. I say, “Are you serious?” Wilfred says, “Yea.” I throw him a sponge and a brush and he goes to town. Then four of his friends float over on fishing floats and they also want in on the action, so I throw a bunch of rags into the water.
One of the guys goes, “You’re sailing alone aren’t you?” And I say, “No, I’m sailing around with my boyfriend and I point to the sky.” I gave each of the guys a pair of flip-flops, fishing line, and fishing hooks. Wilfred asked if I had any jewelry, so I gave him a gold unicorn earring and a brass heart-locket necklace. He asked if he could put my photo in it. I tell him I’m old enough to be his grand-bubu (grandma in Bislama).
God I’m glad those dudes cleaned my boat. I think my last bottom paint job was perhaps too environmentally friendly because Junie’s never had a green beard before and she’s been rocking one this entire season! It’s not just a beard, it’s an ecosystem with little crabs and everything. I spent half a day scrubbing off the green beard before leaving Vanuatu and the thing is already back…. it’s only been a week. While I was scrubbing I thought how nice it would be for somebody else to do this for me. With that little thought back in Vanuatu I manifested these five guys in the Solomon’s to clean my hull! Life is cool.
I went to Lata… the “city.” It’s a strange place to describe. A trashy Wild West. Women cooking fish on sticks inside of tin huts. Men and their betel nut. A boy with a frozen pop in one hand and a pair of cool looking sneakers in the other. Women carrying everything on their heads. A forest path that splits the town in two and smells like piss. I was a hit at the vegetable market. I was walking around singing and dancing and all the ladies were laughing at me like I was some five-eyed four-legged being, and they all wanted to have their photo taken with me.
In town I learn that the word for parrotfish is “bonbon.” And that the Solomon dollars and lots of the local crafts have a shark and a crocodile on them. “The shark is the only enemy of the crocodile,” a man tells me. Where are the crocodiles? And the sharks? It would be just horrific if either of them found me. Though witnessing a brawl between a shark and a crocodile sounds interesting in a bullfight kind of way. I’d pay to see that.
People cook here using hot stones. For stuff like Chinese cabbage, you put it in a pot with hot stones and stir, then you take out the cooled stones and add more hot ones then comes the coconut milk and ginger and more hot stones until it’s cooked. Also nobody has a toilet. I was at this ladies house and asked to use her bathroom and she said, “Yes just go to the sea,” she pauses, continues, “sorry it is my culture.” I say, “Oh wow so nobody has a toilet?” She says, “Most people don’t. You will find a few in town.” She tells me the right side of the bay is the “women’s toilet” and the left side is the “men’s.”
What else can I tell you? Oh yea THE WILD MAN. Ok so there is this path in the forest near the anchorage and you can’t walk on it alone, you have to be in groups of two or three because there is a “Wild Man” living there and he is “very jealous” and he “hunts people.” I ask, “What does he do after he hunts them? Does he eat them?” They say, “Yea he eats them.” I say, “What does he look like? Does he have long nails and crazy hair.” They say, “No he’s a normal good-looking man.” When I say “They” I mean everyone on this entire island. They all warn of the “Wild Man.”
Ok wait I gotta go. It’s still raining and the wind has picked up in the anchorage and it appears as if I’m about to hit this pirate-looking boat. Their bowsprit is now hanging over my cockpit! The boat belongs to a Texan guy. Shangri-la. He just left it there with his white-haired dog still on it and asked a family to look after it all for him. There’s an albino guy living the boat and nobodies walking the dog because when they take it to land it tries to eat all the chickens. Anyway for me to be this close to the boat means that the boat is on some makeshift mooring and I need to get my chain up before it’s metal on metal over here.