I have been bouncing around Honiara these last few days. I admit I am not “good” for the long, difficult trips “through” town. I guess I am a fair-weather friend of Honiara. I park at the post office and ensure I don’t need anything from the east side of the Mataniko. If I do I send my Admin Manager/ my daughter.
What do I see…
Lots of people. Thats for sure. This is not the Honiara of the 80s or 90s or even the 2000s. This is a busy, active, mobile Honiara.
I was thinking today, as I sat in the very nice and clean Solomon Telekom offices getting my phone service sorted out, how bitch’n the girls look. I’m not coming from a dirty old-guy/ perv position. No, the girls, ladies, females of the town are by and large pretty classy looking. High-ish heels, nice outfits, big smiles and nice hair-doos. I like it a lot considering that when I hit these streets the female standard dress code was a cotton mother hubbard type affair. Straight from the methodist style gurus of the day.
I see a middle class. I see an urban middle class.
I bumped into an old buddy from the Gizo days of the 80s… Gabby was a police man. Originally from Makira, Gabe was walking past Rove on his way to town. I surprised him by calling his name. It’d been a decade or two since we have met. So I holler at him as he walks to the main road… An ugly white guy in a dirty truck… I think my voice more than my looks triggered his recognition. It was a short but meaningful encounter: Gabe is retired and happy to be such. He owns a place above Rove, has educated 4 kids through university level, and now helps care for some 6 grandkids. I asked him about “home”, going “back” to Makira. His reply? “Here now home, ia”.
I see a lot of hanging around. A lot of what appears to be aimless loitering. A policeman I know calls it loitering with intent. I’m not sure. I smell a boredom. A less than articulate-able illness. Most young guys I have seen show no sign of self-respect in their dress. I, perhaps unfairly, feel a loss, a helpless, a disenfranchisement which goes to the male bone of these young men. But I see that childish Solomoni twinkle in they eyes and capitalise on it.
My upper body is 100% inked. It’s taken me 30 years or so to achieve this but the body-art from my elbows, up and over to my chest and back are, I feel, quite eye-catching. My ink is of the Maori tradition, Te Moko”. Lots of curves and obscure symbols, flowing like the ocean or the fern or the meaning of life. All in monochrome. No cartoons, no names or colour. Just, what I like to feel is, traditional ink.
I “wear” my ink so am knocking around town in a cotton singlet. I get a lot of these “lost-guys” engaging with me solely because they are attracted to the ink. I note that most westerners will basically ignore the ink. Act as though its common or nothing to comment upon. But here it is different. The tribal nature of my ink brings smiles n comments. So I briefly engage with a fair number of folks as I walk Mendana Avenue. And it is positive.
The roads are dirty, dusty, unkept, uncared for. The round-a-bouts n median strips are often sponsored by some business. These are rather nice but they glare in the light of the unkept-ness of it all.
There are terrible blots, like festering sores, on the landscape… The concrete monstrosity that used to be Town Ground. A general con deal. Who was conning whom is unclear but the town lost a parkland and now has a huge, ugly, unfinished mess. As well, the old, old, old buildings that are still in use accost the senses. The old Pink Palaces are slums of a highaccord. Lord knows what the interior of these places are but I’d think that 4 stories of life without power or water may be a bit dire.
There is not adequate parking in town, and with the large number of cars on the minimal roads, the inevitable result is chaos. Cars park on sidewalks, any and all spare mud puddles, and even in the road-way. A lot of town has seen open places, sold off, fenced off and closed to the public. There is little public land any more so a two lane road with parking on the shoulder becomes 2 lanes of confused parking and a snarl or traffic along side.
But I still like it. Though I no longer belong to the culture of the streets of Honiara, I don’t feel threatened. I see a lot of families, young gals, et al walking the byways. I see mostly smiles. And the absence of a smile normally comes from an obviously disgruntled male. I met one on Hibiscus Avenue. A big bloke. A snarl on his face. My guess is he was a bit drunk. He made a bee-line for me as I walked between cars parked on the side of the road. A white man was a target for this guy and I was it. As I came around the cars and walked up to him, his face changed to a beaming smile. My ink had made him smile. He wanted some. He wanted to talk, be my friend.
And it made me smile.