Santa Ana - Economics 101

Kids playing around s/v Perry
So much can change between one place and the next.

There is a lot about Santa Ana that is the same as the last place - the happy, curious children, the pigs tethered to trees, the island huts built of pandanus and bamboo, the questions I’m asked - but what surprises me are the many differences.

Kids playing off the back of our boat
The faces themselves are different.  In the reef islands, many people resemble those of Fiji or Vanuatu - kinky hair, dark skin, flat noses.  But here I notice that there is a wide variety of facial features and there is an element of Aboriginal or East Indian ancestry that is apparent in the deeper skin tones, thin noses and calmer curl to their hair.  It is strikingly obvious that the people here came from a different people.  Much like the small island in the Reef Islands where the chief and many of the villagers appear to be direct descendants of the Polynesian people.  The Solomon Islands are turning out to be more of a melting pot than any other place we’ve visited, perhaps due to its location?  I’m not sure.

Kids being kids
The economy is different on this island, too.  Chief John told us that small cruise ships come here frequently.  The village puts on a custom performance and sells carvings to the tourists, and in turn, the village is paid 11,000 Solomon dollars with each visit (about 1,500 US).  This has created quite a different economic standard than what we encountered in the Reef Islands.

Instead of the huge bundle of green beans wrapped in a banana leaf that we could buy  for a few ink pens, Alex canoed out with a tiny leaf holding 6-8 green beans and asked to trade them for a women’s t-shirt!  It was instant sticker shock!  I scrambled to offer a more fair trade, but in the end, paid a women’s t-shirt for a measly pack of beans and a few cabbage leaves.  She held a hard line, and although I wanted to contribute to the community by trading, these prices were just ludicrous!  On the radio, I questioned the others to find out how they fared.  It seemed we were all being taken for a ride and trying desperately to re-establish some semblance of a reasonable exchange rate.  We vowed not to give in, and I rummaged in the medicine cabinets for the multi-vitamins I’d bought to provide vitamin nourishment when the fresh produce was at a minimum.  Chief John had boasted about how this village did not charge anchorage fees with the understanding that visitors would contribute to the village in other ways.  Now I’m wondering if an anchorage fee might have saved us a few bucks!!

In spite of the inflated economy, Mark and I both like the vibe we get from the people here.  There are millions of kids, and they all want to be close to us.  Yesterday, on our stern steps, boys took over one hull and girls the other.  They must have squeezed 15 bodies on those three little steps, jockeying for the prime positions and occasionally pushing an unlucky and unbalanced child back into the water.
Shore welcome party...yup...more kids!
I was originally completely overwhelmed with the sheer number of them, climbing onboard like millions of little parasites - up the anchor bridle, hanging off the dinghy, inching their way up to the top step.  It was all a bit much, really.  But I decided on my boundaries (no children up on top deck), told the kids the rules, and plopped myself right in the midst of them.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em and enjoy 'em, right?!!!  They really are sweet, well-behaved kids who respect the boundaries I’ve set and shuffle off when we say it’s time for us to rest.  So, at 5:00, we all got out of the water and said we’d see them tomorrow… afternoon.  I knew we’d need a quiet morning after such a boisterous welcoming party!

UPDATE:  After a few days of being the neighborhood jungle gym, we finally had to ask the rambunctious kids to stay off the boat.  It’s one of those situations where we should’ve started with strict boundaries that could have been loosened, rather than trying to backpedal on granted permission.  I felt like a prisoner in our boat, not able to do anything without an audience and I couldn’t even hear myself think with the mob of jovial horseplay surrounding us!!  It just got to be too much and I had to be the party pooper.
Carving by Chief John

Also, Mark ended up purchasing a gorgeous carving from Chief John of a half man/ half shark figure from one of the villages own folktales.  It is a work of art, and had a hefty price tag to prove it.  But he fell in love with it, and he doesn’t splurge often.  Not wanting to be taken for a ride on the pricing, he insisted on paying with US dollars using the going exchange rate.  However, the following day, Chief John  addressed him (not-so-privately) about the fact that the banks would give him a worse exchange rate and he would in fact not receive the full payment once he exchanged the US money.  We apologized profusely, as the chief continued by saying that he had discussed it with his wife and they had agreed that it would be okay to not get the full price, because we were helping them by mailing some laminated copies of photos to them that they’d asked for.  It was a very uncomfortable situation, but I am glad that he let us know of the exchange rate debacle and let us right it for him.  The photos were a favor for him.  Oh, the joys of figuring out the etiquette in another foreign economy…

Chief John talking about history of the island

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