Honiara Heaven

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The winds changed, and then everything changed.  Oftentimes we joke about how much of our lives are dictated by the wind.  We go when the weather says go and hide out in a protected spot until bad weather passes.  During cyclone season we run north or south to steer clear of the cyclone belt, and we wait until the weather gurus give the ‘all clear’.  Anchorages that our friends tell us not to miss turn out to be miserable just because the wind direction is different than it was for them.  Our lives are weather dependent, whether we like it or not.

These truths were made more evident recently when we had to return to Honiara to retrieve a package we’d ordered.  If you read my previous blog post entitled “Honiara Hell”, you can imagine how thrilled I was to return (ha!).  All those memories came flooding back and plagued me as we motored back to the nation’s capitol.  But, the winds had changed.

What had been a swelly, choppy mess of an anchorage was now calm and still.  Sure, boat taxis still zoomed past occasionally, but the ‘Honiara Roll’ that had haunted me last time was gone.  The change in wind direction brought a change to my outlook as well.  Suddenly, I could focus on things other than my seasick discomfort and see all that this bustling city had to offer.  Last time, I barely got off the boat, because getting in and out of the dinghy and on and off the dock posed quite the challenge with the breaking waves.  This time, though, I saw a very different Honiara.

The fresh market was a sprawling display of home-grown goodness - tropical fruits, leafy greens, towers of watermelon, and bundles of freshly plucked peanuts.  We couldn’t believe it when we found round, ripe cantaloupe and even bunches of okra!  There was definitely fried okra on the menu that night!  The kids were in charge of purchasing to practice their Pidjin language lessons and work with the currency here.  All the ladies selling their produce loved hearing the kids speak the local language and would often throw an extra item in for free to reward their efforts!  By the time we got back on everything on board, our fruit hammocks hung heavily in the cockpit, laden with pineapple, papaya, limes, passionfruit, and melon.

Honiara’s grocery stores are fantastic, too.  Between Panatina Plaza, The Bulk Shop, and Wings, we found anything and everything our little hearts desired - capers, flour tortillas, cornmeal, Australian beef, and dark chocolate!  Our eyes were bigger than our bilges, and we struggled to find a place to store all our indulgences!

Michael buying star fruit


Traffic jam in Honiara on the way to the market

We even found a handful of air-conditioned cafés that sold smoothies, real coffee, and a variety of meal options from quiche to burgers.  At Lime Lounge, my favorite was the Thai Chicken Salad and Banana Nutty Ho milkshake.  At Panatina Plaza the Cornerstone Café became our regular lunch spot.  Then, around the corner at Mambo Juice, they served the thickest vanilla shakes around!  The Breakwater serves real coffee and is a beautiful oasis of a place overlooking the harbor.  Finally, the Bamboo Bar makes the best Pad Thai we found.

Okay, now it seems like the only thing I did while we were in Honiara was eat!  And that might be somewhat true!  But the food wasn’t the only thing that impressed me.  The connections we made with the people living here grew exponentially during our subsequent visits, and I was thrilled to be given a glimpse into some of the things happening within the community that aligned with my personal interests.

I met Joyce, a bubbly, energetic American who has lived here for over forty years.  She taught in the local international school, but felt called to organize a literacy initiative for the Solomon Islands called READ SI.  Her goal?  To improve adult reading abilities in order to foster a legacy of literacy.  Young teachers are commissioned to teach six-week literacy courses in the more remote villages of the country.  Since the majority of adults living in the villages only have a third grade reading level on average, I could really envision how this program could change lives.

Joyce became a hub of instant connections.  She invited me to the Rotary Club meeting, where I heard young people speak about ways they are working together to serve their community and make Guadalcanal a better place.  She also introduced me to Barbara at the Woodford International School, who invited our family to come speak to two classes about our live aboard lifestyle.  I was impressed by the curiosity and participation of the students.  They asked thoughtful questions and really were engaged in our story.  This first visit prompted me to ask for the chance come back and observe a classroom.  The International Baccalaureate program that they follow encourages students to be thinkers, inquirers, researchers, presenters.  I wondered if I could incorporate some of this pedagogy into our boat schooling.  And while I was sitting in the back of a classroom taking notes on the practicalities, Elizabeth and Michael were able to sit in with their peers and participate in a morning full of ‘real school’ learning.

Teaching at the International School Honiara
Fresh smoothies after teaching at the International School
Later in the week, Barbara kindly invited us over for dinner at her house, where we met her husband, Bevan.  He is working to help the islanders gain self-sufficiency by teaching them how to use machinery to produce coconut oil.  The following day, he showed us the machines and explained the steps he is taking to get these massive machines into the villages.  His father is running a soap factory that uses the coconut oil to make body soap and laundry soap.  Elizabeth and Michael even got to make their own tub of soap and feel the heat given off by the chemical reaction that takes place!

Kids playing with puppies at yacht club
It seemed we kept meeting people and making connections.  Mark drummed up conversations with the local dive operator and the guys at the Yamaha outboard dealership, gaining further insights to what wonderful things are happening behind the scenes here in the Solomon Islands.

So many people we’ve met love this country and the people who make it “The Hapi Isles” (as all the license plates boast).  Sure, there’s still trash along the streets, more pot-holes than paved road here, and we still lock up tight at night, but when you look beyond these things, you see real people working hard to restore and grow this country to its full potential.  These folks have allowed us to see the Honiara that they know and love, and those connections and relationships offer insights that inspire me to look deeper into the community of the crowded city.  To see the kind, courageous hearts of the people who call Honiara home and are working hard to make it an even better place.

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