I’ve been in Honiara, Solomon Islands, for three and a bit days, and it occurred to me that I should let people know how I’m going! Right now I’m home alone – everybody else has gone down to Honiara High for this evangelism night that’s part of the United Pentecostal Church conference. People have travelled by truck, boat, bus and plane to be here. There’s a whole group of people from Malaita – that’s the next big island across – who are spent six hours on the boat and are sleeping in the leaf hut by the church. I’ve been chatting with them about life in the village.
I’m staying with Ruth and her family, which includes her pastor husband, two daughters, a cousin and an adopted son. Their church is hosting the conference. I met Ruth when she came to Melbourne last December and spoke at a forum I ran on religion and disasters. Ruth runs Hope Ministries, which is the organisation I’m volunteering for. Hope provides education for street kids. My task, among others, is the help organise the school library.
So far I’ve been to two Pentecostal churches services – one for women only, and one huge one in the open hall at Honiara High, that involved an imported American pastor. The best part is the singing, for me. When the women got together they strummed their guitars and sang Christian songs in Pijin and in English. They have this way of singing that seems to flow straight from their souls. I tried to do it but my voice kind of got stuck near the back of my throat. And there are a hundred harmonies flowing alongside the tune.
Here, everybody can sing. I think that everybody can sing in Australian society to, but people think they can’t. The thing is with Solomon Island singing is that people pick a pitch that suits their voice and makes it work with the melody. Sometimes in my Australian church I hear people singing who ‘can’t sing’ – and they are actually singing a third below the melody. They’re creating a harmony but because it’s not ‘correct’ they think they can’t sing. I like the Solomon Island way – if you have a low voice you sing low, if you have a high voice you sing high. And I guess you learn from a young age to make it harmonise in with the other voices.
So I’ve been singing along and learning the songs, clapping and dancing and all that. I stop short of the Pentecostal arm waving and the shouts of ‘Amen!’ and ‘Praise the Lord!’ The biggest culture shock so far has been the Pentecostal style of worship, which I’m really not used to. But nobody forces me to participate where I’m not comfortable, which I really appreciate. I’ve made friends with quite a few of the church ladies – they’ve been so lovely and welcoming.
I’m having a wonderful time so far. I’m picking up the language quickly – the best thing I did before I came was learn a bit of Pijin. It’s amazing how it breaks down barriers – people go, “Oh, she speaks Pijin, she must be ok”. The kids were really shy at the start but they’re getting used to me now. I’m sharing a room with Ruth’s daughter and young cousin (just a bit younger than me) and we’re having lots of fun. They’re showing me around and teaching me how to ride the bus and all that.
There is a giant huntsman spider watching me. I wonder if it’s the same one that accompanied me in the shower the other day. I squealed and Ruth’s cousin came in and herded it out with her fingers. I preferred the multicoloured moth from the first night. But you win some you lose some.
Right now I’m also waging a war on mosquitoes. I brought a massive baton-like can of repellent with me from Australia, and I intend to use it – whether by spraying or by beating them off! I’m not planning on getting malaria while I’m here. The mozzies are little but deadly.