Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Now the election is over, have a peaceful evening
a fragment from a story - a bit like a trip we once took to Mali Island and spent the night at Sigawe.
The blue outboard at the jetty is causing Mesake, the boatboy, to lose his temper and he swears in a peculiarly honest Anglo-Saxon. Each time he pulls the starter of the 18 HP Evinrude there is a brief burst of power, a splutter, then silence. We wait on the beach for forty minutes wondering if we will get to the small island across the bay. Eventually the engine sounds more hopeful so we clamber on board the rocking long boat to speed off, fifteen on board.
For twenty minutes the engine works fine and the Fijians on board sit contented. Another splutter, frantic activity on the part of Mesake, some expletives, a shrug and silence. The boat drifts westwards as Mesake tries again and again to revive the engine.
Inside the boat is a long bamboo pole so Eroni thrusts it out into the water but it cannot touch bottom. My mind rushes through images of newspaper story about a boat from Gau Island drifting all the way to the Solomon Islands but my companions have no such qualms. A young mother unbuttons her dress to quieten her crying baby and furious sucking replaces the grizzles. I am also concerned about my video camera that may get wet if we drift into rougher seas.
Again testing the depth, Eroni realises we will have to drift a further four k before hope of touching bottom. There is a mutter of conversation that I cannot understand but no one complains.
Someone says, 'Don't worry. We'll head for a small farm instead of the village.'
Darkness is spreading over as Eroni methodically tests the depth and at last uses the bamboo pole effectively to direct us towards a grey sandy beach and silhouetted houses amidst the coconut palms. There is no sign of light or indication of habitation. We clamber into shallow water, almost trip over mangrove roots. The women gather mats, babies and youngsters and I hold my precious video equipment tightly.
A loud hail brings no reply. Mere airily suggests the owner may be away at a choir competition. 'We can stay the night as he is a third cousin or something.' She pushes in the stout wooden door, rummages for a kerosene light, finds matches and we are in business.
I wonder about this kind of help yourself. Fijians call it 'kerekere' - what's yours si mine, particularly sharing with close or distant kin. Eroni lights the primus, puts on a kettle and the women move quietly about, finding places on the mats to put their sleeping babies and children. Four loaves of bread are found, tucked up in the rafters, and butter, jam and tinned milk in a fly-proof safe. These become our supper.
The floor of the main bure is soft, yielding, pandanus matting over coconut fronds, a layer of pebbles and coral. My video pak is rather incongruous in this setting. Mosquito nets, blankets and pillows are found and we bed down in close proximity.
The moon rises over the mangroves, shining on the sea, the silver picture framed by the open doorway.