On Tuesday, Alex and I went for pastoral rounds at the hospital with Deacon Patrick and Sister Matilda. The two of us handed out Rosary beads that Alex brought with her from one of the priests at school. Most families only have one set of Rosary beads that they share amongst themselves so everyone was incredibly grateful.
On our way back from the hospital, Alex and I had a wonderful talk with Deacon Patrick. We talked about how life is so much simpler in the Solomon Islands. Very few people have cell phones, refrigeration, and even indoor plumbing in some areas, however, everyone is content. No one is in a rush as time is an abstract concept – you get there when you get there and enjoy every second of the journey. Deacon Patrick told Alex and I a bit about his time in Australia and how shocked he was that you could ride on a bus or a train next to someone for twenty minutes without ever saying hello to them or acknowledging their presence. Too often he found that people were too caught up in the chaos of their own lives to engage with one another. This is not the Solomon way and nor should it be the way of any human beings. In the eyes of some, the Solomon Islanders appear backwards in a few ways, but they do seem to have gotten this right. One’s presence should be beyond the physical and every moment should be optimized. Material things are nice, but at the end of the day, they cannot keep you company. My twin sister Molly spent five weeks in Haiti last summer on her own Father Smith Fellowship and above her bed it read, “Be present every day,” a motto that Alex and I have taken on as our own.
When we got back, after Alex and I ran to town and did a few errands. We spent some time doing our part around Fanualama by weeding in the garden. It was a hot day, but the two of us did not mind at all as we talked on with one another and Bishop Chris finding the labor to be relaxing.
Wednesday was another great day. We started off helping out Sister Loretta by covering her Form 3 English class while she is in Honiara for a few days. The students had recently learned how to write a business letter expressing a complaint so Alex and I were tasked with reading and correcting each student’s letter about the school’s water problem. The students brought up many eye-opening points for Alex and I. What was most difficult to digest was that the students genuinely want to learn and are challenged by exhaustion and thirst each day. A few times a day, the students walk over a kilometer to the nearest stream to collect water for drinking, bathing, flushing the toilets, and cooking and, therefore, end up tired in class from waking up early and having walked so far. Students run on little energy throughout the day and there is starting to be a few hygiene issues as many students have resorted to going to the bathroom in the bush instead of trekking for water to flush the toilets. I have never fully appreciated the convenience of running water until now and admire the strength of these kids whose nature isn’t to complain.
After Aligegeo, Alex and I went with Bishop Chris to talk with people at the primary school to plan a visit and on our way back stopped at Auki’s only restaurant. We learned a lot about the daily life in the Solomon Islands over coffee. Alex and I decided to walk down to the hospital when we got back to check in on a few of the patients. The patients were much more open to us this time as they have become used to seeing our faces around with Sister Matilda and Deacon Patrick. Even though Alex and I usually do not say much when we visit due to the language barrier, most people felt comfortable chatting with the two of us. One of the men, Stephen, who has been sleeping or resting from weakness for our previous visits was awake and alert this time. He asked Alex and I about ourselves and wore a smile from ear to ear, his progress was incredible!
Wednesday was a double header for mass with one at both the beginning and end of our day. Bishop Chris or one of the other parish priests usually makes an effort every Wednesday at 6:00 to go to Lilisiana, the fishing village, to say mass in the Sts. Peter and Paul Church on the water. We arrived in the village about an hour early and slowly meandered our way to the church stopping and greeting friends along the way. The kids from the kindie recognized Alex and I so they ran to greet us. Alex and I had the honor of being welcomed into the church during the greeting announcements and doing the readings. It was a wonderful mass, full of life and enthusiastic singing by the kids. The kids from the kindie all sat right on top of us and dove across the pews to shake our hands during the Sign of Peace. Their parents were just as welcoming, introducing themselves and sharing their evening meal with us after mass.
Thursday, Alex and I went back to Lilisiana to visit the kindie one final time. When we got there, Alex was looking around the room at the artwork and realized that there was no class photo. She asked the teachers if we could take one for them to print out and send to them and they were beyond pleased with the idea. We collected all the students and brought them outside for Lilisiana’s Kindie’s first class photo! With the help of Liborio, a man who helps out the Diocese a lot, we were able to organize the kids enough to snap a few pictures. Everyone was so grateful and to repay us they took us on a class field trip to the lake that is over a half mile away. As soon as the water was in sight, mayhem ensued as the children stripped down and sprinted into the water. They were thrilled to cool down from the hot sun and we even walked to the beach afterwards.
At the end of the school day, Alex and I walked to the primary school down the street, Alota’a, to work on the art project that we had helped the kids with in Sydney. The Year 3 students were excited to see all of the pictures that the Australian Year 3 students had drawn and happy to reply. We were happy to be able to facilitate the connection.
Once back at Fanualama, Alex and I got to help make dinner. It was the birthday of one of the local boys, Richard, a couple of weeks ago when Bishop Chris was away so his celebration was moved to Thursday night. We lent a hand to Brother Henry at the grill and cooked the fish and chicken for Richard’s party. Before the party, we stopped by the Futsol court where some of the local boys were playing in a tournament. Futsol is soccer played on a hard court with fewer players, like indoor soccer outdoors. The team we were rooting for won the game so they advanced on in the tournament. The celebration for Richard’s birthday later in the night was fun. In attendance were the Sisters, Bishop Chris, Liborio, Deacon Patrick, four of Richard’s friends, Alex and I. We were all happy to celebrate Richard’s 21st with him and each had to make a little speech at the end about him, which made it special. Richard had gone out of his way to befriend Alex and I when we first arrived in Auki so we were happy to take part in this Solomon Island tradition. Bishop Chris even baked a cake for the occasion which tasted delicious, especially because it had chocolate icing – what a treat to be included in on!