Early in the morning, Bishop Rickson, Desmond and I left Afio to start our boat journey to Fanalei Island, which is located on the other side of South Malaita.
Our first stop on the way was Rokera School. The secondary school was originally founded by the Catholic Church and is now run by the provincial government of Malaita. Around 300 students, both boys and girls, attend the boarding school, which is located on top of a small hill.
I had a very interesting climb to the top of the hill as there had been strong rainfalls in the area recently. I was slipping out of my slippers all the time due to the standing water and muddy surface, which led to some troubles with my balance. I very much admired Desmond and Bishop Rickson who seemed to be completely unaffected by the conditions. Slippers are like hiking boots to them. I, on the other hand, finally ended up climbing the hill barefoot. Not one of my favourite experiences, to be honest.
However, on top of the hill, we were very warmly welcomed by the principal and staff of the school and then I had the opportunity to talk to the 300 students of Rokera School about climate change and my project in the Solomon Islands. While the students were shy to ask questions and engage during the assembly, many of them came to talk to me after the official presentation and asked very intelligent questions. Hopefully, the students of Rokera School will remember my visit and take the information that they learnt today back to their communities. We need young, motivated people who are willing to become climate and environment champions for their country and local communities.
After the school visit, we had a short rest at Tereari villags – a small Anglican community of 32 people that live next to Rokera. The gathering included a lot of smoking and betel nut chewing, which is very common in the small villages in South Malaita. Some of the kids also came to see the “white man” (me) and some beautiful songs were sang to wish us a good journey to Fanalei.
Our journey to Fanalei included a few more stops along the way as Bishop Rickson had to pass the message of an exam for aspiring priests to all the surrounding villages. This gave me an opportunity to see different places along the shoreline, which have been affected by erosion. Especially, Olusu’u on the more exposed northeastern shore of South Malaita showed signs of serious coastal erosion and overwash. The waves on the exposed shore are significantly stronger than on the sheltered southwestern shore, a fact that we could also clearly feel on our small boat.
In the early afternoon, we arrived safely at Fanalei Island, where there had just been a traditional bride price ceremony, in which the future wife is given to her new husband in exchange for shell money and goods. The ceremony is usually accompanied by lots of celebration, including traditional music and dances as well as a big feast. So the whole island as well as many people from the surrounding villages were gathered in the village centre to celebrate. This gave me the opportunity to rest a bit and just enjoy.
I met Kate Pwaisiho again, who is from the Solomons but lives in England and works for the Anglican Church there. She introduced me to many islanders, all her aunts, uncles or cousins. It took me a while to realise that the terms “aunt”, “uncle” and “cousin” also refer to second grade relatives, but somehow the whole village seems to be related.
Her cousin Ethel very kindly offered me to stay at her place for the next 2.5 weeks as she will be in Honiara for most of the time. The house is absolutely lovely: It has a veranda from which you can see the beach and it is decorated by hundreds of beautiful shells. It also has a gas stove and an outdoor toilet, which is comfort that most villagers do not enjoy.
Later in the afternoon, the ship from Honiara with my research equipment and Bishop Willie and his daughter Barbara arrived at the island. If I had known before that the loading of the ship would be such a big chaos, I probably would have worried a lot more about my bags. But magically, I left the ship with all my equipment and supplies. My time at Fanalei can start!