While I can still remember, I just wanted to put down in writing the image of Honiara that I had before I came over here. I’d seen maps and a few photos, but it’s never really possible to get an accurate sense of a place from that. I built up a mind’s eye picture that turned out to be quite wrong, but also quite amusing, now I look back on it. This is glimpse of what I thought my life was going to be life, in the city I had half-imagined.
Central Honiara comprises about about five main streets with intersecting lanes and alleys. The streets are all evenly filled with rows of two and three storey buildings made of pebbledash and grey or tan cement, almost certainly built in the 1970s, when architects seemed to think that ‘Prison’ was an attractive and approprite theme for pubic or commercial architecture.
There isn’t much life at street level in this part of town, not like in the colourful suburbs where the locals live. Much of the activity in the centre takes place on the upper storeys, where expats hang out on cement balconies tarted up with poptplants, and look out over the city all awash with the pink light of an Asian dusk, very much like what I’ve seen in Bali and Vietnam (my only two possible sources of comparison). In the distance can be heard the blare of sirens, coming from the notorious east side of town. We all give each other concerned, knowing looks and sip again on our gin and tonics, pausing to slap our faces to kill the mosquitoes that hover, attempting to bite our cheeks. It is hot. Damned hot.
We start off staying in a hotel. It’s tan cement on the outside and the rooms are pokey and the Venetian blinds need dusting. There are stains on the ceiling, and dingy beige carpet on the walls. But it’s home, for a while. Every day while Louise is at work at the courthouse, a fine old colonial building where everyone calls her “M’am”, I take the kids out, starting off downstairs in the lobby area, then slowly building my way up to walking around the five main streets, taking Erin in the stroller, which glides smoothly over the well-maintained cement footpaths. Soon I’m out of the main area and exploring the maze of dirt roads that lead out west. That’s when I’m not doing yoga or teaching the kids to speak Pidgin, which I know fluently after a few months of course.
In the central area its pretty safe, and there are some cushy compounds out west where we end up living, and it’s safe there too. But no-one really goes out to the east side much, to Ranadi or Kola Ridge or any of those places. China Town is a no-go zone, especially at night: a sleazy warren of damp dark hotels, dimly lit restaraunts and back alley massage parlours where you can get anything…for a price. It’s safer to stay in in the heart of town, where the streets are cleaner and quieter. If anything happens, we’ll get the kids and make a dash for the Australian security compound, where guards patrol outside 24 hours a day and wave to me as I walk past.
So, maybe my Overtly Capabale Australian Male is just someone who prefers to remain living in this fantasy version of a foreign war-torn city, rather than adjusting to the real thing. It’s fine here, really. Particularly up here on the hill at West Kola, away from the crowded, uneven streets in the main part of town.
It is hot, though. Damned hot.