What will you trade for an old stone carving?
First, mea culpa: I'm way behind in the blog department! But we have internet access now so I'm trying to get caught up. After the "Accidental Residents" blog about life in Peava, two of our loyal readers wrote and asked about what trade supplies we carry, how we replenish them, and where we store them. So just in case anyone else had the same questions -- and it might help other cruisers heading this way -- I thought I'd answer them here in the blog. It may be TMI, but it gave us an excuse to inventory and organize our stash. As things leave, one visit after another, we lose track of what we have to enter into the next negotiation (as in, "Jim... didn't we have a set of blue towels in the trade pile?").
In the end, much of it leaves in the form of gifts anyway, especially reading glasses, like the pair for the matriarch we met at the market in the village of Mbatuna. She and six of her daughters and daughters-in-law had paddled to the Thursday market from another village to buy and sell vegetables. We struck up a conversation and invited them to stop at the boat on the way out to get some readers for Mom.
More than any other single trade item, we're asked for fishing gear: line, lures, hooks, weights, fins, masks, spear gun rubber and even spear guns. Fortunately line, lures, hooks, and weights don't take up much room, so we keep a supply of those on board all the time, replenishing as we hit towns or villages with stores. Here Willie and Jim are poring through a box of lures and line...
...that resulted in our landing this octopus:
The fact is, we didn't really want the octopus, but Willie is a very nice guy. And you can't see it in the photo, but the arm he has around Jim's shoulder was chopped off some years ago just below the elbow when Willie was trying to defend someone from a crazy guy with a bush knife. Even so, he carves, fishes, and paddles a canoe, switching the oar from side to side the way they do. And who couldn't love the look on that octopus's face?
On the other hand, the perfect balance of trade happens when each party wants something the other guy has. Jim was immediately smitten by this exquisite inlaid ebony nguzu-nguzu (remember them? the war god mounted on old war canoes that both protected the warriors and announced whether they came to make trouble or good will, depending on whether the god carried a skull or a bird?) and Del, the carver, had his sights set on a big spear gun we had. Done deal: we own the nguzu-nguzu; Del is out shooting fish.
So what else do we carry?
Clothes: For some time we've saved our old clothes and shoes and when we were in New Zealand, I visited a couple of "Op Shops" as they call them (Opportunity Shops -- what we would call "thrift stores") and bought a supply of children's clothes as well (though not enough). In Vanuatu we bought about 10 pairs of kids' knockoff Crocs, but should have bought a thousand!
Household stuff: old sheets and towels are in big demand and we've saved some thin, holey sheets. Also dishes, pots and pans, and cutlery, but it's hard to carry all that. We save all our plastic bottles and wine bottles and give them away for carrying water.
Food: We carry rice, flour, sugar, oil, "meat" (canned corned beef), tea, coffee, and of course, lots of "lollies" for the kids. We've also been asked for onions (they spot them in the hammock in the cockpit), salt, soy sauce and curry powder.
School supplies: pens, pencils, colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, rulers, exercise books. In the post office in Fiji, of all places, we found very cool little "math sets" -- little tin boxes that contained a ruler, protractor, compass, and other little necessary mathematical things -- and bought a bunch of those, which we give to the teachers. School supplies are always gifts.
Kids' toys: balloons, balls, hair stuff for the girls, little cars, small stuffed animals, little dolls. It's amazing what these kids don't have. And maybe they don't need all this stuff either, but they're always very happy when we give them to them.
Medical stuff: bandaids and bandages, aspirin/panadol, small tubes of various creams and ointments, little tubes of toothpaste and, if Jim knows for sure what the patient has, he'll give antibiotics. One night we got a knock on the hull at about 9 p.m., very unusual to be visited at that hour. It was a guy from the village who had hurt his back and was in a great deal of pain, wondering if we had something he could take. We gave him a box of Panadol (like Tylenol), for which he was very grateful. The next day he rowed out with a big squash from his garden.
Woodworking stuff: Here in the land of woodcarvers, we've been carrying lots of sand paper, super glue, epoxy, shoe polish. Not knowing any better we also brought some small carving tool kits from New Zealand, but these skilled carvers pretty much turned up their noses at them.
Other stuff: sewing kits, magazines, old line (to tie up canoes and cows), batteries, soap (for people and laundry), old backpacks, nail polish and perfume.
So where do we keep all this stuff?
In the guest room/pantry/attic/basement/garage. Good thing no guests are booked in!
This photo was taken right after your questions inspired us to get organized.
The old song says, "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Parreee?" and there's an element of truth to that here, too. Even though many of the people in Vanuatu and the Solomons (where we've done the bulk of our recent trading) live at subsistence levels, they've nonetheless been exposed to most of the gizmos and gadgetry we all can't live without. And for sure they've learned that it can't hurt to ask. Who knows, maybe we'll have an extra solar panel, flashlight, radio, cell phone, flash drive, MP3 player, laptop computer, generator, or outboard engine...
But for that stuff we'll need a bigger boat.