Asylum (on the left) at home in the Peava anchorage
Like Dorothy clicking her heels to hurry home from Oz, we were in a hurry to return to our home away from home in the village of Peava for the holidays. Arriving on December 7, we were greeted like lost souls returned to the fold -- even though we'd barely been away 2 months.
When we got there, the village ladies were decorating the "town hall" with fresh flowers for tomorrow's primary school graduation ceremony. We were immediately invited to that and the village pot-luck celebration afterward. The kids were already rehearsing Christmas carols with Lisa, so we joined in and sang all the first verses we knew and la-la-la'd the rest. (In the end, much of the village was laid flat by a fast-attack flu over the holidays so the planned Christmas concert and canoe caroling never happened.) Siana, the chief, invited us to his 6 year old son's first-ever birthday party on Boxing Day -- which finally ended up happening on "number 29" (it really didn't matter to us except that I was baking 2 chocolate cakes for the event).
With each passing day we slid back into the comfortable rhythm of village life: visiting friends, hosting visits from kids who summoned the courage to ask if they could come aboard...
...continuing to contribute to the local economy when carving shows were organized...
(that's Lisa on the right eying Elvis's lovely creations)
....following up on the progress of baskets we'd commissioned, and of course diving with Lisa and "The A Team"...
After our last dive with them on the magical reefs of little Kicha island
.... Jim consulting on the flu and other infections, teaching some of the ladies how to make key lime pie (we renamed it "bush lime pie") and learning how to cook slippery cabbage, partaking in various village festivities, and just hanging out on Solomon Time. It wasn't always totally
comfortable though: the Peava anchorage is blissfully calm most of the time but awful in a strong northerly blow and we had some wicked winds while we there, bouncing and rolling the boat so that we could barely get off and sleeping was nigh onto impossible. Fortunately those blows were few and didn't last too long.
Christmas and New Year's were very quiet; they fell on Saturday, the SDA Sabbath, so there were no celebrations or festivities. Gift-giving is not at all part of their Christmas tradition and I think Asylum may have been the only house in the village with a Christmas tree.
Before we knew all this, however, we'd bought a supply of small gifts for the small children in the village -- balls, little cars, hair clips, pencils, pens, cards, stickers, jump ropes, marbles, etc. -- but had no idea how we were going to distribute them. I proposed giving the bags of stuff to Siana and let him
figure it out. He was grateful, but perplexed, we realized later, because there really was no gift-giving system in the village to make that work. But wise young chief that he is, a few days later he asked if it would be ok to use the toys as prizes for their customary village sports day -- normally held on New Year's day but this year, because of the Sabbath, to be held on "number 2." We thought that was a grand idea.
As the "holidays" passed, we had to start watching the calendar and the weather to time our departure. I was flying to Australia for 10 days at the end of the month and we had to get back to the town with the airport. For days everyone's first question was, "When do you leave?" and our answer was always, "We're not sure, maybe tomorrow, maybe not until number 15." They always seemed to understand; not much ever happens on a schedule in the Solomons.
Before we left, though, we had one major important deal to consummate. Back in October, before we departed Peava the first time, our dive master/carver friend, Dellington, proposed that he would make us a carving that would surround the compression post in the main salon.
He'd never done one before, but knew other carvers who had made them and he wanted to try. Would we be interested? "Um, how much?" we asked, to which he gave us the typical but frustrating, "It's up to you." Somewhere along the way we must have agreed to this commission because before we left, Del was on the boat taking measurements and in the bush cutting the perfect tree.
When we returned in December it was almost finished, and in January, just before we left for good, he came to the boat to install it.
We were stunned. We knew Del was a talented, artistic carver but the intricacy and detail on this piece was beyond anything we'd seen. There was a little nub in the original trunk which, rather than cutting off, he used to fashion a small bird peeking out of a hole. He knew all the fish we loved and they're all in there. (There are more pictures in the Photo Gallery if you want to see some of the exquisite detail.) Never in a million years would such an idea have occurred to us and we must have given Del a blank stare when he suggested it. Needless to say, it completely changes the look and feel of the inside of the boat. Every time we look at it we see some new little detail--like how he worked the two halves of a clam shell along the seam of the post. It's truly amazing.
Number 15 finally arrived and we had to go. We took one last walk through the village to say goodbye to so many friends. One woman I only knew as "Takopai's wife" shyly handed us a small carved turtle; our friend Gregory had said he wanted to make me a present as a thank you for "helping" him (that is, buying stuff from him so he could pay his son's school fees) and presented me an inlaid bangle bracelet. We got pineapples from Kolopai and Siana, bananas from Margaret, and a market bag that Reliance had made for me (she worked in Lisa's little guest house and is the one who wanted to learn to make key lime pie. I actually think she had tears in her eyes as she said goodbye on the dock.) And at the last minute, Del came out to the boat with us to sign the post, carefully carving his signature, in script
, without so much as a pencil marking. When he left, he pulled from under his shirt two woven trivet-sized plates that his wife, Solace, had made for us.
We motored out around the island on a spectacularly beautiful afternoon, passing Lisa and her guest returning from a dive. As the two boats met, dolphins were leaping everywhere around us.
Then, as if the all the parting gifts and dolphins weren't enough, as we passed Biche, a tiny remote village on the southern coast of Nggatokae, we could see a canoe ahead paddling along. We figured it was just a guy out fishing, but he seemed to be paddling quite feverishly and Jim even jokingly remarked that it looked like we were on a collision course with him. In fact, we were. He started waving to us. We slowed and stopped the boat as he kept paddling toward us, calling "I want to give you a present." It was James (the man in the opening photo of the "Balance of Trade" blog). I thought I was going to cry as he unwrapped and handed us a small stone bowl, considered "endemic" to Biche. When he had visited the boat before with a few items to sell/trade he was clearly in need of money and we bought something from him that we didn't much want, but he was painfully grateful. And now he just kept saying, "I wanted to give you a present."
Dolphins at the start of a passage are always a sign of good luck and as we sailed away from Peava and Nggatokae for the last time, we felt very lucky, indeed, to have found this special place and its wonderful people.