Archive for January, 2010
January 1st, 2010
The last days of 2009 find us once again in Wunpuko villij. It made sense to make our final appeal in person since – out of respect – we must give this community every possible chance to hear out our need ….and respond to it. After all, they have given us more than all the others before them. And so, if this is to be the end of our affair here, we hope they retain a great deal of what we will leave behind us. Maybe even a little of our hearts.
Though this ‘issue’ has brought us to a fatalistic conclusion, it has also helped us to understand that we have become close to the community ….and though their expectations of us may differ from what we have come for, we still shared each other’s dreams, and in the end have great patience for each other.
It is clear, though, how our lives differ from theirs; our own culture also separates us from our own by its alien nature. But that is normal; it’s how the rest of the world operates, putting claims on us that we pay and thus demonstrate our commitment to a ‘shared’ paradigm. That we are nonetheless …’homo sapiens’, is truly a misnomer. Because none of us appears to ‘know’ anything until the likes of a ‘Grandfather’ [Stalking Wolf] appears on one’s path. Thereafter only wilderness will do….
In much of the frame of reference through which we are seen ….there is still a long-abiding fear of us [as white man]. Not surprising when one recalls the history of our relationships! And as always with fear …there is aggression – we must each absolve ourself of that. For thus it is that some take pleasure in denying us anything they see us desire. What it is though that they cannot see [because that takes consciousness] ….is only a wish to honor them with respect, just as it is to do so everywhere we are; especially in the bush where distraction is no more.
Yes, the world does sleep.
This morning Chief Willy came to exchange greetings with us – it’s #25 December 2009 morning and he is very busy preparing a community feast. When I look at him and he beams with such visible pleasure at seeing us, I see him from the perspective of a little boy who has a best friend. We seem to have developed a ritual, the two of us, sharing our love for each other. It turns us both into small boys who know nothing of race and division.
Yesterday children gathered what with [bamboo and flowers] to put small bunches of Christmas Tree flowers at every corner of the several nakamals and food prep kitchens. The precedence of importance amongst them is waived. The big, chiefly nakamal, though, always insists upon its stateliness. The celebration went through the night only with those who had the stomach or heart for it. If it wasn’t the roosters who raided the dawn, it was surely the electronic rhythms that spilled over from night to day and punctuated our morning ritual much before time.
One of our favorite young men was down at the water with wife and two beautiful children – making their bathing ritual – when I crossed the river. I was on my way to my own bath – but in the salt water. As the river flows behind the sand and exits into the bay near its northern end, one crosses where the women wash clothing.
The sea was many degrees warmer than the river though, and as I edged into the dark water, I thought ‘shark’. And that made me also think about ‘dolphin’ who would surely, if around, protect me. On the way up in the boat from the airstrip, we were suddenly in a pod of them. Their cavorting and sporting around the prow was as if to welcome us once more to their waters. Either way, I guessed, I was happy – so life has become. Edenhope is a space, even if not yet a place ….in its own mind. Que sera, sera!
There was a community meal today, we were part of it if only with taro and coconut water. But it was far from complete; many had stayed in their own yards with family. At least four, perhaps five, of these sub-gatherings were going on at the same time. There are diverse tensions in the village – we have begun to see them more clearly.
The heat at mid-day, even without the sun, is greater than one ever expects. Not that the sun has gone anywhere other than behind a veil – just as did the moon last night – it was still so intense it could burn you. Specially these much-too pale skins. If only we could add a little melanin….
We’re on a mission though, and celebrating Christmas is not the reason we’ve come this time. But, alas, the soonest the committee could see us meeting with the whole community –that was the advice they gave us – would be Saturday, after the big day. We accepted as fate any delay….
But that night the ravers started …the young boys – probably the greater part of the Football Club. The drunkenness turned noisier and uglier as the night wore on. The screeches one is used to in the bush were terribly distorted this night, and finally brought antagonisms into play. It was an especially hard night to get any sleep.
We should have realized that our meeting would not take place the next day. The most important participants would be sleeping off their stupors. It was truly a pathetic outcome and forebode poorly on our mission. That’s how it was …the meeting was rescheduled for Sunday.
The next night, Saturday, the boys weren’t partying but a community dance in the ‘hard’ nakamal went on all night too. These marathons are all so close to the Guest House we might as well have been party ourselves were we so moved.
Not until Sunday did the meeting occur. From about two [after lunch] to at least five thirty. Shortly after my presentation, and a few Q&A, we [Ruth and I] were asked to leave the discussion now to the community. We were assured by the Committee Secretary they would come to a conclusion in due course ….and so advise us.
The sun had almost begun to set by the time the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Secretary returned to find us on the porch of the Guest House. Well, the Community has decided that the Football club can keep the land they have [the additional piece] we wanted, but only for five years; then we can resume a negotiation for it. This we anticipated; reality here, like everywhere, is not based upon a shared rationale but a cultural imperative. And as such is subject to the endless prejudices of those who have no purpose other than that within the limited horizon of an experiential history.
Nor were the three of them surprised by our consequent decision; they already knew we would exercise our resolve. We responded we would withdraw the Project from Wunpuko then. Only issue to settle between us then ….is what the ‘liquidated damages’ might be… And thus we put our position formally to them. They already had a good idea of what it was and, really, quite readily agreed. It was fair, if not generous, to them. How could they have expected otherwise?
We left for Luganville two days later, travelling with Honno in the small community boat to a distant point down the coast, and then taking a truck along the southern stretch of the island. I’d hoped to get a signed agreement, even a handwritten one, but it was not what they wanted. So we took the bones of our understandings back with us in hand-written notes. And sent them back as a final agreement [with Honno] two days later. The formality of surrendering a lease is much simpler that to initiate one – but it still takes some knowing.
On the sea part of the trip back, we stopped at another village where a much more suitable tract may have been waiting for us. It’s belongs to a very small village, with little expectation or need [so it appears]. But we’ll soon see, because we’re going to return this month, shortly after the new year, with the concurrence of the Chief ….to look at what will be our fourth try ….should we feel so inclined.
Perhaps it is that only Ruth and I are fully engaged in this process ….that makes the difficulties so engaging. But we are assured it is not just us – land is perhaps the only expectation the ni-Vanuatu have about their future. So we are learning to tread softly on their dreams….
Of course one could conclude that ‘the grass is greener’ and pursue that chimera ….but I doubt it will lead to a solution. It’s possibly interesting that Ruth and I are also enjoying what we’re here! for than anywhere else in the world we have known. Surprising? I think not.