News: Pat Campbell’s Letter From The Field

Patrick Campbell is a Palms volunteer working as a maintenance coordinator and project assistant in the Solomon Islands:

I was looking through my diary the other day when I was trying to think about what to write about in this update. I thought I would start with this part of my first day in the Solomons.

“Wandering around the central market, I was surprised to see how little had changed in this little ecosystem despite the ethnic tension (since my last visit in January 1999). The dory (shell necklace) sellers still occupy the first two rows of benches, followed by the fresh produce and in the last few rows fish and chips along with other cooked food. Despite the odd burnt building or the RAMSI car you would not think that there had been a major conflict in these beautiful isles.”

Well I am now almost 12 months here in the Solomons. I find I am looking at things differently now. After spending time to understand the culture, the people and language, it is now like being at home where, when you observe, you do not just see the images but the bigger picture, who is who, what they are doing and why.

The experience of building a house and then living in it is out of this world. Being able to look around the house, knowing why something was done this way and not that way makes it more than a building; it becomes part of you. I have also learnt skills which I would never have been able to learn at home; how to use Sago palm leaf for walling, roofing and the different techniques of doing this. The project also provided many unemployed youths with not only a job, but for some who had no building skills, a chance to learn something new. The experience of building the house also helped me to learn Solomon Island Pidgin. I told the boys that English was taboo and that only Pidgin could be spoken on the site. This forced me to learn Pidgin very quickly as otherwise I would have had no idea of what was going on. Although this was a great way to learn Pidgin it did have some rather embarrassing side effects. By immersing myself completely in the language I found that when I was speaking to fellow “wantoks” (basically anyone with white skin) I would receive some very strange looks. I was later informed that the reason for these looks was because I was speaking in Pidgin without even realising it. At times I do not fully realise the extent of my immersion. I have found that through the last eleven months I have been challenged in many ways. I have had to deal with many situations that I didn’t think I would find myself in, with my work crossing over into many different areas – anything from driving canoes long distances, counselling, mediating, teaching and just being there for people to talk to. I have had to adapt to being in a completely different country surrounded by completely different cultures and practices (as there is no single one in the Solomons). I now know how my managers felt from previous jobs, however, the challenge of trying to manage projects along any western style guidelines can lead to more stress than is needed. Once you can live with and understand “Solomon time” then you are able to adapt managerial practices so that they work. The joy of seeing something upon which you have worked so hard come into fruition far outweighs the frustrations.

Even though I have left my family and friends, here in the Solomons I have walked into and found family and friends who are as loving and supportive as everyone back home, which has made life here so much easier. For I always know that I have somebody to talk to here or back at home. Though when things get really hard I often stop and think back to the support and encouragement that everybody gave me back home. I think back to the trivia night and the sausage sizzles and that without the support of everyone who participated in these events I wouldn’t be sitting in this house on top of the hill looking out to Gizo in this beautiful place called the Solomon Islands. When I do this every worry or hiccup in the world disappears.

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You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. - Kahlil Gibran