Rain On The Islands


I spent today writing up the findings of my survey of the condition of the noble vessel ICE. It’s been raining on and off all day, never hard. In the afternoon I took a break and walked towards town in a gentle warm drizzle. It’s Sunday in this mostly Christian nation, so there were few people out. Here’s the market stall of my best girlfriend, deserted today …


Looks she forgot to sweep up the rubbish … the amount of trash on the road shoulders is much more noticeable with very few people out. Here’s the sign just down from her place:


It says “NO TOROWE RABIS LO DRAIN”. This means “NO THROW AWAY RUBBISH LO[NG] (in) DRAIN”. Of course, there is rubbish in the drain. In Mexico, we used to joke that the sign saying “No Tire Basura Aqui” was Spanish for “Town Rubbish Dump” … where in fact it means “No Dumping Here”.

Curiously this sign is an example of the endless evolution of languages, especially new languages like Pijin. Solomons Pijin is only a hundred and fifty years old or so, an infant in language terms.

There are two countervailing forces on language—we want it to be as short as possible, but we also don’t want to have misunderstandings. You can see that the all-purpose preposition “long”, meaning with, in, at, on, to, from, or anything similar, is slowly being replaced by the shorter word “lo”. Since “long” is used in every other sentence or so, this represents a large shortening for “long”… a “large shortening for long”? Seems contradictory, but hey, nobody ever said that language was logical.

Similarly, “tufela”, meaning “two fellow”, or two people, is being replaced by “tufa”. “Blong”, the general possessive helper as in “het blong mi”, “head belong me” or “my head”, is being replaced by “blo”. “Olketa”, or “all together”, meaning “them”, is being shortened to “ota”. I have a great window on the changes because a number of my friends on Facebook post in Pijin as she is spoke, not as she is supposed to be spoken … but I see that I’ve gotten side-tractored again, pulled away from my walk through the garbage and the flowers of life.

One thing that always surprises me are the strange rubbish items that I see in the street. Oh, there’s plenty of the usual stuff, cans and bottles … but what do I make of an entire deck of playing cards torn in half and scattered by the roadside? I’d love to hear the story behind that one.


Since it was raining, of course the kids were out. Someday I’d like to travel around the world doing nothing but taking pictures of kids with their home-made toys. The imagination and ingenuity in some of them is amazing. Pulling tiny cars by a string on a stick is a huge favorite around the planet, and the vehicles are often astonishing:


The rock-hauling truck at the bottom is made of a plastic biscuit package, with bottle-cap wheels. The back one has a flatbed-with-sides look to it, I couldn’t make out the materials, and the kids were skittish around “wanfala waitman”, “one fellow white man” … but clearly, they were not ones to “torowe rabis”, they repurposed it. Here’s another wheeled marvel:



That one started out as some kind of toy, not sure what. When it was well broken in, it was rebuilt using large nails as the axles, and water bottle or coke bottle caps for the wheels. Here’s a photo of a couple of the miniature reprobates behind these works of art, in this case, i-Kirbati kids …


I asked them who made the cars, “Hu nao wokim disfala ka”, “Who now work’m this fellow car”. “Mifala” (we not including the hearer), the older one said almost inaudibly with a shy smile. I smiled back. Occasional raindrops fell.

On my return to the boat I walked by what passes for a bus in the Islands …


People were laughing at me for being out in the rain, giving me grief. “Waswe iu no garem ka”, which is “What way (why) you no got’m car?” … check out the lady up by the cab photobombing the kid in front of her … man, the Solos, I’m gonna miss this place when I have to leave later in the week.

And to top it all off, when I got back to the boat, some trick of the rainy illumination highlighted the houses on the tiny island just across from me, turning it into my own personal Bali-hai.


Bali-hai will call you, any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you, come away, come away.
Bali-hai will whisper on the winds of the sea,
Here am I, your special island, come to me, come to me.

Your own special hopes, your own special dreams,
Loom on the hillsides and shine in the streams …

If you try, you’ll find me, where the sky meets the sea,
Here am I, your special island, come to me, come to me …

Seeing that dang movie South Pacific as a kid ruined me for life, because like a besotted fool I followed that call of “come to me” and never looked back, dancing down that endless road, laughing and singing …

Well, I left home in the springtime when the flowers were in bloom,
And I told the folks I’d be back in the fall, in the fall,
But the road keeps stretching onward from the cradleboard to the tomb,
And I guess I’ll never see those folks at all …

With that same enticing road still stretching in front of me, and with the fervent wish that you all can find your own special hopes and dreams on the hillsides of whatever Bali-hai you call your own, I remain,

Yr. Obt. Svt.,


13 thoughts on “Rain On The Islands

  1. Willis you can solve all these complex issues by just spending about a month there every year. It helps to be physically attached so that part of you experiences life there semi-continually


  2. I can not imagine how that life is better than in the warm arms of a beautiful ex-fiance on a winter night listening to the winds and the rain on the roof.


    • Joel, always good to hear from you. Lots of folks say the same, it looks all dirty and smelly and you’re by yourself, wouldn’t home and hearth be nicer … but me, after a while spending my nights in a warm bed on winter nights and the like, my feet start to itch, and I begin to ruminate on the words of my old pal Johnny Masefield

      I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
      Is a wild call and a clear call that cannot be denied …

      Yes, it’s a sickness, I can’t deny it … every time I leave on some hairbrained adventure I think “Why am I doing this again?”

      But then … I hear that wild, clear call and before I know it, I’m doing it again … and so here I am, back in my beloved Solomon Islands, seeing old friends, making new friends, walking daily along a dusty, dirty street.

      Part of it is that as a young man I saw that people have a choice in this life between security and adventure. And at that time I swore a big swear that whenever that choice came up for me, I’d go for Option B. What I found was that once you’ve grabbed that particular tiger’s tail, letting go is very hard. Big swears are like that.

      In my defense I’ll say that my big swear has led me around the world, from the mud huts of African villagers to the castles of English nobility, and from doing underwater welding with hopelessly inadequate gear to being the CFO of a corporation with 40 million dollars in annual sales … and at this point, well, I fear I’m ruined for life …

      HOWEVER, and it is a big however, I do NOT hold that my way of life is better or richer or nobler than the next man’s. Every man must pick his own path through this confusing and tumultuous universe. And the value and richness of a man’s experience depends on his intention, not his location or his actions.

      So the reason that I write of my life is that I feel I am the emissary for all of those who will never have the opportunity to squat down in the dust and chew betel nut and talk story in Pijin with a white-bearded old man in Gizo … who will never know the ecstatic terror of surfing down 30-foot waves in a 21 foot boat in pitch darkness off a rocky coast… who will never be in the band playing music for the Governor-General’s ball … who will never run out of air seventy feet below the surface of the ocean … so these days, I do my best to bring those folks walking down that endless road of adventure with me.

      Regards to you, and to all,



  3. I read Tales of the South Pacific and watched the movie over sixty years ago. Then I joined the Air Force, and roamed the world. Happiness was my duffle bag on my shoulder, and change of station orders in my hand. I’d do it all again in a blink, the only change would be I would take more pictures the second time around. If I tried to lave Gualala now (not too far from your Occidental home), it would take me a year or more just to organize everything. Not complaining, but packing in a couple of hours and going to a new home half the world away was a wonderful way to experience being a twenty-some year old. I hope we get second acts.


  4. It can be hard to explain, but without stories, life can be pretty flat. With stories, there’s always another beer, a new friend with stories of their own, another chance to learn something really interesting you never knew before. Willis, please toss in some more photographs of ICE if it seems reasonable.


  5. Reading about your travails and travels, gives my heart a lift.
    Looking at the red container, it reminded me of the time I worked where they were made.
    They are every where.
    It reminder me of the cat’s-eye man.
    On every corner of a container is a locking block.
    The locking block is made under licence.
    The firm I work for made thousands of different sized containers.
    For each one the locking blocks had to be bought in.
    So again you have made my life full of memory’s.


  6. Language is a system and it makes sense that Solomon’s Pijin is evolving contractions. The tendency for more information to flow through the channels (here, spoken words) more efficiently is an inherent feature of living systems. Another feature characteristic of young systems is for them to expand into new territory. The acquisition of new words (rabis, ka) seem to be examples of things not native to the islands. Word acquisition follows an S-curve growth pattern where at first new words are added slowly, then go into a rapid growth phase, and finally a leveling off period when most things/concepts have been labeled and there is little new to add. Linguists would have fun charting this.


  7. I’m rereading Orwell’s “1984” and its description of how “Newspeak” worked to eliminate words is very similar to the evolution of Pijin. Seems to me Orwell spent some time in SE Asia as a policeman. Maybe he patterned “Newspeak” after Pijin. Love your autobiographical stuff. ‘Just take care of your no-longer-young body.


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