|© UNICEF Pacific/2014/Tahu|
“Have you visited the Solomon Islands before?’ asked the flight attendant as he poured me a cup of tea. When I told him I hadn’t and, in fact, this was my very first time in the Pacific region; with a smile, he said, “It is a nice country; good people but going through a hard time”.
I was as foreign to the region, as the region was to me. I wondered why. I am curious about the world, I read a lot about current affairs/issues, I’ve ventured quite a fair bit and am surrounded by well-travelled, interesting people who yawn at the idea of holidaying in Paris, New York. Instead they travel off-the-beaten track to places like Pyongyang, Bratislava, the South Pole and yet I didn’t know a single person who had been to Honiara. I didn’t know anyone who could give me first hand information about the capital city of the Solomon Islands, not some small little village on its many islands but the country’s capital city.
My exposure to the islands was limited to the names of some cities when there has been breaking news in the region. More often than not, it is safe to assume that breaking news means bad news. It’s covered by international media for a day, maybe two. A week is really pushing it! Unlike most other parts of the world, the story/country is not re-visited for a follow-up on the developments – positive or negative. The lack of dedicated international media resources in the islands and perhaps the general apathy of the audience make it a blind spot. For the world outside the Pacific, it is always there but very easy to miss and it exists only when you pay attention to it.
Then there is the issue of connectivity. The Pacific islands feel like such far-away remote places unless, of course, you are from Australia or New Zealand. But, come on; as far as the rest of the world is concerned, even well-connected Australia and New Zealand feel like they are millions of miles away! For Pacific Islanders, telephone and internet connectivity remains available to some, but not to most, and very expensive.
So here I am, for a month, in Honiara as part of the UNICEF Pacific team. My first impressions? Nice place with a relatively slow pace of life, the city centre is not busy and there are no fast food chains in sight. Personally, I think that is great. People are very polite and friendly. They smile a lot, which is rather unexpected as the country is still reeling from the biggest natural disaster it has ever experienced. Flash floods in early April 2014 affected over 52,000 people in and around Honiara. And when a disaster hits the capital city of a country with limited resources, the government gets so involved in handling the crisis that everything else is paused and the ripple effect of the disaster is felt in the rest of the country. It isn’t a matter of choice but a matter of priority. But life is now, slowly but certainly, getting back to normal.
Over the coming month, I’ll let my writing and pictures of the Solomon Islands speak for the place, its people and the issues facing them. If you are a reader outside the Pacific who is just as curious as I am about this blind spot, stay tuned for my regular follow-ups. If there are any specific topics you want me to explore, drop me a note. As of now, I must agree with the flight attendant. Nice country, good people, going through a hard time.