By Emmanuelle Mangalle
I spent last month (January) at home on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal. Despite being on the same island as Honiara, it was totally different. The geographical remoteness and the limited access to communication technologies (internet, phone, radio, etc.) was liberating. It was very different from the ‘lockdowns’ in Honiara. When news about the Covid-19 community infections in Honiara was announced on the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), our communities responded. In my village, our chiefs imposed safety measures and last week imposed fines for anyone who breaks these measures. They stopped social gathering such as the Sunday services, village meetings, and ‘kale kamagha’ (visiting of relatives).
On the other hand, they encouraged individuals to keep cultivating and naturing their food gardens while continuing to plant and maintain cash-crops. Perhaps this is part of a post-Covid-19 recovery plan, although I am not sure if we are going to recover or not. But, it was encouraging to see the community measures that have so far been instituted to control the spread of coronavirus, which causes Covid-19. In the next village further down the Tina River, the community has also imposed similar safety measures. But last week two boat owners from that village breached the rules and came to sell betel-nuts at Marumbo/Komibo area, about 2-hours’ drive west of Honiara. I am not sure how the village elders will handle the situation. Such behavior increases the risks to our rural communities. Other communities along the Weather Coast such as Marasa (Wanderer Bay Ward) and Avuavu (Longu/Avuavu Ward) and those in the Moli Ward have also responded to the news about the spread of the virus., They imposed safety measures and mechanisms for enforcement. In Marasa, for example, they have put in place heavy fines for anyone who breaches these “unwritten” rules. As usual, the ones likely to break these rules are those returning from Honiara and other Covid-19 hotspots on Guadalcanal and who are likely to be carriers of the virus. There were rumors circulating at home that a ship and a barge distributing constituency materials two weeks ago might have had Covid-19-positive individuals onboard. I am not sure if this was true. But if it was true, then it is likely that some villages along the coast might already have positive cases. In the meantime, the Guadalcanal Provincial vaccination team has been busy vaccinating people and will be doing random swabbing during their next vaccination rollout, which will start soon. In the meantime, the communities are taking measures to stop the spread and villagers are adhering to these measures. It was encouraging to see these communities organizing to protect themselves. In terms of the Covid-19 outbreak, I truly believe that if our people (including other provinces) return to some of our cultural practices, especially subsistence agriculture that will ensure we are not dependent entirely on imported food, then we could restrict the spread of Covid-19 in rural communities. It would have been great if that was built-in as part of our preparations in the past two years. But it is now a bit too late. Apart how these community responses to Covid-19, there were also challenges. The only health facility available near my village is the Mbabanarika Clinic. However, as always it is rundown with only a few supplies of mostly malaria and painkiller medications. There are only two nurses for a clinic that serves about 3,000 to 4,000 people. There were also personal challenges. I lost my dad and grandma within a month and an uncle late last year. Last month I lost a cousin brother and cousin sister (they all died with illness –not from Covid-19). It was a truly tough time and these experiences made me think more about life/death in a more metaphysical way. After their funerals we went back to our daily lives. While at home, on most sunny days, I usually join the boys roasting bananas and fresh water fish over open fires along the rivers. An uncle built a bamboo pole as a wireless antenna to get a good coverage of SIBC for the 5:00pm Covid-19 updates and 6:00pm news. After those programs, we would take the batteries out of the radio to ensure it had a longer lease of life. Some days we played soccer on the sandy river banks, or ‘water-say in’ game with my little nieces and nephews. For prizes we had green coconuts, melons, pineapples or sugarcanes. If someone was fortunate enough to call a relative in Honiara, that would be the story over dinner in the evening. We wanted to hear the news from relatives in Honiara. Most nights, melodious panpipe vibes from the luma (boys’ hut) would fill the air. I also attended two meetings with my elders on two contrasting topics: logging and environmental conservation. Whilst some of our elders want logging, some of us push in favor of environmental conservation. I enjoyed the tranquility (of being closer with nature. No internet was good. It was rejuvenating to get off the grid, especially from the pollutions of social media. I am now back in Honiara because I was required to come back for work. It is a bit depressing to be back. But duty calls, and sometimes we have to make sacrifices to leave our families and comfort zones in these trying times in order to help others in the small ways we can in this grand scheme of life. As Mike Love sings: “So don’t you be a victim Of this society Go and play Jah music Ina Babylon Don’t you give your energy to Fear and anxiety These are your roots, this is your song.”