Letter 26 / 12 / 82
Well, its Boxing Day - we made it through Christmas. A couple of days ago I did wonder if we would.
So, how does a Murray Island Christmas go?
First of all, you spend furiously until the store is denuded of food and toys. Darnley Island (40 miles away, just visible on the horizon on clear days) has run out of food, even though they have two stores - a dinghy came across here yesterday apparently hoping to buy more, but even if there was spare food I don't think they would have let them have any (its not as if anyone was about to starve!).
Anyway, one spends Christmas Eve preparing and trying to rest at the same time. At 11pm the church bell rings - being so close to the bell we went to bed anyway having no fear of not waking up at the right time. Normally when Father Tabo rings the 6.30am bell he gives about 80 'dong's - if he is away, he replacement only rings about 40. But on Christmas Eve Father Tabo was determined to wake the dead with 122 loud 'dong's!
Then there is a Midnight Mass, followed by a procession.
They used to go right through the village and bless each house, finishing around dawn. These days they only go around the church. Then Christmas begins with presents and feasting around 1am. Bleary-eyed kids opening presents, squabbling, and eating sweets at that hour ... we spent the occasion with our old neighbours.
They announced to us during the day that they had presents already, for 'everyone', so we had to scramble around and find them all small gifts - we had already given them presents when we returned from Cairns, so we didn't want to go 'all out'. I wrapped a little bit of home-made fudge for each of the kids - which, as it turned out, they didn't like anyway but I wasn't greatly fussed because I don't feel that we owe them anything at all. We managed to extricate ourselves about 2.30am and flopped back into bed.
Peter is reading over my shoulder and he says, "You make it all sound like such an ordeal, I quite enjoyed it!" It probably wasn't that bad, but today is so incredibly sticky and uncomfortable ... we are all feeling grimy and tired. The water is off again, so we don't want to use up our precious little supply taking showers. And the church service is on so we can't really escape to the beach. After midnight service, and then Christmas service, we didn't feel we could handle any more this morning - we are so close we can hear it all from our house anyway.
Goodness, it does sound depressing, doesn't it. Actually Christmas Day itself was quite encouraging work-wise. We were to have lunch with the same family again, but then they came down and said we had all been invited for lunch and supper with other 'relatives' - our nearest neighbours at this end of the village. We had been wanting to get into that household, but didn't realise they were classed as relatives of ours. It was a lot nicer spending the day with the extended family instead of the same little group, and they have a nicer shade house set-up right on the edge of the beach.
James takes a tumble
James was a model child most of the day in spite of the other kids Wilfred and Margaret's kids). The only child in this household is a 4yr old girl called Rekira. Towards the end of the day James suddenly took a liking to her and started cuddling her. At one stage they were so involved in a cuddle and they weren't looking and fell off a step! Poor James came off worst with his face in the sand and her on top!
Why the principal ran
Anyway, in the course of the day we had quite a few interesting conversations with people, and Peter especially learnt quite a bit from the men about what has gone on here in the past few years - enough to make your hair curl! Island politics are not only very complicated but rather violent and one has to be so very careful not to be involved, which is extremely difficult. It all makes "Drums of Mer" a bit more believable. For the first time we have heard a reasonable explanation of why the last headmaster took to the bush with his family afraid for his life, and why two years later they finally sent out another headmaster - a single chap, on a trial basis. Some of the things we heard yesterday about some of the people who are even now sitting in church singing "He is Lord...", its very hard to work it all out. Of course, we haven't necessarily got the true side of the story even now, but we can piece some things together. We are so glad we are not still living in the 'guesthouse' now. Apart from having nicer neighbours, the whole business about arguing over ownership of that warehouse is in the melting-pot right now and things could 'blow up' at any time.
Going to the coast
Last week we were listening to "
Well, the church service finished so we could go to the water less conspicuously, so we all went down and had a soak in the shallows - James had a lot of fun as usual. It was nice and cloudy, and Peter sat on the beach listening to the cricket on the radio. James would stand by him while he said "Ready ... GO!" and then he would charge down the beach and fling himself into the water next to me, then back up the beach to do it again and again ... he thoroughly wore himself out. So after a little lunch (pressure-cooked sardines on Sao biscuits) he slept all afternoon while us oldies also did a fair bit of lounging around.
A bit of good news this afternoon. The church council has agreed to our proposal about the house. Now we need SIL to agree that this job needs doing, and then we'll see if we can get the house agreement in writing for when the church council and/or priest changes.
The water situation doesn't look good again. Since we've had our tap, the water has only been on three days. Each time it is on for a day then its off again for several days because something has gone wrong again somewhere. Today a group came and filled up a whole lot of dustbins with water from the well near us, something I haven't seen since the pump was fixed, so I hope the pump isn't broken again. If we really are going back to using the wells, then we desperately need some rain to thin out the tadpoles down there.
Wilfred's uncle and aunt who adopted us in Townsville, the Marous, haven't arrived yet. They are still stuck on TI as far as we can tell. Apparently about 40 Murray Islanders came up for Christmas and instead of going on the planes they chartered a ferry so they could all come together (it cost very little less each), a grueling fifteen hour trip. But the boat broke down and they didn't make it, and they missed Christmas. The latest is they will be here on 4th January.
I'm glad you might be able to come up with some egg powder to send us. I presume the eggs here travel up from
Well, the water is on today, so I have filled our barrels (enough water for two days if it goes off again) and I've done the washing ... and then drank three glasses of Salvital to replace the sweat I lost.
James' "-bi" tree
James spent most of the time over the road from our house under the sorbi tree eating sorbi - funny red and white fruits that grow mostly on the trunk of the tree. I imagine they could be quite nice, but at this stage - with the lack of rain - they are very dry and bitter, they draw your mouth worse than rhubarb! Now, of course, James is at my knee with one of his books as usual. They really are his most precious toys. He wants to go down to the "kwa" for a swim, but its sunny today (and muggy as ever) so I would burn in just a few minutes - not James, though, he takes quite a long time before he burns, like Peter. I have been trying to get James to say "water" rather than "kwa", and he has progressed to an occasional "kwati" .
Peter is trying to fix up an outside 'laundry' for me, just a bench in the outhouse to put my bowls on ...
The late news letters
I don't think there will be a plane today, being a public holiday. There was a plane or two just about every day for the last couple of weeks, but they were all charter flights, so no mail or anything. Last Monday the regular plane came early, and in the rush the mail (all the letters I had written!) got left in the store. Our printed newsletters (from
I had better close and get the bread started. It doesn't take long to rise here, no need to warm the bowl or anything! What does slow me down is my little helper!