23 April 1984

Letter: Island Style Easter

Letter 23 / 4 / 84

Easter Monday, and everyone is at a bit of a loose end. At least its better than Good Friday when no one did anything, not even food preparation, just sat quietly and ate dry damper and had a 3-hour church service - until 3pm when Jesus was buried. They treated it with all the superstition of a normal funeral. I hope no one smelt our bread cooking! It was a beautiful day after weeks of foul weather and Peter was itching to get the boat into the water!

Rough Seas and scary moment

On Saturday we finally did go out in the boat. Our screen tent was still pitched over on Waier Island so we thought we had better go and get it. We left it there after our little overnight - we left in a big hurry because there was a storm approaching. We had been over there several times since we put it there and no harm had come to it, but these recent storms were too much and the screen part had rotted and was all torn.

It was really calm just out in front of the village here, but we found as soon as we got out of the lee of the island that the SE monsoon is definitely here - it was ROUGH! Its one thing to sit in a dinghy holding on with both hands while it hits the waves with a "bang! bang! bang!" ... Its quite another to perch on a metal seat clutching a wriggling child and trying to "grip with your legs"!

Coming back was much worse. With the direction the waves were moving we had to point into them (they were much bigger than us!) which would take us around the back of the island. Then at precisely the right psychological (or geological) moment Peter swung the boat and we whizzed along with the waves - "Unorthodox, but effective! ..." Peter was saying with a grim smile, and then ... "OH, NO!" Suddenly we were over the reef and the tide was lower than it should have been. With split second timing he spun the boat again - we were glad that we bought a reasonably powerful motor!

I think if this baby is to be born at the right time and place I'll leave boating until we return in the "doldrums" season!

"Nowa" and "God"

The "Nowa" (Noah) book is about ready to print. There was supposed to be a meeting Friday afternoon to make a decision about which name for "God" would be used, but not many people knew about the meeting. The Anglican church has been using the word "Ad" - an old language word meaning anchor or rock, also some reference to "outside" or "other". But when it came down to it, only the priest himself was in favour of it - much to his surprise. There is an older word, "Agud" meaning "the true god" - and not refering to their old gods Bomai or Malo or Waiat. It seems they always knew there was a true God but were unsure how to find him. The professing Christians here believe that is the Christian God. The Western Islanders (Saibai Island etc) use a similar word, "Awgad".

Going to Darwin

Less than two weeks to go - its time I started cleaning and packing. Not a great deal to actually pack, but an awful lot of sorting and planning to do. The S family will look after our fowls - we've been keeping them (the fowls) in their run a bit longer each day to get used to it ... still no eggs. The S family are not looking forward to 5 months without us, especially without James to play with their girls.

Alison has finally drifted off to sleep so I have a precious hour or so to rush wildly from room to room ...

22 April 1984

Letter: Nowa Book

Letter 22 / 4 / 84

I'm sitting up in bed writing - Peter is out working again tonight and I always try to wait up for him but no matter what I do I can't seem to last longer than about 9pm.

The "Nowa" book in Meriam Mir is finished, it seems, and he is trying to get it done in Torres Strait Creole too. So he's been working most mornings and nights - in the afternoon he (and James) go and try to catch us some protein off the beach.

Dry dock

The boat is in dry dock - Peter's got the motor on a special stand he built for it (he's getting quite handy at carpentry) and he's just serviced it - book in one hand, grease gun in the other. It took a bit of moving - it weighs 45kg - so he's not keen on moving it again ... but he's not sure if he can last another week without going out in the boat.

The dry season - or SE monsoon - is definitely with us. Not good boating weather. After last week when we nearly came a cropper on the reef, I'm not keen on going out again for a while.

Alison's little limp

School holidays (including Easter) are finished - James was glad to get back to kindy today. He and Ali play so well these days that she does really miss him when he goes to kindy - but she does get a good nap when he is out.

She stepped on a bitie ant or something today. Didn't cry, just grizzled and acted like she had ants in her nappy. It took me quite a while to find the source of her annoyance ... then all of a sudden she came out in hives. Her little foot swelled up tight - it was rock hard! (These ants also make me swell up when they bite me, though it hardly hurts at the time, just itches.)

Anti-histimine and a bicarb paste dealt with the hives but then she was miserable because she wanted to run around and couldn't without her foot hurting. She eventually developed an effective little limp and was much happier.

Mail planes

I don't know whether last week's letter went. Four planes - or the same one four times - came and went, and they completely forgot to bring any mail.

The wretched "Islander" (10-seater) plane has broken down - again - so they were running around in a 5-seater.

As well as the usual passenger quota, it was a doctor's clinic day, and they always bring extras like the bug-catchers from the DPI or whatever, and the S family of 4 plus their 4 visitors were meant to go (at short notice) to TI for a seminar ... it was a busy chaotic day on the airstrip!

Sleepies ...

I can feel 9pm creeping up on me. Bed is not a good place for letter writing when you have an achy back either. Haven't got much packing or anything done yet - I can't seem to get ahead of today's needs, know what I mean?

Once small corner of the kitchen has been sorted through and cleaned. And I've oiled my dear old sewing machine and popped it down into its special hidey hole - I suppose it likes being upside-down. I really do enjoy using it, its somehow more fun than electric.

Going down your leg

Only seven more days to go now - James can hold up his fingers to show how many. He talks about when we go to Cairns, and when we go to Darwin, and when the baby comes out - and seems happy about all of it. He says, "I got two babies now, one inside your tummy and one here."

Sometimes he pokes me and says, "Lookout, the baby's going down your leg now!"

He's very proud of being able to take his own shirt (and pants) off - though buttons are still a problem - and he can put his own pants on!

"Look, this big bottom here!" he says, implying that he has the big bit at the back, though he is often wrong.

"I a big boy now!" he says in his funny Islander accent.

We have little patches of defiance, but he's much more settled these days.

Alison is open and friendly with islanders - especially the men (she's a bit of a "Daddy's girl" these days), but has been very obviously ill-at-ease with any whites we've had recent contact with. I guess its to do with voice tones, and general movements rather than actual skin colour. Peter tends to move and talk more like an islander these days - they have a slow, gentle way about them.

The first duck egg!

On Sunday morning I found an EGG - ducky egg, sort of greeny-brown in colour. We saved it till Monday, but there wasn't another so we ate it - shared 4 ways! Then we found another one after breakfast! Then today there was number three, so there were 2 eggs for breakie - really tasty too.

Creole Translation

The "Nowa" translation in Creole caused some excitement among school kids - they found they could read it straight off. So I guess we'll get some of those printed off too ...

Butterfly man

A naturalist guy, doing some vague study of flora and fauna here, is making a real nuisance of himself - availing himself of our hospitality. Hanging around at tea-time ... then after dark he says he has no torch and asks if he can sleep in our translation house. The fact that he is so unspecific about what he is doing (the fact that he carries a huge butterfly net proves nothing as far as I am concerned) and like talking endlessly about controversial issues makes us a bit nervous ... We hope he's just a social misfit and not up to something more sinister. He is supposed to be camping up on the airstrip or somewhere.

16 April 1984

Letter: Snake Tale

Letter 16 / 4 / 84

Friday morning I wandered out to the duck-run, bleary-eyed. They are generally pretty eager to come out once it gets light. My cheery "hello, Duckies ..." was met with stony silence instead of the usual clatter of them flapping and rushing to the door to be the first out to greet the day.

I scraped the piece of tin (the door) noisily out of its slot ...

and there were the chickens all huddled in the back corner with the ducks, all staring at me wide-eyed. (have you even seen a chicken look at you that way - ?!)

In the space near the door where the chickens usually rest was an enormous snake with an unblinking stare fixed on me.

I looked at the fowls again: 4 ducks, 3 chickens. Oh no!

I counted them again several times just to be sure and the answer kept coming back the same: 4 ducks, 3 chickens, 1 snake.

I ran inside and woke Peter, and he stumbled out bleary and confused, grabbing the pitchfork, mattock and chopper (the one we use for cutlet-ing fish) on his way past the shed.

It was hard for him to know just how to attack the snake as he had to duck into the duck-house to do so. He reckoned he had just one chance, the snake would not sit still for a second strike, so he chose the pitch-fork because it had a long handle.

He couldn't persuade the ducks to come out of the run, so he had to leave them there in the back corner.

He jabbed the pitch-fork into the curled-up snake ...

At first the snake didn't react, just looked up sleepily - obviously it had a meal to digest.

Then it tried to head for the back corner where the ducks were huddled ... so Peter set to with the chopper. He figured he might be able to shorten it a bit. (And he had heard that you should go for a python's tail.)

Then it turned and stuck it's head out of the doorway hissing at Peter ... which was when it discovered the mattock, and we all breathed again.

Not wanting to upset James too much - with possible comparisons to his mum's condition (!) - we waited till he went to kindy, then we opened the snake and found the chicken. There it was, feathers and all, swallowed feet first - quite amazing. The snake had viscious-looking poison fangs, so I guess it stuns its victims first.

Peter spent the day carefully patching every single hole in the duck-house so no more snakes can get in.

As it started to get dark the fowls started to get really edgy - food wasn't enough to entice them back into their little house! The chickens were the worst. They seemed to think that our toilet outhouse looked like an inviting place to roost for the night - but at least once they got in there I had a chance to catch them!

School Hols

Today is the first day of the school holidays - we discovered after taking James to kindy and finding it deserted!

Its bird season and a plague of small boys with handfuls of stones like to hang around outside our house (looking up into the huge, ancient almond tree out the front) and they try to hit birds with their stones. Unfortunately, besides the noise they make with their piping voices (while Ali is asleep), they give no thought to where the stone comes back down again.

Then there are the "big boys" or young men with air rifles, and handfuls of little dead birds - and they also give no consideration as to where their rifle pellets end up. But I'm not so game when it comes to sending them packing as I do with the little boys. They seem to have the idea that the (usually very strict) property boundaries don't apply if you are chasing a (real or imaginary) bird.

Translation Work and Weather

Last week Peter had language sessions with three important men - Henry Kabere (chairman), Jack Wailu (councillor) and Fr Nagai Tabo (Anglican priest). Ken Passi was to have come too, but he was drunk. Each gave a version (on tape, then transcribed) of the Noah story to be printed on to a "pre-run" book - a book with the pictures already printed and space to put the words.

On Sunday afternoon they were to have met to discuss the final text ... But it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and RAINED, all day and all night. Not Sydney drizzle but tropical crashing rain.Today it has gradually eased up at last.

It would have been a good setting for the Noah story, but no one goes out in the rain here. So we don't know what happens next. Will these characters turn up for sessions the same time as last week, or has everything just ground to a halt all over again?

Women's business

This is a very different society from ours. The men and women have very different roles. No way will the women be persuaded to take on language work the same as the men with our SIL methods using tape recorders, practising "drills" etc etc. So I have to work on some new strategies.

They are friendly and nice enough, but its hard to get really close to them. One doesn't just go visiting, apparently. I'm thinking about working on a book about food - bread recipes, recipes using local foods, nutrition advice (!) etc in Meriam to get them into the literacy habit. Books just aren't generally for women. It will give me an excuse to go visiting and call on them, researching the book.

Food and weather

The weather has been too rough for much boat fishing these days. Peter just went and bought us some pork sausages for tea - such things are not usually available, but these came in on a plane on Saturday. (7 sausages for $3 sounds reasonable to us, but maybe we have been here too long.)

We've had no potatoes for weeks - and we are getting sick of spaghetti and rice. I've even cooked damper or pancakes for a change a few times. My sweet potatoes grew nothing but leaves, but we found some cassava growing in our back yard so we tried a piece of that - took a lot of boiling, but I'm not too sure I was using the right method.