Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Britain


From the Solomon Islands to the equally oddly named New Britain is but a short journey through bright blue seas scattered with all sorts of fiercely forested islands, large, small and infintesimal. It is odd to see a piece of land protruding from the sea, a piece no larger than a blanket, yet dense with greenery and spouting an incongruous coco-palm like a tall feather on a tiny chapeau. But you get used to it. The climate is so propitious to growth that any handful of earth is a garden.

We sailed into Kimbe in the dark, and loading began in the small hours, so we had just a few hours after breakfast to wander down the tarmac to town. The road was thick with travellers, mostly on foot, for this was Sunday and what must have been the entire population of the area was heading for one or other of the village’s all-embracing selection of churches.
Kimbe is not a large settlement, but its fairly xomprehensive. Apart from the churches, there were a couple of small groups of typical Pacific shops, selling everything that’s cheap (and half an aisle of soaps!) and including no less than four ‘beer shops’, the general stores with guards on the doors to discourage the innocent (?) local incomprehension of the words ‘private property’, the usual administration buildings and rather more businesses (all closed) that I’d have expected in a place this size. The dwellings, outside the centre, were tidy and well-built and many featured a small wayside stall at the bottom of the garden. The one next to the first church I passed was selling betel nut. But all in all, Kimbe had a nice air of small solidity about it.

It didn’t take long to do the rounds, to the same barrage of hellos and good mornings and smiles I’d enjoyed in Vanuatu, and – having successfully avoided (just) being sprayed by the sudden squirts of betel-juice which are a hazard of any group of people -- we were back on board ship before the sun climbed too high in the blazing sky.

My memories of Kimbe. The handsome, smartly-dressed and well-spoken young Micronesian with his three piccaninnies and a splendid smile, who, leaping from the back of his pick up truck, struck up conversation with me at the Assembly of God Church. His warmth, sincerity, and his evident pride in his town and his church. The little girl, carrying her littler brother out from the Catholic church with grown-up seriousness and responsibility. And the small boys, laughing in such wonderful, carefree fashion as they scrambled up the mooring ropes of the ship just for the joy of the game.
Kimbe is OK. I just hope the rubbish man comes on Mondays to give the streets a wash and brush up. And I hope those laughing lads don’t turn into betel addicts. I fear, alas, that it’s a forlorn hope.

No comments: