November 3, 2002 Honiara
Yes, we did get off the rock, on the Compass Rose, Wednesday evening.
Leaving, we keep the two-way radio on all day, listening for reports of the ship’s position. We call the ship a couple of times and remind them that they have 15 passengers waiting here. They keep telling us they will call in for us, so we begin to believe it. When we hear that the ship is at Asimanioha village, we know that it really is going to reach us today.
So clean out the fridge, turn off the gas, wrap the stove in plastic, cut the radio antenna down, shove the lids on the last few boxes.
Use the toilet one last time in a bathroom that doesn’t roll and slosh.
Strap on sandals, grab luggage, head for the beach, sit down and wait.
Pretty much the whole village comes to sit with us and wait to say goodbye.
An hour or so later, somebody out in a canoe waves a paddle. He sees the ship coming. A few minutes later, we hear the heavy thrum of the engines and the Compass Rose edges around the point, and turns in toward the village. Yes, it’s actually going to stop!
But this means that we will actually have to say goodbye. Shake hands, try not to cry too much. Hold my little neighbor Kala one last time. She always runs to me and wants me to hold her. But she is only three. She will forget me and be afraid when she sees me next.
I look into faces, remembering all the kindnesses, the acceptance. The times of loneliness were not their fault; I have nothing to forgive; they have given me everything they could.
I wonder if I have done enough in return, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t. Tears are running down my face, but I don’t care.
The ship’s dinghy whines away from the ship, spins around backwards, and rides in to the beach on a wave. We chuck in our cargo. The last few handshakes and we chuck in ourselves as well. Then the engine revs up and we’re headed out to the ship, watching our friends on shore shrink with distance.
The sea is fine, no problem getting up the side of the ship, ladderless. It’s about 8 feet from dinghy to deck, and in rough seas the climb is quite an undertaking. We’re glad to have a fine sea, to know that we won’t be sick all night long on our last trip out of the village.
Once on board, we find that all the passenger benches under cover of the roof are full. The one cabin on this ship is hot and full of cockroaches and human passengers. So we step over yellow rice bags, and climb the ladder out onto the flat roof. There’s hardly anyone out here on the roof, so we set ourselves up behind a clump of empty fuel drums, a windbreak against the night wind.
The kids immediately set out to explore the ship. The Compass Rose has two decks, plus the bridge, so it's a lot bigger than other ships we travel on. They have to go everywhere, see it all. Pretty soon I see the boys up on the bridge, meeting the crew. I can see Matt inside, pointing at instruments. I know the crew is explaining it all to them. A guy from our village is up there too, so I know they won't come to any harm. They will only make friends and probably end up being given food and drinks.
We have two narrow inflatable camping mattresses. We put these down next to each other, and all six of us will sleep side by side, a family of sardines trying to get a little cushioning from the hard deck. We have a couple of old sheets and some grungy jackets to cover up with, nothing special, because the deck of the ship is covered in old dirt and oil, and by morning, we and all our possessions will be as well. Even now, we are wind-blown, splashed with salt water, sprinkled with sand.
Friends from the village sit with us. Relatives and friends of theirs come to greet them and exchange betel nut. Libby chats with them in Arosi, and they can’t believe a white child speaks their language. One young man keeps laughing and then apologizing, saying, “I’m just so happy when I hear you speaking our language!”
It gets dark and it gets colder and pretty soon we are trying to nest down, kicking each other, pulling the covers off, fighting over the two pillows and trying to fit at least two heads on each one. Finally we settle down and look up. The sky is full of stars, big and low. Under that sky we sleep and wake, get up when our backs are sore, watch the water for a while, the fish jumping all night, then sleep again until sunrise.
We wake up sore and grumpy and wishing for a good breakfast, since we had crackers for supper last night. But it’s crackers again. The kids, since they haven’t seen a store in four months, want to spend some of their allowance and they buy warm soft drinks from the ship’s canteen. It’s 6:30 a.m. I just try not to think about it.
Dirt is ground in under my nails and my face feels like a mud pie. I’m dying for a shower: a hot shower, indoors, with all my clothes off and no one strolling by to chat while I’m bathing.
Mid-morning we arrive in Honiara. Full of noise, taxis, dust, and people. Dry and brown compared to the lush greenness of the village. It’s been sixteen weeks since we were last here in Honiara, and sixteen hours since the ship left the village yesterday afternoon. It feels like a lifetime.