S. S. House Vol. 7

Gurus in India say that a man’s life should be divided into four equal parts: age 0-20, education, learning; 20-40 production, growing things, building things; 40-60 giving back to others; 60-80 resting and receiving from others. I’m in the third stage and have decided that one approach is to choose a local family and help them improve their situation, hopefully to our mutual benefit. They get some money and get raised up a bit and I get loyal, hardworking and grateful partners in my project (plus of course the emotional dividends of the joy of giving). I selected Jacques (or maybe he selected me) for a few reasons. First is that he and his extended family are local, they’re squatting on land that’s not theirs just down the way from my project. Second is that they’re from Tanna, that magic island that’s close to my heart. The Tannese are underdogs here in Efate, they don’t have any lands or status, and Jacques’ family lives here at the pleasure of the Eretap chief who controls the area. The Tannese were first brought here during the struggle for independence, the Francophone community did not want independence, the French had convinced them they would continue to take care of them in the colonial manner. But the Anglophones wanted independence, and brought the Tannese over as head breakers. People died, and Man Tanna still has the reputation of solving problems with his fists. They say when you fight Man Tanna “you have to fight the whole island”. They’re underdogs in a place full of underdogs, I figured I wanted them on my side.

What I’m aiming for is to be a bit of a “venture communist” and I think it’s starting to work. Before I came along, my crew had only dug ditches and done gardening, earning the minimum wage of 150 vatu per hour (about $1.50). I immediately started them at the princely sum of 200 vatu per hour and let them know that as their skills improved so would their wages. Building the forms for the concrete was the ideal chance to teach them how to use electric drills and saws, with few worries if the wood was not cut or drilled perfectly. I have never seen keener or more earnest learners, hanging on every word from Mr. Mark and jumping at the chance to learn something new. Jimmy especially takes huge pride in doing things perfectly and applying his learnings. Once in a while I heard the whine of a tool not being used properly, a saw binding in wood or a screw being stripped, and they always immediately looked over at me. A patient (and sometimes impatient) lesson followed, and now that we’re ready to cut the wood for the house I have a confident, reliable, trained crew. I’ve bought them each a few tools, hammers etc, which they use with pride. On payday they shyly ask me for a ride into town, originally I thought it was to drink kava with their earnings but oh no, it was to buy washing powder, a 20kg bag of rice, maybe a pair of socks. So their weekly paycheck of 80 or 100 bucks gets applied directly to some basic human needs (which shames me a bit as I retire to my clean dry house with broadband and refrigerator and clean sheets).

Jimmy takes pride

Marx put it this way:

After the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly- only then can the narrow horizon of the bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs…

Also Matthew 25:15

And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one…and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. Neither was there any among them that lacked; and great grace was upon them all.

Before anyone concludes that I must be losing it in the tropical heat, I would ask whether we really think hyper-capitalism is working out for the greater benefit of mankind. Marx’s main complaint with capitalism is that money tends to accumulate over time in fewer and fewer and bigger and bigger piles, so the wealth and power of society accrues to fewer and fewer individuals…sound familiar? In ancient times they understood this, and every 75 years there was “Jubilee”, when all debts were cancelled and all slaves were freed, this brought things back into balance for a while. I don’t have the answers but I know we’re not asking the right questions.

Another new experience this week. We had a small earthquake, I happened to be lying on my back on the ground so felt it really well. Later that day I heard what originally felt like a jumbo jet taking off. Then it went down to that deepest basso profundo note, the one you may have heard in science class (or your son’s cruiser car) at the lowest range of human hearing. There was no shaking at all where I was, all I got was this incredible long deep musical groan of the Earth, stomach grumbling as she digested a few million cubic metres of solid rock. I’m glad I put that extra steel in the foundation concrete after all.

Looking forward to my family joining me in just a few weeks. Robinson Crusoe’s main complaint was loneliness, he managed for 24 years so I’m sure a few months won’t hurt me. My Skype name is Rokjok7 in case anyone wants to reach out, hint hint, best time is 5-6 AM Vanuatu time. Love to all!

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