S. S. House Vol. 8

By 3 A.M. even the geckos have gone to sleep, I share the house with a dozen or so tiny guys and their call is indistinguishable from someone rapping on glass with a ring. I always seem to be up at this hour, seduced perhaps by the quality of the light as it comes up in this soft clime. The house is within earshot of a “kastom” village, where they’ve seen the things of the civilised world, clothes, money, etc. and decided they don’t want any. Rooster crows from the village come first, c’mon guys it’s not even a little bit light yet, must be a competition to see who gets in the first crow. Then it’s warblers and swifts and mynahs and bee-eaters, and from the porch I can check if any passionfruit are ripe enough for breakfast. The day starts with quiet tasks, sharpening chisels, tightening saw blades, thinking about the work, and for the time and space to do these things, calmly and patiently, I say: thank you.

Time flows differently here, I arrived with my Western ideas of work and progress and continuous action, which lasted for a while but soon unwound to the pace of island life. They’re incredibly strong people here but with zero body fat they don’t really have any stamina, after a hard two or three days they’re out of gas. Our ongoing friendly “whitefella versus blackfella” strength competition always goes to them for the short-burst tasks, lifting, breaking, carrying, but whitefella always wins the distance events (my trump card is to remind them I’m 54 and they’re 24). Saturdays and Sundays are rest days, most of the shops are closed from Saturday noon and the whole place breathes a sigh, makes me think of when we used to do that in the West, too.

The house mouse and I have a truce: I agree not to chase him away or kill him, and he agrees not to run across my feet or make too much of a mess. I do get satisfaction when I see a hawk with one of his cousins in his grip, though, as I did this morning. The hawks are really abundant which I guess means the mice are, too. They’re chubby, nondescript brown birds, and must not taste very good or the ni-Van would have eaten them all by now. Scientists say it takes no more than 300 years after the arrival of man on an island for them to have eaten the large animals to extinction, here they ate the huge horned tortoises as well as all the other alternative menu items to manioc paste and yam.

 Yesterday it was two dozen dolphins who came for a visit, 50 feet offshore chasing minnows, I found myself envying their carefree life. 3 activities: eating, playing and swimming, sounds good to me. I asked Eric if he would eat one, he said “No” but then had that look in his eye I’ve seen before, hmm, there sure would be lots of meat on one of them. I recounted my story of hooking one by mistake during a marlin tournament, which they loved. The reel started screaming, it was my turn and we all assumed it was a huge marlin who decided to dive deep. It was a very rough day and at one point I had two guys holding me in the boat as I attempted to land the big fish, the first run took 600 metres of line off the reel in just a minute or two. We chased it at top speed in our big boat and I was barely able to wind some of the line back onto the reel. Then it surfaced, we saw it was a dolphin, luckily it unhooked itself… but the crew still calls me “Flipper” and says my special area of expertise is “mammals”, ha ha, very funny.

Neighbour Mike told me about landing a big shark, 2 ½ metres long, nothing gets wasted here so of course his crew wanted to take it back to the village. Problem was that nobody had a truck…so they called a taxi. They sat in the back with the big fish in their laps, tail sticking way out of one window and head sticking way out of the other, with a crowd following their progress through town. Fed the village for a week, what a windfall.

That’s all for now.

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