Sunday, 6 May 2012

Vanuatu Monday - Rain and Horses

Last night a thunderstorm swept through the strait between Nguna and the mainland. At times the storm lit the volcanic mountains across the water as if it was midday. The rain followed hard on the heels of the thunder, lashing and slashing the coconut palms and working hard to find the weak points in the roof of the thatched bungalow I'm sharing with Mark. Our one room accomodation sits below a giant fig tree. The trunk and some of the overhanging limbs have the girth of three to five men's linked arms.

Humans and animals are common yardsticks here. Wealth is measured by the number of pigs you own. They are the basis of the customary economy. One can even become a chief on some islands by slaughtering the requisite number of porkers - demonstrating your power and material wealth. Distance is often described as a half day or two hour walk.

On the boat ride over the strait a chief sat beside me reading the words on the outboard motor. He turned to me and asked Why do they call it horsepower? Vanuatu has few horses and their colonial history was not a horse and buggy experience - there were few roads and travel was by foot.  Strangely, at the time the British and French annexed the New Hebrides as a jointly governed condominion, the rest of the world had finished with carriages and was moving to cars.

I explained the concept of horse drawn vehicles using 2, 4, 6 or 8 horses. There was great amusement among the chiefs about the possibility of fifty horses pulling the boat across the strait. Horses don't swim that well, I mused, and surely fifty horses on land would exert more power than this 50 HP engine could harness on the water.

All this was racing through my head as I reviewed the day from beneath my mosquito net and waited for an unpredictable flow of water through the roof above me. I lay awake enjoying the roar of the wind and the thump of rain until the fury eased. The woven pandanus leaf roof held true and I awoke dry and refreshed. Mark had not been so fortunate. He had moved his bed twice to avoid leaks and, sleeping on a hard bed, had not enjoyed the night.

It's still raining the next morning. I haven't seen rain like this in quite a while. It's so heavy that the first few presentations of our five day workshop are almost washed away. No one can hear the speakers so loud is the pounding rain, and the visuals on butcher's paper are almost invisible so dark is the unlit room. 


sarah toa said...

It is lovely reading your Vanuatu stories again, Mr Hat.

Jennifer said...

Love to read the moments you've captured! Roll on!