Guadalcanal is a volcanic island, a ripple mountains and hills that push right up to the sea. The city of Honiara is nestled in a wide bay on the North side, with houses and buildings climbing up the steep rolls of land and into encroaching jungle and acres of tall elephant grass. Build something in the desert, and it will be there for perpetuity. But in the tropics, structures can only hope to rent the land for a short while, until the hungry greenness claims back the ground.
The missionary group we belonged to owned several houses on one such hill, and also a few at the base of it. SITAG kept the houses for teams to stay in when they came in from their village assignments. If we were lucky, our town visit (about 3 months to every 6 spent on Luaniua) coincided with those of other families.
We called all the other adults 'Aunt and Uncle' So-and-so, which seemed very strange to me when we first arrived. But soon we became part of the tight knit SITAG family. All the kids ran in packs, played together, fought together, ate together and sometimes did home school together. We got along better with some families more than with others, and there were the little rivalries, break-ups, arguments and general dysfunction among children and adults that inevitably comes when you get a group of individuals together.
Anyways, during one particular village stay, my mom had chopped off all my hair (another story for another day, but I'll give you a hint: it had something to do with this). By the time we got back to Honiara, it had grown in somewhat. It stood out from my head in frizzy ringlets, poking in all different directions and it was impossible to tame. I was very self-conscious.
I was making my way up the hill to a SITAG friend's house, when two local kids fell in behind me. Now, I have to explain, in the village, everyone knew me. They knew I knew the language, I was sort of everyone's little adopted white kid. In Honiara, though, there were more ex-pats, most of whom did not know the local language or customs, and didn't interact much with the Islanders. So these kids following me now assumed I was 'that kind' of white person, and started to discuss me (literally) behind my back.
"Look at that arokuao," the first one said. My spine stiffened at the derogatory word - the Island equivalent of 'whitey'.
"I wonder where she's going."
"No, I think she's a he," the first kid replied. "Look at his hair."
"You think so? I don't know..."
At this point I stopped dead in my tracks, spun around, and screamed, "Kaikaiem siti bilong dadi bilong iu." Quite literally, "Eat your dad's $h*t."
It was the worst I'd ever sworn in my life. The two kids stood there staring at me dumbstruck, their faces clearly saying, "This arokuao has gone completely off his or her rocker."
I then high tailed it the rest of the way up the hill, weaving my way past clumps of tall grass and up the cinder block steps sunk into the steepest parts. Bashful mimosa growing low along the path closed its leaves to my flying flip flops as I leaped over a thick red patch of spit, ejected from the mouth of some betelnut user. I'd never had that dirty of a mouth up till then, and I don't think I've ever had it since.