Hannah is an Administration and Communication Assistant on VSA's UniVol programme in Solomon Islands. She worked on the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts and has now moved on to a new role with the YWCA, focussing on helping women and girls reach their full potential.
Published on 18th July 2012
When we first arrived in Honiara, everything was pretty new to me. There were no road signs explaining where each suburb was, so I spent the first couple of weeks completely confused as to where anybody lived. There are no supermarkets for one-stop shopping, so I didn’t know where to go to get spices/ toilet paper/ bread etc.
However, one of the biggest challenges was that I couldn’t speak any Pijin, so conversations with people were pretty hard. Although everybody at work speaks great English, a lot of other locals don’t speak much at all. It wasn’t a problem for long though, as VSA organised several lessons with Ana, a great language instructor. These lessons were enough to give us the basics of speaking Pijin, so that we quickly gained the confidence to start conversations that were longer than exchanging “Hellos”.
After a month of developing my Pijin skills, four other volunteers and I went to stay at Rouna, a small village about thirty minutes out of Honiara. The adults spoke limited English, and the younger children didn’t even speak Pijin yet – they only knew the local language. It was fantastic to be able to speak enough Pijin to understand being welcomed into their home. After exchanging introductions and singing, the afternoon was spent listening to stories and learning to weave banana leaf baskets. We swam with all the children, an activity which doesn’t require any language to be awesome! The following morning we attended Church with the entire family at the larger village across
the road, and while the songs were in English, the service was in Pijin (although I have to admit I missed most of what he said!).
While we were being driven back to Honiara that evening, I knew we had made some friends we could continue to visit throughout our time in the Solomon Islands. It’s true – we recently visited armed with banana cakes that were VERY well received by the children, some of whom had never eaten cake before.
Everyone at Rouna village would have been friendly regardless of whether I spoke Pijin or not; but sharing a language allows you to understand people on a deeper level. We were able to move past polite introductions, and discuss things like cooking, land issues, and our cultures. My Pijin is still very limited, but as it improves, I hope my relationships with the Solomon Islanders I know improves too.