Some time ago a young woman talked to me about her recent Student Exchange.
June at about 19 was invited to be part of an exchange which involved her going to Melanesia …somewhere (she was unclear exactly where).
Anyway she boarded an aircraft in Sydney and arrived In New Guinea where her sponsers (don’t ask) told her to board another aircraft to (somewhere).
Upon arrival she was met by friendly smiling black people who took her down to a wharf.
There she was handed aboard a large canoe with smiling people all ready to row. June greeted the mouths full of gleaming white teeth with no real expectation that they would understand…and although there were smiling greeting talks…there was no other bridge of communication.
Four hours later the canoe arrived in total black darkness at a shelly beach.
Very tired, she welcomed the firm black hand that helped her from the canoe and led her up the beach and along what seemed in the enveloped blackness to be a sandy track.
By starlight and imagination she walked up into a ‘place’ …where the kindly people bade her by suggestive inference to lie down on what was a reed-type mat.
June retired gratefully on the reedy mat and spent four hours in exhausted sleep. The other hour was spent in wishing her padding was more appropriate.
Then with the grey of dawn she sat up and noticed all the activity…movement…the smoke of fires…the laughter…the…Activity!.
She lept out of…erm…bed…and went to look for the Activity. “This will be the first day of my exchange experience! It is so exciting!”
She went down out of the hut which was a long high communal living area, and approached some women sitting around a fire. They greeted her with big smiles and invited her by gestures to sit on the sand with them. She listened avidly to their conversation but was unable to understand it.
After a while she arose and went down to the beach where the men were leaving in their canoes. They had spears and what appeared to be fishing lines, and nets, and they set off to sea with a great commotion of shouts and merriment.
Then June sat on the beach while the mens’ canoes became specks where the beautiful greeny blue lagoon met the roaring waves on the reef.
After a while she went back and sat down again with the women. They were still chattering and clearly discussing the exciting things that were to happen today.
Three hours later they were still clearly discussing the exciting things that were to happen today.
Three hours later the men returned and the women went down to compliment the men on their skill and take the catch for tonight’s dinner. Ah, Fish Entresse or Delice perhaps? No? Oh alright, fish-whatever caught in a canoe thank God.
After dinner it was Sun Down WAP! Darkness…and to bed …Perchance to Dream.
Next morning June arose with the nimbleness you can only imagine from sleeping on a reed mat, and went to join the crowd. What’s going to happen today! It’s so exciting!
She went to the ladies’ group. She went to the Mens’ Launch. She went around gathering coconuts trying to be a good citizen.
She thought “tomorrow will be different.”
Even the warm wind was persistent. Day after day it blew from the sea across the coconut trees making them sway and rustle and occasionally drop coconuts.
One day, after a long time…it may have been days or was it weeks… June had learned enough to understand that the women were to confront the men about a matter that troubled them. The men “Wouldn’t eat enough to justify all the womens’ cooking time”! This was a terrible issue! It demanded a major round-table or round-fire confrontation!
Afterwards, it had been made clear that all must consume within their ability and peace was restored.
By this time June realised that leaping out of bed to look for the exciting activity would be to no avail.
So she adjusted her internal time-clock and settled back to “Island Time”.
She learned that the most important thing was …well, nothing really. Anyway she settled back.
Then after a period a man came and offered his hand and in respectful pidgin said “we must go”.
So she went sadly down to the beach followed by the crowd, and after tearful hugs all round she was settled in the bow where she looked back at the waving people on the beach until they became specks and were finally hidden by the sea.
To this day she wishes she had “Island Time”.