Friday, December 30, 2016

Winning the Lottery in the Solomons

There is a study that shows that happiness levels for lottery winners decline after they win. Part of the reason is that they start getting bombarded with requests for money from relatives, friends, charitable causes--everyone. They can't give money to everyone and having to saying 'no' creates a feeling of guilt.
For me, being in the Solomon Islands creates the same sort of discomfort. In every anchorage, a regular stream of villagers in dugout canoes paddle out to our boat wanting to trade fruits, vegetables, shells and carvings for things they need. They might want clothing, sugar, tinned meat, soap, or myriad other items. They are desperate to trade and it's clear that they have very little.

Often, they have items that we don't want, such as papaya (it's not our favorite, it ripens quickly and a little goes a long way) or other item that we have too much of already. It's very difficult to turn them away with nothing, so often we trade for things that we might have to throw away because we haven't been able to eat it soon enough. We also don't trade for shells, mostly because we don't want them. Another boat that had previously traded for shells was appalled when villagers began bringing live cowries to them. On the other hand, they don't necessarily have much else to trade.

For us, it is important that we trade rather than give items away. Trading allows villagers to offer something of value in exchange for what they're getting, rather than making them feel like beggars.
There is a language barrier and Solomon Islanders are somewhat shy, so it can be difficult to come to an agreement. We don't always have what they want or know if what we have given is fair in their minds.

We enjoy talking to villagers and many times they do have produce that we want, but on balance it has been hard to get used to being a floating Wal-Mart. At some anchorages, the constant interruption makes it hard to get school or other tasks done.
The anchorages are the villagers' backyard (there are always villages in every anchorage and you aren't allowed to anchor in other locations) and we are coming in with our big, shiny boats that are worth more money than most of them will ever see in their lives. We will keep trying to balance doing what we can to help out (fairly) and keeping our sanity.


  1. Come back home and your problem will go away. Trump will take care of everything for you.


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