The problem with street signs in the Solomon Islands is that there aren’t any.
Ok, that may be exaggerating – there are at least two.
My address in New Zealand is neat and concise. An apartment number, street number, building name, street name, suburb, city, postcode, New Zealand. Five lines. Put it on an envelope and it will be delivered to my doorstep. Put it into Google Maps and you’d find yourself on my doorstep.
This is not the case in Solomon Islands. Without any street names, finding somebody’s house is the bane of every house-party goer in the Solomon Islands. Put it on an envelope who knows where it will end up. Put it on Google Maps… good luck with that.
Addresses here are not neat; they are sentences, more often paragraphs, frequently amusing, mostly long-winded, almost all the time frustratingly sparse (not to mention questionable grammar and spelling mistakes). These address are often accompanied by hand-drawn and definitely not-to-scale maps, photos with arrows and symbols scribbled on them, or a screenshot of a GPS location marker.
In the Solomons, the location of your abode is limited only by your creativity.
Our past address went something like this:
Go up pothole road. When you reach the market at the top turn left down the road for about 1 km, count four betel-nut stands on the left and there will be a road on the left. If you pass the school you’ve gone too far. Do you know where the old green water tank used to be years ago? It’s the road opposite that. Go up a crappy dirt road and there is a compound with a green fence. Our house is on the opposite side to the right a bit. It’s a driveway with a red bin –wait, no our bin got stolen. Look down a driveway for a two-storey brown house. Pretty easy to find really.
This is why Solomon Islanders don’t have penpals.
Describing where you live here is all about landmarks, landmarks, landmarks.
Everyone lives next to something:
“Past the Chinese gate.”
Colours are important:
“We live in the blue voli house. Not the blue voli house where Sam lives, the other blue house.”
“It’ll turn into a dirt road. There will be a big cluster of potholes just before the green canteen.”
Other friends’ houses:
Do you know where Jack and Jill live? We’re two houses down, green house.’
Friends who don’t even live here anymore.
“Do you remember Jane and Joe. We’re at their old house”.
The sea is useful:
“The white house, seaside.”
The old Mambo Juice that moved two years ago yet the sign remains:
“Go up the hill at Mambo Juice.”
Sometimes the landmark has totally disappeared.
“Where the green water tank used to be.”
“Not the road with one plastic bag, but the road with the stick with three plastic bags.“
“You’ll see a pile of burnt out cars.”
“The potholes have been filled in but the neighbors have made a new speed bump.”
“White house. I’ve told the guard to let you in.” (But then he doesn’t)
And if you’re trying to find a WWII museum, we’ve discovered that all WWII museums are always down roads with long grass on either side.
Conversely, my coworkers got completely lost when they visited Wellington because the landmarks there weren’t leafy enough.
“I don’t know how people from Wellington know where to go, there aren’t any mango trees to tell you where you are.”
For me, I’m still a ways off from using fruit tree navigation systems but I tried to stick up for my country. “Concrete buildings are our mango trees,” I tried to reason with them. “Every building has a different render and shade of concrete just like mango leaves, you just weren’t paying attention.”
They weren’t convinced. If one of them were ever to blog about it…
The problem with mango trees in New Zealand is that there aren’t any.