Monday, April 26, 2010

Gaugin, he went crazy, man; he went all tropicale!

Living the way we do in isolated, impersonal Australian suburbia, where one’s next door neighbours are as estranged as if from a completely different city, it is somewhat disconcerting, and at the same time very comforting to walk into a supermarket here in Samoa where I last did a shop nine years ago, and have the manager casually address me by name and suggest she hasn’t “seen [me] ‘round here for a while”.

Such was our wonderful return (or home-coming) to Samoa last week. Whether it be the owners of a bar, the manager of the bank or the waitress at the best pizza outlet outside Sicily, we found that our absence had been but a blip on peoples’ memories, and that there was little surprise at our return – which in itself is no great bombshell, either, as after only one week back, we can see why there are so many people who once washed-up on these shores with the intent of completing a short-term job, and then heading home, but who wound-up staying forever.

Such as sorry old James Percival (not his real name), Gaugin-impressionist (read: imitator) extraordinaire. Percival’s been here for about as long as anyone can remember; painting scenes from Samoa’s rich mythology in bright, tropical blends, and flogging them off for a bomb to salt-water-crazed yachties and sun-scolded tourists who he manages to convince, despite his dishevelled appearance, that he is Samoa’s premier artist. Well to some extent, this might be true; he’s been here for so long that he may well be the oldest surviving artist, but I’m not sure ripping-off Gaugin’s Tahitian-inspired master pieces makes one a great artist.

To be fair, Percival’s stuff is quite nice; the colours are rich and bright, and the scenes portrayed are both mystical and intriguing, but I think it’s fair to say they would be more appropriately hung in the living room of someone’s beach-side holiday shack than in the fine-art auction houses of Sydney’s Paddington, or Melbourne’s Armadale. He must have taken some pretty crazy drugs in the sixties (or at least drunk too many fermenting coconuts) to have come up with the scenes that he did, but alas, his last original idea must have been at about that time, and since then he has simply been reproducing the same twelve scenes over and over again.

Despite having gone completely troppo some time back, Percival still maintains some semblance of his upper-crust, British roots. True, the stiff upper lip has become a little limp in the humidity, and his mandatory sailor captain’s hat has lost its colour and shape, but there are still strong traces of Her Majesty’s plum deep within his voice box, and he continues to wear button-down long-sleeved shirts, despite the effects that the intense humidity has on his dripping armpits.

He may not have always been this way, however. In fact, at one time, Our Man Jim may have been quite the lady-killer. Samoan-born, New Zealand author, Sia Figuel, in her humorous and occasionally cutting observations about life and love in Samoa’s capital, Apia, mentions a foreign artist who regularly entertained and instructed young Samoan maidens looking to learn the ways of love from an expert in the field, so as to be ready with a few handy skills when the time came for their first dallying with Eti or Sione in the plantations behind the city. Could this have been the great and famous James Percival, or merely a fabrication of Ms Figiel’s in order to enrich her South Seas adventure? If the former, then it most certainly must have been a long time ago, as we discovered during our first drive through Apia last week.

At first we had become somewhat worried about the fate of James Percival when we noticed that the dilapidated Samoan fale (house), whose rotting roof and termite-ridden pillars served as his “studio” for decades, had been torn down to make way for yet another, highly imaginative (big and square) China funded-and-built, concrete business tower.

But alas, rounding the German-built clock tower, there he was, staggering down the middle of the main street, his white hair sticking out in all directions like a rabid dog, his grotesquely swollen, ulcerated legs all bandaged up beneath his thongs, a folio under his right arm and his massive gut squeezing out between the top of his ancient micro-shorts and the bottom of his shirt, crookedly affixed as it was by only half of its original buttons.

Clearly no ladies man these days, but the extraordinary artistic output of Samoa’s self-proclaimed, premier artist obviously continues to relieve unsuspecting visitors to Samoa of their hard currency. It’s good to see that in Paradise, some things never change.

Gaugin or Percival; who would know? Certainly not 90% of cashed-up yachties passing through Apia in the last 30 years. Pic:

Heading credit: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Enema Time

DISCLAIMER: I wrote this some time ago, when I was last visiting; I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing about whether to post it … but here it is.
Ever been constipated? Ever had that tight, bloated feeling in your guts that renders your every movement … your every thought inert as you try to circumvent the ever-growing, gurgling, hardening mass of excrement inside you; trying to ignore it and to get on with daily life, but ultimately, inevitably succumbing to the constant discomfort, not to mention the fear of excruciating agony when it does decide to expel its way out of your comparatively tiny anus?
Constipation renders you a non-thinking, non-acting vegetable … and on top of that, the idea of putting anything else in; anything that might add to the malignant poo-tumour in your colon, more or less disappears.
So spare a thought for poor Ol’ Donkey. I’ve been constipated for near-on two years! That’s right, two years of this growing mass of pain and anguish inside me. Two years of fear that when this finally does come out, it’s gonna smart like fire. But it’s time to purge – this pain and suffering within has stopped me from being able to think straight and to act decisively. It has given me a victim complex, and it makes me whiney and unappealing to people I meet. It has also made me irritable to those around me, and thereby is starting to cause pain and suffering for others … it’s time for an almighty, soap-and-water enema up the jacksie … and here it comes.
I haven’t written much on this blog for nearly a year now. For some of that time, I have attributed my lack of creative output to the birth and parenting of Hambones, but my recent circumstances have made it clear to me that this is just an excuse; it’s not lethargy and a lack of time that has stopped me, it’s my constipation, and its life-deadening impact upon me, that has made me creatively turgid.
In my Donkey way, I have always been careful not to reveal too much about myself on this blog for fear of those I work with and know becoming harmed in some way. I’m not talking about, “Errrr, Donkey said I was fat and dud root, and now all my friends on Facecrock know and I’m a laughing stock” kind of harm, I’m talking about real, physical retribution for people and their families.
But storing all this up in my guts has made me creatively constipated. How can I be expected to come up with jolly frivolities when there is such a horrible story to be told? How can I keep banging-on to the world about new cars, coffee machines, my trip to the dentist, when someone I know has been imprisoned for life on dubious charges for actions that most of us would consider an everyday occurrence? This constipation is painful, and the pressure ever-present. It has resulted in me closing my mind to the intake of new ideas, and new experiences. It has made me bitter and stale, and a shell of the Donkey I once was.
Those who have orchestrated this constipation have done so in their clever way, as they have been doing now for nearly sixty years. But as I again return this week to the place where it all started, I have decided I want my old life back. I want to be Donkey again, so it’s time to tell the tale.
I write this post from a place way up high, but I will not be able to post this from here – it is forbidden. This place is renowned world-wide for its peacefulness, and I lived here once, working with a group of dedicated young people who, despite the obstacles and civil restrictions which control and block their thoughts and actions every day, work for the good of their people. But when their fellow citizens had finally had enough of being told how to think and act last year (as seems to happen every ten years or so), and things went awry for the authorities, Mrs Donkey and I were “asked” to leave almost immediately after we stood, horrified, as a massive line of armed soldiers, armoured vehicles, people movers and tanks (all with their distinguished markings covered in newspaper to avoid identification on film or photograph) moved into the city to “subdue” their own people. What happened that evening, and over the following weeks has never been told, and indeed will probably not be unless something changes in the world of international politics.
But I know some of what happened. I know of three men who were dragged from their families by soldiers, one of whom has never been seen again. He was a colleague of mine, and after many months of no word about his location or welfare, or even whether or not he was alive, it was revealed by the authorities that he had been charged with separatist activities, and has been imprisoned for life.
Another colleague was also taken into custody, where he underwent physical torture and abuse for eight weeks. He has been released without charge, and his scars and bruises have taken the place of his once sunny disposition. He no longer participates in society.
And these are the “sensational” stories. For everyone else, there are the six-men, armed patrols which walk in single-file throughout the city, day and night, overseen by high-tech, infrared Closed Circuit TV cameras (in stark contrast to the ancient buildings on which they are mounted) and armed, roof-top snipers on every corner. There are the constant demands for producing of identity papers on every other corner, and there are the late-night raids on homes under the dubious guise of looking for some unknown person, during which the residents are forced to line-up outside in the below-freezing temperatures, sometimes for hours, as the authorities check and re-check identity papers and ask the same series of questions they asked only nights before.
It must wear people down to be exposed to this on a daily basis. But who would speak-out when there are families and friends to consider if one did? And anyway, who will come to these peoples’ aid? Certainly not the international community; that has been clearly articulated.
I return to this place every so often for short visits, to continue my work with those colleagues who remain. We continue to work for the good of their people – nothing to do with politics, just addressing basic human rights such as poverty, education, health. Since my first return after being ejected, things have become less tense, but still the menace remains, and still people, if you’re fortunate enough to have them whisper a story here or there, will tell you that they are far from happy with their lives.
I was right, it wasn’t easy passing this through my sphincter … and the fear of more pain will exist for some time, as I worry about whether this post will create problems for me or for others. But it is an important story to be told … and I hope it will allow me to start feeling less backed-up, and more open to receiving nourishment. We’ll see…

Monday, April 05, 2010

Back in the Barnyard

In the movies it always comes out of a person's abdomen, but in my case, the alien arrived last week out of my left shoulder; a massive, three-headed, mucous-oozing extra-terrestrial with white-hot fangs and razor-sharp claws thrashing at my Garnier-perfect, Donkey skin. Three hours later, having been seduced by a Grey's Anatomy-type medical intern wearing a pair of cut-off, denim micro-shorts, three-inch heels and a performance-enhancing halter neck who just wanted to get her inexperienced hooks into a bit of Donkey's meat, I found myself drugged and lying prone on an operating table, my erection mashed painfully into the solid bench-top, while the Playboy Bunny gouged the offending alien foetus out of my back by and deposited it into a formaldehyde jar destined for the inaccessible vaults of the CIA's alien research bunkers, deep below the city's streets.

Just my luck, really! For two years now, Mrs D and I have been holed-up in Melbourne preparing for, and then facilitating the arrival of Little Hambones, and doing nothing much more exciting than sniffing the baby's bum every 20 minutes, changing his nappy and nicking up to the swings for a play between poos, feeds and sleeps. And now, on the eve of an all-new, South Pacific adventure, I get abducted in my sleep and done up the bum by a load of randy, Martian holiday-makers from an orbiting cruise vessel, and before long their foetid offspring is making a b-line for the sky through my left shoulder blade, effectively delaying both our intended arrival in a tropical paradise, and therefore by extension, my having anything useful to write about on this blog.

It's been 11 years since Mrs D and I met while working in the wonderful, tropical ideal that is Samoa, and now we're heading there again for a couple of months (this time with Hambones in trail) to work with our former colleagues, and to hopefully re-experience what it is like to really LIVE; which is what it really felt like amongst the most incredible, and yet disturbingly dysfunctional and absurd individuals ever to find themselves confined together on such a small rock.

We'll be interested in returning to see if the Religious Zealot is still managing the National Finances while swelling the borders of his already massive plantation interests (which at last check, totalled almost two-thirds of the country's landmass). We'll be interested to see if the Minister for Transport is still calling the shots, after he moved the centrally-located town bus station 25Kms out of town in order to make room for his new business; the country's only McDonald's restaurant (conveniently for the fortunes of his family, this happened just weeks before the Government slapped a restraining bill on the introduction of foreign fast-food franchises).

We'll be interested to see if the taxi drivers are still requesting to be paid in blow-jobs on Sunday mornings by transvestites skipping church, whether inmates of Her Majesty's Prison Service are still allowed to go home on the weekends so that the guards don't have to work, and to see whether the police still enjoy lying under the mango tree all Sunday afternoon, completely drunk out of their brains, while everyone else in town prefers to be behind the wheel when in the same state.

Yes, we'll be very interested to see if much has changed at all, and I'll be working on making sure, through the re-ignition of DonkeyBlog, that you all get an opportunity to meet the many colourful folk of Apia who prop-up the tropical bars and talk the legs of the stools, or who sell drugs and sex on the sea wall, or who sleep around with this teacher, that pastor or that politician while outwardly condemning their brothers and sisters of the congregation for doing likewise.

Samoa is a hoot; and as soon as this shoulder gash stops weeping fifteen different varieties of pus, I'll be arriving on its sunny shores, and dispatching regular updates. I hope you enjoy them!

The view of Donkey's shoulder just over a week ago. Pic: