Sunday, May 22, 2011
Be alert, but not alarmed
My final, happily humorous observation of the Solomons during this visit relates to that Pacific-wide phenomenon which I have discussed before; the thriving, second-hand rag trade which sees Australia's fashion cast-offs becoming re-born over and over again in the cities, mountains and remote lagoons across the region.
On this visit, I had a nice little chuckle to myself when I saw a middle-aged woman wearing a t-shirt featuring a presumably un-licensed reproduction of a very sultry, short skirted and buxom-cleavaged Smurfette giving one of her male compatriots the come hither stare, beneath the caption, "Let's smurf each other's brains out".
And I also saw a tough looking teen at the market who, for all his mean, former militia-looking appearances, was sporting a Summernats 2008 t-shirt; an annual event attracting a massive gathering of NSW bogans just outside of Canberra that this Honiara bad boy was unlikely to have even heard of.
Of course there were also the usual smattering of (recently ironic) Osama Bin Laden and (never out of fashion) fluffy pink pussy cat t-shirts on this visit. But for mine, the bravest, and most alarming fashion statement came from one of the airport 'security' staff as I was checking-in for my flight home.
Despite recent, somewhat spurious financial reports espousing the economic prosperity of the Sols, the reality is that this is still a dirt-poor country. And when I was living there seven years ago, when the place was still emerging from five years of civil conflict, things were even worse. Back then, the national airline was only just limping along; its schedules being met only when there was enough fuel available to get a plane across the pond and back.
So it's not surprising that while the rest of the world had completely overhauled airport security by 13th September 2001, it took the Sols until 2004 before the entire national air service shut down for a week, and all field-office staff were brought into Honiara (by boat!) to undergo training on the new national civil aviation security and anti-terrorism protocols.
We in the outposts eagerly awaited the return to duty of our provincial Solomon Airlines team from their training to see what the new, highly publicised security regulations would look like. Up until that point, Felix, Peter and Sam's modus operandi had been to don shorts, t-shirts and thongs, and to wander out across the muddy airstrip with a trolley once the engines were cut (although there seemed no need to wait for the propellers to have stopped), and to climb up into the cargo hatch to eject boxes and cases out the door onto the dirty ground.
Post security and anti-terrorism training, things were indeed different. Under the new regulations, Felix, Peter and Sam donned shorts, t-shirts and thongs, and wandered out across the muddy airstrip with a trolley once the engines were cut, and from the cargo hatch, threw boxes and cases out onto the ground. What was different from before? They did all this in flouro safety vests!
Over the next couple of months, the stash of Solomon Airlines safety vests at the provincial airline office dwindled as various family members required new upper-body clothing, and in the end, there were only three vests remaining, so Manager Felix was forced to keep these locked in the office after each shift.
During my recent visit, I was very glad to see that the commitment to safety, security and anti-terrorism remains as strong today as it was all those years ago. I noticed this while I was waiting to go through immigration on my way out last week. At that time, the Solomon Airlines 'security officials' were changing shifts, and the end-of-shifters were handing over their flouro safety vests to the new workers coming on-shift. I reflected as I watched this that the safety vests are indeed a necessary security item, as once removed, the individuals beneath, dressed in shorts, t-shirt and thongs, and with half-smoked fags hanging from their lips, looked much the same as any other young men in the country.
But the best thing about this little transaction of the only weapon in the Solomon Airlines' anti-terrorism armory, taking place as it did beneath a big sign warning passengers that Solomon Airlines treats terrorism very seriously, and that jokes about bombs and hijackings are a prosecutable offence, was what one of these 'security officials' was wearing underneath his bright yellow vest; a black t-shirt emblazoned front and back with the name of a band he'd probably never even heard, 'Megadeth'.
Be alert but not alarmed? I guess I should have been thankful he hadn't been wearing one of the afore-mentioned Osama Bin Laden t-shirts!
It really is amazing [read disturbing] how much of this stuff there is on the internet. Pic: http://orlandonewscenter.com/