The Solomon Blog: Halftime

Halfway done with my Solomon Islands service. Plus a soundtrack to the trip.

It’s August 22nd and I’ve hit the halfway mark of the trip. Thankfully, it’s been a very eventful few weeks since my first blog post. Let’s dive right in:

The 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal

August 7th marked the 75th Anniversary of the United States Guadalcanal Campaign. It was arguably the most pivotal campaign for our fight in the Pacific against Japan in World War II.

A Catholic mass was held at Holy Cross Cathedral, the home parish of Archbishop Chris Cardone. It commemorated the 25,000 Japanese and 7,000 American troops who were killed in 6 months of fighting. Of the 1,500 people in attendance, there were some notable guests who came to the service. To name a few, Prime Minister Manessah Tsogavare, Governor General Frank Kabui, and U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Catherine Ebert-Gray were seated in the first two rows of the congregation. Lucky for me, I was seated in the same row diagonal of the distinguished guests.

The mass was both historic and beautiful. It began with a procession of cultural dancers who lead the Archbishop and alter-servers to the front of the cathedral. The choir was from Sacred Heart Parish in Visale, which paid homage to the bombings of Visale by the United States in WWII. The bombings resulted in some Solomon Islander casualties, as well as the destruction of the cathedral in Visale.

Student Progress

Your boy teaching some vocabulary

As the halfway mark of the term approached, I prepared my students for what every college student loathes: midterm exams. I would say that writing a midterm is harder than studying for one, but I’d be lying. I will never forget the many late nights studying for 20% of a final grade.

My 1st year seminarians have come a long way since our first meetings in July. Through the halfway point, we’ve spent a lot of time on public speaking, essay writing, citations, and grammar.

Each of these topics have presented it’s own set of challenges. Essay writing is not an easy task. It requires preparation, planning, and the fluid transition of ideas from ideas to paper. Teaching these skills was a challenge because of the formalities that come with essay writing. There was a lot of time spent on brainstorming, outlining, and drafting for a formal medium. It was crucial to cover these strategies because of the writing intensive workload they will face during their 7 years at the seminary. In addition, this is the final semester they will spend learning the ropes of English before going full steam into Theology studies, and they were far from the performance benchmark to take these future courses.

For grammar, I took ample time teaching verb tenses, active & passive voice, and vocabulary. In Pidgin English, the common vernacular in the Solomons, there is no past and future tenses nor a passive voice. In order to contextualize these ideas, I incorporated these concepts in each course I taught. Repetition is key.

Public speaking has been the most enjoyable topic to teach. It has also yielded the greatest results since the beginning of the term. Public speaking is an essential skill for priests. Therefore, it was a huge focus for my class. My first-year seminarians have had a ton of practice with public speaking. From reading daily devotions to reading reflections from our writing prompts, the opportunity to practice this skill is an everyday challenge.

The midterms for each of these topics made me proud of the work we’ve accomplished:

  • Not one student failed the English midterm (class average of 90%)
  • The two-page writing assignment reflected the strategies that were covered
  • The class average for the Public Speaking Exam was 94%.

Feast Days & Celebrations

Over the past few weeks, I was able to visit different parishes for their respective feast days. I attended the Feast Day of St. Dominic and the Archbishop’s Welcome Mass at Red Beach.

The Welcoming Feast is a big celebration because when a new Bishop comes to a community for the first time, they welcome him with ceremonial gifts. Upon arrival, the Bishop is met with tribal warriors who ask him if he comes in peace or war. After he declares peace, the Archbishop proceeds to the chapel for mass. When leaving, the Bishop receives gifts from the community. Some gifts include shellmoney necklaces, while most others offer pigs.

Each feast day includes a mass followed by an actual feast. Different than the United States, feast days are the third biggest celebrations for parishes after Christmas and Easter. Also, the food is incredible. It’s Thanksgiving x10. The community spends all night cooking various types of food: from fish to cassava, and most notably a pig roast. The method for cooking the pig is rooted in Solomon Island culture. The pig is wrapped in banana leaves and roasted on hot stones all night. After food, or “Kai-Kai” as the locals call it, there’s an assortment of cultural dancing for entertainment. Each province is represented in these tribal dances.

Soundtrack to my Trip

What’s a trip without a soundtrack? As promised, below is a playlist of a few songs I’ve been listening to on the trip. I haven’t been able to stay up-to-date on new music, so this is the best I’ve been able to do while here. Enjoy!

Keep posted on my third blog post coming in the next few weeks!