Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Auki Town

The Auki Wharf bustles with people, trucks and ships.

Auki town with a population of 4,000, is the 3rd largest town in the Solomons after Honiara and Gizo. The town centers on the wharf where ships and barges arrive almost every day loaded with passengers and cargo, and the adjacent market. People flock to the market for fresh produce, the daily catch of fish and the latest news. About dozen shops offer rice, the favorite food of the Solomons and a variety of cheap Chinese goods and secondhand clothing. Auki is the capital of the island province, of Malaita; government offices provide most of the employment in the town. The only paved road on the island begins at the wharf and extends about 10 km to the airport. Electric lines run along the main road as far as the hospital, about 3km. Mobile phone service is available, but the villages in the hills surrounding the town are still communicating using drums and conch shells. Schools and churches make up the rest of the services in the town.

Kilufi Hospital, the only hospital on the island, serves a population of 150,000 people with only 2 doctors. The dedicated staff of nurses does the best they can, but only the most basic medical services are provided and medicine is always in short supply. When sick or injured patients can get to the hospital, they must bring their own food and bedding. In the fall, a team of volunteer surgeons from the US will visit Auki with a mobile operating room, the first such visit in many years.

The newest and largest building in the town is the prison, a monument to misguided foreign aid. The state-of-the-art prison, constructed across from the decaying structures of the Auki primary school, was built by the Australian government as part of their program of promoting law and order. The prison cost 70 million Solomon dollars, enough money to build almost 200 news school buildings. The prisoners have a higher standard of living than almost everyone else on the island. One more irony: the first "prisoner," a youth arrested for stealing, escaped within hours by shimmying up a light post, climbing out on the arc of the lamp, and dropping over the razor wire fence to freedom!

The Auki Market

The churches are the most vibrant and active institutions in Auki. After the shops and the government buildings, the road is lined with churches: the Anglicans, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Assembly of God, the South Seas Evangelical Church, the Seventh Day Adventists. The Cathedral of St. Augustine (below) center of is the Catholic life for the town and the diocese.

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