Her regal serenity is sometimes tested. For instance, Curragh has been known to bog a four-wheel-drive vehicle or get a drenching in the lagoon after tipping over the dugout canoe into which she is trying to climb. When that happens, she'll swear like a trooper. Then she'll break into a hearty, long laugh. Here's an energetic cop, only seven years in the job, who craves action and responsibility but doesn't take herself too seriously. To the smiling, freckled Curragh, this outpost, and the surrounding islands, is an amazing place - "Magical Munda," she calls it now. "But you could easily be isolated and miserable out here," she says, recalling her first impressions last April, when she arrived knowing nothing about the sleepy coastal town that was to become her base for the next three months - and was greeted by rain clouds. Munda is not a place of obvious menace; nor of timetables and hurry-up. The policing style required is more subtle, even though the issues are not: land ownership disputes, domestic violence, alcoholism and sexual abuse. Here negotiation, cultural sensitivity and trust are as important as muscle.
While physical beauty abounds in the wilds of Solomon Islands' Western province, a more realistic eye also settles on the depredations of malaria, the ruinous idleness of youth, the vandalism of greedy loggers, and the frustrating isolation caused by impassable roads. No one lives in this environment without some hardship. Curragh and her Tongan colleagues, Seteone Polutele and 'Isileli Vei Koso, volunteered to be part of the country's Participating Police Force (PPF). Composed of officers from 11 Pacific nations, it's the law-and-order arm of the intervention force known as ramsi, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, that arrived two years ago to save a country heading for the scrap heap. Solomon Islanders were being killed and brutalized by rival militias, while a corrupt political and bureaucratic class, and a rogue Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) force, either stoked the hate or failed to stop it.
The police force has since been purged. Although it remains short of resources, with the help of some 380 foreign officers who now work as advisers it is winning back the trust of citizens. While the so-called "tensions" (which lasted from 1998 to 2003) were mostly confined to Guadalcanal, 400 km away, the Western province experienced food and supply shortages, and the trickle of funding for basic services such as education and medical care ceased. People who could afford it imported men from the neighboring Papua New Guinea island province of Bougainville as security guards. But the practice got out of control, and the hired hands quickly became henchmen and bullies; some are now wanted for murder. Once ramsi arrived, the Bougainvilleans returned home.