Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Birthday blo mi! (18 October 2012)

Updating this on Thursday, November 15, but I wrote this entry on my birthday, October 18, so let's play pretend!

Happy birthday to me from Vanuatu! I've been meaning to journal more often but I've been just totally exhausted 100% of the time or too busy storianing with people. Storian in this country is a verb that can mean anything from hanging out with friends to aimlessly talking with people for no particular reason--I spend a lot of time nodding and going 'uh huh' and waiting for other people to think of new topics of conversation. It's great, but rough on my journaling habits, to be perfectly honest. I'm thinking that I'll start journaling during class now, since I like to go jog or wash clothes in the morning, and night time is story time, but this is probably going to be irregularly updated. Fair warning.

I'm in Tanoliu village now of north Efate, after spending a week at IDS Skripja Yunyon Baebol Kamp, about twenty orthirty minutes outside of Vila. IDS is already kind of a blur, to be honest--it was really ncie to have all of the volunteers together, especially since I love a lot of the health volunteers, and they live in Malafau village--but I was jetlagged as hell and it was a lot of boring, heavy, long stuff. You know, like health classes focusing on diarrhea and the prevalence of chlamydia in this country ... Not exactly information that's fun if you'd rather be sleeping. Probably the only session that is still really memorable was a session discussing the differences between Ni-Vanuatu and American relationships, but I'll save that for another post (maybe when I can talk about kriping as well). In addition, I've never felt like a particularly picky eater before, but sometimes during meals at IDS (and once or twice at dinner here in Tanoliu) I've found myself fantasizing about being an explorer with Ernest Shakelton or being a soldier during the Civil War or the Korean War, eating hard tack with weevils and gnawing on salt pork, or choking down some kimchi somewhere and thinking about my mom's casserole back home in Kansas, or something. It surprisingly helps minimize my whining. But yeah, food here in Vanuatu generally isn't all that great--very bland, tons of carbohydrates, not nearly enough vegetables or maet, although I'm thinking I get my 2-a-day of fruit usually (mostly all papaya, although I ate a mango today!! Ate it off of the edge of my non-stick knife and felt pretty much like a barbarian, not going to lie.)

Breakfast at IDS: Huge pieces of French bread that some mama had hacked apart with a bush knife, spread with butter and jam/peanut butter/nutella. Popo (papaya), occasionally with coconut flakes, but usually not, and never with lime. (Side note: they call both limes and lemons here "lemon", except when they call it "citron." I asked my host family if they eat popo wetem lemon, and they said yes, but so far I have never seen this happen. Strange.) They also had Lipton tea (gold standard here), Nescafe, boxed miilk, Milo, and what they called juice. Milo first--Milo is like Ovaltine, except not so sweet and not so chocolatey. You add sugar but it still doesn't really taste like anything. I've been drinking like 2 cups a day of it--maybe it will grow on me. Also, what they call juice here is what we'd refer to as squash, or drink--it's like concentrated drink mix, and it's usually mixed with lots of juice, little water.

Lunch and dinner at IDS were baically the same. It was usually boiled rice, boiled kumala or taro (the taro being undercooked for your optimal gastronomic enjoyment), slightly curry-flavored beef of chicken stew, usually with potato and island cabbage, and some type of salad. The salad was usually either a riff of coleslaw (slightly sweet with shredded carrot and green/red cabbage) or cucumber/tomato nomo. Sometimes (usually actually) they'd have lap lap or simboro, but not always. Thank God.

I'm going to be totally honest here. So far here in Tanoliu, I've only admitted to disliking one thing--and that is lap lap. Simboro is also pretty revolting, but I'm going to learn how to make it this weekend, and that means that I'll have to choke it down. Lap lap, however, is like the devil's food. It's either manioc, banana or taro grated, put inside a pot, and gently cooked over warm rocks. The result is a gelatinous mass that's hard to swallow, smells faintly musty, and tastes worse than it smells. I honestly loathe lap lap. I've tried it like ten times, I don't like it, and that's where I'm planting my flag--never surrender or retreat. (Simboro is virtually the same, except you put the mush inside island cabbage leaves and steam it. After steaming it, you pour fresh coconut milk on it. Usually my host mama makes it a good four hours before it's time to eat, meaning that it's gooey, and it a bad way. Still, it's better than lap lap.)

Onto lighter topics: so IDS is a Christian campside usually used for youth. It's right up against this great beach: walk along a small path through palm trees, and BAM: coral. The first day we arrived we all went down to the beach and it was just so shocking .... I feel like I'm writing a mash note here, but since the joke is that Peace Corps Vanuatu is an integral part of the Beach Corps, I might as well admit it: the best part of this gig is the solwata. I go all the time. It's like living in tropical island paradise--it's completely unfair. I have no idea what I did to get sent to this country, except that Vanuatu has basically the last available staging date in 2012. It's incredible and I go maybe three or four times a week? Just wonderful. In Vanatu, women usually wear a tshirt, board shorts, and a sarong called a lava lava to go swim in -- the lava lava comes off right before you go into the water -- and you can just go for however long, doesn't matter. You also have to wear thick soled shoes here since either a) you could cut your feet on coral or b) you could step on a stone fish and die. But the beaches here -- it's nothing like I've ever seen before. Have to put pictures up--just amazing.

[Have to stop typing this now since I have to go on the bus back to Tanoliu -- hopefully I can update more really, really soon, two weeks from now. May or may not have internet access between now and then--depends on if I walk to Wahoo Bar anytime soon. If I don't: still love and miss every one of you so much, and I'll get back here two weeks from now.]

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 2012 in Vanuatu

I arrived in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on Sunday, October 7 at about 11 a.m. local time. I had a long and mostly boring trip from Los Angeles (where I had my staging) through Auckland and onto Port Vila, except for one minor disaster. The Air New Zealand staff in LA made me check my rolling suitcase, which happened to carry not only all of my electronics (eep!) but also my island change of clothes. (!!!) Background info: Although the rules about dress in Port Vila are different than they are in the rest of Vanuatu, it's not common for women to wear shorts or trousers, unless they're gardening or swimming--some sort of physical work. Even then, most women wear men's board shorts rather than anything more close-fitting, and in many villages, in public places women will tie a lava lava (like a sarong) around their waist on top of their shorts, anyway. At the time, I happened to be wearing ancient yoga pants, a tank top, and this old sweatshirt from Kappa booth my freshman year, and I had this horrible image of showing up on the first day of my stay as like the antithesis of a team player. You know: Hello! I have arrived! And I am not going to listen to any of your puny taboos about dress! Luckily, Katelynn (another trainee) had the dress she'd worn on the night before staging tucked into her carryon, so she was kind enough to let me borrow it. Crisis avoided. Whew.

When we flew in over Vanuatu, the landscape looked incredibly gorgeous from out the window. The joke is that Vanuatu isn't Peace Corps, it's Beach Corps, and the beaches did legitimately look incredible. It was shocking to finally sweep down over this totally verdant countryside: palm trees everywhere, and so, so, so green.

The airport in Port Vila is tiny. I'm not exactly certain how many runways there are, but there is exactly one baggage carousel in the entire country, if that says anything. At all the other airports throughout the country (and air is a major form of travel throughout the islands), you have to wait on the tarmac and pick up your baggage yourself. As Peace Corps volunteers, we got to go through the residents' line, so immigration was quick, and since I don't think anyone declared anything during customs, we got waved right through. I personally lied like a rug; I brought about 25 lbs of spices and food with me, and I'd heard stories that customs sometimes takes things, even though it's mostly meant to be an anti-drug and anti-foreign plants deal. So yep. Shhh.

When we got outside, we were greeted by a line of staff and current volunteers. It was pretty much a blur, to be honest--they gave us a lava lava, which is like a sarong, a sulu sulu, which is like a lei, except made out of leaves and therefore itchy as hell, and a green coconut to drink from. We shook everyone's hands, took a few pictures looking incredibly gross and greasy, and one of the volunteers from G23 who was on her last week obligingly whacked open a few coconuts with the blunt side of her bush knife. Afterwards, we all headed into taxis with one or two volunteers (Betsy and Elyse from G24 were our guides) and a staff member (I forget ...) for a quick drive through Vila.

Vila is pretty small and the amenities vary widely. I heard that at the food stands behind the Mama's Market, you can get 2 or 3 meals' worth of island kakae--sweet potato, rice, and meat with sauce--for like 350 vatu, or like $4. But if you go to a resort or a nice restaurant, you might as well just open your wallet and let them just take everything out, since they're going to, anyway. Vila is not actually a cheap place to live or stay by any means -- it's an island economy, meaning that they have to carry everything in. Prices for food are about the same as they are in America or more expensive. Chocolate, for example, is really sas we -- really expensive. A big bar of Cadbury can cost you about 680 vatu, or like 7.50, 8$. But like a beer at a bar can be like 4.50 vatu, or like 5$, and a can of Coke is like 80 vatu at the store, like 85 cents. On the other hand, clothes here can sometimes be really cheap--you can get an island dress for like 800 vatu, or only a little more than the price of a big chocolate bar, and I just bought a skirt today for 500 vt. (Today being date of typing, rather than date of the story.) Anyway, slight digression aside, Vila is an interesting place. It's more western than the rest of Vanuatu--sometimes you'll see Ni-Van women dressing in short skirts or shorter shorts--but it's definitely a split kind of a place, with very different amenities for Ni-Vans, expatriates, and tourists, all of whom have different price points they're willing to uphold. Also interestingly, it has a very different racial makeup than the rest of Vanuatu--there are a large number of Chinese immigrants in Vila, many of whom are small business people, running stores generally known as 'Chinese.' If you go to a Chinese shop, they sell all sorts of dry goods--clothes, pencils, ipods, soap, light bulbs, plastic containers, bush knives, cups--basically anything, but the quality can vary widely.

Some of the Chinese goods are really great--I bought these great Chinese pens at the stationary store--but sometimes they can be pretty shabby.

 After our drive through Vila, we headed over to IDS Skripja Yunyon Baebol Kamp for a week of Bislama learning, basic medicine, and fun/games. Time for another blog post! Hopefully I'll be able to put something up in the next week or two, next time I get internet ...