Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interrupting for an important announcement ....

When you live in a country without good internet access, you can't hope to keep your blog updated too regularly. But with me, this is going to be exceptionally bad.

At noon today (12 December 2012), I'll be leaving for my site. I will be serving on the island of Tongariki in the Shepherds chain. Although the Shepherds are relatively close to the main island, Efaté, they are very bush and quite difficult to get to. I don't anticipate easily getting on and off the Shepherds--I've already been delayed a few days because water levels were too high. Whenever swells are above 2m, I can't leave Tongariki to head to Tongoa, which is the only island in the chain with a (grass) landing strip. Although I will have TVL access in my house and Digicel access at my school, I will not have internet access on my island at all. Mail access will also be pretty spotty as my mail is going to come in through the cargo ship MV Brooklyn. Word on the street is that the captain of MV Brooklyn is one man Tongariki, so he does come reliably, but mail will be very slow.

I'm going to have four kastom bamboo huts (sleep house, cook house, swim house, small house) without electricity or running water for the next two years. I'll next be in town (with internet) at the end of January, and after that, probably in August, and then December (should Mama and Papa Russell come for Christmas on the islands.)

If you'd like to write, my new address is:

Amanda Russell
Pis Kops/Peace Corps
Kokonak School
PASIS: Tongariki
c/o MV Brooklyn
Tongariki, SHEFA, Vanuatu

Saturday, December 8, 2012

26 October 2012

[Updating this early on 12 December 2012, right before I go out to site ... But I'll get to that later! At this point in my journal, I was still in training. These days are not a great example of what I did in training because they were just about the most idyllic. However, I also have journal entries for these dates that I can crib from without worrying about putting up anything inappropriate, so they're going up.]

Some days are beautiful here. Yesterday was almost immeasurably perfect and I think today is going to be similar. Today and yesterday have both been cooler, somewhat crisp, quiet--kind of incongruous in the tropics, and really reminiscent of high school camping trips with my dad. (I'm a little homesick sometimes; can you tell?)

But yesterday--got up, went to morning class. It was just Bislama, so it wasn't super exciting, but it was nice--Neneth is my trainer this week, so she set us up on a scavenger hunt using the word 'klosap', which means 'around', 'nearby', 'close.' We were digging in the dirt, looking under stones and in giant buckets for tiny little scraps of rolled up pieces of paper. Prize: one giant bag of Philippines-origen barbecue corn chips!

After a brief afternoon class, I went out snorkeling in the marine protected area with Michelle K, Mike, Sara, Molly, Noni, Jess, and Lynn M. Usually it's tabu to go into the marine area, but as Mike's Apu Charlie is the man in charge of the reserve, it was all right as long as we didn't touch anything... lukluk nomo. Denis and Zac stayed on the shore hanging out and playing guitar instead of coming in, and they really missed out. The snorkeling was fantastic. My mask was a little leaky (whoops! not getting a new one, hahaha) but there were parrotfish and butterfly fish and I even saw what looked like a red snapper ... There are giant clams that close when you snorkel too close to them, and some people (i.e. Lynn Marie) saw these giant blue starfish all over the water ... Hopefully next time I can find them!

After, we went to the stream behind Ulei Secondary. It's clean fresh water--some people actually wash clothes there still, and you can bathe there if you'd like, which I think is pretty cool. Before Tanoliu got its water system put in place, everyone had to go to the stream, but now it's just a good option if you'd like to wash your laundry at high noon (much cooler underneath all the trees) or if you'd like to socialize. Walking down the street back to the village, Denis was playing all of these songs with guitar and harmonica--either Lynn M or Noni commented that it was like the soundtrack to the Peace Corps-section of our Oscar-winning biopics.

I went home, took my bucket shower, then sat for a few minutes with my mama and som smol pikinini gel I didn't recognize cutting long beans. I left to go play ultimate frisbee and got over to the Presbyterian church just in time to find out that Denis was still playing guitar, now with an audience of around 30 pikinini, a few parents, and a handful of Peace Corps (Jess and Graham, I think), ending with another rendition of Kids (at my request.) Sitting on the ground, propped up on my elbows, I couldn't help but think what everyone in Peace Corps probably feels at some point--I could be in grad school right now, or putting in my dues interning somewhere or being a baby office worker, stressing out about getting my dry cleaning done, wondering what on earth I could get for dinner... And there I was. There are all of these little stresses in my ordinary life that I feel have completely disappeared in this country. It feels like I rejected them wholesale for a new and different experience that's going to mean so much to me in the future. I mean, there I was sitting on grass here in the South Pacific listening to someone play guitar when I could have easily not come here at all, made a whole different set of choices that would have led to me becoming a whole different person entirely.

I played some frisbee with a bunch of kiddos and storianed with Lynn A and two teachers -- Class 1&2 and Class 6, they're married--then went back to my house when it started to get dark. By that point, Jess had transitioned all of the kiddos from frisbee to duck duck goose, so I was able to grab my frisbee back. Went home where--SHOCK OF ALL SHOCK--I realized that I might finally be starting to get the hang of this horrible island food business. It was cucumber, tomato, tin meat and long bean stew, kumala, and milo, and I ate two helpings of everything, even though I made my first cup of milo with salt instead of sugar. (Whoops.) I storianed with my host mama and papa about kastom and how it's different in Tanna (where my mama comes from, and where I'll be visiting in two weeks), about weddings, and why most people take such a very long time to get married. (Answer: it takes forever because it's mind boggingly expensive--bride price on Efate is 80,000 vt, or 800$, which is big bucks considering that a lot of people make only a couple hundred vatu every day.)