Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Meri Krismes!

Meri Krismes long Vanuatu! Mi lavem yufala tumas mo mi hop se yu gat wan gudfala holidei mo wan gud niu yia. God bles!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mildly gross, but a part of island life!

Life, you know? One thing I find kinda weird about NiVans is how often people want to pose with dead animals. I know it's the same as a hunting trophy, but since I didn't grow up in a family that hunts ... It's a little different for me. Anyway, I was jogging back when some of my daddies sang out to me from the nakamal (thus my outfit.) From the left, that's Papa George, and in the middle is Papa Paul, who's my stret dadi here. The turtle got made into soup ... YUM.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gift Giving and Respect

OK, so here I am with Monica on Buninga. I feel like I should try to make this blog a little more informative--maybe fewer pretty pictures?--and so this would be a good opportunity to explain what's going on.

This photo was taken at a birthday party/opening of Monica's water project. We're in new island dresses, with salu salu (like leis, but more scratchy), calico over our shoulders, extra dresses around the neck, and a shell of kava in our hands.

Basically, in Ni-Vanuatu culture, gift giving is very important. When a man pays bride price, he has to give lots of presents along with the money--pigs, calico, kava, bananas, et cetera. When anyone wrongs anyone, in performing a sorry (the ceremony to apologize and gain forgiveness for wrongs, sort of like what it sounds like), you have to give presents. No fair just going over and saying sorry--you need to give them a mat, at the very least. On Mothers', Fathers', and Children's Day, gift giving is just as important. On Tongariki, the community gathers together so that everyone can watch you give presents to your kids. It's the same when a government official comes--the community gives him mats and kava, and he'll present the mamas who cooked his meals with a fresh 5000 vt bill (~50$), no matter what the price is.

Gift giving is very socially important. It's a sign of respect, and it goes with the understanding that it should be reciprocated. For example--if one of the teachers gives you a dress, you should at some point give her a basket. If your neighbor gives you a plate of food, you should send the plate back with lollies. As far as I can tell, gift giving and just generally doing favors for your neighbors is so important because it's such a face-to-face society. In the States, I could be an unsociable hermit and order my pizza on the internet if I wanted to. On Tongariki, if I want to drink kava, it's a bit of a production--since I have to find someone else who's drinking it, convince them that they really want to chew up another bowl for me, and sit around and story until it's ready. It's not such a hardship, but it's much more personal.

Another aspect in this photo to be explained: so I did nothing with this water project. I had no role other than showing up for the party. And yet I got all of that swag. Buninga's done it before--I got a dress when I went there for Easter. The same thing has happened elsewhere--on Makira, I got a dress and two beautiful baskets from Steph's host family when I went to her last kakae, and on Emau, I got a dress from Lynn Marie's host mother when we went over to visit her. So what's this about?

Another huge thing in this culture is their hospitality. Melanesian hospitality is incredible. Even though I had nothing to do with the project (except showing up to eat cake), some of Monica's mamas made this really kind gesture of friendship towards me. And it's not just this--everywhere I've gone in the Shepherds, the mamas are so sweet and always send plates of island kakae over. I think the day after this photo was taken, Monica and I got eight plates at lunch. You can't beat that kind of hospitality.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

T-2 days until my vacation

T-2 days until I go on vacation. So thrilled. This year in Vanuatu has been the most exhilarating, incredible, weird and occasionally disturbing year of my life. I love this place, but I'm ready to see my parents now.

I've spent a lot of time doing this sort of thing:

(Don't know, Florina/Florida, Eslyne, Elyse, Me, Joel, Andrina, Florida/Florina, No gat save)

and this sort of thing (ignore how I look):

(Mami Nerry, me)

and this sort of thing:

(Mami Esther, Me, Dadi Paul, Mami Jenita)

So I'd like a break. NZ/Vanuatu/Fiji with my parents, T-2! Hope they like Vanuatu ... Awo.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two kiddos

Greg is wearing my sunglasses; Gina is like eighteen months old and cries when I so much as look at her. Whoooooooooppssss. Photo taken at a Bible Church lunch.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Island view

This is the view from my school grounds. To the mid left, you see Valea (inhabited only by nanny goats, crabs, and devils), then Ewose (nanny goats and crabs, no devils), and finally Tongoa (people).

Monday, December 2, 2013

25 Things

25 things I dislike after a year+ in Vanuatu:
1. Every child in my village coming to my door to beg for lollies. One at a time.
2. Rats.
3. Sores.
4. People jacking my broken umbrellas. Yes, they're broken, but there's no umbrella store on Tongariki! I still need that...
5. Walking through the rain with a towel over my head because someone took my umbrella.
6. Soft mud.
7. Breadfruit.
8. Being called fat fat on the daily.
9. Being told that someone will find a local boy for me to marry, but that I should be quick about it.
10. Nangae.
11. When my uncle want to drink kava, but doesn't start preparing it until 8:30 at night.
12. The phrase "Awo, missus!" And other forms of getting sung out to.
13. Cruise Ship Day.
14. Getting PC permission to travel by water. My island has no airport, so I always need permission to travel...
15. MV Brooklyn will never come to Tongariki when I want it to.
16. Bia? Lo aelan blo mi, i no gat. Hemi minim se mi no save dring wan bia sapos mi wantem, eva.
17. Drying clothes during the rainy season.
18. Sore season.
19. Scary spiders in my swim house.
20. The kids in Kindy, Class 1, and Class 2 who hit, cry, and tattletale all the time sometimes in language.
21. Starting fires with wet wood.
22. All of my electronics except for my iphone and mobile phone have broken.
23. This one song that gets played on repeat. The singer, who carved up some people in a Chinese store, and who's still in jail, is singing about how he's called a criminal because justice is unfair and he couldn't find a job. Bluh.
24. Waking up sweaty because it's that hot.
25. Roosters.

25 things I like after a year+ in Vanuatu:
1. Manioc laplap with thick coconut cream. There. I said it.
2. Enough time to read everything, including all of those classic books I was supposed to read but ... didn't? Divine Comedy, East of Eden, All Quiet on the Western Front, Gulag Archipelago, you name it.
3. Living out my romantic isolated South Pacific island fantasies daily.
4. Hammocks.
5. Getting little kids to learn letter sounds. They get so psyched when it finally starts to click.
6. I have never felt this stress free in my life. College was a pressure cooker. Peace Corps is at a slow, sweet pace.
7. My host family. My host family in training was pretty messed up--getting drunk and slapping the wife around kind--and I was really worried that my real host family would also be a big mess. They are beautiful, though. I didn't think I would feel this emotionally attached to them, but Mami Esther and Dadi Paul are the sweetest, kindest, etc.
8. I feel kinda pretty in an Island dress, not going to lie.
10. Climbing coconut trees. Admittedly I've only done it twice, but ...
11. Using the cargo ship as a diving board.
12. G25.
13. Long lazy afternoons.
14. Aelan kakae flavored gelato in town! New thing!
15. Kava. There. I also said it too.
16. The fact that I am tangentially fake related to half of the country. From Man Shepherds i gat plante famili long Vila.
17. Having children check your head for louse is like getting a head massage, with bonus compliments about how "hea blo yu i olsem blo wan dolly."
18. Playing stupid games with the kids like "dive after the white rock".
20. Talking about aelan blong mi.
21. I will never ever feel like I missed out on a bush experience in the Peace Corps. I get my perfect 1960s PC fantasy lived out daily.
22. My flock of little house girls, who always come over every time I'm trying to clean anything up or cook anything in my kitchen.
23. I didn't think I would develop the relationships that I have with my village -- and my counterpart is boss. Elsie is the single most competent person in the world. She is so cool. The longer I know her, the more I like her. She is wonderful. She understands westerners and is so good at everything. I can't even describe it--incoherence.
24. Church sing sings.
25. Yufla...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

With Mi on Ambae

Got my Peace Corps-approved modesty lava lava around my neck. SLOW PLEASE.

Yam planting season...

Yams are the staple crop on Tongariki. We eat kumala, manioc, breadfruit, taro, banana, and rice, but our main food is breadfruit. It's lucky for me -- yams are delicious. Boiled yams with coconut milk is one of my favorite meals.

Yam planting takes up a good portion of the yearly work calendar.

Roughly around May, you start to burn the gardens. Everyone takes their knives and cuts down grasses, trees, and any plants left over and spreads them all around the garden. The sun dries them up a bit, and then you're ready to burn. The most efficient way I've seen of doing it is cutting down big trees and using them as fire logs. You build the fire up at the top of the garden and then use rakes to pull it down slowly.

Once you've cleared and burned all the gardens, it's time to plant. This photo was taken in July, during a yam planting work party I went to with my counterpart and other family members from Lakilia and Tavia villages. First, some women cut the yams open and scrape out the insides to eat later. Then, you dig a deep hole (roughly to your bicep), plant the yam with the top facing up, and build a large mound of dirt around it. (The mound is to discourage mice, pigs, and other animals from digging up the yams.) You put a piece of wild cane in by the yam to encourage its leaves to grow up the right way.

Later, around September through November, you start staking the yams. You take lots of wild cane and build little houses for the yam stalks to grow around. My village cuts holes in the yams and builds these beautiful tinker-toy like contraptions; two of the villages on the other side just bend the wild cane. Either way, you have to regularly go back and turn the stems around the wild cane. If you don't do this, the sun burns the leaves and they can get moldy, too (I think.)

Then, over Christmas, you spel. No yams. Over Christmas, you eat all of the fancy foods you want to eat during the rest of the year--bread, pork, beef, cake, lollies--but no yams. That has to wait until February, when the New Yam kastom happens, and you can start eating them again.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, yufla!

Happy Thanksgiving from Vanuatu! From the left: Kelly, Sydney, Jasmine, Elizabeth, Katelyn, Ken, Sheena, Mary, Lynn, Michelle, Nicci, and me. Second Thanksgiving done in Vanuatu, a lot to be thankful for, and a ways to go.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

PC Bingo

I see: a chicken, a Bob Marley shirt, laundry, a Nalgene, stick meat, a giant watch, lousy island hair, head band, a lei, and weird PVC piping. At Monica's on BNG.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A helicopter came to Tongariki ...

I don't particularly like this photo of myself, but here are a bunch of the kids at my school!

The Ministry of Health sent some bureaucrats out to come talk to our nurse and village health worker at the dispensary. Naturally, we all tried to take as many photos of ourselves with the chopper as possible. Recess!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Another kastom picture.

Kids from class 1. Little Kalo up in the front there is my favorite, mostly because his parents fully committed to the outfit. Love it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My favorite child (now that she doesn't hate me)

Here is my favorite child on Tongariki (now that she doesn't hate me), my little ... niece? Miriam.

She's my tawi Nerry's daughter, maybe sixteen months old, something like that? When I first got to Tongariki, the kid really didn't like me--she'd cry if I tried to pick her up or if she was away from her mom--but she's used to me now. Really sweet baby--likes to get tossed into the air and to walk around carrying my nalgenes.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tongariki boys doing kastom dance from Pentecost

Here are some boys from Class 3 doing a kastom dance from Pentecost, which is the long, skinny island up north where they do land diving. I am terrible (I know, I know) and I don't have everyone's name perfect yet. On the left is Kalron, my neighbor, who comes from the generally most attractive family on the island; in the middle is my kid brother Morris, looking like a rock star, as per usual, and on the far right is a kid whose name I have temporarily forgotten as I'm away from the island. (I'm writing this on 5/20 in town--I've been away for a bit.)

This dance was great. So the boys used brooms made of coconut leaves to sword play, essentially. They're wearing modern variations on kastom wear--skirts made out of pandanas, yep, but shorts on underneath. Hey, kastom continues, but life moves on ...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Me with Ruth outside my house

Me with Ruth outside of my house, not really doing anything. (Yes, I look this homeless all the time.) I'm really sad she moved away--she was my age and really cool, but she's moved to Vila to go take care of one of her brother's kids.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nakamal, Lewaema village

Here is the nakamal in Lewaema village. (And there, to the right, is Elsie from Class 4!) Nakamal is a very complicated term, and it's not made any easier by the fact that nakamals can be very different wherever you go in Vanuatu. At its base, nakamal means meeting place. In traditional kastom areas, the nakamal is the place of the chief, and it's the place for men to drink kava. On Tanna, and in kastom villages across Vanuatu, women are not allowed to enter the nakamal. In less kastom places, like mine (Tongariki is not particularly kastom), it's more of a gathering place. Men drink kava at the nakamal, but women cook there, too. On Tongariki, the mamas cook lap lap or other community kakaes at the nakamal regularly, and during feasts, everyone hangs out there. We watch DVDs together (sometimes--I've seen string band videos and First Blood) or just story. In town, for the last example, nakamal is the word for kava bar. You go, you pay kava, you buy food ... And so on.

Tongariki has five nakamals (one for each village) and one kava bar (in Lakilia village). Men, women, and children can go to all of them, but the genders are usually segregated, for the most part. At the nakamal in Erata village, for example, women and children (and maybe a few of the papas) sit inside underneath the roof, while all the rest of the men sit on benches lining the nakamal. And at the ready made (kava bar) in Lakilia, men sit over by where the kava is sold, and women sit over by where the food is sold. Women drink kava and men buy food, but after they pay, everyone goes back to their appropriate site.

The nakamal in this picture is the southern style of nakamal--built under a tree. Most of the nakamals on Tongariki are this style, but the nakamal in Erata is northern style -- a large house complex. Tongariki is a central island, so this makes sense--influences from the south and the north meeting together.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Few Words in Language

The national language of Vanuatu is called Bislama, and it's something like a pijin version of English. On my island, however, and throughout the Shepherds, they speak a different language--allegedly called Nawakura, although I only read that in a book. Nawakura bears no relationship to English, and so I thought it might be fun to share a little bit about the words I know in that language! (Mostly--note--I basically know nouns. Hah.)

To start off with, all nouns in language start with the prefix na-.

nambetet--sweet potato

korokololo--go swim (bathe)
kaen korokololo--YOU go swim
korokokinikan--go kakae (eat)
koroara--go sit down
korokoelo--go to the salt water (beach)
korokomalal--go to the garden
korokomatir--go sleep

mangorise--early morning
leat--mid morning to early afternoon

meno--thank you
meno mbigiak--thank you very much



I know other words, but now that I've been in town for a while, I forget ... Like, I've forgotten the word for pig. (How is that possible? Pigs are a big, big deal. Also, the days when someone kills a pig for a feast are, without question, the best days of my life. There's nothing like roasted pig on top of manioc lap lap. It's amazing. Love it.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Good Friday with Jennifer

I just like this photo. Jennifer's like my ... cousin? Man I don't even know. She has the same father as my little half sister who was carried out from Vila. (Asina isn't really adopted -- or maybe she is, I kind of don't know. I thought she was staying forever, but maybe she might go back? But then she's like six or seven and I think she might have said that just because she misses her dad.)

But Jennifer's really cool. I need to remember to develop a bunch of pictures for everyone, and I think I'm going to give her a copy of this one. I just really like it.

In the back is the cross the Presbyterians burned for Good Friday. It's supposed to symbolize how Christ burns away your sins. We threw in pieces of wood and coconut husks to show how the cross burned them all away ... It was really sweet. Obviously in the States this has a different context, but this is Vanuatu, you know?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

After Bonani with one of my students

Bonani (bon annee, I don't know how to insert accents on a windows machine) is a tradition in Vanuatu. On my island, the way it works is that everyone from village A comes to sing to village B. Everyone from village A stands in a circle facing in, and people from village B give presents of calico and put baby powder, perfume, lotion, tooth paste (!), sometimes margarine ... Haha.

So this picture was actually taken at the nakamal in Erata, and Jaylene (on the left) is from Erata, so I don't know why she's got that stuff on her face, hah.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Coming into Town

I turn into an indecisive moron every time I come into town. Most of the PCVs in my group frequent about seven or eight restaurants total (Nambawan, Jill's, Island Time, Spice, Brewery, Chill, Sea View--and can Au Bon/Chinese stores count as number eight?) so it's not as if there is an enormous bonanza of choices. When we go out drinking, we go to Brewery, Anchor Inn, Grand. When we go out dancing, my group goes to Elektro Rock, Voodoo, maybe Shakers.

And yet somehow after coming off the island my brain is stupid. The idea that ground beef is even a thing--much less that there are like five decent places to get a hamburger--is just totally overwhelming. At site, I eat fish a few times a week. Maybe a few times a month I eat tinned meat. Maybe once a month, someone kills a chicken or a pig and I eat that. And town, I can eat fresh beef and cheese and bread? Man, I don't have any of that.

'I guess that's the secret--miss out on a few staples, like bread, for a while, and all of a sudden, everything is awesome.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kids on Tongariki

Here are a bunch of kids in Lewaema village. There's Asina, two kids whose names I don't know because they're not old enough to go to school, Tommy (?), Nelson, Morris, and I think Jaylene is hidden in the back there. They're posing in front of one of my family member's kitchens. Usually people don't use tin (or kapa, as they call it--from copper) for kitchens, but I guess they like it. This picture was taken before the Bible Church had a big fundraiser down at the nakamal--they made beef stew, were selling kava, playing a stringband dvd ... Pretty flas.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kastom Dancing on Tongariki

Here's a picture of some of my students doing a kastom dance fom Tongariki. These boys are all great--one of them is pretending to be a girl while Kiki, my counterparts son, is dancing at him like 'hey, you come here!' In the middle is Tom McLenie, who's probably the best dancer in the school.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Love this picture. It's a bunch of boys from my village down at the saltwater. My favorite is Kalran (my neighbor) is just casually eating a naus while everyone else poses.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Shark-free zone

Pro Tip: If you want to ensure safe boat travel or a safe swim on Tongariki or Buninga, throw ten rocks into the salt water. It will frighten the sharks and/or do something special and kastom to ensure your health and happiness. I suspect it has something to do with maybe the pre-Christian shark gods, but no one has confirmed or denied this line of thinking.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Tongariki is a weird little place. At first, I had interminable (and stupid) debates with myself--is this place in the bush? Is this place not bush?--but I've gotten over that sort of nit picking. I sometimes think that no one else (except the volunteer on BNG) is ever going to understand what it's really like for me. The boat comes once a week (if it comes); it's half my monthly salary one way to try to fly out of Tongoa; it's a small island and, although I can see plenty of other islands from my school grounds, I rarely leave. I can't always buy credit for my phone. And I don't really see anyone.

I'll admit that I'm very jealous of volunteers on Santo, Tanna, Efate,--they can socialize with each other, which is awesome and should never be underrated. During training, I had no idea of how strange being in the Peace Corps is. Furthermore, I had no idea how much I would want to be around other Americans--how desperate I would feel some days to just be able to talk with someone who would understand me. Luckily, I was able to see Elyse, Stephanie, and Monica during Term 1 for a few days, but other than that, I only speak English on the phone. If I could change my site to somewhere with more volunteers, I'm not sure that I wouldn't do it. During training, I know that I and some other volunteers got caught up in this idea that bush was best--that, like, the harder the environment, the better--which I'm now aware was completely misguided, stupid, and pointless. You've got to make it through two years, and, honestly, why not make it with friends? It's going to be hard for everyone anyway.

In a lot of ways, though, it feels like I'm getting the classic Peace Corps experience. I live in a hut. I've eaten dog and flying fox and sea turtle and more root vegetables than I would have thought possible. I've seen kastom ceremonies, I've drunk a good amount of kava, and I've gotten a hearty South Pacific dose of church. I just can't avoid integration as the resident "waet misus" on an island of 200 people, and that's something I need to be more grateful for. My counterpart is fantastic, my host family is astonishingly kind and generous, and the islanders are very friendly. I don't think anyone on Tongariki really understands me, but they try, and I never feel completely alone in a physical sense.

Still, sometimes I feel almost cripplingly lonely--like I'm out here on this rock all by myself and no one back home cares and everyone else in the Peace Corps is having more fun than I am. (I'm well aware that this isn't true, but sometimes you just want to feel like a martyr, so bear with me as I indulge in self-pity.) Everything is just so intense here, good and bad, that it's like nothing I've ever experienced before. It's funny to think back on all of the documents Peace Corps had me fill out before I departed--forms with questions about how I would deal with loneliness and what I would do to deal with depression/isolation/homesickness. It's become abundantly obvious to me over the last seven and a half months that, emotionally speaking, I'm built like a tank--knock me hard and I'll keep going--but it's just so funny that we ever filled out those forms to begin with. I had no idea how I'd deal with this kind of loneliness before I had to experience it! I literally had no basis for comparison whatsoever. I got my baptism with fire and found out that I'm as tenacious as I need to be, but I had no way to know that beforehand. You just do what you can--and when you have a bad day, you make something special for dinner (like instant mashed potatoes), you listen to music, and you go to bed early. The next day, you'll wake up, and it's a new day. There's nothing else to do except wait your feelings out, and do your best not to be physically alone too much. What else can you really do?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

After church luncheon

I wish I could lighten up this photo a little bit, but no gat. On my right is my mama Esther--she looks kind of stern in every photo but she's honestly the best. Same with a lot of mamas on Tongariki--you'll notice if you look at the picture.

This photo was taken after church services in Lewaema village. I go to church--in language--every week. Another volunteer cued me in to the idea of reading the Bible during service (since I don't understand anything that's going on, at least I'm doing something church-y while everything happens.) I found a New Testament in the office, but since that's kind of small, I went out to this Bible store last time I was in town and got myself a full one. Since I've never read the Bible start to end, why not now?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Going back to site

Tomorrow morning I'm going to fly out to Epi Island to visit the girls out there, and then hopefully I'll take the boat down to Tongariki sometime next week. This means no internet, spotty phone service, no cheese/beer/bread/sweets/et cetera for another three months until the end of August, but I've set my blog to upload pictures and blog posts. I'm pretty excited to go back, since I've got a good idea of the projects that I want to do this next term. I'll still be teaching English lessons every day, but I want to get started on moving the library over into a bigger, more usable space; introducing dialogue journals with the older students; working with teachers for health and science lessons; vamping up our PE program; hopefully laying the foundation to do part or all of the gender-based violence workshop... And then I have other smaller goals, like learning how to weave a mat, learning how to cook gato (like a donut) and bread, getting more into yoga, and finally learning some of the language hymns at church.

Excited and ready to go!

(Half of how I spend my life -- please note the beautiful island hair and the ever present tank top.)

Internet Access on Tongariki...

Tongariki doesn't have internet access. I write all of my blog posts when I'm in town, in between binging on all sorts of things--Indian food, beer, the ability to purchase things that aren't breakfast crackers or tin meat. It's really funny, though, that life without internet access has made the internet so much more boring than I ever remember it being. Like in college I spent basically all day, every day, on the internet in some form or another, whether it was listening to music while I did my homework, watching hyper-educational shows like Teen Mom, or just clicking through TMZ while I was waiting for my coffee somewhere. But now I'm like--how did that even happen? Maybe since I've missed out on months of internet news at a time, nothing seems important to me.

At site, my parents told me about local news ... a little bit. Since February, I've heard about what happened at the Boston Marathon as well as about the election of the new pope. So when I came back from site, and everything on the internet was talking about Benghazi, and some IRS scandal (that frankly doesn't sound all that scandalous) it's just hard to be interested.

Facebook is basically the same. I feel like my life has changed so dramatically--and rapidly--that I can't really explain it in any way. There's just so much stuff up there that it's a little overwhelming.

It's probably good for me that I live so far out from everything. When will I ever be able to live like this ever again? I'll never be this far away from everything. I'll never be in another situation where it doesn't matter what I look like--where, in fact, I can look as incredibly homeless as I want. It'll just never happen. And here I have the opportunity to live a normal life--read lots of books, socialize a lot, and just have time to kick back, relax, and just let things happen as they happen. Even when that means watching paint dry. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My little bro @ Jesus, Palm Sunday 2013

Morris as Jesus for Palm Sunday. He's riding in on a donkey (Jaylene) to Jerusalem, whereupon the other children will sing Hosanna. It was pretty adorable, can't lie to you. He's a great kid.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Langwij, langwij, oooooo langwij

Frustrating reality: Trying to look as though I'm quietly amusing myself while everyone else is talking in language all the time. In church, I have a good excuse now--I read the Bible, and I'm considering downloading some Bible Study so I can slow this process down a few months--but at meals? I know that some mamas who don't know me too well in the village think that I speak fluent language (lolz wut) but those who know me know I can talk about food, where I came from, and what children should run off and do. SIGH.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Power" Dance, Easter Sunday, Buninga

Erakor Island Resort

I went out to Erakor Island Resort yesterday with my friend Ken and his counterpart, Ben--what a blast! We didn't know where the ferry was to take us across, so we swam/waded across from Erakor School over to the island. Before (bifo means anything from yesterday to centuries ago, and in this case, let's go with centuries ago) the ancestors of everyone from Erakor village lived on Erakor island. There was endemic warfare on all the islands, but Efate's pretty famous for it--comparatively speaking, it was much safer to live on an island and keep your garden on the mainland, so you could see all war parties and their canoes before they came.

There are an estimated trillion star fish on your way over there, but it's a pretty short trip. Over on the other side, there's a nice restaurant with the world's most expensive Tuskers (500 vt? Massive rip off), bungalows, beach chairs, and remnants from the Canadian missionaries who lived there -- the original dispensary, a few graves, and the foundation of the church they built around 1870.

Nice place! Worked on my tan, read all the way through "The Closers" by Michael Connelly, and got distracted by an elaborate fantasy in which I was building a shade screen by my hut so I could tan on Tongariki. This is not very likely to work (cough cough never cough) but definitely, definitely needed that break.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Me, Jennifer, Elyse, Nerry--Palm Sunday 2013

Please note the lovely outfits!

A lot of churches in Vanuatu choose colors and make church uniforms for their members. At New Covenant, where my papa is a pastor, the colors are purple and yellow.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Two Cute Things c/o Class 1/2

1. Listening to Ni Van kiddos sing 'Zippedy Doo Dah' is the most magical thing ever. They over pronounce all of the vowels (especially the 'doo dah' part) and generally it just makes me want to take them all home with me and keep them.

2. The book 'Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?' is an absolute classic. Nothing better than listening to them mimic my attempt to trumpet like an elephant.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Me with Sabath at a Birthday

Me with Sabath at my counterpart's birthday party. I don't understand why some Ni Vans like to take photos but insist on giving stone face ... ? I really liked this island dress, though--my counterpart loaned me it. It's the new style, with a square neck, and super flas (fancy) because of all the lace. Everyone I saw that day kept commenting on how great they thought the dress was ... Hahaha.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mamas in Erata village having fun over Christmas ...

Two mamas in my village thought it would be fun to dress in costume/drag. So Christmas in Vanuatu involves lots of community feasts at the nakamal (chief's meetinghouse) and also, especially where the youngfala men are concerned, lots of binge drinking and dancing to string band music. I think that Espel is on the left and Leisav is on the right?

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Host Family

My host family in Tongariki is beautiful. I honestly can't explain how emotionally attached to them I feel after two months. I think it's because I am so completely alone that I honestly feel like they are my family here.

From left: My mama, my cousin Chelsea, my brother Morris, my sister Asina, my cousin Nery, her daughter Miriam, my auntie Miriam, my sister Cecilia, my papa.

PCVs in Vanuatu are always talking about our mamas, our papas, our aunties, our uncles, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins, and our tawis. It's actually not uncommon for people to confuse things that other volunteers have said about their host mothers and their actual mothers, just because we spend so much time talking about our island families. I definitely spend a ton of time with them--3 meals a day, church, lazing around at their place, attempting to help with household chores while actually making life more difficult ... The basics. Asina (who is something like six or seven, I haven't quite figured out yet) is about a million times more useful than I am at just about anything. Sigh.

My host papa is about 40ish. He went through school through class 6, is a farmer, and works as a farmer, a pastor at the New Covenant Church, and one of the village chiefs. This year he's the assistant chief, which means that in 2014 he'll become the chief of Erata village again. He is the single most productive man alive.

My host mama is in her early 30s. She's the single most productive woman alive, which is even more astonishing because her life is very hard. It's hard enough to be a mama in this country to begin with, for a number of reasons--the chores of everyday life, childcare, the fact that women have lower social status than men ...

But it's even harder because of my oldest sister. She has serious developmental disabilities. No one has said what she has, but it's some sort of retardation/cerebral palsy. She can't walk, talk, feed herself -- and Tongariki obviously has no support structure to help take care of her. My host parents have to do everything by themselves. This means that while in America Cecilia would probably attend some sort of school, and my host parents would have help from social workers at some level, they're completely on their own. Someone always has to be at the house to take care of her; someone always has to pre-chew food for her, bathe her, dress her ... She's 13 now, and I can imagine that it's only going to get harder as she gets older.

My little brother is named Morris, and he's pretty much the coolest kid I know. He's eight or so and calls me 'Na Pis Kop' to my face--usually shouted while he's running around with some of the other small boys in the village. He's a pretty cool kid:

My little sister is named Asina. She's adopted, the daughter of one of my papa's brothers who lives in Vila. I should probably write something big about adoption one of these days, but Sparknotes version is that adoption here is extremely common, especially in families. You'll meet a lot of mamas who will say things like that they sent their last girl over to live with a cousin in Santo, or they sent two middle children off to live with an uncle; it's no big deal. As far as I can tell, it is almost entirely an in-family thing--the Ni-Vans I've talked to think that American-style adoption is pretty weird--but they're used to the idea of re-forming families. Asina can be very sweet and she can be very 'strong hed' (stubborn) but she's definitely one of my favorite kids in the village.

[While a total doll, Asina [center, in purple] does not seem to totally understand this 'smiling' thing.]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Looking at other islands

I took this photo while walking around a while back. Tongariki is really, really green:

If you look in the distance, the first two islands are uninhabited. In the far back is the island of Tongoa, where my airport is.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Traveling to Tongariki

It's been a long time since I updated this blog, but that's what happens when you live on an island without internet access! I've been back in town since January 18th, but I've been postponing an update in the hopes that my new laptop would one day come in the mail. Unfortunately, since it's now over three weeks late, and DHL can't promise that I'll get it before I go back to Tongariki on Friday, I can't delay this any longer. I hope that over the next few days I can retrieve some photos from my old computer--without any photos, I think it's really hard to understand how this country looks, and, specifically, what my site looks like. I could tell you to imagine Jurassic Park with a shanty town, but I still don't think that gives it quite enough credit. Tongariki looks amazing.

As I said in the last post, to get to my site I have to fly to the airport on the island of Tongoa and then take a fiberglass boat over to Tongariki. Flights from Vila to Tongoa are not particularly reliable, but they do occur regularly three days a week--Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--when you can catch them. I was originally scheduled to leave Vila on Monday, December 10th--but since the water was too high for safe travel in the boat, I was delayed until Wednesday the 12th.

On Wednesday, I went out to the airport, laden down with all sorts of bags, mattresses, and boxes, only to find out three hours after the flight was scheduled to depart that Air Vanuatu had cancelled the flight. A minister from Tanna, the big kastom island down in the south of Vanuatu, had died up in Santo in the north, and so they needed an airplane to take his body down for burial. The domestic terminal of the airport was absolutely packed with people holding mats, flowers, and food, so I had thought that it might be a wedding, but it was actually just a bunch of man Tanna who had come to do their part for the dead. I heard from Rose, the volunteer down in Tanna who I visited back in November, that it seemed like every truck in that island took part in the funeral procession--he was a very important man in Tafea province, and Tanna especially is famous for going all out for kastom celebrations.

I finally was able to leave Vila on December 14th. It was a pretty emotional day for me--a volunteer went home early that morning, while the last two of us from our group were finally heading out to site--and I felt like I was constantly ricocheting between excitement and terror. When we had site announcements, I felt a little underwhelmed about my site. To be perfectly honest, I had been hoping for an extremely bush site, probably since I had some weird ideas about how a bush site would be this classic Peace Corps/Zen experience. Then, when I found out that I was going to Tongariki--which is moderately bush and fairly isolated--I immediately realized that I was an absolute moron and would probably want a proper shower or electricity in my house at some point in my service. At site announcements, I had learned the basics: no running water, no electricity, water seal toilet, solar charger at the school, no market, no bank, no post office, no airport... Furthermore, since Tongariki is in the Shepherds, it's more isolated than a lot of other posts. I'm lucky to have a very lovely volunteer on a nearby island, but the next closest volunteers are up on Epi or back on Efate, which is like the capital island. That means that while a lot of volunteers can hike a couple of hours or take a truck to another volunteer's site for the weekend, I can't really visit anyone on a casual basis (except for the aforementioned nearby girl). If I want to visit someone, I have to jump on the cargo ship that comes to my island (the MV Brooklyn) and commit to staying somewhere else in week-long increments. Tongariki is nowhere near one of the bushest sites here in Vanuatu, since the school has a big solar panel, I have reasonably full cell phone coverage (TVL everywhere, Digicel [which I can use for free texts/calls to other PCVs] at the school and down by the beach, and there are little stores on the island that sell basics like peanut butter and tinned makerel. But at the time -- as I was preparing to leave -- I kept thinking to myself, I went to college for this?

The plane from Vila to Tongoa is a little eight-seater, counting the pilot and (always absent) copilot. You don't need to present any identifying information; you don't have to go through any security line; and, as Mike from my group found out, no one will stop you from carrying a gigantic bush knife with you on the plane.You have to weigh all of your belongings (and yourself) to get on the plane, but there are basically no rules about what you can or can't carry. In fact, on my flight back into town, a woman carried a live chicken--all Air Vanuatu did was make her put a checked sticker on its leg. Despite how it might sound, it's actually a really civilized experience to fly in this country, and the whole system is pretty honest, too. When my flight was cancelled on that Wednesday back in December, I was able to leave some checked luggage at the airport for two days without any of it going missing. Unfortunately, since the plane is so small, flying is not the most pleasant experience. It only takes about thirty minutes to go from Vila to Tongoa, but since it's such a short distance, it's a recipe for motion sickness.

When I got to Tongoa, I had another moment in which I thought to myself, Wait, what am I doing? In my defense, the airport in Tongoa is a grass landing strip and I saw pigs running across the field while the plane landed. The airport itself is a two-room aluminum house that gets locked up with a padlock at night, and I have since met the man who does check-in. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, like all other things in Vanuatu, travel is a fairly personal experience.

When I got off the plane, I was greeted by my then-headmaster and the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Erata village. The headmaster has now been transfered to Ekipe village on Efate (chockfull of all man Tongariki) but since he was the one to apply for a Peace Corps, he was the one to greet me. I was introduced to a bunch of people that I think are part of my extended family but who I have never seen again. A strange thing about Vanuatu is that everyone is related to everyone somehow; if you put two strangers in a room for three hours, they'd somehow find out that they are tawis, or in-laws. It's absurd. After about twenty minutes we hopped on a truck for a very bumpy thirty minute ride. There are a fair number of trucks on Tongoa, but the dirt roads are in such poor condition that travel is fairly slow. When we got to the pasis, there was a small boat waiting on the beach for me. As it turns out, it is the only motor boat that my island has--when my neighbor is too busy to take passengers, we have to use the boat from Buninga.

That day was drizzly and a little gray, so as we headed off to Tongariki, islands appeared out from under the mist one by one. At first, it was thrilling--here I am, at the edge of the universe! An hour later, when we finally got to the black stone beaches, I was mostly thrilled that I hadn't vomited all over myself. The men on the boat helped me get off onto the stones, and then threw all of my belongings off of the boat (...). While they jumped off into the saltwater and dragged the boat back onto the beach, I looked around dazed. Tongariki--as I will prove tomorrow--looks like something out of LOST.

I honestly don't understand how I live here.