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.]