Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Official 2014 Airing of Grievances, Names Named, Things Called Out, Et cetera

I recently read an article about how it's good and cleansing for the soul to list, in explicit detail, the people, places, and things that have disappointed or offended you in the past year. The idea is that by being open and honest with the people in your life, you can redevelop and refine your relationships in line with the truths you experience. I definitely have some air I feel needs to be cleared -- and I think this is the perfect platform to do it on. See under the cut!

Friday, December 26, 2014


For the sake of my figure, it is imperative that I get back to Vanuatu ASAP. 

Cookies + food I enjoy + alcohol + cars - kava - having to walk places = mi mi fatfat we. 

Oh, the sorrow! This is what happens when you live somewhere where life is easy and a Dunkin Donuts is around every corner. On a more serious note, I can't believe that my home leave is almost up. Next Saturday is the day. This past week went by incredibly fast ... and now, here I am, not really believing that it's time to go back. It's going to be good, but I just know when I get on that first flight to Dallas, it's going to be so long all over again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Man Bush

"Man bush" is a jokey, derogatory term that's sort of equivalent to 'hick' or 'red neck.' I can't tell you how many times I'd hear the teenagers at my school reprimand the younger kids with a hissed 'man busssss' -- it's a great term. 

Today's great man bush moment : I'm staying at my brother and sister-in-law's house. I go to take a shower. I use some of the shampoo on the shower ledge, and, as I'm lathering it in, notice that it says that it's medicated. So I pick it up, noticing that it says it's for irritated scalps. I like reading things in the shower, so I decide to see what the medication is, since I have irritated scalps, I guess .... 

It's veterinary shampoo.

It's veterinary shampoo.

That means I used shampoo for dogs and cats on my hair.

My hair smells nice. That's all I'm saying.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nostalgia Alert

So I'm on the train going down to Richmond right now, and I've spent the past hour editing some of my photos.

Thought 1: Kass, I have so many photos to edit!

Thought 2: Man, I'm bad at editing photos. What on Earth do you do if, when you originally took the picture, the sky was white? Or if, when you originally took the picture, your camera made the sky appear white (and thus made the people in the photo look strange?) I can't make the sky dark without washing people's faces out.

Thought 3: Wow, I caught a lot of good moments. 

Here are a few of the ones that I've edited so far, some of which have appeared here before. But just for nostalgia's sake:


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cross-culture: Women's Clothes

For today's cross-culture post, I want to talk about clothes. All about clothes. What sort of clothes are social acceptable for doing work around your house? What sort of clothes are acceptable if you're doing sport? What should you wear to church? What are the gender differences? What is seen as formal or informal wear? Basically--how are clothes different in America and Vanuatu?

When I first got to Vanuatu, one of my biggest complaints had to do with the clothing that I had to wear. Vanuatu is a very conservative country, and one of the ways that it's conservative is that shorts and even long trousers are not really seen as appropriate wear for women. While a woman can wear a t shirt or a tank top (and even breastfeed in church), thighs are verboten. In the capital city, Vila, this means : you'll see young women in the Vila uniform of tshirt/tank top, hair slicked back in a bun, earrings, and knee length (or longer) shorts. Think the type of shorts men in America wear. In more remote settings (like where I was on Tongariki), even those long shorts are considered inappropriate for most settings. Women wear shorts while playing sport, doing work around the house, and sometimes while going to the garden. It is, however, inappropriate for women to wear shorts to the nakamal (chief's house / communal meeting house), to church, or inside school bounds. Many villages have a trousers fine. Mine did not have a trousers fine in public places, although my school by-laws specified a 500 vatu fine (around 5.50$) for any woman who wore shorts inside the school boundaries, except during sports hour. I never heard of anyone being charged the trousers fine, but it was considered disrespectful.

And to us, in America, it's like -- what??? As I'm home on home leave, I've been looking around at street style throughout Alexandria and Richmond. There's one thing you can say for sure about women's fashion in America, and that is that during the fall and winter, trousers reign supreme. I don't actually think I've seen a woman walking around in a skirt and a dress yet. You see leggings, jeans, trousers, even occasionally shorts -- but that's because for us, wearing trousers is not suggestive. I think Americans are the opposite of Ni-Vanuatu in that we think showing legs is A-OK, but we explode over whether or not breastfeeding in public is OK, or whether a woman can sunbathe topless. I heard about a professor at American University who was thrown through the ringer in the media for breastfeeding in class. To make the point that this is cultural, my head teacher at Coconak School, Elsie Daniel, breastfed her baby at school multiple times a day, every day. Once I told some friends on the island that, in America, sometimes women have to breastfeed in the toilets at work, and they thought it was just the most disgusting and bizarre thing imaginable. From wanem ol woman i mas kivim titi insaed lo wan toilet? It's American culture that says legs are good but breasts are bad; it's Ni-Van culture that says breasts are good but legs are bad, on a woman.

So, given that modesty in Vanuatu is mostly related to the bottom half of the body, what do women wear?

I already described the Vila uniform for young women -- long shorts, tank/tee, maybe a hoodie. When it comes to professional wear for women of all ages, you'll usually see something along the lines of a calf-length black skirt with an island printed, modest short sleeve shirt. Many businesses in Vila have uniforms for their female workers, which might mean different colors and fabrics, but will be along the same lines. The female staff of the Peace Corps office are super, super fancy, and they usually dress up even more nicely -- usually longer skirts (but sometimes trousers), really nice tops, and of course, earrings, nice hair. (The women who work in the Peace Corps office are seriously very, very stylish. When I'm trying to figure out the lines of what is appropriate yet fashionable, I usually look at what they're wearing for ideas. It has definitely convinced me that I need to spend more time on my hair!) You will, of course, also see TONS of island dresses. They're very versatile -- most of the women who work in the market wear them; many store clerks wear them; many office workers wear them -- and extremely common.

What about in the villages? On Tongariki, most women wear calf length skirts with t shirts or tank tops. Unlike in Vila, clothes tend to be worn until they got pretty crummy. (I include myself here -- I would wear shirts that had rat holes in them, because it was the shirt I had.) It's like clothes downgrade from something you could wear to a nice occasion, to normal clothes, to something that you only wear if you're going to the garden and nowhere else. On Tongariki it is especially common for women to wear island dresses. I can't remember my Auntie Ruth not wearing an island dress. On casual occasions, like around the house, or for young women who had been wearing trousers but needed to go to the nakamal, it is really common to wrap a sarong around your waist. These are not super stylish sarongs like they wear in Burma or Samoa -- it's usually just tying a knot around a hip rather than folding it over.

I did get very used to wearing long skirts, which I didn't expect. In America, you couldn't have caught me dead in one -- but they have their advantages. In day-to-day life, my island uniform is a tank top, a long skirt, flip flops, knock off Raybans, and a woven basket. In Vila, I usually dress like a tourist, and when I run into friends and family from Tongariki, I just hope I'm not wearing shorts that are too short. Vila is pretty free, because the Australian cruise ship tourists wear microscopic mini shorts. This means, as a foreign looking woman, I don't feel weird dressing 'western' in the main part of town. Caveat: this only applies to people who do not live in Vila. If you're a woman who works in Vila, you have to be a lot more careful about the clothes you wear, since it's such a small town. For me, I can dress like everyday is Fleet Week if I want to. (I don't.) But it's important to remember.

Coming up tomorrow : men's clothes! Or, the revenge of the island shirt.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cross-Culture: New Baby Parties!

Ok. Today's post is going to be happier than yesterday's! It's also going to be shorter.That's because it's about a happier topic, which is new baby parties. Everyone loves to celebrate a new baby. That's because babies are wonderful. I especially like babies when they're about six months old and because they don't have teeth look so happy to see everyone. <3 It'll be shorter, because I think the differences are smaller here than they are when talking about end of life.

The main reason for choosing this idea: my brother and his wife are going to have a new baby in February, and so a while back I went to their baby shower. It was super lovely, and--because they roasted a pig!--really made me think of it in contrast to baby showers in Vanuatu. I'm going to describe their baby shower and then describe a new baby party that happened for my good friend, Elsie.

Nick and Anna's baby shower was an afternoon party. Anna's friend Gaelyn did the planning. There were decorations (Dr. Seuss and children's books), activities (decorating bibs and creating mementos for the baby, when she arrives in the world), and a lifetime supply of food. We're talking a whole roast pig, a roast turkey, salads, deviled eggs, dips, chips, cakes, pies, meatballs, smores, so much food, and tons of drinks, too. After everyone had lunch, we watched Nick and Anna open their presents--mostly books, clothes, toys, blankets, that sort of thing. People started to leave, but some stuck around for a few more hours, drinking beer and cleaning up and chatting.

When Elsie came back from the hospital with small Renata Amanda, the new baby party was a night event. Elsie and her fiance's families butchered a pig and got a big meal of roasted root crops underneath hot stones. First, there was a small religious ceremony inside the community hall, where the Presbyterian pastors led hymns and prayers for Renata. Everyone gave presents, but more along the line of cloth and diapers and laundry soap. Afterwards, there was a lot of kava, a bottle of whiskey floating around, and dinner. Some people were still drinking when I left.

These were both great parties! As you can see, I think it's clear that these two parties both shared tons in common. You've got the feast, the presents for the baby, the best wishes from the people around, the drinking (to a degree, more so at Elsie and Terry's than at Nick and Anna's) ... even the pig. But there are some differences that go beyond economic changes. 

One major difference is that in Vanuatu, parties happen after the baby is born rather than before. This is because there is a much higher rate of still birth and neonatal death in Vanuatu than in America. One thing that I find really, really sad, is how when I ask a woman how many children she has, she'll include in her count the number of children who died.

Another difference (happier, this time), is in the social function of the baby shower/baby party. By 'social function', I mean-- why have a party? In America, I feel that although there is someone who acts as the host or hostess, the major reason for the shower is so that family and friends can give things for the baby. It's like the idea that we will give presents for the new baby, and in return, as part of the social contract, we too will receive reciprocal presents. Culturally, I think it's a delayed gift giving exchange, similar to how we give presents to newly married couples, knowing that when it is (or was) our turn to be married, we will get (or did get) our own presents. In Vanuatu, on the other hand, while it is still a gift exchange, I think the real point is more that it's a feast thrown by the family of the baby. It's a way to introduce the baby to everyone and to welcome him or her into the community. In my opinion, it is a very important feast, and you can tell that by the food. Pigs are very important, because traditionally they are a valuable cultural symbol of wealth. So by throwing a feast (and sponsoring the meat of the feast, in particular), the baby's family goes to serious expense to feed anyone who shows up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cross-Culture: Deaths and Funerals

I thought it'd be fun to do a mini informative series of posts about cross-cultural differences between America. My hope is that by highlighting an American practice and contrasting it to a Ni-Vanuatu practice, people who read this blog will get to know more about my country of service. As I'm home on home leave, I keep getting struck by little things -- talk of funeral arrangements, baby showers, how kids should/should not behave -- that differ here than in Vanuatu. Sometimes the differences are pretty subtle, but I think it's interesting to consider how we as Americans have our own culture and our own practices that differ from others.

I want to start with something pretty heavy, which is death and funerals.

I'm choosing death and funerals for several reasons. One is that I listened to this absolutely bonkers/great Fresh Air podcast this weekend called A Mortician Talks Openly About Death and Wants You To Too. The mortician in question wants Americans to be more comfortable with death, to have wakes, to accompany their dead family members to the crematory, to eschew embalming, to use degradable shrouds to bury their dead, et cetera. She believes that practices that let living family members come into closer contact with their dead are more natural, healthy, and conducive to a successful grieving process. While I was listening to the podcast, I did think, Wow, actually, when I die at the age of 103, I would like it if my family dressed me in my nicest outfit at home and then bury me quickly in the backyard where they'd see my headstone every day. That would actually be nice. My second thought was -- Wow, absent her discussion of embalming and cremation, she is basically describing Ni-Vanuatu death practices to a T. It's because of this extreme disparity between American and Ni-Vanuatu culture surrounding death and funerals that this just has to be the first post.

In America, people might die at home or in the hospital. A doctor or a coroner has to pronounce the person dead, and if he or she dies at home, the police have to be called. If the dead person wanted to be an organ donor, some tissue might be retrieved. You call family and friends, and have the body taken to a funeral home. Typically the staff of the funeral home embalms the body, puts on makeup to look more natural, and puts the body in clothes selected by the family. Sometimes people hold wakes. Observant Jews will have a funeral very soon after death, but most other people will wait a certain amount of time so that all family can make the arrangements to come. The funeral might have several components. For example, for my grandfather Peter Gritis, there was a Catholic mass and an Elks ceremony in March, followed by a military burial at Arlington in July. We can and do have large gaps between when a person dies and when their body is buried, usually for family convenience but sometimes because of scheduling at a cemetery. And when burials happen, they happen in a coffin, sometimes with trinkets or mementos inside. There are prayers at the graveside, people might throw flowers, or the family might throw handfuls of dirt. Afterwards, usually there's a headstone, although sometimes people use crypts. In the case of cremation, the ashes will either be collected in a box, collected in a box and buried, or scattered somewhere scenic or meaningful. That's how we deal with death.

In Vanuatu, it's different. I'm going to describe death and funerals on Tongariki, but this is the general pattern in small villages in remote areas throughout the country. Most people die at home. This is because when people are very sick, doctors will encourage them to go home to die. It's not being heartless. When people from an outer island die in a remote hospital, their families usually will suffer an extreme financial burden to charter a boat or a plane to take their bodies back to their home village. This can be several thousand dollars, in a country where most people make their money through small scale agriculture. You don't call a doctor, because it's pretty obvious when someone is dead. The women of the family will wash the body immediately and wrap the body in cloth, and place the cloth on pandanas mats. The news goes around. That day, within a set of hours, everyone who has a relationship with the deceased or their family will come over to cry and wail. This will go on for hours as a sign of respect. You'll see some people are really bawling while some others aren't crying anymore, but they'll still wail. There are hymns and prayers. Afterwards, everyone will shake hands with the deceased's family. The village all eats together, and school is cancelled the next day out of respect.

The burial happens either the same day or the next morning. In one case, I heard of a burial that was delayed for three days because a child thought that their father was poisoned by magic, and this was considered extremely disrespectful on the child's part. Unlike the mourning part (which is called a ded), the burial is basically private. Often the burial will happen very close to the house. A friend of mine had her brother buried by their outdoor eating table, and they would decorate the tomb every year. The general style is to have a raised coffin-shaped cement block plus a headstone, or simply a cement headstone with the name written in.  

There are some things that I think are better about funerals in Vanuatu. I think it's wonderful that grieving is communal. You never have a situation where there's a death in the family and people don't seem to know, or care. I think that there is something that is more humane about how deaths happen at home, and how people bury their dead nearby. I don't think that this is possible for us, since except for Native Americans, none of us have kastom land, the way Ni-Vanuatu do. But I think it's beautiful, and I think it underlies the tie to the land and the space.

On the other hand, I think that it's better that in America we have our time to have funerals and say our respects. I find it very sad how many deds I've been to where the deceased died somewhere else, and the family found out a few days later but wasn't able to attend because the burial had to be held that day. A good friend of mine had her father die on another island, and, of course, she wasn't able to attend. Maybe we'd be better psychologically if we all got together and grieved/mourned/wailed it out for four hours communally, rather than spreading our grief out, bit by bit, but at least daughters in America can typically attend their father's funerals.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


1. As of yet, I haven't eaten the weird worms that come out of the ocean in October. I really want to eat the worms.

2. I still don't know how to weave a mat. I know kids who can't identify every letter in the alphabet yet who can weave mats.

3. I suspect I spend too much time complaining at any given moment about where I am. There's this really great poem I read at site:

where we are by gerald locklin:

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawai'i and switzerland.
there is always the anticipation 
of change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have 
always loved both the freshness of 
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope. 

I wrote that on my front door on Tongariki. In a way, I always felt I lived in two places--Tongariki and Efate. I felt that way because while Tongariki was my life, Efate was where I got to see all my volunteer friends and have fun. Now I live on Malekula, but I'm in America, too. For me, this poem represents my ambivalence about moving and of having my life spread out across different places. It's especially odd with physical things -- I have clothes here in Alexandria, Virginia, and in Tautu village on Malekula, and in the resource room in Port Vila, and Mami Esther is now the proud owner of everything else, back on Atong. 

Home leave, 2 weeks!

For the sake of historical record, I present: my home leave.

11/26: Spend 24 hours in transit. Look like hell and feel worse. First smoked salmon bagel in 2 years. In the airport in LA, I was thinking--man, everyone's on their little electronic screens! I, too, want an electronic device. Mom, Dad, and Ben meet me at the airport. LOVE YOU.

11/27: First proper Thanksgiving in 2 years. Bigfala lavet wetem ol famli blong mi. There's enough food for an army. I try to sell my younger cousins on the merits of kava and moving to a 3rd world country. It appears to go well. I eat one slice of every pie.

11/28: I vehemently say that I won't go shopping on Black Friday because it's done. Then my parents and I go to buy a new computer. Oh, yeah, and all of my clothes are in storage and can't be removed. Plus, all of the big box stores are 40-50% off. Plus, I do actually need something to wear other than the one pair of jeans I brought with me. 

11/29: I think I get dragged out shopping.

11/30: Go to church. Go with Mom and Dad out to this place called Massanutten. Go see Luray caverns first -- very, very, very nice. 

11/31: Go to a water park. (Yeah. It was awesome). Sit.

12/1: I play racquetball with my dad. We drive back to Richmond and stop at Montpelier, home of James Madison. Foolish me, I thought you pronounced it like the French, Montpellier. That'd be wrong. Learn lots and lots about James Madison. Hemi taff.

12/2-12/4: Off the top of my head, no recollection. I'm sure I did something, but this is why I need to actually write a diary -- can't remember! Oh! Now I do. Did random errands like mail packages, buy and wrap Christmas presents, and start to get un-lost in Virginia. Night of the 4th, go down to Richmond to help set up a baby shower.

12/5: Everyone is busy and no one is ready to set anything up! So get my nails done. (So nice!) Wander around looking for a plastic baby doll of the appropriate size. Eat barbecue. See Ben + Alyssa + Quinn. Dinner at Nick + Anna.

12/6: Nice baby shower! We roasted a pig, so kind of like what we do in Vanuatu. Except for authentic style, the men of the family should probably have butchered it themselves. Presents, too. 

12/7: Head back up to Alexandria with my dad.

12/8: First day to sit!! in !! the !! house!! and !! do !! nothing. Glorious.

12/9: Take a Red Cross course in case that comes in handy.

12/10: Alyssa and Quinn come up for the day. Quinn dances, and watches Dora, and decorates sugar cookies, and generally refuses to eat her meals. She's adorable. Auntie Manda is a pretty decent name, I guess.

12/11: GRE! 195$ and merci a dieu I'm never going to take it ever again. Ever ever ever ever ever. Got up at 5 a.m. today and was sitting in an Einstein Brothers at 6, wondering what went on in my life that I would decide to spend almost 200$ on a test. 4 hours of my life I can never get back. At least every prompt can be related to Vanuatu! Had fish tacos at lunch and saw the new Hunger Games movie. 

And that's two weeks! I realized that I only have a little over three weeks left in America. It's been weird -- both very slow and very fast. I feel like I haven't had a chance to sit and just veg out yet (although, of course, I have ample time in Vanuatu. Maybe I'm just accustomed to spending a large portion of my day gazing off into space?)

Three weeks left. Going to NY for New Years and then back to the island!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


I am dying to know who is going to replace me on Tongariki. Absolutely dying. I want to know sooooooooooo badlyyyyyy for several reasons.

1. I'll admit it, I totally want to scope them out. I hope that they are cooler than me and know how to play guitar.

2. I want to have a spy in place so that I can hear what my friends and family say about Leilima (that's me), and also what the people I didn't get along with so well have to say about me. If I had to sit through two years of hearing about Leitong and Leiriki, they can report back to me about what they've heard about Leilima.

3. I have realized, thanks to pictures, that my world map has the country Niger ... and another country called Niger. Obviously one of them is really Nigeria, and the spelling mistake gets to me, even ... how many thousand miles away?

4. I want to start coordinating projects with them. I promise that I will stay out of their hair and not be overbearing/annoying/that awful volunteer who never left, but I love writing grants and I would adore it if there was some way we could speed up the following:
          a. some grant to fix the teachers' housing roofs
          b. sorting the books that I have coming to the school library
          c. actually putting up the AusHC grant tank that's coming to the kindy
          d. I want more water tanks. More tanks!!! If I had another year on Tongariki, all I would do would be put up water tanks.

I'm also madly curious about the rest of the Sheps vols. The Shepherds are taff and so are you! Please don't ET the first time you come in from the island on the ship.           

Being in America feel surreal

I'm glad to be back home for this break. But being in America feels strange. In one sense, I feel like I just left it and everything is still the same. But on the other hand, just like two years have gone by on the island, two years have gone by here, and I don't think I fit back here properly. It'd be different if I was here for good, here to stay, but since I'm leaving again in less than a month, it all feels a little off. 

My friend Ken posted an update on Facebook about how weird it is to leave Vanuatu, where we are all the most interesting people of all time, to go to another country where we are just a face in the crowd.

Combine that, with the fact that, from here where I'm sitting in Virginia, Vanuatu seems so distant, so foreign. Yesterday I was going through a stack of pictures that my mom printed out from my parents' trip to Tongariki last year. I thought our refrigerator needed four--Miriam, Morris, and Asina; my mom and I in island dresses; my dad with Bubu David, a view of the other Shepherds islands--but as I was looking through the photos, it struck me just how weird it all is. I've had that feeling a few times so far, and it's strange to realize that what has seemed so familiar for so long now seems so distant, just because I have changed where I am. Everything is the same, but I've moved.

A good example of how my perspective on Tongariki has been rattled around a bit has to do with poverty. Tongariki is a poor island, but while I was living there, I got used to it. A few days ago, though, I was thinking about signs of serious poverty, and I realized I had so many things to think about, even if I was just to think about the kids. Many of the children have these huge open sores that they don't cover up, because their parents don't have plasters and don't want to send them to the dispensary to buy a few that'll just fall off anyway. So these little kids have flies on their sores. Or how some of the little babies will wear basically rags, or how there are moms there who can't afford enough diapers. Or even how this one girl in class 4, who I liked very, very much, had one shirt that she wore to school for the whole first year, and then a few months before I left, started wearing another girl's hand-me-down. Or little babies with swollen bellies, thanks to worms. When you live there, you just start to not notice it anymore ... But it's so, so, so poor. And while I think that Vanuatu has a very specific kind of poverty--poorly accessible in the South Pacific is is a special kind of poorly accessible--it makes you think about how many other people in the world face the same challenges. They have trade-offs that we don't even think about, like choosing which child seems most intelligent and only paying for their secondary school fees. 

And America is so, so, so rich. We don't have these problems. I was telling my mom about a situation on the island that I think in America would be classified as neglect, but that on the island, I really just think is something very understandable, and not neglect, but parents needing to provide for their family. I'm very glad to be back home and I feel like it's all easier here. But I think my head is still in the game back where I live. America is home but it's not where I'm from anymore, and that is a weird realization. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Some more unsolicited advice

1. Buy a ten dollar Bible in Port Vila. I have pretty strong feelings about going to church here--I really, really, really think that it's a good idea--but it's good to have something to read during church. It can be pretty boring ... especially when it happens in local language. But out of respect for the culture, I still think that, no matter what, you have to go at least fairly regularly. But buy a Bible. If it's boring or you can't understand what's going on, at least you can read Ecclesiastes or something.

2. If you don't buy nice sheets and you only have the Peace Corps sheets ... Sew the sides together to make fitted sheets. It will improve your life to not always wake up sleeping on the mattress.

3. If you're going to buy dried beans, lentils cook at least 2x or even 3x faster than any other type.

4. If you're eating with your host parents, make sure that you make a financial contribution to the household. Don't hand them a 1000 vatu note (that's weird), but make sure that you buy tuna fish and sugar and oil and that kind of thing. Yams might be free, but your host parents still worked hard to grow them, so make sure that their children aren't dying for a lolly, or something.

5. Always put bleach in your laundry bucket. If you only use a little bit, it'll make sure that your clothes are cleaner and smell much better than if you only use laundry soap! It'll give you advice on the bottle, but I usually do a few capfuls. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I really want to do this:

Part of my job is supposed to be giving awareness about climate change mitigation. All of the local committees are technically Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees ... so there's some space in there.

Anyway, I really want to do a demo project based on this:

Solar Cooker

I think it'd mostly be an awareness project, more like "look this is possible" rather than "go out and build one, young man!" But tell me that that doesn't look cool. Solar energy is so, so big in Vanuatu for torches and indoor lighting--I think it'd be great to show that you can cook off of it, too.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a global Peace Corps program that teaches leadership, life skills, and reproductive health to young women. (The equivalent program for boys is BILD--Boys In Leadership Development).

My absolute, very last, final, in-person project on Tongariki was to run a GLOW with the girls at Coconak School aged 12-17. Every day after school for three weeks, I had an hour session, with three half-day sessions thrown in. It was an absolute blast.


I did most of the leadership and life skills sections by myself. The program starts with talking about leadership styles, why you should love yourself, and tells girls that they need to think about their goals and dreams. We did a lot of talking about future goals -- what the girls want to do and where they want to go. Some of them want to be teachers or nurses and some of them want to live on the island and work in the garden. The point wasn't to tell them that they all need to go to USP (the university), but to get them thinking. How many children is it good to have? How much money do you need to have to live the kind of lifestyle you want? (Nowadays, pretty nice living on Atong is when you have a DVD player, a solar set up, a phone, enough nice clothes, and the money to buy things like biscuits and tin without worrying.) The point was to get them to think about how they can take control of their life. If they want to run a small store out of their house, they need to think about how to do it.

We also talked a lot about managing projects, and how women leaders have a really important role in the community. In America, 20% of senators and 18% of representatives are women. Women have a role as mayors, county commissioners, school board leaders ... In Vanuatu, there are 0 women MPs. I have heard of a woman in Tafea province who had some elected position in the province -- but that's it. Women leaders are more common in the church, and there are some women who play an active role in committees. But just because there's a place that is reserved for a woman doesn't mean that the woman who takes the position acts as a leader. The point was -- you have a right to be heard, to have a responsibility (if you can) to stand up for other people who are too afraid to speak up. 

This was a program for young women, so we talked a lot about healthy relationships, too. I did these sessions with the help of my counterpart, the wonderful Elsie Daniel. We were talking to the girls about things like -- when is it good to have a boyfriend? How should you treat your boyfriend? How should he treat you? What is a normal fight, and what is abuse? The highlight was a Jenga game in which you had to add or remove blocks, depending on situations written on sheets of paper. The situations were like : Mom wants to use a condom, and Dad agrees, because they have enough children already. Dad hits Mom. Mom sends the kids to buy matches, but the kids just play and never go to the store. Mom cheats on Dad. Mom is sweeping the house, so Dad washes the clothes. Mom and Dad go to the garden, so Big Sister watches the little kids. Even the other teachers were looking at the situations after the students went home (definitely helped that this was on a day with a severe weather warning!)

Card sorting
The last section was adolescent reproductive health. In America, we teach youth about puberty and sex early, and build up it every year in health class. Vanuatu's curriculum has puberty in class 6 and sex ed in class 10. Many teachers are embarrassed, because this is a very conservative culture, and they'll skip it. Also, a lot of kids don't make it to class 6, forget class 10.

Luckily, Elsie was there, and she's the headmistress, so it was all a go. I am really proud of this week. Out of the 25 girls who took part in the sex ed section, only 3 said that their mothers or aunties had told them in depth about what sex is and how you get or avoid pregnancy. 

We started by talking about puberty. Step 2 was doing body ID cards, in which they had to put names to pictures of male and female reproductive systems. Then we did card sets that showed sperm production, the menstrual cycle, and how sex and fertilization work. (The cards are the best things in the entire world.) The last day was talking about family planning -- what it is, how it works, and who should use it. We told the girls that it's not just about limiting the size of your family but about spacing children and timing them as well, making sure that they understood that family planning is good not only for young couples who don't want children yet, but also for new mothers with smolsmol babies and for women who already have four or five children and feel that enough is enough. Many women in Vanuatu have five or six children, which is fine, but our point was to go back to the beginning, about what they want their lives to be like. It's great to have ten children if your husband is a big man and has lots of money and can build you a big house and hire a house girl. It's pretty crummy to have ten children if you all sleep in a kitchen and you can't pay school fees for any of them. As a young woman, you have to think about these sorts of things. We can have babies from our mid-teens to our mid-to-late-40s, in some cases, so it's not cool for embarrassment to block girls from getting the knowledge that they need.

The day before I left, last day!!
I feel really proud of my GLOW. It was a labor of love and I hope that the girls can use some of that information in the future. 100%, I want to do another one or two on Malekula this next year. It's just such a great program -- the Gender and Development committee run by PCVs here is absolutely stellar. The stuff they produce is so perfect for Vanuatu, and it makes it so easy for volunteers. I never would have thought I could teach a fun and interactive session -- about the sperm cycle. On my own, it would have been some boring lecture that would have been about as uninformative as possible. A round of applause to GAD! 


I AM IN AMERICA, YALL. America is the best. God bless. Seriously -- today is Day 3, and I had basically forgotten how easy it is to live here (and how great it is.)

1. They now sell gingerbread-flavored Twix bars. Australia needs to bow down and acknowledge American supremacy in the snack market.

2. Customer service is amazing here. In Vanuatu, I had forgotten what it was like to have someone come up to me and be like, "Hi, how are you doing? Can I get you anything else? Did you see we have a jacket that goes with that shirt?" So nice.

3. I saw a big chunk of my family on Thanksgiving, which remains the best holiday ever. Naes dei! My cousins are all gargantuanly tall. So good to see all of them.

4. Immigration and customs are the easiest, quickest, most painless things. I had forgotten what it was like coming back to America -- so, so fast. When you're at LAX, if you look just the slightest bit lost, the staff comes up to you and asks if they can help. So nice.

5. I had forgotten about things like Netflix ... and the fact that internet is so fast on iPads ... and like, life, and stuff. Everything is so easy here. You can just buy things, you know? And they have exactly what you want. Even houses here, the way that they're built, is exactly the way that I like to live. No more cement floors!

A few things that are weird about America:

1. Air travel. In Vanuatu, to take a domestic flight, you just show up at the airport, tell the check in people your name, and maybe pay a little extra if your baggage is overweight. In that baggage, you can basically take anything that isn't flammable. You can pack up a chicken. You can carry a knife onto the plane, if you so desire. You're totally free to do what you like. Sometimes, people will even ask you to transport things -- a box of oranges, a baby -- and it's like no big deal. There are so many rules in America. On the flight from Fiji to LAX, people had to throw out water bottles they had purchased in the airport. I thought that was the normal deal -- anything you purchase in the airport, you can take on the plane. Since from Fiji to Samoa, you don't have to throw out water, I assume it's a rule from the States.

2. People here are not so good at waiting in lines without complaining. I went shopping on Black Friday ... and honestly, the deals were great. I got a bunch of clothes, everything 50% off, at Old Navy. My mom and I waited in line half an hour, which ... seems reasonable, for half price clothes. All the managers seemed really concerned, but how could you get mad? It's half price clothes. Who could reasonably expect that half the Earth wouldn't want to get some cheap t shirts, too?

3. So hurried! So much hurrying! I do like the Ni-Vanuatu time schedule -- things will happen when they happen.

Friday, November 28, 2014



Little Amanda is the age where she puts everything ... everything ... everything into her mouth. Her brother Kiki caught the bird -- and unfortunately, it was not dead in that photo. Or should I say, fortunately it wasn't dead? Germs.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My diaries

Before I came to the Peace Corps, I had never reliably kept a diary. Never once had I finished a diary, either -- I would usually get about six entries in and abandon them. 

I just finished my fifth diary. I've been rereading them, and they're pretty funny. I mean, no one can ever be allowed to look at them. They're 30% moping, 10% recording what book I was reading, 5% discussing whether I had manioc at lunch and yam at dinner or the reverse, 15% elation, 10% future plans, 10% oh-by-the-way-that-big-thing-happened-while-I-was-off-island-and-here-are-all-of-my-feelings, 10% tirades about materialism and consumerism, and 10% plans about the things that I wish I could purchase. Especially the last two parts -- it's screamingly funny how few pages separate entries where I'm all like, Americans are suffocating under the weight of all of their possessions! and entries where I'm like, when I get to Vila, I want to get my eyebrows done and then I'll go get a mojito and then ...

Gain some, lose a lot

Moving out of Tongariki has been a mixed bag. Truthful talk: my life on Malekula is a lot, a lot, a lot easier. I used to feel like living on Tongariki day to day was something of a physical struggle--go get firewood, go carry water, go sweep everyday but still have leaves all around the yard ... and that's forgetting my biggest complaint of all time, which is arranging boat travel!

I like the new regime: electricity is pretty cool. Everything is more of a no-brainer--I can walk to the airport. It's just really easy to live from day to day.

BUT AWO, ATONG! I feel so anonymous on Malekula. I don't have -- and won't develop -- the sort of easy relationships with everyone there that lead all the little kids to come to my door demanding that I take their photos. You gain some, you lose a lot.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Obama Kava Stall

So a lot of Ni-Vanuatu don't know a lot about America, which makes sense (America is very far away and America is not a country that Vanuatu interacts with a lot on cultural or business levels). One of the most frequent questions that people ask me about America is about race. Specifically, a lot of people ask me if there are black people in America, if there are Chinese people in America, if there are only white people in America ... Hollywood movies are pretty common in Vanuatu, but I don't think it's always really clear where they're set, if you don't speak English very well. And since the majority of foreigners who come to Vanuatu are white Kiwis and Aussies, I think some people assume America has the same racial makeup.

I always say the same thing: America is really diverse, mifala i gat ol defren kaen man (we have all different sorts of people), et cetera, et cetera. A lot of times (and I mean, this is a conversation I have with strangers several times a month) people ask if it's true that America has a black president and if he's from Africa. I'll be like, his dad was a black man from Africa and his mom was a white woman from America, and yeah, he's our president.

Anyway, this photo is from back during Independence, and I thought it was pretty cool. Obama Kava Stall: serving only the very best spicy mud-flavored intoxicants!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Goals 2 and 3

The mission of Peace Corps is

To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

I think the biggest misconception that people have about Peace Corps is that we're a development organization. We are ... and we're not. Peace Corps is a service organization that also is an intercultural exchange that focuses primarily on development. But the point is: world peace and friendship. Work is important, but what's also important is how the work is done.

Projects can be fantastic, but they are also just things. Sometimes projects go perfectly and all of southeastern Zambia now engages in backyard tilapia farming. Sometimes projects fail, and a beautiful aid post falls into disuse. Volunteers come and go. Projects can be well or poorly designed. There might be a war or a natural disaster or people in a village might just have other priorities that take precedence over what you wanted to do there.

I just feel like volunteers need to remember goals 2 and 3, and not exclusively focus on goal 1.

In a way, PCVs are like mini-ambassadors about America. When we're friendly and interested and have gud fasin, we lead our communities to think positively about America and Americans. In Vanuatu, most people won't meet an American who is not a PCV (and, besides, we're still riding strong from World War 2), but that's not the case everywhere. I think in many countries around the world where people have greater access to news media, there is a prevailing view of America as a place of violence, a place that causes wars or a place that interferes. I think in countries where people have a negative view of America and Americans, it's even more important for PCVs to remember goal 2. 

And as far as goal 3 goes -- before I moved to Vanuatu, I couldn't have picked this country out on a map. I knew nothing about Vanuatu in specific and very, very little about the South Pacific in general. From reading Jared Diamond books, I had some vague idea about chiefs and pigs. I had read kids' version of Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. I think I knew that there would be coconuts. My ignorance really was astounding. And, to be honest, one of my real goals in this blog is to try and tell anyone who reads it a little more about Vanuatu and about life down here. It's good and bad and weird down here, and I wish more people in the States and around the world knew that there are countries like this.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Women's rights = human rights

It's become increasingly clear to me, by living in Vanuatu, just how successful the American women's movement has been. When you read about society and gender roles in the States, you can tell that we have a ways to go before we live in a nation that's 100% fair and equitable. But we've gotten so far, seriously, and that's something we should celebrate. We're arguing over who should pay for contraception rather than whether a woman should be able to access contraception. We're talking about whether men do enough child care rather than assuming that that's a woman's role. We assume that our daughters should be educated for the workforce, rather than thinking that they're just going to get pregnant and stay home, so what's the point? We don't value our sons over our daughters.

I love Vanuatu. I really do. But one thing about Vanuatu that I think is bad--that I think is very, very, very bad--is the status of women, particularly when it comes up against rape or sexual assault. It really sneaks up on you, because the people of Vanuatu are genuinely friendly and kind, especially to strangers. Vanuatu is not a country where you walk around scared that you're going to get jumped; it really is a place where you feel you can trust the kindness of the people you meet on the road. But it is a place that, when push comes to shove in a difficult way, seems to always value men over women.

I heard a really horrible story yesterday involving a 9 year old girl. It was probably the worst story I've heard here, but it had a lot in common with a lot of other stories I've heard. Especially in cases of rape or sexual assault when the victim is especially vulnerable -- a child, a disabled woman, a teenager who had previously been selling sex to her chief, a young mother off of her island--everyone just wants to brush it off under the rug. Even when they know exactly what happened--and in a small community, everyone does know exactly what happened--no one seems willing to get their head out from under the sand and actually do anything about the fact that a crime took place. I do understand, partially, that the men are family, too, and that it probably is much easier to downplay everything and to blame the victim. But it's so wrong.

I think it comes out of way too much respect in this culture and too much emphasis on communal harmony. It's like everyone wants to get along so much that even when men (and usually it is men) do really insane things, everyone just wants to brush it off and return back to normal. Like on my island, a man who was removed from the truck committee got mad, went down and spoiled the road so that the truck couldn't run down to the passage that week. He got a little side eye and some complaining, but everyone just carried their parcels up the hill and fixed the road. No consequences. Or three times I can think of on Tongariki, I've had men do these totally insane things--refuse to take no for an answer romantically and just make a total ass of himself, request to come to a workshop in Vila and just get drunk the whole time instead of attending, and grossly misrepresent the scale of a project then blame me for not getting 5x the number of tanks as we'd agreed. Every time it was "Oh, that's just how he is, fasin blong hem nao." It all slides away in the face of the fact that in a small community, you have to keep living together, and to do that, you have to ignore or purposely try to forget the things people have done. Most of the time, I don't think this is the worst strategy in the world.

When it comes to rape and sexual assault, though, it's really bad. If it's just a case of someone being a jerk or being unreliable, that's one thing. But there's so much victim blaming that goes on here and the police, both village and government, do not do what they ought to. I know of a case where a report was made and police straight-up refused to make an investigation. It doesn't help that, somehow, the police never have the money to make the rounds, so many times if a complaint is made, the complainants have to pay the price of the police visit. Depending on where you are in Vanuatu, that might be as much as 100 or 200 dollars, which is impossible for a subsistence farmer. Can't afford the boat charter, and the cops just won't come. 

And with victim blaming--so I led a workshop on Gender Based Violence. It went over really well, and I was very impressed with what everyone had to say. One session that did, I think, fail, was a session on how to prevent rape inside of a community. The way it worked was that it was one of the later sessions in the workshop, and I was listing their suggestions on a sheet of butcher's paper. There were lots of ideas of how a woman could prevent rape--stay close to your house, don't go walking anywhere alone, don't flirt with boys and give them the wrong idea, don't drink alcohol, don't wear clothes that will spoil a man's thinking, always stay with family--and, I think, two suggestions for how men could prevent rape. The first was "don't smoke marijuana", a drug which in Vanuatu has a reputation for making people violent and crazy, as opposed to lazy and prone to skipping Intro to Anthro. The second was "don't watch blue (pornographic) movies". As an American, I think we would say different things, like "ask the girl/woman if she wants to have sex with you" or "no means no." It's just a totally different attitude in which women have to behave within a certain very narrow set of parameters or else, well, that's what you get. And especially considering the extremely high rate of sexual abuse that happens within families and at schools (largely between students but also teacher-student), I can't say I can identify any one particular place that is universally safe.

It just makes me really angry. I know that at a certain level I am outraged because I am a woman and so I take these stories perhaps more personally than some other people. Women's rights = human rights, though. And here, in some cases, it's just so straight forwardly against what we in America view as proper and appropriate that it boggles me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oh Em Gee, GRE

I started studying for the GRE about a month ago, off and on, with the goal of taking the test in December. Peace Corps has taught me that I'm not good at a variety of things--cutting grass with a knife, maintaining a cockroach-free zone, letting go of grudges--but historically I have been good at acing standardized tests. I know I've been out of school for two years now, but I figured that the test would be like the proverbial piece of cake, leaving essay writing to be the hardest part of grad school applications.

Except, oh man, I am so stupid now.

The math part of the GRE is not hard at all. It's all algebra and geometry, and I've got a really firm grip on high school math. 

But the English? Obviously Inglis blong mi i no gud tumas because the verbal GRE practice sessions are just destroying me. I thought I was fairly adept in my own language, but clearly that was a(n)

           A) fallacy
           B) error
           C) lapse
           D) trick of my own ego
           E) mistake caused by the fact that since I majored in a humanities subject and a social science, I assumed I was, like, good at that.

I don't want to get carried away here, but studying for the GRE is a pretty humbling experience. Since I haven't been in school since 2012, I haven't experienced any school-related anxiety. (In its place put: is this bump cancer/all of my friends back home are running marathons and I am sitting on a dirt floor). Since I've started studying for the GRE, though, I've had this recurring dream that I'm a senior in college who accidentally signed up for Advanced Quechua or something, never went to class, but now I have to ace tomorrow's exam or else.

I figure it's my subconscious mind telling me to sit around in the sunshine as much as possible. Let's stick with that.

Matenvat Climate Change Awareness

I just spent the last two nights in Matenvat village on Northwest Malekula. It's a really interesting place -- the villages is separated into different stations by religion, which I've never seen before. On Tongariki, there were definitely certain villages that were more heavily Presbyterian/New Covenant/Bible Church, but they weren't physically separated in the same way. In Matenvat, it was about a ten minute (?) walk from Matenvat Presbyterian to Matenvat SDA, and then there were Catholic and Praise and Worship stations, too.

It's about an hour and a half, maybe, to go up there from Lakatoro over a reasonably bumpy road. The trip up was carrying all sorts of cargo just taken off of the ship -- a bicycle, spare tires, bags and bags and bags -- and it was so crowded that three younger guys were sitting on top of the cab. Mega squish. I don't think the roads up there are so terrible, but they are really, really dusty. It hasn't rained in a while up here and after a few hours, the dust just coats you. By the time I got to Matenvat, I looked pretty ridiculous--my whole face was covered in dust except for the parts covered by my sunglasses, so I looked a bit like a racoon. At least it didn't ruin my hair too much!

It was a total relief to head up that way. It's nice being in a small village where everyone knows everyone. Tautu, where I'm staying now, is nice, but it's not the same. There are lots of strangers going in and out all the time, and I don't feel like I've met that many people yet. Laura, the volunteer up there, is really great and I really hope this project idea we cooked up together can actually come to fruition. It's one thing that I really like about Malekula so far --there's Maureen from G24 and then a bunch of really cool volunteers from the new group. I like having a social life! We hung out and ate couscous and colossal egg sandwiches and wandered around. I got to see their class 8 closing -- so sweet. Malekula is a little different from Tongariki in how they do salusalu. The students and their families gave the teachers some calico, but they gave just a trillion flower necklaces -- I think one of the teachers had more than ten, to the point that it looked a bit like an Elizabethan ruff. On Tongariki, we usually just did one flower necklace and then the rest of the salusalu would be tied calico.

The main reason for going was to do my first climate change awareness toktok. I like doing presentations, but I hadn't given a climate change talk before so I was a little nervous. It went surprisingly well. The basic message that the Vanuatu government is promoting now is that Vanuatu needs to adapt to climate change. Unlike western countries, Vanuatu isn't really emitting that many greenhouse gases ... but also unlike western countries, Vanuatu's economy is based on agriculture. And in agriculture, when the weather patterns change, it's serious business. Things don't go the way that they used to, so you need new breeds and varieties of fruits, vegetables, and livestock, new techniques, and even new business ideas. I spoke maybe for about 45 minutes or so, distributed some materials, and then we watched the BBC Human Planet Ocean episode. It's such a good piece of TV; literally the kids were gasping at points.

The disaster office's projector came in handy later. Laura and I traced her world map (so much faster with a projector than by using a grid!) and then we showed the Lego Movie after dinner. I think I'm going to stick with that as a model -- if I'm already in a village to make a toktok and I'm sleeping there, videos on projectors are definitely the way to go. 

I got in around 7:30 this morning, spending a few hours at the computer lab at Norsup hospital before I go to Lambubu for the weekend with all of the other volunteers on Malekula. Naes wikend!

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Love Poem to Khao Shong Agglomerated Instant Coffee

After seven hundred mornings of contemplation
I can now attest:

The simplest of luxuries
Is not drinking sugar water
At breakfast.

Unsolicited advice for new volunteers

To avoid sounding like an overbearing twit in G27's Facebook group, here is some unsolicited advice for future volunteers in Vanuatu:

1) Bring many more pairs of underwear that you think you'll want. 

2) Learn Bislama as quickly as possible. It gives you more legitimacy and makes your life much better.

3) ESPECIALLY when you first get to site, be as outgoing as you can bear. It's easier to back away after six months than to try to develop close bonds after six months of being a hermit.

4) Work is not the only point. Communities remember volunteers who get them big things (that well over there was given by the Pis Kop) but the point is supposed to be world friendship, too. As a PCV, you might be the only American they know, so if you act like a jerk who doesn't want to talk to them, that's what they're going to take away about us.

5) Remember that in this culture, people don't spend a lot of time by themselves. We like being alone much more than most people do. So what might seem like "my crazy overbearing neighbors won't give me any space" is also "oh that poor boy, he must be so lonely. Quick, Johnny, you go help him cut his grass."

6) A lot of conflict happens over whether you're family or a guest. Sometimes your host parents will treat you like family when you want to be a guest. Sometimes they'll treat you like a guest when you want to be family. Accept that it's an awkward situation and remember that you are both, so just roll with it.

7) Eat with people as much as you can. You won't like the food, but developing relationships takes a LONG time. You are not going to really love people if you don't put the hours in. It sounds cheesy, but I swear it's true.

8) For the sake of your bank account, alcohol is a demon drink that should be avoided. For the price of a single domestic beer is a restaurant, you can drink four or five shells of kava with your new friends (whoever is drinking kava at the same time.)

9) I want to write more about this later--but female volunteers, we're in a weird position. Don't forget that this is a male-dominated society and that actions that seem very innocent to us don't appear that way to other people. Good example: my friend Mike and I just spent a week in another volunteer's house on Santo. Mike and I are not a thing. But it's basically impossible to imagine here that two young people could just be friends. Remember that when you're flirting with a cute guy (and that will be most guys here.)

10) Seriously, remember that you are incredibly lucky. Vanuatu is beautiful and filled with friendly people. It's not America, and remember that no matter what kind of site you go to,it will seem like a hardship. Some volunteers have cold showers and flush toilets and limited power at their houses. Other volunteers have bucket baths and bush toilets and hahahahaha what is the internet? Either way it will feel hard because compared to the States, it IS hard. But like... I assume when you decided to join the Peace Corps, you thought it through. 

End unsolicited advice pt 1. Next time I have a big chunk of thoughts to spew out, I'll add them in.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Internet is for Suckers

The internet in Vanuatu is terrible/slow/horrible for loading YouTube videos/insufficient for your day-to-day needs?

No duh. So get off of the internet and go outside. You have quite honestly the entire rest of your life, which you will not spend in the South Pacific! 

I seriously believe in my heart of hearts that the more a volunteer is connected to the world back home, the harder it is to get connected here. I'm not saying you shouldn't talk to your friends or to your dad, but it's so easy to skip the initial awkward step of making friends by living on your computer. (End result: no friends.) Technology is cool and stuff, but you gotta get yourself out there properly! This place is your real life now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

For those of you who've never heard the joke...

Peace Corps: the hardest job you'll ever love!!!!!!!

Peace Corps: the longest vacation you'll ever hate!!!!!

All jokes aside, I'm really excited for my ticket back to the United States! I will be getting in at midnight before Thanksgiving. (Not ideal, no.) And then back to the grind on January 4. I have a long list of things I want to do in America, exactly none of which involve tinned tuna or mosquito nets.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tongariki vs. Malekula

A few obvious differences between Tongariki and Malekula:

1. There are actually a lot of tourists on Malekula. There are bungalows and hikes and a tourism information center. There's also a call center (??) that helps tourists get into contact with rural bungalow owners. No tourists on Atong.

2. They sell lots of stuff here. Bread, sweetened condensed milk, sandwiches, tomato paste, coffee ... On Tongariki we ran out of peanut butter and phone credit like twice a month.

3. The market here is pretty good. It's not the best one I've ever seen, but there are about twenty or thirty women selling raw vegetables and fruits every day, with some other people selling bread/tuluk (island tamales)/samosas. ... On Tongariki, no market.

4. So many trucks here! SO MANY TRUCKS. And you pay 100 vatu and they just drive you wherever.

5. So many kava bars! SO MANY KAVA BARS.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Most Ni-Vanuatu are fairly slim. You do sometimes see some big mamas or some papas with a gut, but most people are on the smaller side. Especially on the island, there aren't a lot of heavy people. I know some women with two or three children who have the figures of cheerleaders. My school of 70 kids has one teenage girl who's on the chubby side, but I'd say she's within a pretty normal range for puberty.

So in comparison, most of us volunteers are enormous.

The word in Bislama for fat is 'fatfat', and it doesn't really carry the same negative connotation as in the States. If someone calls you fatfat in Vanuatu, it's the same as saying that you're short ... or have a big nose ... or pretty eyes. It's not meant to be an insult but rather a statement of fact. It's like a way to cheek someone a little bit. Sometimes it's even a compliment -- as in the phrase 'oh, yu fatfat gud we.' (You're very nicely fat.) 

Obviously, though, for us it's weird. In America, we don't use fat as a neutral description. It's like it's assumed that if you call someone fat, you're trying to insult them or cast aspersions on their looks. We say that someone is big, or heavy, or overweight, but you don't usually say that someone you like is fat. 

It really used to hurt my feelings when people would call me fatfat, because I'd be just like, come on, that's so mean. Talking like that violates normal American codes of behavior. Now, it doesn't so much, especially as I've come to realize that only the very thinnest volunteers have escaped being dubbed fatfat. There are some volunteers with great figures who've been told by people on their islands 'you are so fat.' So that makes me feel better about being, you know, colossally gigantic. 

I do still feel like it's rude, but I wonder if Ni-Vans don't have the right idea. In America, it seems like a lot of women are really concerned with their bodies, and a lot of attention is devoted in the media and in education to developing healthy body images. The only time I've heard anyone in Vanuatu sound concerned about how they looked was a friend who was worried her new boyfriend might not like how her stomach looked (because she'd had a baby the year before and her stomach wasn't flat anymore). Maybe in America we all need to just chill out about being fatfat. No worries, yumi evriwan i fatfat lelebet, laef i olsem nomo.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Food, Glorious Food...

Things I really, really want to eat when I go back to the States:

1) Smoked salmon bagel with onion, capers, cream cheese

2) Gobs and gobs of sushi
3) Enchiladas
4) Pizza from a chain -- thick greasy pizza with a thick crust that you order from the phone, none of this thin crust/barbecue sauce/pineapple stuff
5) A proper gyro
6) Pimento cheese!
7) Lasagna
8) Texas-style barbecue
9) Hummus + snicky snacks
10) Like a quarter pound of roast beef from the deli, every single day

The food in Vila isn't bad ... but it's not what you want. It's geared towards Australian tastes rather than American tastes (beetroot on everything! eggs on everything! pineapple on everything!) Definitely looking forward to eating some real American chow when I head back home. 

Tick tock tick tock tick tock