Monday, April 21, 2014


These are my two host sisters--Asina and Cecelia. 

Asina is about seven. Her dad lives in Vila and her mom is out of the picture. Her dad sent her to Tongariki last year for school and she hasn't seen him since. He's sent a few parcels on the ship for her, but right now she doesn't have a uniform to wear to school. Luckily an older girl outgrew a blue and white checked dress that seems to be all right. This sort of family fostering out is pretty common in Vanuatu, but it can lead to the child being a bit of a burden on the relatives. She's a really really smart kid--she has her numbers and her letters down flat, in first grade--but she talks ... and she talks ... and she talks ... and she talks. She's sweet and a total chatterbox. 

Cecelia is about fourteen or fifteen. I think she has cerebral palsy because she moves her arms and legs in that scissored way I've read about. She's nonverbal and can't walk or feed herself. In Vanuatu, mothers don't use baby food; they chew the food and then feed their babies with that. My host mama has been chewing Cecelia's meals for fourteen or fifteen years. Until very recently, they've had to carry her everywhere. In January the owners of the ship sent this stroller for her and now my host parents use it as a wheelchair for her. My host parents had a small party at their house to pray over the chair and say thanks to God and to the owners of the ship for their generosity.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ain't that purdy? Fiji Pt. 1

That's sunset at Mana Island, Fiji, in early January 2014. Isn't that beautiful? For me, who's used to stone beaches where you stub your toe or trip every time you want to go swimming, Mana was fantastic. Super beautiful. Fiji is not at all like Vanuatu--it's a much richer, much more developed country with many more tourists and a lot more industry. (You can eat at McDonald's in Fiji! What?!) But it's still tropical island paradise.

I have this ongoing fantasy about what if I had been put at another PC post. There's PC in Fiji (all health vols) so it's easy to think what if ... But what if I hadn't been put in the South Pacific? Vanuatu is really special in its isolation. At many PC posts, it would be reasonable to expect that I'd have internet once a week, drink beer, eat ice cream, and so on. (Remember, all these posts I put up I write months in advance and set on auto-update. Tongariki i no kat intanet.) But wow, what if I'd been in Fiji ...? Just beautiful.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Laplap with my auntie/Food culture

(I'm making lap lap banana with shellfish with my auntie Leikar here. Carolannie is the one photobombing behind my head.)

When I first got to Vanuatu, I thought laplap was disgusting. That's because when I first got to Vanuatu, I was stupid. One thing about life in the States: we have too much of everything. Too much TV. Too much sugar. Too much fat. Too many delicious items to eat all the time. I think the last time I was really thin, I was a toddler--because American food is so tasty, so available. You have to have a will power of iron to be able to stay away from ice cream when you're upset and it's literally available at ten places within ten minutes' walk from your house. American food culture is based on the idea that you can eat something delicious all the time, whether it's in season or not, as much as you want. 

Ni-Van food culture isn't like that. Out on the island where I live, the people have a very seasonal diet. They feast during times of feasting, but when the party ends, it's over. We eat meat at Christmas time, at New Yam, Chief's Day, Shefa Day, Independence, funerals, weddings, new baby parties, and in celebration of important visitors. The rest of the year? No fresh meat. It's the same with fruits and vegetables. We eat certain things at certain times of the year, and when it's done, it's done. Mango season lasts from October to late December and then it's over. Nakatambol season lasts from May to July (three terrible, terrible months.) It even applies to staple crops. Certain months of the year we eat breadfruit. Other months we eat yams. There's a while when nothing's ready and we all eat a lot of rice. There's always enough food, but it's not always delicious or balanced. I would say that the mentality can be very much food-as-fuel at sometimes.

Back to laplap. When I first got here, I thought it was this gelatinous slime gunk. Laplap is basically a baked pudding of grated root crop mixed with coconut milk. It can have island cabbage, wild cane, fish, shell fish, or meat mixed into it, or it can be just eaten plain. It's not bad at all, especially if it's hot -- but if you're thinking about eating something with a lot of flavor, it's a let down. But it's what's for dinner. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about food preferences, allergies, certain kinds of restricted diets. As a volunteer in Vanuatu, I do think you could maintain a vegetarian diet or even a kosher diet without causing too much offense, but that's about it. (The kosher diet would only be acceptable because there are so many Seventh Day Adventists in Vanuatu. A lot of Ni-Vans already know people who won't eat crab or pork, and no one really eats dairy anyway). Having strong preferences in any other way, though, is really just being insulting and not trying hard enough. The way I see it is your mama or someone else's mama slaved over a fire to make you a plate of food. Whatever she cooks, that's what she knows how to cook. She might not even really enjoy the meal herself; I've heard a lot of mamas tell me that they don't really like breadfruit, for example. But if the breadfruit's ready to eat, the breadfruit's ready to eat. You have to chow down. 

Bonus points as a volunteer: nobody is going to like taro enough to get fat on it. It's impossible.