Sunday, August 31, 2014

Here is a poem that my host mama taught me. Remember, Mami Esther doesn’t drink kava … and I do. Awo.

Kava kava kava
I spoelem hed blong papa
Taem we san i ko daon
Papa i ting abaot kava
Hemi no ting abaot edukesen blong mi
Kava kava kava

(Kava, kava, kava … It messes up Dad’s head. When the sun goes down, Dad thinks about kava. He doesn’t think about my education. Kava, kava, kava.)

Like I said … awo. True. Most volunteers in Vanuatu drink a lot of kava. Me too! Kava makes you feel great and the 5-7 p.m. drinking time is social, cheap, and a really enjoyable part of my day.  But kava is a social issue, too. You’ll hear about men who go out drinking kava until 10 or 11 p.m. at night, and they make their wives stay up waiting for them without eating their dinner. Or you hear about yangfala who spend all of their money on kava when there are other things they should save up for (like a ticket out of Vila.)

I thought it was clever.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


One thing I think people don't know when they apply to Peace Corps? You have to be good with being by yourself. No distractions.

In America, we have so many distractions and so many material things to comfort ourselves. I don't think most people ever sit still long enough to be mindful of their own thoughts and feelings. If you're having a bad day, you can do whatever it is that makes you feel better -- dress up nice and go out with a friend; go to the gym and get a protein shake; throw on sweats and watch some wedding show on the couch. 

At least for me, this sort of thing can help me propel through a difficult time. I remember one two week period when I was in college and so focused on cramming in work I should have done earlier that I was just frantic. I was getting up at 8 in the morning, getting coffee in the library at 8:30, and basically not moving from my seat (4th floor, Hunt Library, last seat by the window) until midnight or 1 a.m. every day. It was work that I needed to be doing, but it was just exhausting. I got through that period by trying to satisfy every need I could think of. I got expensive coffees and Chipotle for lunch, dressed in sweats, and listened to upbeat music all day. It was unpleasant but I had all those comforts. I didn't have the time to hang out with a friend, but at least I was comfortable while doing it.

But in Peace Corps, you have a low level of stress and discomfort all the time and you can't get away from any of it. Like if your host parents are being weird, you can't settle in on your bed and watch a movie to distract yourself. If you're like me, my solar panel won't charge your laptop for the whole movie. And then there's just normal things, like having a bush toilet or bucket baths, making fires, traveling on ships, stores running out of basics, mud, rats. Working here can be really difficult because it is a different culture with different priorities. Things that we think are of urgent, vital need aren't always the same things our neighbors want to do. People here are just like Americans in that they don't really want to be direct in refusal--no one's going to be like, no, I don't want to go to your workshop, I'd rather stay home and shampoo my cat. A lot of times, PCVs misread situations or take statements on face value, when in fact, sometimes people just have different things to do. It can be really, really annoying. 

But you have to find a way to deal with it. Some people can't do it. It doesn't make them weaker people, but it does make their experience more difficult. If you need to get emotional energy from other Americans, you need to be around other Americans. If you need to be around other Americans, you might be away from your site a lot. If you're away from your site too much, it affects your work.

For me, I don't have that support. Last year I did, and I really appreciate those volunteers. I'm not trying to say here that I think I'm the greatest and best PCV of all time, because that is obviously false. But I have gotten to be really good about putting up with things that annoy me. It's a combination of things--patience, a (selective) disregard of some social criticisms, and also a set schedule. I have a pretty firmly established set of things that I do that I don't deviate much from. I drink kava when it comes to me, but I don't seek it out. I work until noon, eat my lunch, and head home. I eat dinner at my host parents' but I don't try to go to the garden with them every afternoon. I've been able to create a lifestyle that I can maintain pretty painlessly. Yes, I run out of coffee or have weeks when none of my clothes will dry on the line. But I'm not fighting stuff anymore.

It's my second year, and that's definitely made a huge difference. Things that used to be challenging ... haha, not anymore. But it gives me a lot to think about for when I go back to America. I want to keep this lack of needing things. I don't want to be going around, depending on outside people or things for my contentment. I'll see how it goes when I get to that time.

One style of kastom house

This is a style of kastom house that we don't do on Tongariki. Photos from Ranvetlam, North Ambrym.

These houses are made of bamboo. You cut the bamboo, flatten it, and braid it. I think you paint before you braid it ... but I'm not sure. Anyway, I really like the style. I think it's really clean and neat and nice.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Puskat blong mi

This is Winston. He's not really my cat, but he thinks he is. (And this is my little sister, Josineth.)

Winston was the previous volunteer's cat. Unfortunately, she was medically separated six months into her service. Josineth was her actual host sister, so Winston went to go stay with her family.

When I moved to Tongariki, this cat literally bounded across my yard and back into my house. I think he looked at me and went waet missus ... my white missus!!! and that was that. Originally, I really didn't like him because he just comes and goes as he pleases. The sides of my house don't meet my roof, so my cat jumps in and out whenever he wants. This can be a little annoying in the middle of the night, especially when he knocks things over. Originally, I tried to sack him out the front door every time he jumped in through the sides, but he thought it was a game. So there.

Winston has fleas but is a very good mouser. In return for his eternal love and devotion, I always share my tuna fish with him and let him sleep on my bed. He's going to stay on the island when I go--he's definitely an island cat, not a house cat. He eats anything that moves (and most things that don't).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sleeping on Ships

Sleeping on ships is like the funniest thing in the entire world. It's extremely uncomfortable, you're out in the open air, the ship's rocking, there's nowhere to put your head ... It's just an extremely unpleasant experience.

Now, you might look at this picture and ask yourself, what is this woman doing? Does she think she's a mummy? Rookie mistake. Always bring a lavalava or another large piece of calico on a ship. During the daytime, you can wear it like a scarf. At night, wrap it around your face to pretend that you're more than six inches from some dude you don't know. It's nice to have a feeling of privacy.

A key trick is to find something nice to sleep on. Ideally, you want something that's soft but large. Hard and large is okay, too. You just don't want to be balancing your head on a bucket. Chinese bags are good. Sleeping on a big ice box or against a solar panel is good. Sleeping on luggage is good. Ideally, nothing that smells.

Final tip for sleeping on ships: dress warmly, but always carry a blanket. That girl on the left has the right idea. It might only be 75 degrees outside, but with strong wind on a boat, you feel chilly. Wrap it up! 

PS. The benches in that picture are the least comfortable things to sleep on in the world. At one point when I was sleeping there, I was curled in the fetal position with my head between two planks, getting pushed by the mama who was above me. Unpleasant.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One of my favorite photos of my uncle David

I just like this photo because this is pretty much what Lolo David does with his evenings. Jokes, chews kava, jokes, chews kava. This photo was taken in the main room of my host parents' house. So on the red tray are little pieces of kava root that have been cleaned. They're cut to about the size of french fries. You take a few at a time, chew them to mush, then spit them out into the bowl. Once you've chewed through all of them, you mix the chewed mush with water. Then you drain it through a piece of cloth to take the fibrous bits out.

It's disgusting. But it'll do the trick!

Monday, August 4, 2014

School Time Table

As a volunteer, I spend a lot of time looking at my school and thinking about what should be done better. A lot of what I view as areas needing improvement have to do with a lack of resources, and some of the rest has to do with cultural things, like little parental involvement. My teachers don’t have access to resource books, copiers, and all of the other things that make running interactive activities easier in the States. And the parents at my school aren’t like the parents I remember from being in primary school. I still remember being in first grade, having Dad read about Mama Mama Hucklebuck and Papa Papa Hucklebuck and Pony Pony Hucklebuck. I remember all of the class parties my Mom did. And I remember other parents – the Mothers’ desk at St. John’s; parents volunteering to read and help with field trips and even do the Art sessions in Class 6. Here, no gat. The parents have to work in the gardens.

But one thing I want to say: my school starts on time. I wish my teachers used their curriculum books less, but they're responsible and professional. The kids on Tongariki get all of the contact hours that they're supposed to have. And the kids show up to school, too. They don't take random holidays just because they don't want to go to school.

I’m saying this because I was just at a school that isn't like this. And, talking to a few other volunteers, my situation—of a school that runs when it’s supposed to—is not really that common throughout Vanuatu. You know, we’re all just fish who can’t see the water we’re swimming in. I focus a lot on the things that need improvement at my school, but compared to this other school I visited, Tongariki is doing a lot of great things. This other school, the kids weren’t starting their English periods until 8:30 or 8:45 in the morning, and several of the teachers just … weren’t at school.

My time is winding down on Tongariki. I’ve done a lot of good stuff and there’s always stuff to do. But I think it’s time to start looking at the positive things about my service and not obsessing over the fact I'm the only one excited about reading corners.