Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A few library pictures

My library's not so big ... but it's nice to have an extra space for classes.

Most of Class 2 can't read that well yet, but Ben can! This kid is very advanced. He's very eager to try and read new words. It's weird being a teacher and reflecting on what my teachers must have thought of me when I was in elementary school ... Oy.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Banana in Coconut Milk

This is legitimately delicious and about the easiest thing ever to cook.

Bananas in coconut milk

Sweet bananas

Coconut milk

Peel the sweet bananas. Put them in water and boil til they can be pierced by a fork (kind of like potatoes.) Then pour coconut milk on top of them.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Culture clash

This is going to sound crazy, but I think that, superficially, Vanuatu's culture doesn't look that different from the US. Anyone who's seen any photos is going to put up their finger and say, hey, wait a minute, so let me explain.

Vanuatu is filled with some of the friendliest, kindest, and most generous people on Earth. Ni-Vanuatu are also, coincidentally, really, really good at hospitality and being open to strangers. This is not a culture in which volunteers feel like they are constantly hitting themselves against a brick wall to try and make friends and connections. Add the fact that Bislama is very similar to English, and it's very easy (I think) for volunteers to make the transition here. You can start making jokes in Bislama and being funny, friendly, and interesting to talk to, in maybe a week or so, to start. Don't get me wrong, it takes much longer to learn how to speak it correctly, but I think the level needed for an entrance-level social life is pretty low. And everyone is so nice! 

Because of all of this, I felt like I integrated into Vanuatu very quickly. To a degree, while I think I understood on an intellectual level that Vanuatu's culture was very different, it was easy to downplay things as being differences in clothes, kastom, and food. Don't get me wrong, Vanuatu is physically quite different from America, and, of course, they don't do things on the same time or organize themselves like the States or really do much of anything exactly like America. But what I'm trying to say is that it's very, very comfortable for me to be here. It doesn't really feel like I have to exert myself too much. Like, I can just hang out and be me barefoot in some grubby clothes with my hair like a mess sitting on the ground and that's okay. I've been able to get a lot of work done, but I also feel very comfortable here. Especially now -- it's a no brainer. It's so easy to live here.

Honestly, though, the longer I'm here, the more I am able to pick out the things that I don't like, and that I'm not comfortable with, here in Vanuatu. The biggest one is, obviously, the status of women here. It's not like it's a secret that Vanuatu is a very male-dominated culture, but it's appalling how much violence against women there is, and just how blasé many people's attitudes are. I always feel a tension in this blog between the fact that I want to tell the truth and the fact that I realize I'm a foreigner in this country and I don't want someone reading my blog and saying, "Oh luk wan pis kop i stap talem ol rabis toktok abaot on man ples, olgeta oli stronghed tumas, oli no shud tok tok olsem ..." It's frustrating because on the one hand, I feel like people should know that the X on Y island did Z, especially when Z is the sort of thing that even here makes people go, Oh my God. 

It's unsettling to realize that a specific group you feel so close to puts up with some of its members behaving exceptionally, criminally, badly. They do it for a number of reasons, everything from perhaps that they don't think domestic violence is that bad to it's easier to resolve community conflict over a rape by saying that the girl (not woman, girl) is responsible too, to just I don't even know, the fact that the chiefs are all men and I've heard of exactly one female provincial councilor. I'm not really sure why it is this way, but it is. And the more I'm here, and the more I hear, I just get this intense, visceral reaction that the situation is just awful, nogud, rabis fasin blo evriwan we i gat kaen tinging olsem. 

Vanuatu ... Man, what do I say about this place? I think that living here, you really do come to love people. Ni-Vanuatu people really embrace us, and definitely I feel that love in return. At COS, we were talking about how to describe Peace Corps when we got home, and the obvious answer is that I've been getting my mind blown, my horizons widened, and my butt kicked into shape. I wanted something that was going to change my life, because I didn't like what my life was turning into back home. I felt very constrained and like I didn't have the skills or the drive or the confidence to go from where I was to where I wanted to be. And Vanuatu ... Vanuatu delivered. My friend Michelle Wong and I were discussing this recently, how we both felt like we came to Vanuatu as college kids and turned into adults. I owe a lot to this place and to the people here. It's been hard and good and weird and beautiful and boring and tough and easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy. I love it and I'm not going anywhere for now.

But it's not all smooth-sailing. I still learn new things about this place all the time, things I like, and things I don't like, too. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Peace Corps is going to deliver something wildly out of left-field at every turn. It's not easy all the time to be an American and work in Vanuatu, because Vanuatu isn't America. Culture is an iceberg whose top quadrant is the only part visible above the water. Et cetera. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beautiful Downtown Port Vila

I may have, at one point, mentioned that the capital city of Vanuatu is a beautiful resort town. 

How many cities do you have water so clean that you can go swimming in it right up in the middle of downtown?

It's totally gorgeous and it all just adds to the fundamental weirdness of Vanuatu. There's such a strong differentiation--you can be somewhere in Middle Bush without cell service and feel like you've basically fallen off of the map. Or you can be at a big resort, drinking an ice cold mojito in your bikini.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banana Pie

Banana pie is delicious and it's a shame that people outside of Vanuatu don't eat it.

Banana pie

Ripe bananas
Coconut milk

This recipe is pretty chill. It doesn't require measurements because you really can't mess it up that much. (Plus, the mamas don't cook with measurements.)

Make a dough of flour, oil, sugar, milk, and water. You want the dough to be sticky and not too liquid. Think of it like cookie dough rather than cake batter.

Spread the dough across the bottom of a cake tin. Make sure it's equal height.

Now chop the bananas up into very thin slices. Arrange the sliced banana over the dough. Follow this with a good pour of coconut milk.

Stick in oven. Bake. Take out of oven. Eat.

Tru tok about working in Vanuatu: time and disagreement

Here is some tru tok about working in Vanuatu: it's not America, it's not Australia, and when volunteers get pushy, their communities push back.

So we're volunteers, and our work is community development. But the people we work with have other things to do ... and, honestly, Ni-Vanuatu aren't as direct as Americans are. When we don't want to do things, we say so, or we make excuses about how we're busy. I've seen a lot that Ni-Vans make excuses to avoid things that they don't want, but they'll also enthusiastically agree to do stuff that they have no real intention of doing. It's not being dishonest, more like -- why, yes, it would be great if we could do this extremely complicated, time-consuming thing! I absolutely intend to do that .... at the bottom of my list of things that I want to do.

I think you see it a lot with work scheduling or meeting scheduling here. In America, we're very focused on the clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and to show up late for a meeting is rude. It is a way that we tell other people that we don't value their time. But here, people have other things to do and we are not their first priority. So a lot of times when volunteers want to hold a meeting or a workshop, people will come late or not at all, because whatever else came up is more important to them. It's not just with us--they do it to each other, too, and they all understand more instinctively what each scheduled time really means. This takes us a while. It definitely took me a while to understand that church starts at "church o'clock" and that that is largely dictated by the amount of time it takes a family to get ready in the morning. During Independence 2013, there were all of these events scheduled to start at 9 a.m. ... that began at 11:45 or 12:30. Things just don't happen in real life the way that they do on paper.

A lot of volunteers get really angry and it's very counterproductive. You just have to understand that things are always going to take longer and start later than planned, and that sometimes, if you choose times and dates that are most convenient to you, they won't happen at all. The trick is, don't take it personally if you try to set a three day workshop in the middle of yam planting season and no one comes (personally guilty of that one). Do your best, but you have to give up on expecting things to work on American time. It's not America, it's Vanuatu, and whatever you want to get done is going to have to get done on the local schedule. 

Also, remember: people will agree to your face to do things because they don't want to disappoint you. It's part of saving face, I think. They assume that we'll understand the difference between a serious, firm, let's meet at 9 a.m. commitment and a tentative, let's try to meet sometime tomorrow before dinner but I might have to do my wash first. Even in Vanuatu, I think we're still on schedules because we feel like we need to produce to feel like we're accomplishing stuff. But 2nd goal, y'all. 2nd goal.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New signs around Port Vila

These benches are new! They're all over Port Vila. Nice, huh? The tourism board says that Vanuatu is the happiest place on Earth; obviously no way to do metrics, but this place is great. Paradaes wan taem.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fish Soup

I keep saying this, but island food is pretty bland. Like so bland. The blandest food. Usually tastes of salt and blandness. But they've got a couple of culinary highlights, and this is absolutely one of them. (Although maybe I've lost my sense of what is good and what is bad.) 

Fish soup

White fish

Coconut milk
Curry powder
Maybe a little greens

Boil the white fish with some water, not too much. Meanwhile, chop up onions and greens, put in with the soup. When the fish looks like it's going opaque, add some coconut milk and curry powder.

This is the better way of cooking it; sometimes we eat fish soup where it's just fish + water. Honestly, that one isn't bad either. It's very simple but pretty all right.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Espeline, Carolannie, and Lemako

One of the volunteers in my group, Mike, wrote a piece in our volunteer newspaper on how to take photos. Technically, I'm aware most of my photos are ... not that great. But he suggested that when you're trying to take photos, you should do your best to do something funny, tell a joke, or make a face, so that the subjects of your photo look alive. I just liked this picture because I think it turned out pretty well--those faces! 

Taken at my house, of course. (Where else do I take photos?) This is right over by the kitchen. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Island Fish Salad

This is the most delicious thing I've learned to cook at Vanuatu that I cannot possibly cook at site.

Island Fish Salad

Extremely fresh fish

Maybe a little onion
Coconut milk
Lemon or lime

Take your fish and cut it up into tiny little pieces. Squeeze a terrific amount of lemon or lime juice on top. Put the fish into a refrigerator to sit. The lemon juice will 'cook' the fish and make it opaque.

When the fish is ready, chop up tomato and cucumber into tiny cubes. Chop some onion, too, if you want.

Mix the tomato, cucumber, onion, and fish together. Then dress with coconut milk. The ideal texture (in my opinion) is a little soupy but not too watery.

They do this in Samoa without the onion but with a lot more coconut milk and bigger chunks of fish. Supposedly the style you see in restaurants here in Vanuatu is Tahitian-style. Whatever it is, it's delicious and the best thing ever.

Eat with garlic bread or salad.

A Girl and Her Pig

This is one of the Class 4 students over in Tavia village. Just a girl ... and her pig. (That village is nothing but pigs. Pigs here. Pigs there. Pigs absolutely everywhere.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014


What do I like and dislike about living in a bush village setting?


1. My neighbors know and care about me. If I don't show up to something, they come to check up on me. I feel like they treat me like family.

2. I never feel lonely because I always have people to talk to or go hang out with. If I want to go swimming, I just walk around until I find some kids who look like they're up to nothing. 

3. I've never had the sentence 'I thought Peace Corps would be more of a challenge' come out of my mouth. No water, electricity, internet, airport, bread -- it's been real.

4. Because the community is so small and interacts so much with each other, I've really gotten to know this culture. I've never had a cross-cultural interaction that's been this intense before and it's been really meaningful to me. I like that I understand how Ni-Vanuatu on my island live their lives. I like feeling included.

5. $$$. I am always island rich, never town poor. It's petty, but I like the fact that I always have money to enjoy myself when I want to. Admittedly, a lot of that is due to my bare bones shopping lists, but I like that every time people go out for kava, or drinks, or dinner (when we're in town, of course), I can always afford to go. I can go on vacation. I can buy new things without thinking about them.

6. Man Shepherds is like a weird club. When I'm off the island and I tell people I'm from Tongariki, their first question is, "Be yu save toktok langwij smol?"

1. Traveling to the Shepherds is an almighty pain in the ass. People who live on big islands with regular flights have no idea about how frustrating it can be to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

2. The ships don't come regularly leads to a lack of things like credit ... or peanut butter ... all the time.

3. I am out in the middle of nowhere, so I don't work with other people, NGOs, governmental organizations, et cetera. Some volunteers have gotten some really exciting opportunities with other groups working in their region, but I have not.

4. When things of mine break, they are broken forever! This is the same as complaint #1,2, and 3 -- I live in the middle of nowhere and I can't go buy new things because they're not there!

5. Uh ... I guess I don't like the fact that there are like roosters and loud children in the morning. But that's something you can really only avoid by living in a fancy expat apartment or something where you don't live near other people.

6. Man, I'm really  struggling here ... I guess I don't like that now that I'm going to leave here, it's going to be extra hard to come back. I mean, maybe Man Tongariki will get it together and finally build that airport they've been talking about forever? That's not really a complaint though.

Compliment Sandwich Part of the Deal:

On great days: I love this place!

On terrible days: I hate this stupid place!

Reality (averaged): I love this stupid place, and it just feels wrenching to leave it. It's been great and boring and exciting and really, really weird. I feel like it's stretched me so much and offered me so much more than I ever offered it. Laff yu, Atong. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

20 Ways to Use a Coconut

1. Drink the water
2. Eat the meat
3. Make the meat into coconut milk
4. Use dry shells for fire (they burn hot)
5. Drink the water from the flower (toddy)
6. Ferment the toddy (booze)
7. Use the husks to start fire
8. Use the husks to squeeze coconut milk
9. Use the husks to squeeze kava
10. Use the coconut paper to start fires
11. Use the long dry pieces to start fires
12. Use the husks to make super cool hats for kastom dancing
13. Use the outside of a green coconut to mash breadfruit for sala (breadfruit pudding mush)
14. Eat the germinated coconut (navara, delicious)
15. Roast coconut meat and use it for bait in a rat trap
16. Use the coconut shell to make earrings or a bangle
17. Cook the coconut milk to make oil
18. Chew up coconut meat and spit it on your arm for bootleg coconut oil
19. Use the coconut as a rolling pin!


Sad news. My puskat is dead.

Sorry that this is a gross picture. But this is what Winston was best at: ANNIHILATING RATS.

It was a matter of time. Winston was a jerk. He ate baby chicks all the time. Someone was going to finally have it. Vanuatu isn't like America--people don't see animals the same way that we do. It's like they're property, not family, and they're very replaceable. I mean, my host parents are on their fourth cat since I met them. Things happen to animals here; they just don't last that long. In my case, one of my neighbors killed him. I'm not thrilled about it but this is so common here. Off of the top of my head, I can think of six volunteers whose pets were killed by a neighbor; it just happens. If this was America, I'd be really angry, but he was an island cat, and this is basically what happens to cats (and dogs) here. You almost never see an old animal because things just happen.

He was such a good cat, though. When I first got to site and was really scared of everything but trying hard to maintain and put on a good front, it was nice to have a pet. I'm just going to sit here, stroking my cat, don't mind me... He kept my house rat free and shared my tuna fish. When I ran out of tuna fish, he'd condescend to eat peanut butter and breakfast crackers with me. What more could you want? RIP Winston.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Here's a little boy from Buninga. I went over for their independence (which was a good week and a half after normal independence celebrations, since the ship wasn't running.) This is the door to the main school classroom over there.