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.