Thursday, December 17, 2015

Failure Report

There's this thing some organizations do now where they issue failure reports. The idea is that we always publicize our successes, even though much of what we do is not clearly good, or even neutral. Imagine a water tank being installed--three years later, is that tap working? If it isn't working, and no one's gone to fix it, that's a failed project. So, to sum up a few things in my life, I want to add some balance to this blog. I don't always succeed with what I try to do, and I think it's interesting to talk about what hasn't gone well here.

One thing that hasn't gone so well is my extension. I've been working for the National Disaster Management Office in Malampa Province. Honestly ... I don't even think I've exchanged more than four or five emails with anyone from that office. So I don't think I can actually say that I work for NDMO. I work with my counterpart ... and he works for NDMO... and I work with another colleague, who has recently gone on suspension. But it's really actually a little unnerving feeling like I work for an organization I have zero contact with. I'm proud of the awareness events my colleagues and I have done in our province but I often feel like I'm an independent volunteer. I mean, who do I even work for? The only people who contact me are Peace Corps, and I know that this is silly, but I got this phone call inviting me to the NDMO Christmas party several hours after it had started. That burns. My friends who extended have had their challenges but at least they get invited to their Christmas parties.

Another thing that's not been going so well is my grant project. I have this grant to do awareness events, and we've done a lot of them, but there's over $2,000 left at this point and not a lot of time to do them in. It's been hard to schedule events, harder to actually go and do them, and it makes me feel pretty bad that it's been this hard to do. I was pretty excited to start it but the whole experience has been like pulling teeth. It has really cured me of the desire to continue working in this field.

On a positive note, I'm going to Tongariki tomorrow! Or, rather, I'm boarding on the barge tomorrow night and I'll get to Tongariki in the morning. I will be there for some indefinite time frame, preferably 3-7 days, and it'll be really great to see my host family and all of my friends there. And then there will be Christmas! And then it will be another month and a half and I will get to leave. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Uripiv uripiv uripiv

Went to Uripiv island a while back ... It was still cold enough to wear sweat shirts out and about. Now, it's SO hot all the time. Like, every time I leave my work and walk the five minutes back to my house, I need to jump into the shower. It's just so, so hot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A second trip to Paama

 I went to Paama with my friend Kelsey (with the glasses) to do disaster awareness at all of the primary schools on Paama island in MALAMPA province. Our friend Nicole came too to visit a volunteer on East Paama and do reading assessments, so we were all on the same flight.
 We took selfies at every airport in the province. The flight from Norsup/Malekula to Paama is Norsup to Craig Cove on Ambrym, Craig Cove to Ulei on Ambrym, which is like a 10 minute flight, and then the world's shortest flight, a 4 minute hop across the ocean from Ulei to the airport on North Paama. (The other selfies were pretty terrible, so skip!)

We got to Paama and didn't have anything ready at all. The truck driver who picked us up at the airport dropped us off at an available guesthouse, so that worked out, and we ran into the Zone Curriculum Advisor who helped us a bit with our scheduling. 
 On Wednesday, we hiked from Liro, which is on West Paama, over to Lulep, which is on East Paama. It was about an hour and forty-five minute walk, starting with a thirty minute straight up-hill sprint. I felt like I wanted to die ... What a hike. You can't see it so well but behind us in the picture is Lopevi, which is an active volcanic island. People were moved off of Lopevi back during the colonial period because it's super, super dangerous to live there, but apparently some number of people are now living there again. Not so great.
 Isn't this a taff tree house? This was from Lulep.

The next day, Thursday, we went down South with our friend Megan to Lehili, Vaoleli, and Vutekai. Vutekai is where the next few pictures come from. It's in South Paama and you can see Epi and Lamen islands very easily. I could see Tongoa distantly from where I was standing, and even the hill of Ewose. (For reference, line of sight from Paama, Paama-Epi-Tongoa-Ewose-Valea-TONGARIKI, olfala aelan hom blo mi.) 
 Kelsey and I looked super flass in our island dresses, that's true.
FUNNY STORY. So we do this game with kindy kids through maybe year 3, to make sure that they understand what we're talking about when we say cyclone, tsunami, earthquake, whatever. Anyway, Vanuatu is currently going through a drought caused by El Nino. Drought is not a Bislama word; the Bislama word is longfala drae taem (long dry time). But I was like, hey, whatever, I'll teach the kids a new word! 
So we're playing the game and they're spinning like dervishes as cyclones and shaking like they're going to break something as earthquakes ... And I say "drought!" And, in unison, every kid in this school leans over, hands on knees, and mimics vomiting.

... Because while 'drought' is not a Bislama word, 'traot' is, and they were definitely throwing up.

Friday we went to Tahi and Liro schools, Saturday lazed on the beach, and Sunday had another extremely non-direct flight back to Malekula.

Monday, November 9, 2015

99 days

Only 99 days left in my Peace Corps service! (This is, of course, assuming that I can get a two month extension to finish up a few last little things at site.) 

It's amazing. I feel like I've lived in Vanuatu FOREVER. But all good things come to an end. On Sunday, when it was 101 days to departure, I made a few vows to myself.

1) I am going to return to Tongariki to visit, and I'm going to bring lots and lots and lots of bottled water for myself.

2) I'm going to wear an island dress to work, every single day, until I leave this country.

3) I'm going to drink as much kava and go to the beach as often as possible.

4) I'm going to remember to spend as much time as I can with all of my friends here in Vanuatu. I could not have completed this journey without their support and care.

5) I'm going to finish grad school applications early so that, no matter what happens, I can leave the country knowing I'll either go to graduate school--or lick my wounds and go find a job that'll pay me more than the princely sum Peace Corps gives me.

This is an amazing country and I love it to death. It's a little scary realizing that it's time to go... but it was scary coming here, too. I have a vision in my head of what I want from my future, and I hope I can work towards that goal. The next step is going to be somewhere else, hopefully in the US, hopefully in DC for a while. Tick tock.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Side Note

I'm in the process of applying for graduate school, right? I've been doing things slowly, slowly, slowly, a little bit every single day, even though the applications aren't due for another two months. It feels remarkably low-stress to do it this way because there's always time to figure out whatever I have to do. And I'm realizing--this is exactly what my parents told me to do in 2007 when I was applying to college. Goes to show how my parents are right about everything!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scandals Pt 2

I know two people in Vanuatu currently embroiled in sex scandals that may or may not affect their career. One did something that would result in prison time in America but is legal in Vanuatu. (It's the only crime that the American government can prosecute Americans for doing in another country. Hint: it's not murder or rape or theft.) The other did something that is legal in both countries but wouldn't really impact their professional career unless everyone involved worked at the same corporation. It's not clear if these people are going to keep their jobs, or lose them, but it's interesting to think about where the line between personal and professional life lies in different cultures. Here in Vanuatu your personal life directly impacts your professional life, whereas in America, in most cases, you have more privacy. (There was that sex worker/teacher in NYC who lost her job--which I think was wrong, since she wasn't a sex worker when she was teaching kids--but in general, most people have more space.)

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Internet access is increasing in Vanuatu and I know that, some day, someone in this country will google “Amanda Russell Vanuatu” and find this blog. I often self-censor rather than write things that, while true, might be seen as disrespectful or inappropriate. I think that this is the right thing to do, because I am a guest in Vanuatu, but sometimes what I don’t write about is so interesting that I really, really want to write about it.

I tried to write a few drafts and didn’t come up with anything that I want to put my own name on. It sounds paranoid, but one of the first Peace Corps volunteers ever was administratively separated, in the 1960s, because she wrote a private postcard that disparaged the cleanliness of her country of service. She dropped her postcard and it was later found on the street, and then published in the national newspaper. So I don't want to write about politics here, just because everything is my own personal opinion, and I don't want it to be taken for the opinion of all Americans, everywhere.

BUT please, please, please google “Vanuatu bribery scandal” or “Vanuatu pardon scandal”. It’s so interesting. I think because the news media in America try to make everything into a scandal, American scandals are boring. Oh, look, another politician had sex with a call girl. Yawn. But this scandal has everything except, I guess, sex. And there’s no weapons or drugs involved in it. In fact, not much violence (except for a friend of mine who got slapped by a politician!) But there's money and constitutional misconduct. Even if you don’t care about politics at all, look it up. It's great.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Went to Uripiv Island a while back with a coworker to meet up with the Disaster Committee on the island. Uripiv's a really pretty place, just a short boat ride from Lakatoro. As a result, I have gone there like four or five times now... lots and lots and lots.

Super beautiful place. Right now, because we're experiencing an El Nino, it's quite dry over there. I've heard that some islanders are carrying containers of water to Lakatoro to fill up before returning home in the afternoon.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Updating That Resume

October 7 marked 3 years of living in Vanuatu. It's been a great stretch. But -- I do one day have to get a job, probably one that earns me more than what I currently make (peanuts). Dusting off the resume is pretty hard work. I haven't updated it in years. Honestly. The last time I think I really looked at it was 2012. It's almost 2016. A lot has happened in my life, and the whole direction I want to take is completely different. I used to think I wanted to work in international development. Now -- it's got to be a different direction. I like what I do, and I like living here, but for a lot of reasons, I don't think I should make a career out of this. 

Happy Assumption Day!

I went up to Walarano to celebrate Assumption Day back on August 15 with my friend Magalie (not pictured), Kelsey, and Shaheed. (Shaheed is the mostly naked one). We went to Mass in the morning, had a good laplap lunch, and then there was some kastom dancing.

Since Shaheed is a young guy ... and all of these other young men were going to kastom dance ... they asked Shaheed to join in. As you can tell by the photo, I (and everyone else around) saw roughly 98.5% of him--those nambas don't cover that much.

It was a really nice event. The whole thing was to celebrate not only Assumption Day, which is a Holy Day of Obligation as a Catholic, but also the 100th anniversary of the Catholic Mission in Walarano. They have the most beautiful church up there, and during the ceremony, I kept thinking about what Walarano must have been like 100 years ago, when that French missionary got off of his boat and decided, here's it! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Three Year Anniversary

Today is my three year anniversary of being in Peace Corps/Vanuatu. I can’t believe I’m still here. And yet, these past three years have been, without a doubt, the most intense growing experience of my life. I talk about this a lot, but when I was in training, our old nurse, Brenda, said that one old PCV said that he grew up in Vanuatu, the way you’d say you grew up in Pittsburgh or Houston. It feels true for me. In school, I learned a lot about things, but Vanuatu has taught me how to live my life. I’ve learned how to deal with a lot of disappointment, with joy, with loneliness, with frustration, with wonder, with rats and cockroaches and events that start four hours after they’re supposed to begin.

I remember getting off that airplane three years ago. My carry on was too heavy, so I had had to check my bag, and didn’t have any appropriate clothes to wear. I was stressing out, since I was wearing yoga pants, and Katelyn Connell offered me a dress to wear. I remember the line of staff and PCVs outside the terminal, getting a lava lava and a salu salu and being amazed at this girl who seemed super cool because she knew how to use a machete to open a coconut so we could get the meat out of it. (Ha). I remember that I felt so impressed with the two volunteers who jumped in a bus with me and some of the other new members of G25 because they knew everything along the road. Little did I know at that point that Vila is so small that it’s exceedingly easy to be aware of all of the businesses, nakamals, hotels, et cetera, along the road. I remember that we were deposited at this camp in Pango, which is a suburban village, and that they made us a nice dinner of good island food—rice and chicken and beef stew and island cabbage and salad, something that I’d eat now without worrying—and that I couldn’t eat it, that I felt disgusted by the food, and that I was convinced I would never be able to eat it. (Instead, I ate peanut butter straight out of the jar in the bathroom). I remember that we received island dresses a few days later, and we all thought that we looked absolutely hideous. I remember that we asked one of our language trainers, Terry, if he thought we looked pretty, and laughed when he was like, yeah! You look great!

I’ve been working on updating my resume lately because it’s getting to that time in my service. If we buy tickets for the day I think we’re going to, my last day in Vanuatu is February 15, 2016—131 days away from today. Because I want to apply for grad school, I’ve been trying to remember what it is I did when I was in college to prove that I wasn’t just drinking 2L of Diet Coke and studying until 11 p.m. every night in Club Hunt, although I did a lot of that, too. I found the resume I used to apply to Peace Corps, and while I was there, I found my aspiration statement, too.

As far as I can tell, the aspiration statement is something that only comes out if you die and they need to put something nice about you in a press release. It explains why, exactly, you want to join Peace Corps, what you think you’ll be able to give, and what you hope to get from it. I had forgotten that I’d even written it, but reading it made me feel nostalgic for those moments before I came here, when I wasn’t even sure what I was getting myself into.

"In order to work effectively with Ni-Vanuatu partners, I [...] will need to rely on my adaptability, patience, and knowledge of local culture. [...] I understand that there will be situations in which I will not comprehend why something must be done a certain way, or even why it is important at all, but I hope to develop the proper mixture of humility and awareness[...] I expect that my experience will frequently be frustrating, since my host country colleagues and I will both be operating from positions where it is easy to misunderstand one another, but I hope that I will be able to breach some of these culture gaps[.] [...] I hope to remember at all times that I will be [...] a guest in Vanuatu, and that it is my responsibility to learn and adapt my ideas of what is normal. [...] I must be willing to detach myself from many of my own cultural expectations. The way that I have lived my whole life should not serve as the gold standard by which all other people on Earth should live their lives." 

When I wrote that, I really had no idea what I was talking about. But I somehow got that all right. It's been a good, frustrating, exciting three years. I don't think I could have spent it in a better place.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Vacation on Vao

I went up to Vao Island to visit my friend Cade last week for a few days. Vao is a very small island off the northeast coast of Malekula. It's very popular with tourists, especially francophones, because it has a reputation for being beautiful and having strong traditional practices. 

It's about an hour and a half, two hour truck ride up to the boat landing. As I've said, it's been really dusty lately due to the drought, so I was choking on dust all way there. I counted twenty-one people in the back of the truck with me, which is pretty solid. I think we could have even fit in a few more people, provided that they were petite/actually children. On the road up to northeast, there are a bunch of little road markets selling vegetables and bread. The prices are always much better, so the trucks always stop so passengers can do a little last minute shopping before they go home. I got bread and some tomatoes--right now, there are tomatoes everywhere.

When I got to the landing, there were a bunch of men from Vao who had just gotten back from the garden. The boat wasn't too packed--maybe 10 people only. The sun was going down, so it was getting close to kava o'clock when I got there. That night, Cade's little host brother Nesario was having a party since he had just gotten his first tooth. I talked to his uncle for a while, who was one of the sharpest and most opinionated teachers I've met in this country--really cool guy. So his mom gave us chicken soup on rice in takeaway containers and sent us off to go drink kava with his dad (host parents are now separated). His dad has built this really nice new nakamal with Buvez Coca-Cola and Nescafe signs. Really good looking.

The next day was really slack. We got up, had tea and doughnuts his family gave us, then walked around the whole island. It only took about an hour and a half, but it was really pretty. When you get to the far side, you can see Malo island. Then we went swimming, made ramen for lunch, and lazed around until it was time for the French volunteer's good-bye party. They went all out. I don't think I've ever been to that fancy of a farewell in the whole time I've been at Vanuatu. I think it's because the primary school is so big, and Vao is wealthier than other parts of Vanuatu. Anyway, it was a lavish send-off. Lots of food, cake, kava, a laplap, and he got lots of presents and salusalu (like leis) past his chin, I swear. Afterwards, me, Cade, and Adrien (the French volunteer) had some of this terrible jug wine-based beverage they sell in Lakatoro and talked about America.

Day 3, Cade and I did disaster programs with the kids at the primary school. I did a more thorough talk with the kids in Class 4-6, about what disasters are, how you can prepare for them, and what they should do as kids. With Class 1-3, I was going to do this, but because the kids don't really speak Bislama, we played a disaster-themed game instead. Wash, rinse, and repeat for the kindy. There was a 50 day funeral event, so we had lunch there. 

In Vao, one of the things that really struck me is that their kastom is really different. In the Shepherds, men and women mix pretty freely. They do separate at two of the churches, and usually at community meals men will butcher the animal and women will get started at preparing the carbohydrate. But men and women sit next to each other, drink with each other, hang out together, et cetera. On Vao, at this event, men were sitting in one location and women were sitting in another. Cade went to go sit with me and all of the women so I wouldn't have to chill out by myself.

Another point -- on Vao, there are roads that women aren't allowed to walk by. These are really central roads, not men-only places in the bush. This is the first place I've seen that in.

That afternoon ... Cade and I painted his canoe. I wish I had a photo, but my camera is broken. It's boss. Think like Dr Seuss meets fish meets the 1960s. Then he showed me the nasaras--kastom gathering areas, kind of--on the island. That night, there was the dead, and I had kava and some bread for dinner because neither of us was feeling laplap.

The next morning when I left, I felt a little sad. Vao's really great for a little vacation. You get to swim, look at pretty things, eat bread, talk to Cade, shout over to Cade's girlfriend on the phone 6-10x daily, and generally hang. It was one of the cooler work/play trips I've taken so far in this country, and I've taken a lot of little trips. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

El Nino

Right now, Vanuatu is in the middle of an El Nino. El Nino Southern Oscillation is when the ocean in the eastern South Pacific, near Peru and Chile, gets warmer. From where we’re standing, in the western Pacific, the southeast trade wind becomes much weaker. The cloud system in this region, the South Pacific Convergence Zone, drifts away to the east. As a result, Vanuatu is in the midst of an extended dry period that is turning into a drought.

The drought is pretty serious. I haven’t seen rain in a few months, although there was a little rain in the southern islands over the weekend. In general, throughout the country rain water tanks and cisterns are running dry. There’s just not enough water anywhere. It’s only been in the past few weeks that it seems like everyone’s started paying attention to what’s going on, because we are coming to the end of what should be the dry season. Usually every year, October is about the time when the rains start to come, so that crops can grow and water tanks can fill up. But this year, since there’s not going to be a lot of rain, it’s going to be much harder.

From where I’m standing, in Lakatoro, the main thing I notice is dust. There’s dust everywhere. When I walk around, I have to wear sunglasses because there’s so much dust thrown in the air from trucks. When I ride in the back of pickup trucks, my hair, clothes, and face get covered in dust. It feels really gross to travel and then touch my hair—it’s so dry and sticky. There’s a new trend of women wrapping their hair up in cloth, sort of like African women do, just to protect it from all of the dust on the truck ride. I’ve been told by friendly strangers on a truck that I should start carrying some cloth myself to cover my eyes when a big cloud of dust roars towards us.

Water is also running low in Central Malekula. It’s not as serious as in some other areas, but the rain tanks are all dry. I am connected to the water supply system, which means that I have piped water in my house. But the water is changing. It’s always tasted bad but the taste is getting stronger. A friend told me that it’s because there’s some algae growing in the big tank at the top of the system where the water comes from the source. (Not sure if that’s true, but it definitely tastes bad.) In the past two weeks, the water supply has started to be turned off at certain hours in the afternoon and night. I think it’s to conserve water and make sure that there are no leakages anywhere in the system. It is, however, very inconvenient since there’s no public posting of when the water turns off. I’ve already had a moment when a friend and I got back from kava and wanted to shower (dust!) but couldn’t.

The market is also getting bad. There are lots of vegetables available right now but very few fruits or root crops. This is because there just aren’t a lot of fruits or root crops available in any of the gardens; they haven’t been growing. This is the time of year when everyone should be eating lots of mangoes, and there aren’t any for sale yet. People are eating a lot more rice and flour than they usually do because the price of root crops is increasing. In a few months, I think the market is going to get really bad because the crops are getting burned by the sun out in the gardens.

Other parts of Malampa Province are facing these same problems but on a more serious scale. Some schools are going to have to end the school year early because there’s no water for the children to drink. I have a friend who brought her dirty clothes in town with her last week to wash at my house because she has no water to wash in at her site. On Ambrym, some people have chartered boats to get water from the north, where there's a system, or from Lamap, the biggest village in South Malekula.

It's supposedly even worse in areas that were really struck by Cyclone Pam. I don't know what's true and what's not true, because we don't get a newspaper up here. I have heard, though, that a child died on Tanna of malnutrition. I've also heard that there are families on Tanna who want to put their children up for adoption to areas with more water and food. I don't know what's true and what isn't. It looks like this is shaping up to be another disaster, though, so quickly upon the heels of Cyclone Pam. Many parts of the country are not yet recovered from that damage, so this is really going to have a horrible impact on many people's lives. It's estimated that El Nino will end in March 2016, which would leave only a month or two of rain before the next dry season is expected to come. My friend who works at UN Women told me that the government is reactivating disaster clusters--like gender protection, water and sanitation, health, et cetera--because they're expecting this to get a lot worse. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shore Leave + Awareness Events

Life is so busy lately. I feel like I've been here, and there, and over there, and even all the way over THERE, doing all of these different things, and I'm just having a few moments to think about what's going on. I was in Vila for the first ten days of this month, and then the last week, I've had house guests and a lot of traveling for work--so I think it makes sense that, right now, I'm really looking forward to a lazy evening of a) kava with my friend Aisen, b) spaghetti and meatballs, c) John Oliver on continuous play, and d) being able to lie motionlessly on my mattress, in a sports bra, with the electric fan directed at me, and only me. 

Vila. I had a few good nights out and made some new friends. I ate some cheese, saw my baby namesake, and met up with a lot of friends from Tongariki. I also said goodbye to one of my favorite people here in Vanuatu, because he moved away to New Caledonia. That part was not so great. It got worse when I learned that he is an absolute louse, but that's probably not something that needs to be written out on a public blog for everyone to read. Long story short: louse.

I think because my normal life operates at so slow a pace, it seems like I fit a lot into a week and a half. I remember once hearing about this volunteer in an earlier group, and I'm sure this is probably apocryphal volunteer lore and not actually real, but he was out in the bush all the time, right? And when he came into town, he went all OUT. Like, safety and security in danger, all out. To the extent that, allegedly, the second in command of the office had to have a chat with him about slowing his roll down so as to avoid getting kicked out. I definitely don't go out that hard, but in comparison to my normal program, anything is kind of a lot.

Malekula. Came back to Malekula last Friday. All of my friends have been asking me where I've been, so I guess it's been a while. On 9/11, I did a disaster risk reduction and handwashing toktok with my coworker Abelson at Lingarak Primary School. I thought it went pretty well--we threw chewing gum at the kids who could answer our questions correctly, so the audience was into it. I had a series of house guests over the weekend, until last night, and that was pretty stellar--made cake in my rice cooker, drank lots of kava, invented a new game, and so on, and so on. 9/16, I did a program in Taremb village with my coworker Sylveste, and while that was pretty rocky at first--they were not actually aware that we were coming--we gave a toktok on disaster and El Nino to about 100 people, which was great. Today I'm resting up, and tomorrow I'm going to do another school program at Galilee Primary School.

Whew. It's almost 3, so I'm going to chill for 2 hours, then commence my kava-spaghetti-and-meat-balls-John-Oliver-fan program. Embong wan taem!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

OK, it's been a minute...

OK, it's definitely been a while since I updated my blog. A lot has happened! And whenever a really big selection of things happen, and I forget to update this, it just gets easier to not write anything at all. I will try to keep this up a little bit more regularly.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I am planning to end my service in early February 2016. This means that I have approximately six months left in Vanuatu. It's strange to finally be coming up towards the end. Most of the time, I feel like I've lived in Vanuatu for forever. Time feels different because I have so much of it! In America, I feel like I always was planning things months or sometimes even years in advance. Living in Vanuatu has made me accustomed to doing things day to day. 

So now that I've chosen a departure date, it's going to be time to start thinking about what to do afterwards. I'm finding it hard to shift back into the mindset that I need to be planning things so far in advance. Honestly, it'd be easier just to stay where I am (although I'm not going to do that! Promise!) and not try to change anything around. But everything good has to end eventually, and for me, it'll be in six more months.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cross Culture: Dating

In America, dating is something that happens out in the open. If I meet a nice boy and plan to go on a date with him, that's something that I can tell my mother. If I'm out in public and someone sees me alone with a man, it's not something that anyone would find surprising. Most people date lots of other people before they settle down with a partner. We have a lot of steps that we go through before it's like, here it is, this is my partner of choice, I am done now. First you date someone, then your family knows about them, then your family meets them ... blah blah blah you live together, get married, have babies. But it's a long process.

From my perspective, dating in Vanuatu is so, so, so, so, so secretive. It's like the most secret thing in the world, and it's much higher stakes here than in America. I think it's because in Vanuatu, the first few steps take place in total secret, so that by the time two people are seen spending time together in public, it's already much further advanced than just a first date.

When a female PCV is seen alone with a male PCV, especially when one is sleeping at the other's house, it is assumed that they are having sex. (In a great story, a male PCV I know had three female PCVs staying at his house for the weekend. A friend of his asked him how sex worked since he was obviously sleeping with the three of them at the same time!) This is irritating because, when two PCVs are just friends, they can sound like broken records saying--this is not my boyfriend, this is not my girlfriend, we are not friending, she is like a sister to me--but a lot of people will think--yeah, yeah, yeah, keep pretending. When two PCVs are dating, it's actually OK for them to hang out and spend time together, but people will assume their relationship is more serious than it actually might be. For example, I know one volunteer whose host family assumes that she is absolutely 100% going to marry her boyfriend the second that she finishes Peace Corps. And they're not engaged yet, so it is jumping the gun. But obviously, she and her boyfriend have their own understanding of the relationship, which is in line with American cultural norms.

When PCVs date Ni-Vanuatu, it's a lot more complicated. Most PCVs with Ni-Vanuatu boyfriends or girlfriends try to do what's called 'friend hide', or basically, have a secret relationship. The upside to friend hiding is limited but very real: you can hope for less drama with the village or the neighbors. As volunteers we do get a lot of encouragement to get married to someone from Vanuatu, but I would say that actually dating someone--dating, not being ready to marry them--isn't really seen as proper behavior. It's like, if you like them, why aren't you serious about them? I know a lot of friends who have dated Ni-Vanuatu, and while many of their friends and families knew about the relationship, it's hard to think of any who spoke about it openly. The downside to friend hiding is pretty serious, though. You basically can't go anywhere in public together, they can't be over at your house really unless it's night time, you can't talk about them with your friends ... That's not a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New dog. Oh wait.

Yesterday, my friend Laura handed me this tiny little puppy. I've been wanting a new dog ever since Camille ran away/was stolen.

The new puppy was definitely not feeling it, and tried to run away twice that afternoon. I tied a leash up for her and gave her some tin meat and let her sit outside.

Less than six hours later ... the dog ran away!! I think this goes to show that Peace Corps puppies and I might not be meant to be together. Sori

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Vaoleli, Paama, Disaster Photo

I went to Paama a while back. Really, really nice place. We did a joint disability/disaster program with TVET and the Malampa Disaster Committee. Went to Lulep, Vaoleli, Vutekai, and Tahi, but unfortunately I connected my camera to a virus-infected computer and all of my photos disappeared.

Still--Paama was great. Seriously nice, very pretty, very nice people, extremely hilly--but super nice. I'm looking forward to going back to Paama soon.

Monday, June 29, 2015

My Dog Was Stolen AT A FUNERAL. :(

So I had this dog named Camille for the past few months, ever since we got back from Australia. She was very cute and tiny and kind of a jerk. You know how puppies like to bite? She was like that. Extremely nibbly. 

So small!

Anyway, I got really fond of her and I used to take her everywhere. She would follow me to the market, to the nakamal, to work, everywhere. When I first got her, she was really dirty and bony and covered in ticks, but I got her to be (relatively) fat and much cuter. Also got her tick-free thanks to a collar.

I took her up to Santo at the beginning of the month when I went to see Sam for her goodbye party. I was somewhat worried that she would get lost there, but she was totally fine. We thought that the dog in Sam’s yard, Roxie, hated Camille … but then we realized that, no, Roxie loved Camille, and so everything was fine.

I flew back to Malekula, and went to a funeral that afternoon for Mami Jacqueline’s cousin … and someone stole my dog while I went over to express my condolences. Haven’t seen Camille since. Hopefully, whoever stole her has a bunch of children who will be very happy to have a new puppy, and will treat Camille well. But once again: who steals a dog from a funeral?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Things You Wouldn't Expect In Vanuatu

I like to talk about food. So let's talk about food products that you wouldn't expect to see in Vanuatu, but which are everywhere.

Number 1. Nem. Nem are fried spring rolls, with glass noodles inside and usually some mince meat. I definitely would not have imagined that nem would be something that people in the South Pacific would eat, but in more developed parts of Vanuatu (like Lak City, natch), you can buy them as a snack. They're pretty good -- very crunchy -- no dipping sauce.

Number 2. Roti. Roti come from India by way of Fiji. The ones in Vanuatu are usually pretty thick pan bread, wrapped burrito style around some sort of filling. Usually there's potato and onion and mince inside, and sometimes they're spicy. Very nice for breakfast, especially with a chocolate milk.

Number 3. Samosas. In the urban parts of Vanuatu, you can buy samosas. Think: Indian empanadas. They usually have sweet potato, mince, curry, and onions inside. Yum yum yum.

In general, I'd say that the major foreign influences in Vanuatu cuisine are French, Australian, Chinese, and Indian. Things like soy sauce and MSG and curry powder play a big part in fancier local cooking, and then when you're in the resorts, French/Australian/Asian cuisine is really apparent. It's pretty good stuff. Too many beets, though.

Monday, June 8, 2015

I did this awareness in Amelveth village ...

My friend Kelsey and I did this disaster awareness at Amelveth Primary and Junior Secondary Schools on June 2nd, and it was seriously so so so much fun. Like, probably the most fun school disaster awareness/drills program ever to take place. 

To go to Amelveth from Lakatoro is really easy, since it's only about a half an hour away. I met a woman at the market who was going to Northwest Malekula, so I jumped on a truck with her. Kelsey and I hung out, drank kava, and tried to plan the awareness the night before. We made delicious meaty tomato sauce ... and had to eat it on ramen noodles, since Lak City was out of spaghetti. Tragic.

The next day, at the morning assembly, I gave a little speech to the kids, and explained how the earthquake and tsunami drills would take place. I told them that sometime in the morning, Kelsey and I would go to their classrooms, and when we did, they would need to hide under their desks, covering their heads. (Think atomic bomb drills). For the tsunami drill, we would come by, inform them that there is a tsunami warning, and tell them to run for the hills.

We went from class to class. For Class 1-3, Kelsey read a storybook, then we played a game about three disasters--cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquakes. For the older kids, it was more technical, and for the students in Class 5-10, we discussed disability inclusion in disasters.


For the earthquake drills, Kelsey and I banged on the walls and the doors and shouted EARTHQUAKE, EARTHQUAKE. Class 1, 2, and 4 were very good. Class 5 had a lot of students who died when things fell on them. We were like, yu ded nao! Yu yu ded nao! Samting i kilim yu lo hed!

For the tsunami drill, we just ran around saying, tsunami alert! Tsunami alert! and the kids ran for the hills. The headmaster was the only one who 'died'. 

It was super delightful.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Love Vanuatu

Vanuatu is an easy country to love. I think it is, anyway. In a lot of ways, I feel like this last year in Peace Corps is like a victory lap. I've found somewhere I love, somewhere I feel comfortable and happy and at peace, where there's just the right amount of challenge and then lots and lots of rewards to make up for it.

I'm thinking a lot about my future and about where I want to go from here. I am not going to stay in Vanuatu. Three and a half years is a long time to be away from my family, and I do think that the longer you stay in Vanuatu, the harder it is to leave. That means now, it's time to roll on out. It's June 6th today over here (happy birthday, Ben!) and I'm going to be leaving in approximately ... eight and a half months. WHAT. HOW IS THIS EVEN HAPPENING.

I think if I'd closed my service and gone back home in December, I would have felt more conflicted about it. Having stayed on now an extra six months, with another eight to go, I feel really ready. It'll be sad to leave, but I think (or I hope) that I'll have a good sense of closure. It'll be time to head out and do something else. 

Until then, time to enjoy myself, work hard, drink lots of kava, swim in the ocean, drink my weight in coconut water, and keep on going.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Updates from Tongariki

I talked to my friend Elsie a few days ago. I think I’ve brought her up a lot on this blog—she is Tongariki’s headmistress-slash-my favorite friend. I got a good update from her on what the situation is like on Tongariki.

Mostly, it’s a lot better. The NZ Army put new iron roofs up on the school. They rebuilt the kindy, and our new water tank is being put up next week(thank you, Aus Aid!). Most of the houses are back up. The gardens are growing. Some of the three month vegetables, like Chinese cabbage, are already ready to eat.

The sad news is that there was a death. A little boy named David had to be helicoptered off of the island after the cyclone. He spent a month in the hospital in Vila, and he died. His mother, father, and siblings were with him in Vila the whole time.

The good news is that the community is getting ready to have a really big wedding. My old neighbor, John Lorry, is getting married to his fiancee, Esther. They’re going to do it towards the end of the month. Hopefully I’ll be in Vila before they get married, because I’d like to send a bottle of something for their party. It's good life is getting back to normal.

Monday, June 1, 2015


I went to Paama last week on a big trip with my lovely friend Sam, my lovely counterparts Abelson and Sylveste, and the project officer from Malampa province. (Ahem.) The idea was that we were going to do joint disability/disaster awareness programs around Paama and set up Community Disaster Committees on the way. It was a partnership between TVET (which supports technical and vocational education training) and the Malampa Disaster Office. TVET did all of the logistics of the trip and we shared the budget. 

Day 1: We flew on Belair Airways to Paama. The airport is in north Paama, in this village called Tavie. We got on a boat, since the cyclone ruined the road and it's not been totally fixed up yet. Dropped off Abelson, Sylveste, and Lapi at the provincial guesthouse in Liro, which is the main hub on Paama. There wasn't enough space there for all of us, so Sam and I stayed with her host family in Tahi, a village maybe 25 minutes walk away. Around 2, we had a meeting with the Area Council. There is a big dispute going on in Tahi, and there are now two competing disaster committees. Oy. After the meeting, Sam and I walk back to Tahi, we drink kava, try to eat a nice dinner of beef, fail, go to sleep.

Day 2: We go to Lulep, on east Paama. My friend Kelly used to live out there, and now there's a new volunteer, Stewart, really nice guy. The walk doesn't take SO long in terms of hours -- like an hour forty-five -- but we're literally walking up to the top of the hill and then walking down again. By the time I got to Lulep, I was dreading walking back. I got a great picture of Lopevi, but since I plugged my camera to charge in my counterpart's computer and it's full of viruses, pikja i lus. Lulep doesn't look so great, but it doesn't look so bad, either. Their school lost its roof, so they're teaching under tarpaulins, but they've put all of the houses back up, and things are getting green again. We did our awareness program, which went pretty well, and in the afternoon, we did a little program to formally record their disaster committee. Half of our squad sprinted up the hill without saying goodbye, so Sam and I walked to Liro to have a small meeting, then back to Tahi. Her host dad made this spectacular chicken curry for dinner, but I was absolutely exhausted. Props to Kelly for doing that walk every single Friday while on Paama. 

Day 3: We went to Vaoleli and Vutekai in the south, by boat. Vaoleli had a nice attendance, and we did our program and set up committees in their market house. Vutekai had an ENORMOUS attendance because we caught them right after they'd had two other meetings, so it was like a captive audience.

Day 4: Like I said earlier, there is a dispute in Tahi. This caused a lot of problems, and we got ourselves caught up in some of them. We did end up doing a disability awareness and a minimal disaster awareness, but we had to change our program. We intend to go back to Paama in October, and hopefully Tahi will only have one disaster committee instead of two. We had a big community lunch afterwards, and Sam and I spent the afternoon hanging out with Megan and Stewart, the two Paama volunteers. (Megan lives in this subvillage called Noe. No! It's my favorite thing.) We had kava and Sam's host parents baked pig and kumala for her departure. It was really, really nice of them. Her family is so sweet. It's her mom and dad, a teenage brother named Cooper, a ten year old named Jamie, after a previous Peace Corps (and small Jamie is smart/sweet/a really good kid), and a little girl in kindy named either Dela or Taylor, who is super sweet, very verbal, and very strong head. It was really nice.

Day 5: Flew back to Malekula. We only barely got on the plane. Check in was at 7, we got there at 8, the plane landed at 8:05. Once we got back to Malekula, I felt absolutely bush whacked. I spent the morning just sitting around. Sam came over and we made tacos, then that night we had a little kava. I was so tired!

Paama trip was really fun, over all, and I'm really glad I got to see a new part of Vanuatu. It was our first really big overnight trip, and I was really glad to work more with Abelson and Sylveste. They're both really good guys. I was reflecting on this earlier, and, for all of our flaws, I truly believe that we run the best provincial disaster office. We go out, we do programs, we work well together -- It's a good thing.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Provincial Center Problems

Living in a provincial center is pretty sweet. I can't go to to yoga or to a swimming pool, but I had French fries and eggs for lunch at Lakatoro's newest restaurant on Monday. That's not half bad. I can always charge my electronics, I can always buy kava, and as of February 15, my water now runs 24 hours a day. SUCCESS.

I do have some minor whingey complaints, that, even as I think of them, strike me as hilarious. They're the Peace Corps-equivalent of saying 'but I don't even like my pony'. The response being, 'dang, you have a horse?' 

1. The bakery in Lakatoro had its oven malfunction! So ... no more bread!!! This is terrible because the bread at Consumer is the greatest bread ever, and local bread can really vary in its quality. For the past week and a half, I haven't been able to eat any, and you know I like my carbs. (For context: on Tongariki, we used to eat bread at Christmas, as a special celebration.)

2. Lately when I've been going out to Tautu or Norsup to drink kava at night, it seems like there are no trucks that leave at convenient times and I'm always waiting like 1/2 an hour for a truck. (Context: yo, on Tongariki, I sometimes waited days for ships. And yet, the 1/2 an hour is still bugging me. I'm getting soft.)

3. The fresh fish that they sell by the market tends to stink up my fridge. (I have a fridge! And ... fresh fish!!)

4. The butchery is always out of mince when I'm craving a burger. (Seriously -- listen to that. What is wrong with me?)

5. Not enough island cabbage! (This one is my own fault.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

What I do with myself

On a normal day, I get up around 6:00 or 6:30. I like to pretend that I'm going to exercise, and if it's sunny, I go for a jog around the football field or jump rope or do yoga at the house. I usually make a pretty big breakfast--something like pancakes, or fried banana or sweet potato. My mom gave me a mini French press for Christmas, and I use it daily. After two years on Tongariki, drinking luke warm or cold instant coffee with powdered milk, hot real coffee with real milk is still wonderful. I like to putz around, straightening the house, listening to podcasts, or I watch an episode of a TV show. I shower with my beautiful shower (running water!!!) and head out the door some time around 8:15 or 8:45.

I get to work about 5 minutes after I leave my house. What I do in the mornings really depends on what we have going on. Some days I have a lot of work to do, as far as getting reports done, or making plans for awareness trips, or working to develop new presentation materials. Some days, I really don't have anything to do, and I go to work in case anything comes up. When there's nothing to do, I read a book or a magazine and hang out in case there's anything going on. Some mornings (like today) I sneak over to the provincial headquarters and use their internet to check Facebook and emails.

Around 11:30 I leave work. Usually I head to the market to see what there is to see. Sometimes the market is great, with lots of fruits, vegetables, shellfish, crabs, and eggs. Sometimes there's not much there. It's always the luck of the draw, so I try to go every day. I like to keep my house really stocked with fruits and vegetables, because I'm trying to live a healthier life style. On Tongariki, I felt like it was feast or famine as far as fresh greens and fruits went. Either there were none available, or I ate six mango at a time.

After the market, I go home and cook lunch. My lifestyle in Lakatoro feels very civilized, especially since I have a two hour lunch break. That gives you enough time to go shopping, meet a friend, cook, read a book, do some chores ... Whatever needs to be done in the middle of the day. Whenever another Peace Corps is passing through Lakatoro, it's nice to go get lunch with them at one of the stalls, or at least, just hang out for a while and chat and eat an ice cream.

Around 1:30. I head back to the office. It's the same as in the morning. Some days, we have work to do; some days, we don't. I usually head out of work around 4:00 or 4:30, depending on whether or not we're busy. I go home, get my house cleaned up a bit, and figure out what I'm going to do in the afternoon.

If I'm not going to drink kava, and I haven't exercised in the morning, the afternoon is a nice time. It used to be my favorite time to go jogging, but because I live by myself and I like to be back in my house before it's dark, I can't usually jog and drink kava in the same day. If I'm going out for kava by myself, I either go meet up with a friend at a nakamal in Lakatoro, or I head out to see a friend in one of the neighboring villages. If I go to Tautu, usually I just sleep there, but when I go to Norsup, I need to find a truck back at night.

Whatever happens, if I end up at home, I cook myself something and go to bed. When I first came to Malekula, I was eating lots of fried sweet potato and soups. Lately, I've been trying to be a bit more adventurous with cooking and jazz things up a bit. At any rate, I'm usually in bed by about 8:30 or 9. (Yes, I've come to realize that I sleep like 9 or 10 hours a day. It's my favorite thing. Maybe that's why I feel so content in Vanuatu--SUCH AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF DOWNTIME MULTIPLIED BY 10 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Awareness in Laravat and Vinmavis

Yesterday my office conducted climate change, disaster, and waste management awareness sessions in West Malekula, in Laravat and Vinmavis villages.

This map comes from the OGCIO (Office of the Government Chief Information Officer) website. If you look at the west, you'll see a village called Lambumbu. Lambubu is like a company town, with a big cacao plantation. Nearby is the village of Laravat, where we conducted our first awareness. 

We organized the talk through a teacher at Lambubu school, Miller. Miller's really great. He let everyone know we were coming, and in a village of about 200 people (counting kids), we had about 45 people come. Considering that it was in the morning, when kids were at school and many people wanted to go work in the garden, I consider this an absolute success.

 [It was about a 45 minute drive from Lakatoro, made a little longer by the fact that it was muddy and had been raining all night. We went with this driver from Vinmavis called Bill. Carrying a laptop that doesn't have a battery (and must therefore be plugged into power at all times), a generator, a regulator, a projector, and a few posters.
[The community hall we used. Sorry the photos are bad--the lighting was weird and I'm not good at correcting things.]

[Laravat was a very pretty village. It was extremely clean, for a start. The houses were mostly made of local material, like you see in the front--braided strips of bamboo.]

[Syl is in the green shirt, Abelson is in the blue.]

[Somehow, Abelson only ever gets photos of me from the back. But enjoy my super patriotic outfit! Christmas 2013 from Mami Esther.]

I felt that Laravat actually went really smoothly. We started off by talking about climate change--what it is, how it is impacting Vanuatu, and practical ways people can adapt to it. Then I gave a really short toktok about waste management. Usually I give a first aid toktok, and waste is separate, but I'm trying to refocus the talks back towards disaster. My basic message was about the whole (disaster = hazard x vulnerability) thing, so how there are little water, hygiene, and sanitation things that people can do to improve the resiliency of their village. Keep pit toilets far from underground wells and other water sources. Don't leave rubbish all about. Stop burning plastics. Et cetera. Then we finished by explaining what to do during floods, cyclones, and earthquakes, since those are the three hazards that affect Laravat. Afterwards, we got a bunch of good questions about what developed countries are doing to limit climate change, and if greenhouse gas emissions are increasing or decreasing now. Close with a word of prayer, and at about 11:30 we got driving again.

We reached Vinmavis around 1:15. Vinmavis is actually not very far away from Laravat at all, but the road to Vinmavis is in poor condition, so the truck couldn't go very quickly. (We also made a pit stop at the Bible College to buy fish, so that was a little detour.) It was very bumpy. When we got there, Abelson, Sylveste and I had lunch with Sylveste's  auntie. Abelson and I had bought strong biscuits, cookies, tin tuna, and juice in Lakatoro, but Sylveste wanted to eat rice instead, so he had his auntie cook us some, and we'll keep the biscuits for later. We hung out until about 2:30, then started to set stuff up.

I didn't feel like our awareness in Vinmavis went very well. I think the difference is that in Laravat, I went through a key member of the community, but in Vinmavis, we just sent a letter announcing our arrival. At around 3:30, Sylveste's auntie, who is the nurse at the dispensary, and I went around to try and drum people up. Vinmavis is a big village--about 500 people--and we had really bad attendance. We had about 25 people show up total. We weren't aware that Wan Smol Bag had recently gone through to give a presentation as well, and all in all it was a bit of a wash.

[Local houses in Vinmavis.]

[Also very clean!]

[Picture with a few people]

We got back to Lakatoro about 7:30 p.m. Overall, I was pretty happy, but I definitely want us to talk about lessons learned. I think Abelson, Syl and I have gotten a really tight, interesting presentation together. Our first awareness toktok took about 3 1/2 hours, and that's way too long for anyone. The presentation in Laravat was about an hour and forty-five minutes, counting questions, and the one in Vinmavis was about two and a half, with the last forty-five minutes being a video show about disasters and climate change. So I don't think we need to change the format much. I do think we need to think about best practices for advertising awareness, though, so that we get good attendance.

Speaking of which--I have noticed a pattern. We get very good attendance in most smaller communities, and they seem to be more excited and invested in our arrival. Our worst attendance tends to come from larger communities, where people aren't as interested. They are less tight-knit, and also not particularly interested in having strangers come in.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Yo it's all okay

Sometimes I need to chill and remember that this is still Vanuatu. I reread the last post, and while those are obviously real complaints ... It is how it is. I think the most important thing in Vanuatu is not to have crazy expectations. In fact, have no expectations. If you go into it with an open mind and an open heart, you can face anything. If you go in thinking that things have to be a certain way, you're going to have a bad, bad, bad time. You have to be friendly and more outgoing that you feel comfortable with, and see where it all leads.

I'm trying to say yes to everything that doesn't seem terrible and just see where it leads me. So far, it seems to be working out well as a strategy. Like the other day: I've been trying to get to know one of my neighbors better. I was walking down to the store to buy bread, I saw the wife, and asked her if she wanted to drink some kava. She said yes, since kava is considered something of a medicine and she wasn't feeling top knotch. So I got a plastic at the nakamal -- and we hung out for four hours, including going to get more kava, and her giving me dinner, and then inviting me to go with the family to this big community event in Norsup village on Friday. It'll be Catholic mass, lap lap, skits, kava, and cake -- those are all my favorite things. I love parties. But just like -- if I hadn't been like, hey auntie, want to do suchandsuch? She never would have asked me to do anything either.

Or another example. This morning my friend Kelsey and I were talking about how last month we took this spontaneous trip to Uripiv island. We were supposed to go with our friend Jon, who's good friends with this family that owns a store, but then he couldn't go, but we still wanted to. We showed up, told Trelly and his wife that we wanted to go weekend on Uripiv, and they were like, YES, of course, come!! We went over on a boat, had kava and dinner with them, slept in their daughter's house, and made breakfast with them before the cyclone warning hit and everything went to hell. But we had a beautiful afternoon and we're all friends now. It never would have happened if we hadn't just pushed a little bit out of our comfort zone.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Vanuatu is so pretty


I've been in a bit of a funk lately, since work hasn't been going the way I'd hoped. It's not like it's bad, but we're still having issues with getting the resources that we need to accomplish our goals. It's almost May, and my counterpart hasn't received his work plan (or funding) for the year. It's almost May

I've gotten a lot better about accepting that things won't always go the way that I want them to go. It's not like it's not frustrating anymore, but it's easier to accept delays and things like that. I still have to remind myself sometimes that Vanuatu is so beautiful. It's like there's a price to pay. You put up with certain things because the pay off is this. (Pictures are from a work trip to Vao.)

On Saturday, I went up to meet a friend at the swimming beach by the airport. I was the first one to get there, and there was absolutely no one there on this whole stretch of beach. It was just me, and the sun glimmering on the water. It was absolutely idyllic. You think of tropical paradise, and that's what it was for that moment. Just spectacular. I go through my days sometimes on auto pilot (doesn't everyone?) so to have those moments that just shake me, BOOM, is so wonderful. I don't want to forget what's beautiful and special, even when I'm crabby about some little something that doesn't work right the way I want it to.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

All These New Folks

There are all of these temporary foreign relief staff in Vanuatu. They have all this money, so they are all doing assessments upon assessments upon assessments. On Malekula, we've had people swing by from organizations to conduct assessments when, if they'd shot anyone a simple phone call, they'd have steered clear. I don't like it. It's very haphazard; people are reproducing work that other people have already accomplished; there's very poor communication. It seems like it would be much more efficient, on every level, if they gave the cash to local organizations and had them conduct relief as they saw fit. 

Bottle wine???

Things in Vanuatu have a long second life. Great example: bottles of wine or liquor, especially with screw tops. This family uses the bottles to store water in their ice box. I always forget to do that, but it's so, so nice to have cold water on a hot day...

Friday, April 17, 2015

I love Vanuatu because...

1. My mom sent me a care package with dried fish and shrimp in it. The guys at quarantine cleared it and sent it to my office. The charge was 2000 vatu (about 20$) for the quarantine fee. They just delivered the package, and trusted me to go to the post office to pay for it. I went to pay, and they said they'd sent the receipt to my office ... and I trust them to do so. Isn't that great?

2. Planes are so civilized here. Things you can carry on a plane: puppies. Chickens. MACHETES. Other people's babies. All you have to do for a domestic flight is show up, get weighed, check in, and wait for the plane. You seat yourself wherever you want to sit. The plane gets there when it gets there, and leaves whenever every passenger is on it. It's so calming. None of this 'take off your shoes, get rid of your water, remove your jewelry' stuff that we have to do in America. 

3. Whenever I meet someone from anywhere, if I have literally met anyone from the same village, I name drop it. I have had a virtually 100% success rate of people saying, "OH! Hemia stret anti/kasen/abu blo mi." (That's my aunt, cousin, grandfather/mother...) Whenever I meet someone I don't know from Tongariki, I tell them that I lived with Paul Jerry and Esther Norsee, and always they sing aot something to my host dad and something to my host mom. It's beautiful. On Malekula, I recently made friends with a staff member's niece from Ifira. I've met another staff member's brother when he gave me a lift to my house. It's so beautiful.

4. When you need to find someone, often people will tell you to go to a nakamal or to find a yard by a church. You go, and ask them: Hey, I'm looking for SoAndSo. And then they tell you SoAndSo if over there and they go get them. Imagine being in America, having someone tell you to just go to a neighborhood and find someone. It's just impossible. It would never, ever work.

5. Culturally, this place has taught me to relax and not worry about things that I can't change. It's taught me to be more stoic, or at least, to complain less when there's nothing that can be done. Maybe the better word is patience? In America, I feel like you always feel like you have the option to change things, to make them better, or to make them hew closer to your vision of what might be acceptable. Here, that's not an option. You have to accept what you have and work with those limitations. It inspires flexibility and innovation.