Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Volunteers!

All of the new volunteers came to Malekula last week to do their first walk about. They’ve only been in the country about three or four weeks, so it’s all very new to them. They all seem very nice --- and it makes me feel so nostalgic. Sometimes I wonder how I can forget things about this place, like how much I disliked the food at first, or how hot I felt all the time, or how sick I felt. (Since I never drank nearly enough water, I was sick to my stomach about 60% of the time). And I had basically forgotten this one episode in Tanna, during my host volunteer visit. I was visiting Rose, with Michelle Wong and Michelle Kenney, and I was really boastful about my Bislama and insisting on trotting it out everywhere, to the extent that Michelle K was just like, “Shut up already, Amanda!” (MK was 100% in the right there, by the way.) There are still times that Vanuatu seems strange to me, but it’s literally been years since it was new and uncomfortable. It's strange remembering that time.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Things are going well at work! All of my counterparts are currently in the office, and we've got a big two weeks ahead. On Tuesday, we're going to give a big disaster/climate change/health/environmental health toktok in Tautu village, which is basically a big suburb village ten minutes out of Lakatoro. Then on Thursday, we're going to Uripiv Island to give the same awareness. Then next week, I'm going to go to Lambubu Primary School on the west side of the island to do environmental health lessons with the kids. I'm really excited about this last bit. We've mostly gotten the kinks out of the community awarenesses, but I haven't done any work with kids yet. Since the Vanuatu government now links disaster with climate change and environment (the name of the ministry is the longest thing you've ever seen), I feel like our office should also have a broad focus. Hopefully it will all work out; otherwise, very happy Jon is there so he can smooth it over if the lessons don't work out as planned. Very hopeful!! Yet concerned. I have this one great book called 'Paradaes i lus', which is all about why you shouldn't cut down all of your dark bush (ie old forests) and sell them all off, and then there's a 10 lesson curriculum another PCV made in 2009. I also want to try to do child-centered community mapping--mostly about the environment, what areas are clean and dirty, what areas are good and bad, and so on.

We made this big work plan but we're changing it as time goes on. Sylveste, Abelson, and I were supposed to go to Paama in March, but I think I'm going to delay it a few months because I'd like to go when the newest volunteer is there for real. So I'm not sure! It's basically split up:

A litttttlleeeee bit of SE
SE Ambrym
West Ambrym

And we're very close to finishing up the Central area. After this week, only Lingarak/Hatbol will be left as a major population center. I think I'm going to push to go to the big villages on NW Malekula next. They're considered a very at risk area because they have a history of disasters, difficulty in transportation, and very bad to no cell phone reception. We'll see how it goes!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cross-Culture: Black Magic

There's a real racial divide in Vanuatu over how people think about black magic. Expats (Peace Corps too) think it's superstition or some way to blame people for accidents/illnesses that weren't anyone's fault except for Papa God's or a poor health care system. But when I think of my family and friends here -- 100% they believe in black magic and it's not a laughing matter at all.

I actually believe in black magic much more now than I did when I first got here. (Is that a sign I've been here too long?) My view of what is and isn't true or real has developed at the same time that my knowledge of this place has deepened. So I thought it'd be good to give a small preview of what black magic is, what people mean when they talk about it, and just general context for understanding this country.

1. Black magic is real. By this, I mean -- magic is real here. Vanuatu is a country that has devils and spirits; it's a country in which prayer is strong; you could say that the spiritual world is much closer and much more present than in America. (But remember -- we also have people who believe in ghosts and aliens and UFOs, and most Americans believe in God, so let's not get confused here about what I'm saying. We do this in our own way). People practice good magic -- my host mother during training went to see a Christian healer to help her conceive a child -- but people also practice black magic. Meaning: there are people who go out into the bush and do dances/use other secret kastom knowledge in the hopes that something bad happens to someone else.

2. It's all about jealousy. There is a lot of envy and jealousy here, I think largely because there's a big disparity between people with good government jobs, people who own stores, and the like, and other people, who don't have the cash to do things that they want. The difference between being able to send your children to high school and having to tell them to stay at home is enormous. On Malekula in particular, there's a lot of arson that goes on out of jealousy. Stores get burned down, the airport building was burn down ten years ago ... It's a problem. A few years back, apparently a lot of horses were killed because of jealousy. This is my tingting nomo but I think the reason people do do black magic is out of anger and jealousy at other people.

3. Reminder: black magic is real. I mean that there are people who confess to doing it and there are people who believe other people are doing it, too.

4. I refuse to believe that sorcerors can take the form of animals, sorry. What I do believe is real: people do dances in the bush. These dances and other secret kastom knowledge are intended to lead to something bad happening to someone else. If or when something bad does happen, you know it's you. Also: I believe in poison. I think poison is real and that some people do have knowledge of herbs and plants that other people don't know about. Also, sweet mouth -- think island roofies. And also, I don't know a lot about this, but sometimes people say black magic is related to some objects you can make, and that they can give you power, but make other people sick. I don't want to be too explicit here because I'm talking about someone I know pretty well, and I think the sickness they attributed to black magic could have been cured with a knee brace.

That being said, here's time for some island-style information on avoiding black magic .

1. Don't get anyone really mad at you. That means say you're sorry, island-style if necessary. (Island style means you hold a sorry ceremony and come with your whole family to meet with their whole family, exchange gifts, and shake hands, vowing to never again be angry with each other.)

2. Don't eat food given by anyone you don't know or trust. Don't drink kava if you don't see where they're getting it from. Don't eat someone's leftovers because it could have been poison.

3. Look after where you put your hair and your toenail clippings. Don't give your hair to people.

4. (This is South Malekula): Don't throw rubbish from your food like banana peels or coconuts all around. Take them with you and bury them when you're alone.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

So like what's up?

I thought it'd be cool to give a little overview about what I'm doing for work over here in Malampa Province!

So what's really sweet about my new job is that  I'm working at the provincial level. Malampa Province has three major islands -- Malekula, Ambrym, and Paama -- along with a  bunch of smaller ones. As part of my work, I'm going to be traveling around to as many places as I can on all of the islands.  I'm so excited. I like walking around, and, honestly, I get bored pretty quickly staying in one place all the time. So this is just perfect.

The major thing I'm doing is community disaster risk reduction and climate change awareness presentations. (What a mouthful.) I inherited a nice sum of climate change-related grant $$ from my lovely predecessor, Maureen, so that's what's paying for everything. My two counterparts and I have made a pretty ambitious  work plan, and I'm really excited to see how it works out. We're going to Central/North East/North West/South West/ and South East Malekula (no South), all of Paama, and West/South East Ambrym. It's going to be boss. We did our first one last month in a village called Mahe, and should be doing another one on 2/3/15.

I'm also doing school-based disaster drills and first aid training, which is very exciting as well. A lot of times, schools get overlooked, but they're very important (considering how often kids are in school!) We don't have this really done out yet but since school just started on 2/2, that gives a little time to work things out.

After this, the rest of what I'm doing is working with the two guys in my office (Red Cross Branch Officer and Malampa Disaster Officer) to assist in their projects. Their work plans and funding should be finalized sometime this month, so that'll be great. The RC Officer hasn't heard yet, but the DO should be forming Community Disaster Committees, which is top.

That's that!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

One Liner

True Story: so this one time I was in Amelveth with three friends and, in the middle of a delicious/disgusting meal of roasted breadfruit, we realized that it had maggots in it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Update: Week Feb 1-Feb 7

I've had a pretty good week this week. Work-wise, it could have been better -- my main counterpart (Abelson) was in Vila for work and both he and Sylveste (the Red Cross Officer) haven't gotten their work schedules finalized. We did do a pretty good presentation in Port Tintir on Tuesday with some pretty horrible technical difficulties, but it all ended well. I counted about 45 people there, which is really pretty great. We opened with disaster (flood, cyclone, earthquake), then Sylveste did climate change, and I gave a WASH-related health tok. That's when things started to go downhill ... the generator died and it took a really long time to start it back up again. And my laptop can't connect to the projector so we were using Abelson's, but his laptop really needs to go into the shop. NDMO says they're going to send a laptop and some other supplies soon, and I really hope they mean it, because what we've currently got is not adequate to do our work. My estimate of what we need as a bare minimum: one laptop, an internet connection of some kind that they pay for, and phone credit. All of these are supplies that have been available in the past and disappeared when the office went through a really rough patch last year. But fingers crossed they'll give the necessary work supplies soon.

Socially, pretty good week, too. Very expat-heavy, though--didn't make it out to Tautu this week or anything. I had kava with Mollie (from Oz) and Sam (a PCV) on Monday at this really nice nakamal just on the water in Norsup. They don't have good wasemaot but you're facing Norsup Island and sitting right over the ocean -- gorgeous. Tuesday was in Port Tintir. Wednesday, had kava with Sam and it was Kazu (man Japan)'s good-bye dinner. Thursday, felt bored in my house so went to go drink kava by myself for the first time ever. It was great--I'd been worried it would be weird and awkward, but I had a nice conversation with a couple of bus drivers and two young guys from Litzlitz. I think the secret is that if I want to go by myself, 5-6 or 6:30 PM is cool, but must be home before dark, whereas in a group you can go whenever. Especially since I just want to drink kava and get to know some more people but don't want to make a big deal out of anything. Yesterday I came out to Rensarie to visit Michael and get my report done. We went to go drink kava in Taremb, but there wasn't really much, so we tried another one, no kat, then jumped in a truck to Unua II and got some there. Came back, cooked sweet potato, tried to watch Cloud Atlas (great book, nice movie, LONG AS HELL) and fell asleep. This is pretty much the story of my life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New year's resolution #4

Drink more kava.

But really, did I have to say it?

It's so hot...

So Malekula is like considerably farther north than Tongariki, which means that it's closer to the Equator, gets a little hotter, et cetera, et cetera. But I'm starting to wonder -- do I have some sort of amnesia or something? I swear, every year it's like this big revelation that January/February is an awful month. Every morning, I sweat myself awake. I've been showering three times a day, just to cool off, and this is with me only working/lounging around with an electric fan pointed directly at my face. I've been drinking 4-5 L of water a DAY and it's still like man ... I'm going to die of heat.

Basically this is all to say: I'm officially a princess and should probably not whinge so much about something that happens once a year ... every year. But it's so bad! AHHH.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


I wouldn't really call this funny ... or, maybe I'm just too sensitive? But yall. I got a USB-internet device, right? I pay 1000 vatu (about 11 bucks) for credit for 100 MB, which they say will expire in 2 weeks. I'm figuring, okay, I'll open up a few pages, check my email, ration it day by day ... No worries.

Guys, I flattened it in ten minutes.

1. Who uses internet so sparingly that 100 MB can last for two weeks??

2. Pages loaded surprisingly quick. You'd think that with a price tag like that, there'd be a million hours to load a page, but nah. Went just fine. Pretty quick.

3. I feel like it's good to have ... but I am definitely 100% not using it. I wanted to have it to upload photos to facebook, since public internet computers are always really infected with viruses, and I didn't want to ruin anything.

Oh well!