Sunday, March 29, 2015

Beach Day at Aube, Malekula


There's a really beautiful beach by where I now live on Malekula. It's called Aube, and on the weekends, it's full with people having picnics and going swimming. When you go on weekdays, it's totally empty -- and absolutely idyllic.

While I was in Australia, I bought a pair of goggles, so I'm hoping to start doing open-water swimming. It's something I always wanted to do for exercise but never did. One of the great quality of life aspects to my time in Vanuatu is that I have enough time to relax, workout, socialize, and do whatever else I feel like doing. If I want to take off work to go do something, I take off work to go do something. If I want to go swimming, I go swimming. It's like my friend Sam's little host sister on Paama said when her mom wanted her to take a bath -- "Mi boss blo mi wan!" (I'm my own boss.)

I went with my new host mother, Mami Jacqueline, Jo-Jo (who's 19), Cassandra (8 or 9), and another volunteer, Laura. We bought steak and had pre-cooked rice, pineapple, and some frozen chicken. Must wash out the pans in the salt water, right?

There are lots of trees around, and different places where you can just make your little picnic area. Very very nice.

But the best thing? SALT WATER CHICKEN COOKED ON CORAL. Not even kidding -- this was absurdly delicious. Somehow it came out all caramel colored with this really delicious flavor. I think it must have had something to do with the temperature of the hot coral. I have never heard of this before -- either on Tongariki or any other island -- but it was super delicious. One of the best picnics I've had in Vanuatu.

Life in Vila now

Things have changed in Vila since we left, but it's surprising how normal everything is here, considering the situation in some of the outer islands. 

The biggest difference in Vila is that some buildings are destroyed. You also can see some buildings that you didn't use to be able to see, because there used to be trees. The roads are cleaned but there's lots of broken trees on the sides of the road. 

The other thing that's strange is that there's no fresh island food available. When you go to the stores, they're stocked with rice, noodles, tinned fish, lollies, coffee -- everything is normal. But you can't buy island cabbage, coconuts, sweet potatoes, or oranges. There's no one at any market in Vila. There's a Facebook group called Yumi Toktok Stret where some people have posted that they have island cabbage for sale -- at three times the normal going rate. Everyone is estimating that it'll take a good 3-4 months for there to be fresh food available again. I think what this means is that rich people will eat tinned vegetables and imported cabbage/carrots, and poor people will just eat rice and tin meat, rice and tin tuna, rice and tin mackerel, until things change. Poor people in Vila already eat an unhealthy diet because of the high price of fresh food, but it'll just be worse for a while. Pre-Cyclone, the standard Vila diet for most people I know was bread with margarine and sugary coffee for breakfast, rice and some kind of soup of tinned meat/fish and a little vegetable for lunch, and the same for dinner. Rice and bread haven't gone up in price, at least, but life is going to be more difficult.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Beautiful Small Amanda

Small Amanda is getting bigger now. So cute!!!!!!


Approximately 2 weeks ago, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu. It was a Category 5 cyclone and it caused very serious damage to the Shepherds (where I used to live), Efate, Erromango, and Tanna. It caused less serious but still substantial damage to many other islands. The government estimates that more than half of the population has been affected by the storm. Food aid, water, and other relief supplies have gone out, but the situation is really still bad. Kids aren't in school. Health facilities and roads are damaged. The gardens in many parts of the country have been wiped out. It's bad.

Prior to the cyclone, all PCVs were evacuated to Sydney. It was an extremely stressful and exhausting experience. It looked like the cyclone would be bad enough that we might not be able to return to Vanuatu. We were all running around in circles, trying to figure out what we needed to have in Sydney, what we would need to take to America, and what we could leave behind. I sent some of the world's most dramatic texts and phone calls to everyone I knew on the islands, telling my family that I loved them and respected them and that they had to get ready for this cyclone. At the airport, staff were waving good-bye to us, and it felt like we were abandoning everyone in Vanuatu and running away. I understand why our office made the call, in the end, to evacuate us. But it was very hard to go while everyone else was staying behind.

Sydney was all right. It was a little strange because every group had a different dynamic. One of the trainees was referring to it as an "evacu-cation". Some of the current volunteers were very productive in trying to arrange training sessions, organize fundraising or awareness, or contact family. I was mopey/irritable all the time. I spent most of our time in Sydney walking in circles and doing things to not think about what was happening in Vanuatu.

There were some good things in Sydney. The opera house is really pretty. The zoo was nice. I went hiking and ate a lot of cheap sushi. Saw Chappie and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. It seemed like a fun place -- lots of festivals going on. I think I would like to go back to Australia, maybe to the country somewhere, but obviously in a different context. 

I'm so glad to be back in Vanuatu. I felt so much stress and anxiety in Sydney, and I felt like it was all lifted once I got back in country. Even though things aren't the way that they used to be, Vanuatu is still my home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Recipe Time!

Recipe time! Today’s recipe: Tanna Soup.

Take: Some of something, some more of something else, a bit more of another thing, the remnants of whatever it is you’ve got hidden in the back of your cupboard or in the back of your fridge, water, and salt. Let it boil. Now eat.

For a legitimate Tanna soup, you should be mixing root crops and vegetables and throwing some coconut milk on top. But for you? Run wild with it. 

This leads into the joke.

Vanuatu gets its very first zoo, and, the day after it opens, a rhinoceros escapes. It is seen going into Teouma and never seen again. ... Tanna soup wan taem.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Daily Life: Market Edition

I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the market in Lakatoro every day. Lakatoro is the main urban center of Malekula, and its market can be fantastic. I’m talking crabs, chickens, baskets of shellfish, eggs … papaya, coconuts, avocadoes, mangoes, pineapples, naus, grapefruits … snake beans, ballot, green beans, every kind of cabbage, onions, peanuts … breadfruit, kumala, taro, yam, banana … cakes, jams … I even saw shrimp once, and once I bought a slice of lemon meringue cake. (!!) On crummy days, it’s not so much that there aren’t many women there, but rather that they all sell the same thing. Today I went down to the market, and it was almost all coconuts, peanuts, island cabbage, and oranges. Two women were selling snake bean, so I bought a bundle. There was watercress, but it was wilted (so nix), and very hard green avocadoes at 20 vatu per one (so I bought three). I try to mostly eat food from the market, both to cut down on costs and to eat more healthily. It means that I’ve eaten lots of vegetable soup and fried sweet potato, which balance each other out, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I have no idea why this is, but in Vanuatu, when kids pose for photos, a lot of the time they do what's called 'style.' Style means that you're not smiling -- or you're smiling, but only a tiny bit -- and you make some sort of sign with your hands. 

This is me, Sarah, Kelsey, and Mike, in Amelveth village on Malekula. Getting ready for another fancy nakamal outing ... awo.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My favorite thing: Weekending

In Vanuatu, people use weekend as a verb. I guess we also do in English--but it sounds super pretentious to be like, oh, I weekend in X. To me, it screams uber-wealthy Manhattanite with a summer house on Long Island.

But here, you can just say, "Bae mi go wiken lo Tautu" or "Bae mi go wiken lo Vao" or anything like that, and it's just an understood thing that people do. You just pick up and go out. It's usually people who work in urban centers or teachers who do it. But it's great. My favorite thing.