Sunday, October 10, 2010


hey everyone
Alex and I are heading back to the island tomorrow on the cargo ship. it's been okay in Port Vila but we are anxious to get back to the island. We hear our cat on the island is missing, so wish us the best of luck finding her. We plan to be on the island until March. We will be blogging regularly on the island (no internet) and will get the blogs posted when we get back to Port Vila in March. We'll take lots of pictures too!

We wrote an article for the Peace Corps Vanuatu volunteer newsletter about our project and the work we have been doing for the last year:

"PHAST is a water and sanitation workshop that was developed by the World Health Organization and the World Bank/UNDP (field tested by Peace Corps!) as a tool to promote hygiene and sanitation at the village level.

Here's our PHAST story...Arriving at site, our community had made it clear that they would appreciate our attention being given to water supply issues. Our health surveys indicated hygiene and sanitation should be addressed. We did not see much value in education and we both agreed that environmental improvements alone wasn't sustainable. We needed a way to energize our community, to get them excited about water and sanitation. Well, maybe not excited - but at least get them talking about water and sanitation.

Our friend and fellow PCV, Billy Delancey, was having a similar experience at his site. He called our community health program APCD Sara Lightner for guidance and she suggested investigating PHAST. Billy did the legwork, he met with World Vision, the only folks we are aware of that were currently carrying out PHAST workshops in Vanuatu. Billy familiarized himself with PHAST and introduced it to the community health volunteers during a PST II presentation. We were intrigued by PHAST's participatory methods and wanted to try the workshop in our community.

We had one major problem though, we needed pictures - lots of pictures. The backbone of the PHAST workshop is the pictures, country-specific pictures. The workshop is unique in that there is no reading, writing or 'talking at' the participants. We, as facilitators, simply give the participants piles of pictures and ask them to be sorted in particular ways - use these pictures to create a story about your community, do you consider these hygiene and sanitation practices to be good or bad?, use these pictures to create a story about how this poo gets to this persons mouth, put these sanitation practices in order from worst to best. Things like that. The picture sorting gives the community the opportunity for meaningful dialogue concerning their hygiene and sanitation. World Vision, an NGO working in Vanuatu, had the pictures, but their pictures were not, at that time, available for use by other organizations. We considered stealing the pictures, but that idea was quickly shot down by Sara. We had only one choice - we had to create another set of PHAST pictures. We called fellow PCV and our artist friend Amy Orr and she graciously agreed to meet us in Port Vila a few days early (before an IST) to create a toolkit. We sat down and created about 80 pictures.

We took the pictures back to our communities and tested them during 3 different week-long PHAST workshops. Most of the pictures worked great, but some - like the man openly defecating then digging a hole afterwards to bury his poo and the pig tied to the coconut tree failed miserably. Our communities pointed out to us that in Vanuatu, one digs the hole first, that way you don't have to move the poo into the hole; and one would not typically tie a pig to a coconut tree as that means that someone has to walk through pig poo to collect coconuts.

Throughout the course of these three workshops we fell in love with the PHAST methodology and became a bit evangelical of its merits. We did a PHAST presentation at the PEACE program's in-service training. Several PEACE volunteers expressed interest in the workshop. We decided to go forward with the project. We met with Amy a second time, this time on her island, and 'fixed' about 30 pictures that were not saying what we had intended them to say. With the improved pictures from our preliminary testing, we put together 5 additional PHAST toolkits and sent them out with Peace Corps volunteers to each of the provinces for additional testing.

After the pictures are tested throughout the country and adjusted as necessary, we are hoping to laminate a number of toolkits and make them available to PCVs and anyone else that wants to PHAST. If you think doing a PHAST is for you and you want to be a part of testing the pictures, please call the folks with the pictures in your province and they can send the pictures your way!

SHEFA- Lauren
TAFEA- Arthur

If you want to stori with us about the PHAST:
Alex Amorin
Lucas Obringer"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October 2nd

Happy October 2nd everyone.

Just finished meeting with some guys from our district about a grant they've been working on. We had to create a timeline for their proposed project - building a cement water tank with money from Australia.

Felt a decent earthquake today, it wasn't a hard shake, but it lasted for a while.

Alex is doing well. She went snorkeling with girlfriends today. No snorkeling for me as I dropped a bush knife on my foot while getting off the bus on Thursday. Had to get three stitches on the top of my big toe. Right foot. The Peace Corps doctor says I should be able to get the stitches out in a week.

Spent yesterday with my foot propped up in bed, working on a PHAST PowerPoint presentation for the new volunteers early service conference - which will happen in February.

Monday, September 27, 2010

sept 27

it's monday afternoon, we are going to go drink kava in a little bit. Galaxy at 5:30, if you're in the area. Alex and I are officially in Vila until the 11th, so email us. I'm sure there's plenty to write about, but the stuff really worth writing about isn't coming to mind. Alex and I worked hard last week, created PHAST toolkits for all of the provinces in Vanuatu AND we found Peace Corps volunteers who plan to use the toolkits in every single province. Very Exciting!!

sept 18

Alex and I are stuck in Port Vila. The cargo ship is full and the plane is full. Our first way out would be on the 28th. Then yesterday World Vision announces they are bringing a PHAST expert in to conduct a training of trainers. The workshop starts on October 6th. Our supervisor invited us to attend the training. It seems hardly worth going back to the island for just a few days, especially since the possibility of getting stuck on the island and missing the workshop is possible. Peace Corps has suggested they might get us a place to stay. The training is a week long, so it's possible we'll be here until ~October 12.

New group

The new Peace Corps group arrived this morning. Alex and I's group are no longer the new kids on the block. Peace Corps staff and many of the volunteers who are in town met them as they arrived at the airport this morning.

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Our Parents..


We have made it back to Vanuatu safely. Our bags haven't made it yet, but we are hoping they will be found and find their way to Port Vila before it's time for us to head to Pentecost.

It was so nice to visit with all of you. We very much enjoyed ourselves and we appreciate all that you did (and continue to do).

I can't believe dad really quit smoking...that's amazing!! And wonderful.

Vanuatu is nice, it feels good to be back, and fun to talk bislama again.

All the new volunteers arrive tomorrow. I am excited for them.

Alex is spending the day with girlfriends, soaking in the sun beside a swimming pool at some high-end resort.

Love you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Alex and I are at the airport in DC, on our way back to Vanuatu. Our time in America has been busy and good. We have spent the last three days visiting with my parents, who were kind enough to drive down to DC for the visit.

We wondered if the traffic and gigantic cement buildings and business of life here would freak us out, and we are happy to report - it didn't. We are comfortable in the states, it's what we've known our whole life, how could a year somewhere else change that?

I will tell you what did freak me out. It is the sharp distinctions between our social classes. I started to notice it at the airport in Australia. There were three people for 50 seats in the "Gold Star" waiting area and 300 people for 50 seats in the "You don't have a gold star" waiting area. The waiting areas were right beside each other with only a little gate (that anyone could move) in between the two waiting areas. Everyone seemed to take this situation as normal and acceptable.

DC has Mc-mansions, multi-million dollar cathedrals/monuments and homeless/near-homeless living together in what seems to be an acceptable agreement. There are stores for poor people, stores for middle-income people and stores for wealthy. There are even stores for middle-income folks that wish they were more wealthy.

As we wait for the airplane now, several men and women are surfing the internet while those not wishing to pay for internet services (and those without a computer) are not. It's very different than life in our village on our island in the South Pacific. I wonder how natural it is to find our caste system acceptable. I wonder how our friends on the island would respond if they were given a level in our caste system.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Frozen Yogurt

Today, Lucas and I were in strip mall hell in the bowels of Rockville, MD. We decided to take a break and have some fro yo. It was one of these self serve deals that you pay by the ounce... I walked over to the eight flavors to see what my options were and inbetween the pineapple and blood orange was TARO FLAVORED FROZEN YOGURT WITH A PICTURE OF TARO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish we had our camera to capture the moment. I was speechless...The frozen yogurt attendent let us sample it--the first lick tasted like coconut, but subsequent licks yeilded a mildly familiar tasting boule taro...It's like Pentecost won't let us forget her!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It took longer than I orginally suggested it would, but here are few pictures from the last few months.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday the 28th

Hey everyone,
Alex and I are alive and well in sunny Washington DC! We've been in town for a couple days, eating a lot and sleeping a lot. The new group of volunteers arrive in Vanuatu next month, they have a group that they have organized on facebook (V-23), it's fun to read their entries and kind of feel the excitement and energy that comes with a new group.

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 18th

Alex and I just arrived in Port Vila this afternoon. We are well. We are coming to America next week. One of Alex's best friends is getting married. We'll be in DC for two weeks. We are excited to see our families. It'll be fun to see what surprises us about America.

The battery for our solar system at site died a few weeks ago. This meant no charging the computer, so there's a gap with no blog entries for the last couple weeks.

We've led a couple more PHAST workshops since the last blog entries. It's been good. We feel like we are building capacity. We are waiting for our first major setback, we expect it should come one of these days soon.

Since we haven't many blog entries, we'll try to include more pictures. Check back in a couple days.

Don't Wait

April 23, 2007 - Began hiking on the Appalachian Trail. This will be my longest trip yet, hoping to get three months out of my budget. There was a ATC volunteer at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail whose job it is to write down the names and trail plans of everyone beginning the trail. As one is obliged, we made small talk about the prettiness of the area, the delightfulness of the weather, 'interesting' hikers he had met and such things. I asked him if anyone had started the trail today. Two had began, "a nice fellow" trail-named 'Don't Wait' whom I would meet that afternoon and a female "about your age" who was walking to Hot Springs, (whom I would marry).

Don't Wait is a slender man, probably in his early fifties with a well-groomed salt-and-peppered beard and an external frame backpack. He was photographing a trail-side wildflower as I caught up to him on the trail. "Uh......the for my wife", Don't Wait assured, "....she likes that sort of thing".

"Nice iris" I replied.

Don't Wait and I were the only two at the shelter that evening. We had a small campfire and talked about the purpose of life and how great it was to be in the woods completely removed from cultural expectations and responsibilities (these were, of course, separate conversations as the purpose of life is not likely to be a bum). Don't Wait taught me how to use a flint and magnesium contraption we found in the shelter to build a campfire. My first ever flint and magnesium fire! This was Don't Wait's first trip on the trail and had been a long-time coming, hence his trail name.

I spent two days hiking with 'Don't Wait'. We had several pleasant conversations. On the third day it was raining and we came to a hostel on the trail. 'Don't Wait' chose to stay at the hostel and I chose to go on. I met Alex a few hours later. I saw 'Don't Wait' one more time, at a hostel about two weeks later. He had finished his hike on the trail and had loved it. He wished us well and went back to Kentucky the next day.

June 28, 2010 - We [Alex and I] were meant to catch a plane into Port Vila yesterday. The plane didn't come because the grass runway was too wet from all the rain. We spent last night in the guesthouse near the airport. We received several packages at the post office today. Letters from friends and family, packages from each of our parents and a padded envelope from a name we did not immediately recognize. The person had sent us giant pumpkin seeds, pictures of Halloween and several pictures of the American countryside from an old calendar. And a note that read:
"...I've been following your blog off and on for a while now....Congratulations on your marriage and life...It's great that your doing this when you're young. I think most people start their family and careers and never really get the chance to break away....Don't Wait"

A big Vanuatu tank yu tumas

Arriving in Port Vila a few weeks ago, Alex and I were surprised and excited to find a significant number of boxes from America with our names on them. We received a significant number of care packages from Parkway High.

In 1994, I (Lucas) graduated from Parkway High School, a small school system in rural Ohio. As I understand the story, it goes like this: (please forgive any inaccuracies)

A group of students from Parkway High found it appropriate to do a service project. They wanted to do something for the U.S. military men and women. They decided to collect donations from the community and send them to Parkway Alumni currently serving their country in association with the U.S. war efforts. They collected donations and began to seek out Parkway Alumni to be sent the care packages.

Ourselves and our community very much appreciate everyone's thoughtfulness and have been putting the donations to good use. The monetary donation has gone to support our PHAST project (we'll send you pictures); the pencils and paper are being used for PHAST work as well. The socks are keeping toes warm during the tropical winter (it's colder than you think!! and cold is relative). The Jolly Ranchers are bribing children to come visit us. We have all (including myself) enjoyed the cookies and crackers. Our friend, Mikey, who lifts weights (we call it pumping iron in Bislama) daily in rural Vanuatu absolutely loves the muscle magazine.

Does anyone really understand the appropriate use of a semi-colon? ;

July 17

Hello again from beautiful Pentecost.

Alex and I have a few friends who are currently spending the Antarctic winter in Antarctica. For them, it's been 24-hour darkness for months. Presumably the first sunrise should be coming soon (I don't know and I can't google it).

Our friends that are currently living in Antarctica are friends that we met when we were working there. We had similar lives while we were working together. We shared the same meals everyday, knew the same gossip and had the same after-work social options. And there seemed to be this level of kinship because we were going through the same exotic experience together.

And now are lives are vastly different. Most of their food has been in the freezer for years; our food is typically in the ground the day before we eat it. On exceptionally cold days they must ensure bare skin is not exposed; we must put on a long-sleeve shirt. We don't wear shoes; they wear gigantic boots. They are making tons of money; Peace Corps Volunteers do not make tons of money. They have lots of social options that involve alcohol; we couldn't buy a beer if we wanted to. (This list could go on, but I don't see the point.)

I have never (nor will I ever) be in Antarctica in the winter time. I don't have a clue what it is like to live in 24-hour darkness with no possibility of escape. Nor will most of them ever understand the Melanesian culture as Alex and I do.

I want to write about how it's neat to have friends whose lives are so drastically different from your own; and I want to write about how our lives are similar because we are both just trying to live in a world we have not known before and that there is kinship in doing so; and I want to write about how friendship transcends environment; and such.

But most importantly I think I just wanted to write about some of my friends from the ice, as I've been thinking about them lately.

To my friends on the ice - if your after-ice travel plans include small tropical islands, I doubt there is a better option than to come and visit your friends on beautiful Pentecost. E-mail us before mid-September and we'll get back to you with all the logistical information you will need. It's a little expensive to get here, but Alex and I will take care of all food and such things after you arrive. And it should be the beginning of mango season come late October.

July 13

Hello all,
Alex and I have been on site for close to a week now. We have been busy. A friend from another island, Jared, has come to visit us at our site. We have a PHAST workshop starting the day after tomorrow. Jared has come to both visit us and see how the PHAST goes, if it's something he wants to do on his island (Epi). We have been spending our days preparing for the PHAST workshop and visiting with Jared. We have been watching a movies most nights with Jared. Last night we watched Battle Star Galactica. Robots are warring with humans, we don't why. It's kind of like Star Trek, but with different people.

Jared wrote about his visit in his blog:

Saturday, July 3, 2010


It is Tuesday night, Alex and I just arrived in Port Vila earlier today. Due to bad weather, mainly low clouds (we theorize), our Sunday flight was canceled. It was rumored that a plane would come on Monday, didn't come. We flew this morning.

We did a two quick workshops just before we left for Port Vila, here are some pictures.

June 25th

We have a workshop scheduled for tomorrow. The weather has been awful today. There is a slight chance the workshop won't happen tomorrow as no one will want to walk in the mud and rain to come to the workshop.

We fly to Port Vila on Sunday. Time for ice cream and all the meat we can eat.

Alex and I are doing a presentation to all Peace Corps business volunteers about PHAST workshop while we are in Vila next week.

We will be busy in Port Vila, but please send us an email next week and we'll find the time to respond.

Alex and I have talked about working another summer in Antarctica.

When the high frequency radio works, we listen to the 'Dave Ramsey Show' weekday mornings at 7am on the Armed Forces Radio Network.

Alex's host parents just had their first child (not counting Alex), a baby girl, no name yet.

Both cargo ships came at the exact same time on Tuesday, first time we've seen this happen.

getting ready for Vila

Alex and I just made our list of everything we need to do, purchase, think about and/or make while we are in Port Vila next week (like post all blog entries). Interestingly, the list is significantly shorter than it has been in the past. We wonder if it's an indication that we are settling in well to living on a small island and also an indication that our projects are finding a straighter, narrower path forward.

Alex is reading Of Mice and Men and I'm trying to read Lord of the Flies.

We planted bell peppers, eggplant, tomato and basil yesterday.

June 21

Lucas says: okay Alex, help me write a blog
Alex says: Let's talk about the corner we've turned
Lucas says: Like we're feeling better about Peace Corps and our work here?
Alex says: Yes
Lucas says: okay, our workshop went well two weeks ago and we have another workshop on Saturday and we suspect it will go fine too, so we feel more productive.
Alex says: And I feel more at home here
Lucas says: Me too
Alex says: I understand my life as a peace corps volunteer a little better
Lucas says: Like we know what our jobs are and the community knows what are jobs are a little bit too, and we have a project!
Alex says: Yes, but more importantly I have a rhythm to my day. Like next week we go into Port Vila and I know what that's going to look like and what I need to do to get ready and what we need to bring back here.
Lucas says: So we've turned a corner because we kind of know what to expect in our day-to-day living?
Alex says: our day to day living, yes, and our project, we know how to get around, we're starting to make friends, like real friends
Lucas says: And we know who to talk to about this or that
Alex says: Yup, it almost feels like two years is too short, as it took us 8 months just to figure out which way is up.
Lucas says: Our Bislama is a lot better too
Alex says: I feel like I could start learning the local language now
Lucas says: show off
Alex says: why is that show off?, you could learn it too
Lucas says: that's how I feel
Alex says: oh
Lucas says: You think there's anything else we should blog about tonight?
Alex says: no


Men and women live physically hard lives in Vanuatu, and often appear to be older (by American Standards) than they actually are. Average life expectancy is in the late 60s. Persons in their 70s and 80s are still very much a part of the community's daily life. They work in the garden, prepare their own food, assist in building houses, take on parenting roles, play critical roles in ceremonies/tradition and advise on community development.

June 20th

Alex and I went to a new church this morning. The sermon was fine, the preacher preached of the many voices in the world and how hard it is sometimes know which is the voice of God - the voice of truth. Hollywood is not the voice of truth, nor is fashion the voice of truth. Nor is celebrating Christ's birthday on December 25 - as Jesus is the lamb of God and since lamb's are not born when it is cold outside, Jesus could not have been born on December 25.

Does anyone know what time of year new lambs are born in Bethlehem?

Kastom stori

Alex and I had dinner with my host father and his family at my father's father-in-law's village last night. My father's father-in-law is the chief of the small village. During the meal, my host father, myself and the chief gave small talks. When it came time for the chief's talk, he said (I've translated from Bislama) "We have our own way of living on this island, everyone contributes to our well-being." The chief then told a story: "A long, long time ago when only four people lived on this island there was only one canoe, the chief's canoe. Whenever they wanted to go to another island to visit family, they would use this canoe. It was a big canoe, it could easily carry all four men, many pigs and food for several days. One day the four wanted to go to the island to the north. The four reached the open sea and a massive storm began. The sea was rough, giant waves crashed over the canoe, one after another. Three of the men began to paddle with all of their strength. The fourth did not. The others asked him 'Are you not going to help us paddle? Can't you understand that this storm is going to drown the canoe and drown us if you do not begin paddling?'. The man stood up, went to the back of the canoe and found a basket. He sat down and began to bale water out of the canoe. The three men continued to paddle while the fourth baled, until they reached the island to the north."

June 15th

"The American emphasis on concrete achievements and "doing" means that age is not highly valued in [America]." Do you believe this statement to be True or False?

Dear blog,

It has been raining for at least two weeks.
Our cat has begun these random bouts of screaming, we don't understand.
We had to re-schedule our business workshop to avoid being the day after a marriage, a day of kava hangovers.
All of Alex's favorite flowers are invasive weeds.
Most of the world considers Americans to be energetic and industrious.
It sometimes is cold in Vanuatu.

Tata Bob

We had pancakes for breakfast, fried root vegetables for lunch and pizza for dinner. I don't think we are winning any awards for healthy eating today. We'll have to make a meal with island cabbage tomorrow. It's a locally grown green that needs to be cooked, I like to compare it to chard but that might not be the most accurate of comparisons.

My favorite island cabbage lunch - Cook rice, slice ginger, cut spring onions (lots), crush garlic, chop a chili or two, slice lemongrass, add green beans and okra, fry it up with an egg and plenty of island cabbage. Make rolls with rice paper, serve with sweet chili sauce.

The picture is of my host father Tata Bob with his oldest child (other than me). Tata is the local language word for father.

June 11th

it's just past 5:30pm and already too dark to read inside the house, a clear reminder it's wintertime in the South Pacific. We've had a quiet day. I've been in bed most of the day feeling weak and fighting off being sick. Alex has found a new book she just can't put down. Tomorrow we plan to prepare for the business workshop with our Ni-van co-facilitator.

New Volunteers...This one is for you!

Alex and I received word from Peace Corps in early July of last year that we would be coming to Vanuatu. Shortly thereafter, one of our favorite pastimes became surfing the internet and reading about Vanuatu. One of the most valuable resources we found for forming our vision of the next two years was to read blogs of volunteers who were currently serving in Vanuatu. But instead of blindly reading through entry after entry to find applicable insights, it would have been nice if we could have found one entry that tried to summarize 9 months and 2 days of what it's like for Peace Corps Volunteers in Vanuatu.

So here's hoping some new volunteer somehow stumbles upon this entry and appreciates it.


We like Vanuatu. We like our placement. We sometimes like to imagine ourselves in placements in other countries and how different our lives would be, we're convinced every placement has its good and bad. We have not spent a lot of time in rural villages all over the developing world but some of the things that seem exceptionally good about this placement include: tropical fruit, almost zero hunger and homelessness, clean water, no AIDS epidemic (that anyone is aware of as of yet), it's beautiful and there's a pretty good chance you'll be able to go to the beach everyday.

Some days we like to imagine volunteers in Latin America eating tamales everyday so we can be insanely jealous, but when we're honest with ourselves we admit that they are probably eating a lot of manioc (cassava) too. Village life is hard, harder than I expected, it's the social part that is hard, people here can be really bossy and it's hard to say no. Well, it's easy to say 'no', it's just that they ignore that you've said no. But again, like the manioc, I suspect volunteers all of the world are being told where to sit and how to do the most basic of human tasks.

To get to our site we take a small plane (expensive) and then a 20-minute walk to the ocean and then an hour boat ride (which isn't cheap either) and then another walk uphill to our house. The other option is a 28-hour cargo ship ride. There is one truck in our district, but it can't get to our village if the river is high or the roads are too wet. We are certainly no where near the most remotest of placements. Many of our friends are the only volunteer on their island. The northern-most province has two volunteers in the entire province.


Many volunteers have access to electricity. Those that don't are often at more remote sites and will be given a solar system by Peace Corps to charge either a HF radio or satellite phone. We would totally recommend bringing a computer, digital camera, MP3 player and re-chargeable batteries. Cell phones are pretty popular in Vanuatu, all volunteers are issued a phone and most volunteers have coverage or can find coverage near their site. Most villages seem to have a few people that charge phones for everyone in the village, ensuring there is probably almost always a way to get electronics charged.

You (most though not everyone) will be washing all your clothes by hand and wringing them out by hand. There is value in clothes that are easy to wring out and hide stains well. Alex suggest bringing skirts that you would go hiking in - below the knee but not to the ankle and stretchy. Alex and I and many other volunteers spent plenty of time searching out the perfect pair sandals for Vanuatu. We now all wear $3 sandals from the local shop. Buy some cheap sandals in America and get your feet used to wearing cheap sandals. Umbrellas are more common and more appropriate for the weather than rain coats. Books circulate among volunteers during service, please bring books to read and then add to the circulation. And tell you family to send the occasional best-seller. We had read about how much Ni-vans like looking at pictures, but it's incredible. I would bring pictures of friends and family but pictures of a particular facets of our culture too, I doubt there is a better way to start a conversation in this culture (i.e. pictures of NYC lights, amish at work, space station, strip mining, cowboy hats, Ronald McDonald, state fair, amber waves of grain, rednecks, interstate highway, sports arena, Las Vegas, etc.). I think one of the best gifts are Obama t-shirts, or if it's your style - a "Drill baby drill" t-shirt. Bring snorkeling gear from America. The Peace Corps-issued first-aid kit is more than sufficient, comes with bug dope and sunscreen. We chose not to, but wish we would have brought much of our camping gear. I often wear a long-sleeve shirt to stay warm, my wife doesn't and laughs at me, but I'm glad I have it. Cheap calculators are not expensive in country. Nice guitars are available in country.

Things we are most glad we brought
- world maps, long-sleeve shirt, I-pod, Computer, Dr. Bronner's, books, spices (as we weren't able to get to a proper grocery store until after we'd been in country for like 6 weeks), pictures of our family, Alex is happy she brought shorts to wear underneath her skirts, sarongs, a bottle of Advil to use until we were issued our medical kit, Uno cards, high-end bed sheet, pens and paper, rechargeable batteries and charger, digital camera, Leatherman, good snorkeling gear with reef shoes

Things that we could have left behind
- tennis shoes, ankle-length skirts, long-sleeve dress shirt and matching tie, $70 sandals

Things we wish we would have brought
- our tent and camping gear including our backpacking cooking set, more pictures, yoga mats, encyclopedia on CD, Obama t-shirts for gifts

At the end of the day, most all things are available -in one form or another- in-country, and Peace Corps gives you enough money. So don't sweat it too much. Bring your electronics and some comfortable things to help you get settled in.

Pre-Service Training

Pre-service training is a train wreck. It always has been and always will be - everywhere in the world. People freak out and then other people freak out because their friends are freaking out. People freak out because they think PST should be better, and because they are stressed and because life is harder now because it's different. People look for who to blame and often they blame the PST facilitators. It's really sad and annoying and human all at the same time. My advice - know that it's going to be a train wreck and regularly remind yourself that you knew it was going to be a train wreck. Put your energy into your Bislama skills and making friends. It's the process that teaches and PST is an important but small part of the process.

Life on the Island

There's volunteers on many different islands, and we are told that the islands are all significantly different. Certainly individual experiences of volunteers are drastically different. Our friend just a few hours to the north of us has regular access to bread and frozen meat and alcohol, some island friends have access to ice cream. A few friends assigned to schools or in high-population areas have access to internet, while another friend has to walk hours to find cell phone coverage. We eat lots of taro and no peanuts, another friend eat lots of peanuts and no taro. Some of our friends live with rats in their house, we don't. You get the idea. There are plenty of similarities between sights too. We all get bossed around a lot and told what to do. We are asked to justify our actions when we do something other's do not agree we should be doing. Our desire and need for independence (as Americans) is often more significant than we were aware of. We are regularly expected to eat food we would rather not eat. Our ability to sit with awkwardness has increased significantly. I suspect we all have access to rice and canned meat and peanut butter. We walk a lot and sit with awkwardness daily and wish we knew the appropriate thing to say more often.

Living in a completely different world doesn't change a person's core. The overachievers in America are overachievers here and the underachievers are still doing whatever it is they do. Drunks are still drunks and the anxious find plenty to worry about.

We have plenty of good food to eat, we bathe daily, recharge our electronics daily, our bed sheets are clean, we are busy with projects, find time to read and we are healthy and happy. Very happy most of the time!

June 10th

Alex doesn't care so much for blogging, she thinks it's like trying to write a personal letter to your best friend who knows all your dirty secrets and your distant uncle at the same time. She likes the idea of blogging, just the venue is a little awkward. She's been busy taking pictures for the blog. This week's theme has been pictures of us doing what we do around the house to give you all an idea of what our daily life looks like.

I kind of like blogging, it offers me an appropriate venue to talk about myself, and only those that wish have to listen to me talking about myself.

Bae yu mekem wanem?

After much continued pressure from the community, this morning Alex and I unofficially announced plans for an upcoming "business" workshop. We are going to talk about family financial planning on February 24 from 8-3 at the nakamal in Le Poen. You can come if you want.

A bigfala thank you to Doug and Kelli for sending us an incredible package. I had a freeze-dried ice cream sandwich after dinner.

June 8th

People think we are crazy here, for different reasons. Like we are 33 and don't have children and we didn't even get married until we were over 30. And I don't know how to use a bush knife well and I don't climb trees. We say dumb things...a lot. We slip and fall down when we walk down steep, slick hills. I would rather hang out with my wife than a bunch of dudes. Sometimes I cook and clean and do laundry. Alex manages our family budget. We don't plant our crops at the right place or in the right season. We try to grow crops that don't grow well here. We get muddy when we walk on muddy trails. We pick the wrong fruit from the tree - the one that's not perfectly ripe. We eat strange foods. We have lots of stuff in our house. We don't know a million things. I'm sure this list could be longer, but you get the idea.
Most people pull weeds out of the garden and throw them into the bush. Today, I was caught carrying a pile of weeds out of the bush and into the garden. I was asked to explain myself and then I'm sure they laughed for awhile.

The ground near our house doesn't seem to be very fertile (or really acidic, I dunno, one of the two). So Alex and I decided to build a compost pile.


Avocado season has come and gone and citrus season is slowing, probably coming to an end by the end of the month. Soon it will be season for two varieties of local nut, neither of which I am capable of pronouncing their names.
So when it's mango season, one eats mangoes everyday, several mangoes most days, some days too many mangoes. And during the Avocado season we eat avocados with most meals. Citrus everyday during the peak of citrus season. You get the picture. And now it's coming time for nuts, the first mangos and pineapples are another four months away.
We'll be eating plenty besides nuts, bananas and root vegetables and lots of annuals like beans and tomatoes seem to be available year around (and plenty that we've shipped here from the grocery store in Port Vila). But nuts as the new and exciting coming into season, nuts most days, the base of many meals, I have to admit I've got a little fright. But I dunno, I've never lived through a nut season before.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Sunday, June 6

Thanks for reading the blog all the time, it feels good to know it gets read. Sorry it's been so long since we've sent letters home. We don't really have a good reason, only that Peace Corps is gradually getting busier. Alex and I just completed our first big workshop. Tonight is our first night back in the house after 5 days in the village where we facilitated the workshop. We talked all about hygiene and sanitation. The workshop went well, it only uses pictures, ensuring everyone who wishes can participate. The main point of the workshop is do whatever it takes to avoid eating poo.
We also have plans to meet with a group of folks on Tuesday to discuss options they have for getting freezer into the village. They have farm animals here (chickens, pigs and cows) but no way to store the meat after the animal has been butchered. All animals killed must be eaten the same day. A solar powered freezer cost the equivalent of $6,000USD. We'll spend most of tomorrow preparing for Tuesday.
It's as hot as ever in Vanuatu and still raining consistently, we have yet to feel or notice the switch to the cooler drier season which should be coming as summer comes to Ohio. As long as it keeps raining we don't have to walk to get water, so I guess we won't complain about the weather.
Alex is well and sends her love.
Lucas & Alex

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bananas and America

time flies

it's been well over a week since Alex and I returned to our island paradise in Pentecost. We are facilitating a four-day workshop starting next Wednesday, we've been busy becoming as prepared as we can be going into the workshop.

They have these big fatty bananas here that they call cooking bananas. They are often baked when they are green and the kind of taste (sort of) like a white potato. There are lots of different kinds of bananas here. Ones that are longer and thinner, and the bananas we buy in the grocery store all the time in the states, and bananas that look like American store bananas but half the length, and tiny little bananas. The bananas we buy in the grocery stores in America are not our favorite. I presume they are the most popular in America [probably] because they are the easiest to ship or store well or some similar attribute that is unrelated to how good they taste. It's sad, uh? The locals here will often give us the American grocery store variety because they think it's are our favorite (why else would they fill our grocery stores?), they sometimes refer to them as 'white man's bananas'.

The short little bananas that are only a couple inches long and thin are my favorite. I've seen them in stores in America, but never bothered to purchase them, assuming perhaps there was a taste reason the other banana was so dramatically more popular.

Do you think most of the food in our American stores are there for reasons other than good eating?

And if you do happen to find some short, little bananas, please don't eat them until they are ripe, cause they are nasty when they are green.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


given time to surf the internet from my hotel bedroom is a real treat. One of my good friends from Peace Corps keeps a blog at:
a good friend from Antarctica keeps a blog at:

they both do a lot better than Alex and I at posting pictures.

I dunno

Hello from Port Vila, it's the weekend, Alex and I are hanging at the hotel. Alex finished up the HIV/AIDS training on Friday and starts a 3-day health volunteers' in-service training on Monday. I'm mostly spend my time staring at my to-do list that does not seem to be getting any shorter. Alex is about to start laundry and I might try to write a few letters.

We heard through the grapevine that our class (the 38 or so of us that arrived here together in early September) had it's first volunteer to early terminate - to quit and go back to America. We had a few classmates quit and go home during training, but Bob is the first to quit since we all headed off to our islands. It's sad, but good too, because if you didn't want to be there- it would not be very fun to live on a relatively primitive and remote island where you hardly speak the language.

Thank you for all of the letters and emails, Alex and I appreciate and enjoy each one to it's fullest. Here are some questions from recent letters and emails:

Tell me about your house.  Do mice get in regularly?  Insects?  Breezes? Views?  Too close to others?  Too far from the beach? 
We haven't had mouse issues as of yet. Our cat is quite the huntress and the house is new, so perhaps the mice just haven't found the time and opportunity to move in yet. We prepare food and eat inside the house on a consistent basis, so it's just a matter of time until we get our first mouse friends. The house is open to insects, but we don't get too many, we are near the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean, which keeps things breezy enough to keep the insects down. We also have a massive flock of sparrows that comes around multiple times every day and feeds on our insect populations. Our house is not too close to others, which is a real blessing as most volunteers houses are too close (by our American standards) to others. The beach is just down the cliff, no more than a minute or two to walk there.

Have you been fishing? 
We have not been fishing. Our reef - we have a beautiful reef - doesn't seem to have a surplus of fish, I'm guessing this is a result of too much fishing. We want to go fishing, it just hasn't happened yet. One of my friends uses a cross between a slingshot and a bow and arrow to spear fish, I hope to hunt with him at some point.

Would you like a sports ball or two? or would they roll into the ocean?
Both soccer and volleyball are popular in our villages. Swimming is popular too, so a simple beach ball might be really popular. Have you seen those beach balls with a globe on them? Those are pretty cool.

We want to send you guys a package. We want to make sure to send you things that you can really use or give out to people and not clutter your life.
That's a tough one, always is; most things are available in Vila and Alex and I are easily cluttered. Pictures are at the top of the list, the Ni-vans love pictures and we love to have ways of initiating conversations when people come over to our house and we just stare at each other because we don't know what to talk about. Nice teas are a special treat that are insanely overpriced in Vila and light enough to mail without excessive postage costs. Alex suggest the idea of little sauce packets like one would find at a fast food restaurant, sometimes you want a little barbecue sauce on your taro patties but you aren't really up for cooking up a batch. We've never actually cooked up a batch of barbecue sauce at site, but that's because we're lazy, not because we haven't wanted barbecue sauce on our taro patties. I need giant pumpkin seeds to bribe my potential counterpart. Chocolate is always a treat and we like giving stickers to kids when we do health talks.

Do you feel real fluent in Bislama now?
Fluent, but not real fluent, the volunteers that have been here for two years are amazing and we envy them.

You may get a case of boxers from Walmart!  Would the locals wear them if that happens?
Yes. And that's funny.

How soon do you say goodbye to Port Vila?
Monday, May 17


Monday, May 3, 2010

hello everyone

Things are well, it's 11:58 on a Tuesday morning. Alex is helping to facilitate an HIV/AIDS training with village health workers at a church camp just outside of Port Vila this week. It's a week long training, mostly focused on education and prevention. One of the few people living with AIDS in Vanuatu is the guest speaker this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My friend's crazy idea

A friend of ours who was in the same training class as Alex and I recently sent this email:

(I've edited just a bit to make it shorter)

"Greetings to my fellow PC Vanuatu family!
So I have this idea. And I think it's a little crazy, but I like it so much I can't let it go.

Let me paint the picture a little. I'm at Loukatai School on Tanna, a center school with about 150 kids altogether in years 1-8. As you already might guess, it happens to be the case that every one of my students is black. I have an identical twin sister in New York City, and she is also teaching (with Teach for America) at MS 223 School in the South Bronx. It happens to be the case that every one of her students is also black.

My sister and I have already started a correspondence project between her students in the South Bronx, and my students on Tanna. The first batch of 150 letters is currently on it's way here...

The lifestyles of these kids are so incredibly different. I doubt they could be more different! And on both ends, the students are so excited about the prospect of hearing and learning from each other. My sister and I are pretty thrilled about the whole thing too.

I'm trying to craft something that would bridge a number of things: the black students of Loukatai with those in the South Bronx; a Tanna village and New York City; the life skills on the island and the street smarts in the city; the culture of Vanuatu and the culture of America; Peace Corps and Teach for America; Ms. Dodd and the other Ms. Dodd.

So now I would just love love love to hear some feedback. What might YOU suggest to me? Who might I contact besides those I know back home? Anybody know someone I should email?

Thanks to all for hearing me out on this one!

Cheers from Tanna,"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

April 25

Hey everyone, life is well in Vila. We're eating lots of meat and dairy, two things we sometimes crave on the island.

Here's some questions we've been asked recently:

Hey, tell us about Ni-Van life.  Do the have hobbies, like carving or weaving small items?  Where do they get their clothes?  Do they sew it by hand or get it from Vila?   Do they keep two, one or four outfits?  Where do their blankets and beds come from, or do they sleep on mats?
Do you need more stickers for the children?

Ni-Van life [I presume] is good, especially if you're okay with the communal living situation. Alex and I never realized how independent we were until we spent a couple of weeks in our village on Pentecost Island. They have plenty of food and they SEEM content with their workload and their diet. There are some folks (I think) that would rather be a high-roller in New York City than a subsistence farm in a village of 20, but I think you would find folks like that anywhere.

Hobbies - they weave baskets and fish for fun and drink kava and they have bands (stringband music nomo). People snorkel just for fun and kids play. I haven't met any stamp collectors or bird watchers. We've met a guy in our district that lives out in the bush and spends his days reading and drawing. Some people get way into church and some people like gardening and cooking more than other people.

They weave baskets and mats that are absolutely beautiful - amazing really.

Clothes are commercially-made, not sure how many outfits they have but, it's more than four, not as much as you and I, but enough that I wouldn't notice when someone got a new shirt. Blankets come from Vila, and I'm going to guess most people don't have beds. They sleep on three-inch foam mattresses that look like they were made in China, some people sleep on mats that they have woven.

yes, please send more stickers, they were a huge hit when we did our health talks with the first and third graders.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17th

It's Saturday afternoon. I just finished 5 days worth of Peace Corps training, with the bulk of it centered around project design and management. I will have three more days of training next week.

Alex flies into Port Vila tomorrow and I am looking forward to hanging out with her.

Port Vila is expensive, most things (except tropical fruit) are about the same price as they would be in America.

I've been eating a lot of ice cream. I think I missed it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April 12th

I made it into Port Vila yesterday afternoon. I have an early service conference with the other business volunteers starting tomorrow. Looking forward to it. I've looked at the email account and will get emails sent sometime in the next two weeks.

Elissa - Alex and I are soooo so sad we missed you in Vanuatu, we don't have email access at the site, so didn't know you were here until today, and now your gone. It's so sad.

Everyone else - all is well, Alex sends her love, she's still on the island but will be coming into Port Vila this coming Sunday as she will be attending a training the week after.

I just got all of the blogs posted, two and a half months worth - since last time we were in Port Vila. And some pictures too. Here's two more pictures Alex wanted me to post. The first is a picture of our laundry with the smolhaos in the background and the second is from our smolhaos (outhouse, pronounced small house).

If any of you have the time and inclination, please send us pictures that we can show our community. Pictures of you guys or pictures of...well of anything really - they would all be great conversation starters. The Ni-vans love looking at pictures, love really isn't strong enough of a word, they really really really love looking at pictures. Can somebody send us pictures of funny American things - I don't know what, but there's lots of funny American things, or postcards with pictures of America, that would be a post card of one of those rabbits with antlers or something. Any pictures really.

And if anyone can get us some giant pumpkin seeds that would be amazing. If you want to know why I want (need) giant pumpkin seeds there's a blog entry about it.

April 7

hello everyone,
Lucas and I have been talking to all the chiefs and important people in our district about doing an intensive water and sanitation program called PHAST (Participatory Health and Sanitation Transformation). It looks like we'll be doing 8-hour days for 5 or 6 days with at least two councils in our district. Participatory techniques have been around since the late 70's and is a really great way to work with communities as it is completely community-driven, encourages participation by marginalized groups (women) and uses pictures to both educate and to spur conversation, so you don't have to worry about literacy levels. Needless to say I am EX-CIT-ED! Our hope is that the action plan derived from the PHAST will lead our work for the time we have left.
In other news, there has been a wedding this week. Yesterday Lucas and I went to the nakamal of the bride's family to say goodbye to the bride. All the bride's friends and family shake her hand or hug her or cry with her and give her a gift. She will be leaving her friends and family and going to her husband's village in a few days. I don't know this bride personally, but we are friends with her mother and father. Watching everyone cry and hug and thinking about leaving made me cry with everyone else because I love you guys and miss you guys so much. Thanks for all your love and support. Thankfully none of the mamas asked me what was wrong as everyone else was crying too.
Lucas and I packed our on-top garden with seeds and seedlings since now is supposedly the time to plant. Lucas made a "Lucas Mix" of seeds (as we label his invention on our garden map) and planted it pretty densely on-top and has made a bed close to the house with the "Lucas Mix". I am going to be making a garden bed of my own that involves sheet mulching and building up the soil since the ground around our house is not too fertile and Lucas and I are going to see whose bed grows best. We'll keep you posted!
Today we listened to "car talk" on our HF radio and I was so so happy! I LOVE NPR!!! The sad news is that it cut out right when they were giving the answer to the puzzler... Well, that's it for the beautiful island of Pentecost!! All my love, Alex

April 6

hello all,
it's Tuesday afternoon, 4:44. Alex is eating oatmeal. We were meant to do a health training with class 2 this afternoon, but the teacher called in sick and the kids all went home. So instead we are taking some time to spel (spell, to rest or take a break). We have a dinner gathering to attend this evening, it's a community dinner in celebration of an upcoming wedding. They often have meat at these types of events, I'm hoping for beef.

"My name is Thomas Wilfred, I need giant pumpkin seeds"

"My name is Thomas Wilfred, I need giant pumpkin seeds". The man was well-dressed, enthusiastic and out-of-breath. He had caught Alex and I just as we were leaving our house to visit a neighboring village for the day. "Bae yu kam insaed", I responded, inviting him into our house.

I think I've found my counterpart! He lives in the district immediately north of ours, we're told it would be about an hour's walk to his village if you wokabaot kwiktaem (walkabout quicktime). Thomas is an agriculture field assistant for northern Pentecost (or some similar title).

Ni-vans are great gardeners, I've blogged about how great they are on numerous occasions I suspect. The great majority of their food comes directly from their land, the only foods imported in bulk are rice, flour and canned meat. As I write, Alex and I have local oranges, avocados, mandarins, sugarcane, taro and yams in our house.

There are some gardening shortcomings in Northern Pentecost too:
1. There is plenty of land. No one would attempt to "build soil" or have a garden in less than ideal soil. They would just plant their garden somewhere else. There is almost no composting, crop rotations, green manures or such things.
2. Everyone gardens; to find available fertile land, gardens are often an hour's or more walk uphill from the person's home.
3. As there is plenty of land, there's no need to plant densely or efficiently.
4. The total number of different fruits and vegetables grown here is low, probably less than 20. If some potato famine-type disease killed all our taro, we would need someone to send us food for awhile.
5. Nutrition needs are not getting met. As root vegetables are the simplest to grow, diets are often heavy on the carbs and light on protein and 'green vegetables'.
6. Taro and Kava can be sold in Port Vila pretty simply. You essentially just have to put it on the ship and go to the bank a week later and the money is there waiting for you. The price they get for this taro and kava is not much, but because it's viewed by many folks as their only income option, huge amounts of fertile land are dedicated to these monoculture fields that generate little money. There are literally valleys full of kava and mountainsides covered with taro.
7. You can put a seed (or a stick or a tuber) in the ground and it will grow. There has never been any motivation to complicate agriculture techniques and systems.
8. All of these issues become more dire as population increases, and population is increasing rapidly.
9. Everyone has enough food, every single person. People have little motivation to change what's working. If it's not broke, why fix it?

To combat these issues and potential issues, agriculture field assistant Thomas Wilfred has created a small, intensively-managed polyculture garden directly beside his house. His garden (so we are told, we haven't seen it yet) includes annuals and perennials, shrubs, vines, flowers, herbs and a few trees. There are plants for food, but also plants that attract predatory insects, plants that open the soil with their root systems (like radishes) and mineral-mining plants. He uses composting, green manures and lots of legumes. He makes his own insecticide by fermenting chilies and grows many plants that most Ni-vans are not familiar with.

Thomas Wilfred's goal is a model garden that can be used to help guide Northern Pentecost as the population grows, land becomes less available and Ni-vans have to reluctantly change their gardening ways. Problem is...he's having a hard time convincing folks a more labor-intensive garden technique is a good idea. And this is where the giant pumpkin seeds come back into this story...a giant pumpkin might just give the intensive gardening the validity it needs. Thomas Wilfred thinks that if he can grow pumpkins the size of small children, more interest will be given to his garden and his gardening techniques.

So please, please, please send us giant pumpkin seeds. My ability to bribe Thomas Wilfred to be my counterpart depends on it. We need all different varieties, especially ones suited to the sub-tropics and tropics.

Lucas Obringer and Alex Amorin
Peace Corps Office
PMB 9097
Port Vila

This is a fictional story based on actual events:

Person A is walking to his garden and sees that a lot of nuts have fallen from a nut tree in the heavy winds last night. The tree is not in his village or on land that belongs to him in any way, it is nearest the house of Person B. The nuts are Person A's favorite nut, so he gathers every last one from the ground (a lot) and begins to carry them back to his house. Person A quickly realizes the nuts are too heavy to carry back. It starts raining. Person A stops at person C's bush kitchen to de-shell the nuts, as the nuts have big shells and would be a lot lighter if he wasn't carrying all of the shells too. While Person A is de-shelling the nuts, Person C comes into her bush kitchen with her two children, persons D and E. Persons C, D and E help person A de-shell all the nuts he has gathered. Person A thanks persons C, D and E by giving them a good bit of the nuts. Person C has already prepped the evening's meal, so she and her children eat just a few and give the rest of the nuts to her mother, person F. The next morning person F cooks the nuts and leaves them in her bush kitchen. While walking to his garden, Person G stops by to visit person F. Person G receives a basket's worth of cooked nuts. Person G walks on and a few minutes later stops to talk with some kids that are just hanging out. Person G gives some nuts to each of the four young men that are just hanging out, person B is one of the four.

Including the immediate family of Person A, Person C and Person F, at least 16 folks ate these nuts. Though I'm confident person G wasn't the only person to stop and visit with person F that morning. And person A gave Alex and I some nuts after they cooked them for dinner that night. I suspect the actual number of people who ate from the single nut collection was more like 25.

There is no word in the local language for 'economy'. There is a word for sharing.

People here sometimes talk about a "kastom economy", what they are referring to is using local products in lieu of money for business transactions. For example, in our community you can pay school fees or health dispensary costs with chickens or pigs or woven mats or money. I believe we learned about this "kastom economy" system in grade school. Our teachers called it bartering. Bartering was described as a primitive economy with money the obvious and natural evolution, as bartering only works when both parties have something the other party desires. Next came the evolution from money to make bartering simpler to bankruptcies, housing crisis and global markets; but who knew?

Bartering occurs here but it's rare and pretty scripted, it mostly only happens at the school and health dispensary. What is a lot more common is scenarios of sharing as I attempted to describe in the nut example. When you are constantly being given things (mostly food) by you neighbors, friends and family, you not only have more than enough to eat but you also feel obligated to give surplus to your neighbors, friends and family. As long as everyone in a community is sharing their surplus (and going out of their way just a little bit to have surplus to share), then everyone in the community is always going to have enough.

Sharing gets too complicated with specialized workers - like teachers and nurses. The specialist can't spend a lot of time in their gardens and thus would be almost completely dependent on people giving them food. To combat this potential issue (who would be comfortable never knowing where your next meal is coming from? or possibly more importantly who would want to teach little hooligans all day everyday if the reward was no different than spending a few hours (at most) in the garden every morning?) teachers and nurses are paid, thus creating the need for a "kastom economy".

In loving memory

halo olgeta, hello everyone

Our baby parrot is dead, it's really sad. She flew to another person's house and was living there and everything was fine and then the parrot flew into the fire and suffered second or third degree burns and then died of complications a few days later. The bird's adoptive mother came by the house this morning to tell us.

In brighter news, Alex and I have learned we can catch NPR's news program 'All Things Considered' mornings on the Armed Forces Network with our high-frequency radio. It's pretty exciting, we know all about the healthcare bill getting passed and record rains on the east coast and that there's some basketball team that nobody thought was any good that's winning lots of games in the big tournament.

March 30

7:08 on a Tuesday night, Alex's first-grade school presentation today on hand-washing went well. Her fourth toktok (talk talk) in five days.

The average life-span of a water system in Vanuatu is 5-10 years. This is in part due to spare parts not being available when you need them (there's no home depot on this island) and in part due to people not knowing how to maintain systems, but the main reason is water systems just don't last that long. Average life-span world-wide is 20 years. Alex and I are encouraging water tanks. They still have their maintenance issues, like cleaning and not letting dirty water (the first rain in months) get into the tanks. The supplies to build a village-size cement water tank cost about $1,000-$2,000 USD. This is more than the villages here have in disposable incomes. They can hold fundraisers or apply for grants. The best plan is probably a combination of both, as a grant application would look a whole lot better if the village could show they are making progress outside the grant money. This first step in all of this is getting water committees up and running in our villages, as water committees would organize fundraisers, talk to village members about water tanks and apply for grants. Alex and I are going to meet with the village chiefs individually to encourage water tanks and water committees. There's also a sanitation and hygiene training that has been endorsed by the World Health Organization that emphasizes the value of clean water. We want to do this training with individual villages as well.

March 28

On Tuesday, Alex will have done four toktoks (health presentations) in five days. She's reading about skin infections now, to present to third-graders tomorrow afternoon.

I'm listening to the bislama rap CD and just finished reading about tomatoes.

Puskat is sleeping in the living room and we haven't seen the parrot in days.

Here's a picture from her Class 3 toktok. She used stickers to bribe kids to answer questions.

March 26

Friday night 7:06 pm, I'm sitting in the living room of our house, Alex is eating two reef fish she just cooked and the puskat is eating fish heads.

Yesterday when we finally made it home, we realized our camera was missing, we were too tired to go looking for it and instead planned to go look for it this morning. We told the nurse - our next-door neighbor and Alex's counterpart - about the the missing camera and our plan to go look for it in the morning.

So, early this morning (early as in I was still in bed early) Alex's counterpart (and the district's only nurse) calls me over to her house to tell me she thinks that our camera is missing because we took a picture of something we shouldn't have taken a picture of and thus someone used black magic to steal our camera as punishment for taking tabu pictures (see above), And that if she was me, she wouldn't waste her time going and looking for the camera, And if I still wanted to go I must take someone with me to protect me from any further black magic that may be coming my way.

This afternoon myself and Alex's counterpart's husband walked on top to look for the camera and to harvest some root vegetables.

I found our camera, it was laying on the ground where we stopped to rest (and eat grapefruit) on the walk back from the east coast yesterday.

March 25

It's Thursday evening, Alex and I returned today from two nights on the East Coast with the Anglican Mother's Union conference. No rats! We are tired, a long walk today and the sun was strong. And the computer battery is at 9%, so expect a short blog.

The mothers from the mother's union are all really nice. They totally went out of their way to look out for us, a lot of mothering. Another way to say that would be that they treated us like children the last two days: "Don't sit there, sit here" "Don't do it that way, do it this way" "Don't put your basket there, put it here" "eat this" "you don't want to do that" and so on. It was more than my ego could handle, And though I never said it verbally, I'm pretty sure the mamas realized I didn't like it. It was hard for me to keep it together, I dunno why. Glad to be back to the home.

We lost our camera somewhere along the trail today, so pray it finds it's way back to us or yumi evriwan i nogat no pictures.

We met a charismatic cult leader, but that's another blog for another day.

March 22

Tomorrow we walk to the other side of the island, the east side. There is a three day event where all the Anglican Mother's Unions from all over North Pentecost come together to sing and dance to each other and attend lectures which are [presumably] about Jesus. I think our village is sleeping in a school classroom. I imagine there will be rats in the classroom. I'm really scared, I don't particularly like rats. There is a tent for sale at the big store in a neighboring village, but we couldn't convince ourselves to spend 8,000 vatu (about $80) for a tent that should cost about 1,500 vatu. So we'll endure the possible rats instead. I would never do such a thing in America, so I hope you see how Peace Corps has made me a braver man.

Technically, they are not rats, just insanely large mice.

I was telling a man today about my fears and he comforted me by telling me just to be sure to wash my hands after eating meat or the rats will bite my fingers.

March 22

Tomorrow we walk to the other side of the island, the east side. There is a three day event where all the Anglican Mother's Unions from all over North Pentecost come together to sing and dance to each other and attend lectures which are [presumably] about Jesus. I think our village is sleeping in a school classroom. I imagine there will be rats in the classroom. I'm really scared, I don't particularly like rats. There is a tent for sale at the big store in a neighboring village, but we couldn't convince ourselves to spend 8,000 vatu (about $80) for a tent that should cost about 1,500 vatu. So we'll endure the possible rats instead. I would never do such a thing in America, so I hope you see how Peace Corps has made me a braver man.

Technically, they are not rats, just insanely large mice.

I was telling a man today about my fears and he comforted me by telling me just to be sure to wash my hands after eating meat or the rats will bite my fingers.

March 21

The baby parrot can officially fly! It's true! I saw her fly today! Before she was always flying towards the ground, but today she flew up! Like into trees! I don't think she can choose which tree yet, but being able to fly up is a big deal, don't you think? Alex theorizes the parrot could also fly yesterday when she threw it off the side of a cliff. I dunno, when we finally found the parrot yesterday - she was walking, not flying, back to the house.

it's still raining...

it's saturday morning, it's raining. Alex is listening to music and making bread; I'm half asleep and in bed still. Today is probably the 10th day in a row of heavy rains, the garden is starting to feel it - some of the plants aren't looking fantastic, and at least one has stem rot. The parrot is crying and the cat is trying, at all costs, to eat bread dough.

Here's a quote Alex found in an old issue of The Sun, "I have a friend who has devoted most of his adult life to resisting the madness of war through actions of justice and peace... Does he have any results to show for his efforts? Has he been effective? Hardly - at least, not by the normal calculus. His years of commitment to peacemaking have been years of steady increase in wars and rumors of wars. So how does he stay healthy and sane? How does he maintain a commitment to this sort of active life? "I have never asked myself if I was being effective," he says, "but if I was being faithful." He judges his action not by the results it gets, but by its fidelity to his own calling and identity."

March 20

alex writing... Hello everyone!
Today I by mistake threw our baby parrot over a REALLY steep hill (some might even call it a cliff). Our baby parrot can only fly a little, We wince every time he lands as he usually crashes into something or lands head first...but I think it's important for him to strengthen his wings and about once a day, I'll send him off on a little flying adventure. He loves these jaunts in the backyard and will usually hop back to where we are, whistling the whole way...
Today, Lucas was outside planting seedlings and the baby bird was screaming his head off inside. I tossed the baby bird towards Lucas thinking he might need a little outdoor stimulation and the baby bird took a sharp right and headed down this very steep hill that drops off to the ocean.
Lucas and I just stared at each other.
We ran towards the edge of the Pentecost bush (the wildlife here is a consuming green organism) and whistled and called for Sivi and heard nothing. You must understand, this bird is LOUD all the time (except for when he's in REM sleep)...the silence was eerie. We both walked (slid) down a little to see if we could hear or see him...nothing.
a half hour later, Lucas went all the way down to the salt water and back calling for him and doing his best whistle and no luck.
It started to pour.
I went down again and called for him....nada
Lucas and I decided that he either died on impact or was lost in the bush for sure.

I whistled at the edge of the bush for a long time and tried to decipher which sounds could possibly be the baby parrot, but still nothing.

Lucas and I were really sad the baby parrot was dead...I kept whistling at the edge of the bush thinking how hope is the most painful human emotion because it springs up in the most improbable of situations making the impossible seem somewhat possible and it lingers beyond all reason... it hurts so much to let it go.

I whistled off and on for another two hours...

I thought I heard the baby bird out by the bush kitchen, which would be impossible, but I went out anyways and out by the path to the sand beach, I saw a parrot!!!! I went out and there he was by the Mango tree!!!!

The second I picked him up he started screaming! I was so happy that he was home!!! Lucas and I have no idea how this baby parrot made it back over the Penama bush...this baby bird is AMAZING!!!!!!!
As I write this, he is laying under the bench chirping softly to himself as he is not yet in REM sleep.

love to all of you...please send pictures!! We'll make a collage on the wall.

March 18

thursday night, 7:49 PM, all is well. we bought a new cell phone today as the two phones we were given during training are ded finis (that's bislama for dead, pronounced dead finish), the highlight of the day (buying the new cell phone was the day's highlight).

We took a shortcut on the way back from the store that involved walking through saltwater; the cat freaked out, jumped out of my arms and straight into the saltwater. I think she hated it with all her heart and soul. She cried the rest of the walk home and refused to be carried. All is well now, she's out hunting.

Our parrot friend is crying.

fyi-The picture is not with our parrot friend, but another tame one.

Lo America sam man i no gat kakae...

it's wednesday evening, I just made Alex help me with a workshop I'm trying to put together, to present to the other business volunteers during our early service conference, and our community at some point as well. The thesis is basically that the cost of oil is going no where but up and some little remote island probably shouldn't expect to see much fossil fuel in it's future; so as business volunteers we should try to steer our communities away from global economies and more towards local economies that work.

It's interesting and tricky at the same time, you could completely take away all fossil fuels from our community tomorrow and they would be fine, no one would miss a meal. But they don't necessarily see the value in being a completely self-sustaining sustainable society, as the grass is always greener. (I think our community sees the value a lot more than other nearby communities, but that's besides the point) And to make it more tricky, the completely self-sustaining sustainable society that could exist today probably won't be able to exist once the population gets to be too dense, which isn't too far off at the rate they are going.

Alex and I jump on any opportunity to talk about how the grass isn't greener, but talk is cheap (especially considering we (Alex and I) probably used at least as much fossil fuel in our lifetime as the rest of the community combined).

March 16

Dear friends and family,
hello from beautiful Vanuatu! Alex and I have been here for just over 6 months now, we've learned how to de-husk coconuts, a new language and 30 different ways to cook sweet potatoes. My favorite part is going snorkeling at the local reef and Alex loves finding the time to get in some good quality reading. Our work keeps us busy but also allows us the flexibility to make the best use of our time. We've been working hard on our garden - beans, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, cucumber and okra for the most part - and have adopted two fun-loving pets - Lady Gaga and Half-half.
How is life your neck of the woods? What's going on? I suspect another winter is coming to a close, with April showers and May flowers just around the corner. How's the job? And the family? Is the economy recovering with time? What's the forecast for land prices? Do you think we'll have a new healthcare system before Alex and I return to America in November 2011?
Alex and I send our love and wish all of you the best in your endeavors. We are in good health and high spirits.
with love,

What's your average day look like?

We were recently asked in a letter what our typical day looks like, - so I'll try.

Alex and I sleep in a double bed, we have a locally made wooden frame with a 3-inch foam mattress and mosquito net. We have to be quiet when we sleep at night because if we are too loud we'll wake up the baby parrot, who will cry for an incredibly long time before it drifts back off to sleep. Sometimes our cat will come snuggle with us, and sometimes she won't and sometimes she will sing out in the middle of the night to wake us up so she can show off her prey she's caught, either a lizard or a mouse. We sleep in later than most of our community. Alex is typically the first out of bed around 6am and I'm typically out of bed before 7. We'll build a fire and cook breakfast. Our favorite and most common breakfasts are fried sweet potatoes, pancakes or bananas. Breakfast will be finished by 9 and then it's time for the real work to begin. Everyday is different, there isn't an overly typical day as of yet. We're trying to learn more about water systems in Vanuatu so we''ve got multiple books and manuals we are reading. We walk to the gardens 2 or 3 times a week. We cut grass on Tuesdays and we wash clothes on Tuesdays and Saturdays. People will come to our house and we'll story-on about life and America and cultural differences and water systems and such things. We cook our own lunch most days, and just like breakfast, it's a bit of a process. We eat a lot of sweet potatoes and taro for lunch. After lunch we'll do more of what we were doing in the morning. Dinner is our biggest meal of the day and the meal most likely to be more western. We eat pasta about once a week on average and beans once a week too. We try to get more creative with our evening meals than we are for breakfast or lunch. After dinner, we are finished for the day and it's our time to read and play the guitar and watch sunsets and talk about our future plans and such things. We typically crawl into bed between 7 and 8, Alex will read for a while every night and I'll write a blog if I'm up for it.