Friday, January 29, 2010

rang tavuha

On probably about 5 different occasions this past week in Port Vila people have said "rang tavuha" to me as I walked by them on the street. This is the 'hello' greeting in the northern Pentecost language, it literally translates to the 'the sun has come' or something along those lines. The first few times it caught me off guard and I just said 'rang tavuha' back, if anything. This last time it happened, I stopped to talk with him. I asked "yu kam lo Pentecost?", you come from Pentecost? He wasn't from Pentecost, but he knew I was from north Pentecost and he knew how to say hello in the language. I'm not sure if he was just being polite or trying to show-off how much he knew about me, time will tell, I'm confident.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

living the Vila life

Alex and I are chilling in Port Vila, not really chilling as much as Alex is going to class everyday for hours and hours and I'm, we'll I'm pretty much chilling, let's be honest. Yesterday I spent hours surfing the internet and downloading lots of magazine-type articles for our reading entertainment for the next two months. Today I'm going shopping.

More questions from emails:

What language do the people speak on your island? Is it similar to Bislama?
The people in our village speak Raga, I've read there are about 6,500 Raga speakers worldwide.  Alex and I know the words of common foods and greetings and our bat's species, but that's about it, I can say "my name is lucas" - only because my host papa insisted on teaching me.  Alex knows a few random words too.  The language is nothing like Bislama, bislama is most similar to english, Raga developed independently of English (except that they now use the english or bislama words when new things come into their life, instead of making-up a new word), though bislama does borrow some words from most of the local languages presumably, Vanuatu and vatu (the currency) are both Raga words.

Do they eat fish on the island or other seafood?
We get fish occasionally, I'm guessing between 5 and 10 times in the last two months. Both of our host fathers fish from time to time, though they don't typically catch too much. I'm guessing the reefs by our village were over-fished a long time ago and just aren't recovering. They also eat crabs and these snail-looking things that are pretty good.

do you need anything?  any comfort items or not comfort items?
Yes, we actually have a whole list of things we can't find in-country that we would purchase, given the opportunity to do so...chamomile tea, lavender oil, artificial butter flavoring, MSG-free bullion cubes, Dr. Bronner's soap, mineral salts deodorant and an Encyclopedia on CD (we have a mac). We also always love a good book.

Got invited on a paddling trip down the grand canyon in April and they have extra room, any interest??  I wish, (this might be the first time in the history of man that someone has turned down a trip down the grand canyon).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

To answer your questions....

To answer some questions from recent emails:

Are you in your little house?
No, sadly our house is not finished yet. We left a list of everything that needed to be finished and tried to talk strong a little bit. We're hoping it will be finished when we return to our village in two weeks.

Are there too many rats?
I've learned some islands are infested with rats, but (thank you God) our is not one of them. I have seen the occasional gigantic mouse, but never inside our house, except when the cat carries in a kill to show off.

Are your sores healing?
Yes, they are all healed, I am officially infection free. (Wounds literally take almost forever to heal this climate, I think there's just too much microbial life here)

Does your roof leak?
No, but we are currently living in a concrete mansion with a tin roof, we'll see how the leaf roof works when we move into our house.

Do you have to treat all your water for drinking?
We're drinking rain water, so no, it doesn't need to be treated. When they rain stops we'll be drinking water from another source - the waterfall. We'll try drinking the waterfall water without treatment and see how it goes.

Can you buy more phone cards if we put the cash in your checking account Lucas?
I've heard rumors that if you go to the phone company's website and create an account you can put money on our phones directly...but that still doesn't fix the problem that it's about 50 cents a minute for a phone call. And to answer you actually asked, we don't have access to an ATM machine on our island, but could withdraw money when we are in Port Vila.

Where do women go to give birth in your village?
They give birth at the health dispensary beside our house (future house). The health department recommends that mothers give their first and last birth in a more substantial hospital, but I get the feeling folks, at least where we live, really just ignore that advice.

What is covering your cold cement floor?
Beautiful woven mats, there's a picture of Alex sitting on our mat in the January 9th posting.

What are you sleeping on?
a foam mattress on the cold cement floor, it's the size of a double bed.

Do you sleep under nets?
yes, one net.

Does Alexandra visit the homes by herself or with you or another person?
She usually went (she's finished now) with Mikey, the nurse's aid at the dispensary. I went to a couple with her.

Did you get the rug?
yes, thank you, love the color.

Are you eating healthy or is the coconut and banana diet too much sugar?
A coconut and banana diet would not be good, but our diet is alright, we get plenty of fresh fruit and plenty of carbs, just have to make sure were getting enough protein and not too much coconut and banana.

Do you need more Flintstones?
the Peace Corps provides us multi-vitamins and additional vitamin C tablets.

Are you learning the names of all the villagers or only a few?
I'm really bad with names, Alex is doing alright and we just let her talk when it's time to use names.

Are you taking over other PC volunteers work or are you the first in the village?
We are the first in our village, which is nice in a lot of ways, except that the village seems to have unrealistic expectations of how much we are going to be able to accomplish, which is kind of sad to imagine being the source of much disappointment for the next two years.

On a map we found Nambwarangiut, but your address said Naparangyut: were you guessing on the spelling or are they two different places?
That's where we are! Both spellings would be correct as it's more of a spoken language than a written language.

Does one have ESP knowledge of an event in the future OR does one contribute to the event by accepting the feeling that the event/accident will happen and pondering how severe it may be?
I'm going to go with the 'contributing to the event by accepting the feeling that the event/accident will happen and pondering how severe it may be' option. And not just the pondering but actions and attitudes too.

How much can one mentally alter another person's life?
I'm going to say not a whole lot, but one could mentally alter one's own life quite dramatically.

Friday, January 22, 2010

hello everyone,
Alex and I survived our first two months on the island, and are currently back in Port Vila, the capital city, for two and a half weeks or so. Alex has her early service training for the next two weeks.
We arrived in Vila by cargo ship from our island yesterday afternoon. It was a long (28 hour) boat ride. I spent the last two days updating the blog, we've been writing the blogs on the island, so I just had to download them and find some matching pictures. We'll take more pictures...promise. I tried to upload the pictures in the order that they happened. I just scanned through and blogs a bit out of order, but I'll try to get it sorted in the next couple of days...
Alex just headed off to a kava bar and I want to get a few more emails answered and then I'm outta here [the peace corps office] too.
We're doing great, our hope our blog reflects that, We have some minor frustrations (language barriers, flush toilets and home construction mostly, and the cat brings dead animals into the house, and our chickens don't ever hang out with us) but are totally happy with our placement. We're cooking all of our meals by campfire and slowly establishing gardens of our own.
wishing you all the best
and we'll have email access for the next two weeks
our love to all of you...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Take care of your self...

"Take care of your self and don't do more than you supposed to do, and don't do less than you are supposed to" - I found this quote, I had written it down with the plan to blog about it at some point, I've forgotten who told me this, I'm guessing it was my dad, as he has this special ability to give really good advice within a few simple words. Before I left for Antarctica the first time he told me "Don't do anything stupid, because it's probably really dangerous to do stupid things in Antarctica." Which is very good advice and very true.

Peace Corps has three goals:
1) Help interested countries meet their needs for trained individuals
2) Promote a better understanding of American people throughout the world
3) promote a better understanding of other peoples in America.

Peace Corps objective is to promote peace and friendship, or as we told the folks here a week or so ago in small speech we gave at the end of the school year celebration (they call it 'break-up'): "Tingting blong Pis Kop, emi yu no wantem mekem wan raorao wetem man yu save stret." (Peace Corps thinks that people are less likely to fight if they know each other well or -literally- thinkthink of Peace Corps is you no want to make one fight with man you know straight.)

From what we've gathered, every Peace Corps experience is different. We've met folks that say the spend most of their days reading and are bored and look for ways to pass the time - they can't really answer questions like "So what's your project?" and they'd much rather go into Vila or go on vacation than be in their village. We've also met people who had trouble remembering all of their projects because their list is too long and they complain because they are tired from working so hard. Some folks have many good 'projects', but the community doesn't think too highly of them because their always working on their projects and not taking the time to story on with the village. Others, the village thinks their great -as their always talking and hanging out, but at the end of the day they aren't doing anything that's along the lines of sustainable development for the community.

So it's tricky, there's nothing concrete about the next two years for Alex and I. We could read and garden and take long lunches (less than we are supposed to do) or we could work our asses off starting libraries, building renewable energy systems and creating an economy (more than we are supposed to do). We don't know what type of 'development' is best for the community - as that is unknowable - we don't know what will work and what won't - again, unknowable - or any of the multitude of unseen consequences of anything we do. Peace Corps has stressed that we only have 'projects' that the community ask for, and, I think that's about as safe as one can be with all the unknowables.

January 15th

it's friday night, we leave on tuesday (or wednesday, depending on when the ship arrives) to head into Vila for two and a half weeks for alex's early service conference. We'll spend this weekend cleaning the house and packing and tying up loose ends. we've got a lot of seedlings to get into the ground and we need to eat or give away foods that will go bad before we return (mostly the ton of cooking bananas currently hanging in our bush kitchen).

Yesterday I was helping some men at the dispensary make cement bricks, one man asked me when we were going to start working and how soon I was going to be offering workshops and said how we need to get started soon because two years was going to go by quick and such things, the Ni-vans call it talking strong, he was basically confronting me and pressuring me to do more business development work in the community. I didn't take it well, it made me a bit uncomfortable, I just sort of smiled and said that we were going to do plenty in the next two years and talked about how business development is tricky here as many people from here pride themselves in the fact that they don't need to spend any money to live well here, and at the end of the day that's not a bad place to be. We kept to small talk after that for awhile, at some point I asked him if he had a business and he said no. I wondered for a moment why all the stong toktok (strong talk/confrontation) for business workshops then? Then it occurred to me and I asked him "Yu gat wan aedia blong mekem wan bisnes?" Do you have an idea for a business? He did, and he was anxious to attend a workshop or anything to further expand his idea, hence the reason for the strong toktok. We made plans to talk about his idea after I return from Port Vila.

January 13

8 pm on a wednesday night, we just finished a meal of sweet potatoes, cooking bananas (I think we would call them plantains in America, but I've never known much about tropical foods, here we call them matamatas) and black beans on flour tortillas.

We walk to a village that is said to be two hours away tomorrow morning to do health surveys and see the village. Alex should finish all her health surveys tomorrow, if not we walk the four hours again on Friday.

We made these scones for breakfast this morning and left a few in the dutch oven cooking pot in the bush kitchen with intentions of having them for lunch. We go to the health dispensary to plant some mint, check on our garden, check house progress and storion with the nurse. After we come back to our house, it's 2pm and I'm starving, I can tell Alex is starving too because she heads straight to the bush kitchen for the scones - the scones, by the way, were really good, with brown sugar and chocolate inside - The scones weren't in the kitchen where we had left them, Someone had stolen our scones! Who could it be? Who would steal a hungry man's scones? Especially ones with chocolate and brown sugar inside? We had offered a scone to my host papa, bob, and he had seemed to enjoy it this morning. Had he returned and finished them off while we were out? Had the pikinini (children) found them and did they regularly check our cooking pot? This would have been the first time they had found something, surely they wouldn't have persisted in checking an empty-every-time cooking pot for two months. (Alex writing now...) Lucas and I were not sure what to starts with scones and then what? At one of our training sessions, the safety and security trainer said that your chances of larger theft increase if smaller theft is not reported because the thief realizes that you are not going to say anything and gets braver...What to do? Lucas thought we should tell my host papa, Leo, but I felt like it wouldn't be a good idea because my host papa is slightly paranoid already...he's always worried that the pikinini f that live up in the bush (up the hill) are going to come down and spit on our solar panel and mess it up because they are raised wrong and he worries that Lucas and I not only don't lock our doors, but sometimes we'll leave the doors wide open (for the cat and because we forget) and that the strangers that may be walking on the road will come and steal everything...I didn't want to perpetuate any of my papa's schemas by mentioning the scones incident...

After dinner, Lucas and I were sitting in the bush kitchen, drinking tea and talking as is our usual after dinner custom when my papa comes over with a big banana leaf full of water cress for us! Lucas is psyched because he loves water cress...we stori for a little bit and my papa, who is a preacher mind you, said he had a confession to make...he said that after he got back from the karen (garden), he was starving and as he walked past our kitchen on the way to his kitchen, he checked our pot to see if we might have any something left inside (living here makes a person hungry as you're always walking up or down some impossibly steep hill)...and there were the scones...he tried to have only one...but he said they were so so good he couldn't help himself and ate all of them...he apologized profusely and Lucas and I told him all our theories about the scones and we all laughed and laughed! It was really great that he felt comfortable enough with us to eat our scones! I feel like we've reached some kind of integration milestone...and I know what I'm going to make him when we get back from Vila as a thank you gift for watching the cat and feeding the bat.

January 12

The last two days have been the two hottest days I've experienced in my life. It hasn't rained the last two days either, making it the driest I've experienced on Pentecost Island (as we arrived after rainy season had began).

Small children stared at me for what seemed like an eternity (it had to be at least a few minutes) while I was washing clothes near the local spring. I'm not sure if they just like my beard, or if it had more to do with the man washing clothes while Alex watched. We decided not to explain to the children that I was washing all the clothes solo because of Alex's cut on her hand.

Our house has doors.

We planted marigolds near all of our tomato plants this morning.

January 10th, 2nd post

Went to church this morning, then to check progress on our house, we have one window cover and both doors have been framed - getting closer.

I made my fingers sore playing the guitar too much today.

I think alex figured out our budget for the next ten years or so today, we need to make at $32,000 after taxes starting in 2012 (Alex insist I mention that this figure does not account for inflation).

January 10th

My hand feels so much better! it's nice to be able to type. I've been taking antibiotics to stave off infection as the gash is pretty substantial and all my other injuries that have taken forever to heal are healing up, too! It's really great. I have sustained substantial injuries on the left side of my body: I broke one of my toes and had a horrible bubbly oozy sore on my big toe for weeks, all my mosquito bites on my leg got infected, i had a gash on my back that got infected, i hit my finger with a bush knife, I ran into a house with my face while tekem plein (bislama for taking a plane or day dreaming)--All on the left side--my right side is fine!!! Lucas has had multiple long and extended bouts of sit sit wota (diarrhea) that I won't get into and as a result all his pants are falling down...he's had a rash for a while that turned quickly into an infection as the tropics are not forgiving to those that don't clean and dress their wounds at least twice a day (I hear it gets better the longer that you're here). We received what I thought to be excessive medical kits in training, but Lucas and/or I have used something from inside them everyday! We have double the medical kit since we are two people and I am cutting my non adhesive bandages in half so that I can make it to Vila for a resupply.
Lucas and I are both psyched to go to Vila, but I am a little sad to leave our island for so long especially the cat, the flying fox, and the karen (garden) (all the foul can keep themselves fine). Today the cat followed us to church (she does that's pretty cute!). When church was over, we didn't see her so we assumed she went back to the house. She wasn't there. A few hours later we went back to get her and she was up a tree and so happy to see us!

January 9th, 2nd post

it's saturday, we're doing well, thanks so much for all the gifts we received in the mail today. there's a decent chance that folks worked on our house to
day, so Alex and I are anxious to go and check progress. Alex's toe is close to being healed, so she's trying to rest it as much as possible, which I think is a great idea. I think we'll go and check out the house after church tomorrow.

We're having beans tonight, which is a bit of a treat. I planted Kumula (sweet potatoes) and a few corn seedlings in the antap garden this morning, and started many more seeds in our tin can nursery. Mostly planted chili and bell peppers, but a few beans and herbs too. I've been having bad luck with the chives, which I was sure was going to be one of our staples. And No luck with getting thyme to grow either.

we made lots of lists today - shopping lists for vila, people we must write (one can be guaranteed a spot on this list by writing us), things we want to google, things we must do before we leave for Vila and such lists. We must find someone to feed the flying fox papayas while we're away.

Hope everyone is well and enjoying their day.

January 9th

Dear blog,
Lucas and I got two packages today from Maggie and Jane & Obie (thank you so much, everything is lovely, we especially loved the chocolate) Lucas' host papa, Bob, brought the packages from the post office up north, so it was a completely unexpected treat. I am injured on every part of my body on the left side, but I am slowly healing. It's really hot today and Lucas and I have basically been hanging out, making lists, cooking, playing the guitar, planting seedlings and collecting firewood. Lucas basically did everything that requires two hands, which is almost everything on the list. I am thinking about how to organize my health surveys and am finding my training in graduate school helpful, who would have thunk it? it's strange to think how cold it is in North America right now because Lucas and I are sweating. Sometimes I miss wood stoves and warm liquids like coffee and tea and crunchy multi-grain toast with butter.

January 8th

We walked to another village on top today, Alex completed three health surveys and one community leader survey. It's really pretty on top, you're up on a ridge with open ocean on both sides, I don't think we ever saw the Pacific on the east side, but I did have the feeling of being in the bush but having a lot of openness all around me. Alex is reading over my shoulder and she concurs.

We found a chili pepper that locals grow that looks very much like a habenero (I don't know how to spell that word and the computer won't tell me), we saved the seeds from the one we ate today, with plans to get some seedlings in the ground before we go to Port Vila in ten days.

Tomorrow's plans include planting some corn seedlings, gathering firewood, washing laundry and cooking some black-eyed peas. Good times.

January 7th

We've eaten root vegetables for at least the last 5 meals, maybe more, I can't remember that far back, and we plan to have taro for quick breakfast in the morning, making it at least six meals in a row. I guess this is a sign we're adapting to the fasin blo ples ia (fashion of this place, fashion belong place here). We seem to always make our root vegetables with onions, chili and garlic, which isn't really the fasin blo ples ia, but were eating the same foods, just cooking them different.

Alex and I walked to one of the villages antap (We live close to the beach and it's straight up hill as you walk east (away from the saltwater), it's called 'on top'). It was about a 45 minute walk to the village of 30. Alex had to make some health surveys and we thought it would be good for me to at least see all the villages that we are working for. The village was beautiful and everyone was so nice. We saw a pigeon in a cage, I don't know why there was a pigeon in a cage, it wasn't a pet as it was very much afraid of people, I suspect it's someone's dinner.

We think we might get doors and window covers tomorrow, we think. the house is getting closer and closer...not finished yet...but we're hoping soon.

the flying fox is just as sad as we are to see mango season come to a close, he/she is eating little banana and crying whenever Alex or I walk past. We think it's crying, it could be screaming for all we know, we don't know as it seems the flying foxes can only make one noise and it doesn't sound anything like crying or screaming, more like a funny noise that only gigantic bats can make.

The cat likes to kill lizards and giant mice and eat them in the middle of the living room floor, often leaving some parts unfinished.

Alex cut her finger with a bush knife yesterday, while cutting firewood, it's not a serious cut, but it looks pretty big/bad.

January 4

myself and my host father, Bob, planted 40 taro plants (Alex's favorite) this morning in Alex and I's kava garden (we have three gardens, the kava garden - which is the farthest antap (on top), our antap karen- which isn't really that much antap and the garden beside our future house.) Apparently taro is a good companion plant for kava. I originally wanted about half a dozen kava plants to harvest and share just before I returned to America; but now we've got at least a quarter acre of kava and taro (and Bob has plans to expand).
After lunch, Alex and I planted some tomato and bean seedlings near our future house, and talked for long time about life.

January 2nd

it's 8:30 on a saturday night, we're both in bed. Alex is reading Arabian Nights and I just finished my swim (bucket bath). I checked out my kava garden, it seems to be doing alright, many of the sticks have sprouted (many haven't sprouted yet, but the ones that have sprouted have just sprouted, so I'm hoping the ones that have sprouted are the early bloomers).
I read through my work for the next 2-3 months, there's about 15-20 pages of questions I need to ask the community and summarize their answers, it's pretty exciting, I'm going to start on Monday, asking how this place got it's name and what it means and if there's local legends about the place here and such questions. Alex has more health surveys on monday, so we'll both be busy asking people questions.

jan 1

happy new year everyone,
alex and I went to a church opening this morning, there were seven priests/deacons to facilitate the service, not bad for an area with 600 people, at least one of the priest is just in the area for the holidays-visiting family, but I think the other 6 priest all live and work here.
We just got some cooked pork fat as a gift, they think we are going to eat it straight but i'm envisioning a well-flavored, tasty rice and bean dish in our immediate future...
Alex is playing the guitar and i just finished reading a chapter about cultural integration-how we all see the world differently because of our life experiences and how you can't judge other people's behaviors through your life experiences, it's cliche, but good information nonetheless.
the cat's foot is doing better, still a little limpy at times, but alright
the flying fox isn't leaving it's tree, I think it's quite content to sit in the tree all day and night and just eat mangoes when we peel them and put them in the tree for him/her, fine for now, but what happens when mango season comes to an end? Will the bat be as content eating rotting papayas and over-ripe bananas? And it's certainly a meat eater and we haven't been giving it any protein, do you think we should stop feeding it? so it will be more inspired to go and hunt for meat? or We could try hanging a can of tuna in the tree, but that seems complicated and a bit no good, as we are leaving in two years and i doubt US customs would let us bring a lazy, tuna-loving flying fox back to the states.
okay, I'm off to get some beans soaking....

December 31st

it's late (almost 8:30pm), I'm having trouble falling asleep, so I thought I might blog instead. today has been a pretty chill day, we read a lot and played the guitars and spent a lot of time cooking meals. a good day anywhere, especially on a pretty island. I spent monday and tuesday at a traditional wedding (pretty boring, a lot of unfolding and folding woven mats) and yesterday three men worked on our house, I was there to help but pretty much just sat around and watched, as there wasn't any good unskilled labor jobs available. We now have this big, wonderful bench that wraps around one of the corners of the house (if you come to visit, it could be your bed), now we just need a kitchen counter, a bed, doors & windows, and walls for the outhouse, and a screened box one puts food inside to protect the food from mice, and a second counter outside for washing dishes...and that should just about do it....almost there....just a few more work days

We'll be attending a church ceremony for the opening of a new church, tomorrow morning at 8am, a little early, but we'll be alright, secretly hoping some men will go to work on our house after church...we'll see

our love to everyone

December 26 2009

Yesterday was Christmas! Lucas and I went to the Pentecostal church for service as my Papa invited us to go. After church, all the parishioners got together to exchange secret friend gifts and have a big lunch. Our entire village and my supervisor are basically the members of the church, so we had the party in our nakamal. Lucas and I made a BIG bowl of island corn with butter (a special treat). the party was fun! I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable at the nakamal.
Anyways, so the HUGE spread of kakae (food) was amazing! There was a lot of buildem up body (protein) at the table (fish and beef), Loads of fruit, some nice deserts, and there were no root crops or lap lap on my plate!!!!
After lunch, we exchanged gifts--I got a beautiful woven basket that's purple and brown and another FAOL (chicken)! Her name is Chris and I hope that she will make us lots of pikinini faol (baby chicken) and lay lots of eggs. Lucas got a GORGEOUS mat from my bubu man (host grandfather) which we are both sitting on right now.
Lucas says he's tired and he couldn't breathe last night because his nose was clogged up with snot. He likes his mat and he thinks he's nice enough to let me use it, too.

December 27

it's sunday night, alex is eating cake we baked this afternoon and the cat is limping, she somehow hurt her front, left leg today while we were gone, probably climbing the walls of the bush kitchen after some lizard. There's no vet anywhere, so I think we'll have to pray nomo.

Today has been pretty chill, we went to church this morning, but the entire sermon was in language, so we didn't come away with much. Then we made some curry and baked a cake for lunch, then we played with the guitars and talked about what we are going to do after peace corps. Alex spent some time working on our budget for the next 6 months. It's looking pretty good, we'll be alright.

Tomorrow, we plan to plant a bunch of the seedlings we've grown - 5 tomatoes, 1 coriander, 3 parsley, 1 bell pepper (kapsikum), 3 chili (pima) and 2 spring onions. There are others that are ready to go into the ground, but we're waiting until the house is finished because we don't want them to get trampled during construction time. the hundred or so spring onions we planted last week are all growing well, so here's hoping we'll have our first major harvest in three months time...

Alex is practicing the minor pentatonic scale on the guitar. Alex starts health survey at 7am tomorrow morning.

December 24th, 2nd post

We have carolers...they come at night time and sing songs we can't really understand and last night they gave us these beautiful woven baskets after they sang. We've had carolers on three different nights for a total of 5 songs. They come onto our porch and typically whisper in language for a bit (presumably deciding on a song) and then they sing...they sing with all their heart (read - as loud as they can sing) and then they wish us a merry christmas and a good night and then they go to the next house. As Alex and I tend to go to bed early, we always have to get out of bed to go onto the porch to be sung to. It's sweet, but I hate getting out of bed when I'm all nice and cozy.

Merry Christmas

December 24 2009

It's Lucas' and I second Christmas as a married couple--and our second Christmas in the Southern hemisphere together! I just finished washing my hair in the water drainage from the gutter. Water is a bit of an issue in our community and I foresee that it'll probably be the majority of my work while I'm here. The village where we currently live has one small rain tank outside the back door of our house that provides the village with drinking water. Our house has a tin roof and gutters to catch water and feed the water into the rain tank. On the front end of the house, the gutters have "leaks" and that's where Lucas and I put our buckets to catch water. We use that water for dishes, laundry, flush the toilet (it's strange to have a flush toilet and an awful idea with water how it is here) and to "swim" (bislama word for bathe). Our village, along with several other villages, uses a dugout well off the main road for swim water, laundry, and cooking. It's more of a mud hole than a well and when we first got here it was dangerously low and the rain tank was empty...It was the end of the taem blong bigfala sun (the dry season). All the villages in the hills walk down to the waterfall, which is more like a trickle, to collect all their water. I'm happy we got to see a little how that felt like when we first got here and I'm really happy that I will have been in country for almost a year before I have to really experience months and months of it. A few days after we got here, it rained...after a few weeks, we mastered out water system...and now when we have a bigfala rain and when all the buckets are full and it's warm out, I take my shampoo outside and wash my hair in the torrent of fresh rainwater...the water pressure is amazing.
It's a strange Christmas Eve treat.

December 23

we gave up all hope of our chinese bag coming...even blogged about how we gave up thing we know, it's sitting on porch. two men from a neighboring village were missing a box (a carton, they call it), so they boarded the ship and searched every corner for their carton, they never found their carton, but our chinese bag was hiding in a corner underneath something, they carried the bag off the ship, canoed it to our village and carried it up the hill to the health dispensary. Their names are Patrick and Leo, they are our heroes.
In other news, I was grumpy today because I broke a lantern trying to replace the wick. and I was hungry. and yesterday was a bad day - I went to the airport but our package didn't arrive and we almost killed some snorkelers on the way there and I slid down a big muddy hill and I made Papa Leo fall out of the boat on the way home. and we didn't catch any fish.
But I'm better now because we made yeast bread for the first time tonight and it was good.

the flying fox is still alive and still hanging out in the tree beside our house.

The cat killed a lizard and didn't eat it

We had three chicken wings between the two of us for dinner tonight (with dahl), which was a nice treat.

December 21st, 2nd post

I wanted to clarify Lucas' comment regarding canned Chinese pork. During a language session in our training village, my friend, Sara, mentioned that she heard that tinned pork from China in Vanuatu allegedly had human meat inside. We talked about it in my language class at length and I, along with some other people, believe it could be possible. Many many weeks passed and I had the same conversation with the guys working on our house! They brought it up! I think that it's a total possibility because China has few, if any, regulations. Lucas thinks that people are too expensive to put inside cheap pork. Who knows. All I know is that Lucas is the only person in this country willing to eat tinned pork from China--Ol man gat fraet tumas from olgeta ting se tin hemi gat mit blong man insaed! Mi mi no wantem kakae man olsem Lucas! (People are very afraid because they think that the tin has human meat inside. I don't want to eat humans like Lucas!)

December 21

its afternoon, we just finished eating, it's raining hard outside. the cat, Alex and I are all laying in bed. Alex did her first three health surveys this morning, she went to a village and ask questions about water sources and toilets and diet and how much people know about health, things like that I think. She's hoping to survey 10% of the local population, which comes to about 60 surveys. three surveys takes four hours, so Alex has about 80 hours of work on her hands, and some of the villages are a bit of a walk, so a bit more I'm guessing.

I head to the airport tomorrow to pick up some medical supplies the nurse is putting on the plane, it's a bit of a production - a logistical nightmare, just to get something from Vila.

our missing chinese bag is officially lost, so Alex's boss is going to begin negotiations with the ship's owner for full reimbursement - we lost a number of things, including a lot of books we carried from america, cooking pots, food, lanterns, snorkeling gear, medical supplies and clothes we carried from america. We're thinking about $600US worth of things, so we'll see how the reimbursement talks go...

that's our news

We wish we would have brought and CD-ROM Encyclopedia, the locals ask us questions that we can't answer well, but could easily find in an encyclopedia: Like - the southern lights, and the space station and how many people live in America and what strip mining looks like and how do you pollinate vanilla beans and what flying foxes eat and are aboriginal people Melanesians.

They also ask us questions like do the chinese put humans inside canned pork - alex told them yes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

December 20

it's sunday, almost 1pm. We've just finished lunch. alex is lying in bed and I am sitting in the living room. It's raining outside. we have our health week closing ceremony today, we'll probably head that way in 45 minutes or so. Our house is getting closer to being finished. All of the walls are in place, they just need to nail the walls down good, and build doors, window covers and furniture. Also, they need to finish our outhouse We've decided not to move in until all of the furniture is finished.

I can't believe it's almost Christmas.

Lucas' stomach just started hurting so he said I should finish this blog entry.
Since we have come to our new home, we lookout for (how people refer to their relationships with animals): One chicken named Tobias (like Lucas' baby host brother, but the chicken was named first), one puskat, who is currently sitting on me and making it hard to type, AND the coolest edition to our tropical noah's ark: A BABY FLYING FOX/BAT (we;re not sure which one).

Lucas' host papa, Bob, brought it up for us on a branch a few days ago. The bat was either abandoned by her mama or her mama died somehow. She now lives on a tree close to our porch. We feed her rotten mangos and rotting papayas. She is the cutest ever. She can't fly yet and we're pretty sure she's only a temporary friend...but it's still pretty special! We worry that the cat will eat her, but so far so good.

Today, Lucas and I made a delicious black bean/mango/pineapple/onion salsa over Spanish rice for Brunch. We've gotten pretty creative at cooking and are learning how to fuse Aelan kakae (island food) with what we're used to eating...So what ends up happening is that we bemoan the fact that we don't have something we're used to cooking with readily available, and then go to the ginger patch and pull up some fresh ginger and somehow, it's okay. We've made some tasty dishes and there have also been a few flops. Lucas and I cook every meal over a fire these's really fun.

Our garden is coming together. Lucas planted 100 Spring onions (!!!) both in the Karen on top and by our house. We have manioc, taro, bananas, kumula (like a sweet potato), aelan cabbage (like spinach and a staple of our diet), a few pumpkins, silverbeet, and basil on the karen on top...the lemon grass, ginger, and cilantro have life at the karen by the dispensary and most of our seeds have sprouted in our tin nursery on the porch.

December 15th, 2nd post

A lot happens around here, not really a lot relative to the life most of you are living, but a lot of small things that aren't really that significant other than they are a very new experience for us.
All peace corps volunteers get a host family. Alex and I have different host families. My host papa is a fisherman and the family lives on the sandbeach. We went to the health dispensary and see my host mama and host papa have a new born baby. We ask them "what's the baby's name?" and they tell us they haven't named him yet. Hours later we are storying on with the nurse and we tell her we like the name 'Tobias', that we have talked about naming a child Tobias. A day or two later was Alex's birthday, for her birthday her host papa gave her a yangfala man faol - a young male chicken - we decide to name the chicken Tobias.
Next day we are storying on with the nurse again and ask if my smol host brother has a name yet. He doesn't (it's probably been four or five days now). We get on the topic of names again and she ask us if Tobias has any meaning. We new it was an old testament name and I happen to be reading a book about the bible, so I looked it up in my book - Tobias was a fisherman, he caught a magical fish that cured is father's blindness and his friend's rabis fasin (rubbish fashion - that's how you say someone doesn't act right here). Couple day's later my host papa and I (and many other men from the village) are working on Alex and I's future house, we asked him if he's named his child yet and he says that yes and that his name is Tobias.

We ate from the biggest cucumber I've ever seen in my life. We made two meals from about a third of it and gave the other two thirds to two different families.

They are building a new Anglican church fairly close to the health dispensary, it'll probably be our home church (assuming their doctrine is in line with the other Anglican churches in the area). This will make 3 Anglican churches within a 10-minute walk of each other.

People bring Alex and I food all the time - it's really sweet - this morning we were sitting in our bush kitchen (since you cook by open fire, you have a separate building that's just for cooking, this building is called your bush kitchen) and this lady brings us a big, beautiful pineapple. Yesterday, someone brought us four stalks of corn. Later, someone else gave us cooked taro and bush cabbage. It's been weeks since we last collected coconuts, but we use them in our cooking most days - sometimes we'll just walking into our bush kitchen and there will be new food sitting there, we don't even know where it comes from sometimes.

There's a legend on the island of a spirit man who carries a musket and deals harshly with any man who tries to take things from the island (like coal).

Just so many stories...

December 15

it's tuesday, about 11:00am, I'm not feeling the best, so I've decided I'm going to spend the entire day puttering around the house. I helped work on building our future house the last two days and got multiple small cuts on my hands from the bamboo. I take it as a sign I'm getting more involved/intimate with the building process. I think another workday or two and our house will be finished. pretty exciting. Alex and I are pretty excited to move into the new house too. A week or two ago at the health dispensary, I saw a mother, she had just given birth a few days prior, Childbirth without any drugs on a rather uncomfortable looking wooden table. She was collecting firewood to build a fire so she could have a cup of tea and probably some ramen noodles. Her man was off somewhere doing something else and there isn't any staff at the dispensary to cook meals for the patients. I haven't told alex yet, but I picture us taking on that role, preparing a small feast for those who really shouldn't be expected to cook for themselves.

In other news, we've learned that a coconut cream and mango sauce goes well with oatmeal or rice for breakfast.

12 december 2009

Hello Olgeta! Lucas hemi no harem gud--hem i stap nomo from se bel blong hem i soa lelebet. (I said: hello everyone! Lucas does not feel good--he's just being right now because his stomach doesn't feel good). Today I wanted to write a little about the process of integrating into the community--which is our goal for the first three-six months as a peace corps volunteer. "Integration" is awkward. I mean, it's really, really awkward. It's a lot of standing around and getting stared at. It's a lot of people laughing at you so hard that tears come out of their eyes (Ni-Vans are pretty emotive, but still!), it's a lot of uncomfortable silences and staying at a place even if you'd rather be anywhere else on earth but that one's really, really awkward. One day, I couldn't take it anymore and I told Lucas I couldn't take it...he, in his wisdom, said " Soon, they'll get tired of staring or you'll stop is bound to happen sooner or later!" He's right.

So today, We spent the day at the dispensary. Lucas helped with the house and I went to story (talk) with Helen, my boss. I really like Helen-- we get along well and we're actually becoming friends. She's six months pregnant and today was a rainy wet day and she was especially tired. She went to lie down for a bit and fell asleep while I worked on a report for Peace Corps. It was really nice that we both felt comfortable enough with each other that we could do parallel activities without it being awkward...Later, she was telling me a story about her pig,whitey, and we both laughed so hard we cried...slowly but surely this place is becoming more and more familiar.

After the dispensary, we came back to our village where there is a 100 day dead ceremony for my papa's aunt. In Vanuatu, people mark time after a person dies by the whole family getting together and sharing an elaborate meal--often a pig. There are different special days, but the 100 days is the most special--as it is the last time that person is remembered and usually a whole day affair culminating with a meal and the men drinking kava at the nakamal (a nakamal is a gathering place). The nakamal is a big enclosed building with a BIG cooking area, benches, and a special place in the back for men only. Men go there to story and drink kava. The nakamal has an area for women and kids, too.

Anyways, so Lucas and I come back from the dispensary and we know we have to go to the nakamal...Lucas goes to lie down and doesn't feel good at all so I have to go by myself. Unlike my husband, I have learned that I have a very low tolerance for awkward. I gave myself the usual pep talk which goes something like "no one has ever died before from feeling awkward" and walked through the rain as bravely as I could and lingered awkwardly outside the nakamal having a conversation with Lucas' papa. I look inside and there's lots of women and kids I recognize speaking in local dialect. I muster up some courage, spot my mama and go sit next to her. We story and I start to feel more and more comfortable (but it's still really awkward)...It's late and the men are in the back drinking kava so all the women and kids are supposed to talk quietly to respect them. Anyways, so one of the things I love about Vanuatu is that you have ooooodles of family, which means a lot to an only child of immigrant parents. One of my aunties pointed to half the kids in the nakamal and said that they were my nephews and neices and I, in a loud voice said, oh that's so great--i've always wanted a big family!...and all the kids laughed and all the mama's laughed...and then my papa talked strong to me because I was disrupting the men's quiet kava space and suggested I go home...So my mama walked me home and we laughed a little bit...but it felt bad...:Lucas reminds me that it's okay...people know we're not from around these parts and are still learning...and in a way, it might not be that bad that my papa felt comfortable enough to tell me to lower my voice and go home...for a minute he really felt like my papa (even if I am older than him!)...So that's a brief snap shot of the highs and lows of being a peace corps volunteer--Sometimes it's magic and amazing and sometimes it's alienating and lonesome. But overall, I'm really happy to be here, especially with Lucas.

December 9th

another day, we've been busier than I expected. We were meant to have a health committee meeting today, but the committee chairman hurt his back yesterday and couldn't come to the meeting, so instead, the committee decided to spend the day working on Alex and I's house, which pleased us very much. the first wall has been weaved together and they reckon they can have the other three walls finished on this friday's workday. after that, we just need to make furniture (bed, table, bench and kitchen counter) and we'll have ourselves a home. Alex and I have to decide if we'll move in before the furniture is built or not. The fear being they might forget the house isn't finished after we move in.

I was just cooking dinner and realized we have almost no firewood, it's been raining for days, so we'll get the real island experience tomorrow - collecting wet firewood in the rain and carrying it don't a slippery, muddy hill. I've made tentative plans to drink kava with my host papa tomorrow night, so a good way to finish off the island experience if I do say so myself.

all is well, we have little wounds that take forever to heal, but besides that we are good.

ren i ren (that how you say it's raining in bislama, it would translate to 'the rain is raining')

December 8th

planted bananas today, something I never imagined I would say, also planted island cabbage and did some prep work for planting kumula (emi olsem sweet potatoes).

We made tentative plans for the annual health week, as it's next week:

Monday - everyone cleans up around the churches and nakamals
Tuesday - dig holes and bury tin cans and plastic that won't be burnt
Wednesday - clean up around your house and plant flowers
Thursday - clean up all public roads
Friday - clean up your kitchens and burn trash
Saturday - bury everything you couldn't burn
Sunday - closing ceremony and fundraiser

this year's theme is "clean environment, healthy people". The health committee has a meeting with all the local chiefs tomorrow, as their the ones that have to make the work happen in all of the villages.

it rained all types of rain today, heavy rains.

dec 7

it's raining, which is good for showers and's 6:30pm and it's dark outside. Alex is reading in bed and I just finished playing with the guitar. I asked people (by people I mean 2 people) about family values here. I heard a lot of what I already knew - men look out for the garden and women look out for the children and the cooking - but also learned that money is very fluid within the family, meaning you can always borrow money from family and children live with the parents until they marry - there's no move out when your 18 or 21 concept here. Suppose you never marry than it would never occur to you to move out - I don't know if this is true, it's just what one person told me.

Alex and I are making tentative plans to get to the bank sometime in the near future, it's said to be half a day's walk, but we might be able to hitch a ride on a boat.

The ship from Vila came last night, and sadly, our items did not come; at this point we're pretty confident they aren't ever going to come. sad, we lost a nice frying pan, a cute pot, a tea kettle, lots of books and lots of food (lots of dry beans) and some medical supplies and our two kerosine lanterns. Lo ples ia, emi talem 'sad we sad' (at this place here, they say 'sad way sad').

December 6

it's sunday afternoon and raining heavy. The cat is sitting on my lap as I type. probably the first time she's ever seen a computer screen, she seems to find it interesting. Alex is reading a book. I am baking some beans for dinner.

Alex and her host momma baked a cake today. I think we are going to try to make brownies using a chocolate drink mix (nem blong hem Milo) next week We're also thinking we'll try our luck at making some deep-fried donuts that are heavy on the banana, to feed the men building our house on next week's workday.

This week was the first time the preacher man didn't include thanking alex and I for attending their church as part of the sermon, Alex and I take it as a sign we're integrating well.

Peace Corps gave us 'tools' to help us learn about the community/integrate. One of the tools is called FRE3HOP. Basically you ask people in the village questions about different aspects of their life to learn about life here and to have something to talk about. The 'F' stands for family, so I'm going to try to start asking everybody questions about their family tomorrow - like how big is your family, and gender roles, and do you guys wish you had more kids or less kids, and how do you guys figure out hua lukaotgud olfala woman blong yu taem we emi ol tumas (whose going to take care of mom when she gets old). We'll see how the day goes...

the R is for religion.

the beans should be ready by now, so I'm going to go check on them...

December 5th

it's saturday afternoon, alex and I have been in the village for over three weeks at this point and it occurred to me this morning that I haven't written any letters since we arrived in the village. So much for my goal of writing letters every week, huh? alex is currently putting together a recipe book, we've been eating pretty alright. They eat a lot of taro here, we like to grate it, add onions, garlic and egg and fry up little patties, olsem (olsem is a bislama word you could use for 'such as' or 'like' or 'all same') potato pancakes; we like to do veggie stir-frys with soy sauce and local jinja (the ginger here is pretty fantastic), we've also grown fond of a banana cake recipe that is just bananas, coconut milk, smol (a little bit of) flour and one egg. alex baked some brownies the other day, which were pretty good (especially considering we only had about half of the ingredients) and were planning to try our luck with a sour dough bread sometime next week, wish us luck.

We adopted a cat yesterday, from some Australians that were working at the local school (They were here for 6 months, but went home last week, I think some more volunteers will becoming after the new year, it's a gap year volunteer program, for kids taking a year between high school and university, their main focus is helping the kids with english) The cat's name is 'Lady Gaga', it was named by the kids at the school. Alex wants to change the cat's name, but I don't think it's nice to change people's names. We put her inside a pillow case to carry her up the hill to our house and then we bribed her to be our friend with a can of tuna (with fulap sugar mixed in), then she shit in our bed. Alex and I are trying to convince ourselves it wasn't personal. she sleeps a lot, has going out exploring and come back (which we see as a good sign the bribe worked).

We went for a wokabot today to check out our antap garden, one pumpkin plant and one basil plant seem to be surviving alright, still waiting for the seeds to come up and for someone from the village to show us how they plant sweet potatoes in these parts.

The cement floor of our future house is finished, so next friday they are going to start putting the walls on the house. I think the roof and floor are the slowest parts, so were hoping the house starts coming together pretty quickly now. Alex's papa predicts three more work days until the house is finished...they average one workday per week, so only three more weeks until our house is possibly finished, P
Pretty exciting.

peace corps is pretty fun.

November 30

It's monday night, almost 7pm. Alex is taking a shower, technically she's washing herself off with a bucket of water and a bandana, but we call it showering, actually we call it 'swim' - the bislama word for showering. Today we spent a few hours storion (storying on) with alex's counterpart/supervisor. Afterwards we went to the store to buy eggs and then hung out at our house the rest of the day. We are going to try to bake brownies tomorrow as people are coming together to work on our house on Wednesday and we want to have a special treat ready to help bribe them.

The health dispensary has a small produce stand and anyone can put items at the stand to sell. 20 vatu (about $.20) of each sale goes to the dispensary, a fundraiser of sorts. The produce stand is pretty small scale, we're talking one to five fruits/vegies per day. Everyone here has a garden and there's not really a lot of disposable income around to buy something because you don't feel like walking to your garden today. Alex's supervisor talked to us today about expanding the produce stand, growing some veggies that aren't commonly grown here and offering some cooking classes and nutrition classes and maybe even starting chicken flock to sell meat and eggs (as folks here don't get enough protein).

They have three food groups here - givim paowa, bildemap bodi and blokem sik. Givim paowa (give power) is carbs, which the folks here get plenty of, as it's mostly a root vegetable based diet. Bildemap bodi (build up body) is proteins, there's a few types of nuts, one kind of bean, families of fisherman eat fish, the wealthy/educated eat eggs and powdered milk, and on special occasions they'll kill an animal (chicken, pig or cow), but that's about it. Blokem sik (block sickness) is vitamins, folks eat tropical fruits seasonally (papaya and banana are the only ones that grows year-round) and there's island cabbage - it's similar to chard and grows year around. People eat island cabbage but many times I think they boil it down to nothing nutritional and I suspect they probably don't eat it often enough as they aren't overly concerned with the three food groups.

It's also pretty common for people to use msg as if it were salt. I'm no expert and there's no google available as I type, but I think this might be a really bad thing. And there's kava, which I'm not convinced is good for the diet either.

november 26

It's thanksgiving day in Vanuatu, Alex and I made a pumpkin pie which turned out quite nice if I do say so myself. We went for a wokabot (walkabout) this morning and made friends with some of the village children. We walked on top of a big hill and had great ocean views. We fed some huge pigs - pigs eat a lot of coconut here. We saw lots of buluk (cows). We met a nice man, who happily climbed multiple trees to fetch us some green coconuts. And the children helped us gather firewood. We had a good time, us and the pikinini (pikinini is the bislama word for children, it's derived from the word for small in Portuguese). The children ended up stalking us for hours afterwards, but it seems as if we all survived alright.

The truck came into town today to haul some bags of cement up to the health dispensary and then it hauled a bunch of sand from the sand beach up to the dispensary as well. The sand is destined to be mixed with cement to make the floor of our house - pretty exciting. There's a big work day planned for tomorrow, for folks from the community to come work on our house, we're hoping for a big turn-out.

The health dispensary doesn't have sheets on their beds, as they don't have the money to afford them...they also don't have many other things you might expect the only health center in the area to have (like a refrigerator to keep immunizations fresh, for example). When you give birth, you lay down on a wooden table, no mattress, no fan, aspirin afterwards nomo (nomo is bislama and can translate to no more, but is also used as only, and comes at the end of a sentence usually). So, all this cement the truck hauled up this morning is for the dispensary to build a cement building for a toilet. Thing is, the dispensary doesn't really need a cement building for a toilet, in fact, I would suggest they need it as much as they need a cement basketball court. There aren't any basketballs in town, I'm sure of it, and I would guess the majority of town has absolutely no interest in basketball. The reason the dispensary now has a lot of cement to build a cement building for a toilet is because some person far, far from here decided their organization would donate money to buy supplies to build toilets for dispensaries and this person's vision of a toilet is cement-based. It's silly really. I mean it's really silly. I've never actually bought cement, so I don't know how much it costs, but I have shipped things on a boat to this island and I know how much that costs. And the money could have been much better spent on bed sheets and gas-powered refrigerators and...well I don't know because I've only been here for two weeks and I haven't asked anyone, but it's not cement buildings for toilets.

The basketball court example is referencing and actual cement basketball court I saw at a small school on a fairly un-populated part of a very rural island. There were big holes in the basketball court and it didn't seem anyone at the school had much inspiration to repair it.

And Ni-Vans build beautiful bamboo houses, that breath well; they are made from readily available, abundant natural resources; they know how to repair them and everything one needs to repair them is readily available and free.

Tomorrow is Alex's birthday...

November 25

We went and checked on our 'antap karen' this morning. Yesterday we planted about twenty pumpkin seedlings and yesterday chickens at about eighteen of the pumpkin seedlings. it was sad lelebit (lelebit is a bislama word and is used for emphasis, such as 'it was rather sad') but Alex and I were happy to find the two surviving pumpkins and re-planted them with added protection of lots of little sticks (stuck upright in the ground) all around them to discourage chickens. The bislama word for chicken is faol (sounds like fowl). We planted a few seeds in the soil today, hoping for the best...

Alex and I had our first island baking experience. we made a banana cake. the recipe called for half a bag of flour - we didn't really know what that meant so we added almost two cups, but I think it could have used more. It turned out alright, but was pretty heavy - could have used more flour, we called it 'island pie' and were happy with the results. And we used about ten bananas in one go, which is a fairly substantial accomplishment in and of itself.

Also made a coleslaw out of green mangoes, onions, coconut cream and vinegar and I'm pretty sure it's a do-again.

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving, so we're going to try our luck at a pumpkin pie - the recipe tells us to make the dough until it's the consistency of soft mud - so we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

isn't sisi (prounounced 'see see') the cutest? She (or he) is getting bigger and bigger all the time, prefers mangoes over papaya or bananas and now let's us pet him/her.