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.