Tuesday, March 15, 2011

some more pictures

Here are a few more pictures from our last 5 months on the island...

Crossing the river to get to another village.

My host brother - Brian Tobias.

Baskets for an upcoming wedding.

Our very own Nemo, he lives in the reef near our house.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 12

hey everyone,
Alex and I are in Port Vila, a few of you have picked up on that already, as I've noticed a few new e-mails in the inbox. We have been here for a week. We have been busy, and we are tired.
The first few times we came into port vila we had long to-do lists, and were able to stay focused, running errands during breaks in training and in the evening.
It doesn't feel as rushed now. We rest during our workshop breaks and don't seem to get much done in the evenings. We still have long to-do lists. I think we are more tired than we used to be. Port Vila isn't just about running errands anymore. Now it's about running errands and resting and maybe 'recovering' from time on the island.
We should be flying back to Pentecost tomorrow. But we are going to stay another week in Port Vila, to rest and work on the long to-do lists that we haven't started working on yet.
So send us some emails, we'll have time to respond to them.
The training has been good, the new group seems to have some interest in the PHAST workshop that Alex and I have developed for Vanuatu.
We applied to work in Antarctica, waiting to hear back.
We are eating a lot of meat, a lot of eggs and a lot of dairy. And enjoying hot water at the hotel.
I've uploaded the blogs we wrote during our last stint on the island and a few pictures. We have more pictures to upload, but it's slow to upload them and I'm tired. I'll get some more pictures uploaded next week.
love you guys
I'll write more soon.

too much daydreaming at church

It's Sunday, we just got home from church. We were there for two and a half hours, and we arrived late.

I am a business volunteer and Alex is a health volunteer. We decided early on that we would work on any and all projects together. Our health projects have gone well, very well when compared with other health volunteers. Our business projects not so much. I had expected a community-led, community-initiated business project would evolve with time. Now, with 8 months left, I am not too optimistic that a business project will ever develop.

I have talked about this concern with a few of my Ni-Van friends and a few random men at nakamals. The feedback is typically the same, the essence of it being - people in Vanuatu have all of their basic needs met and they don't work well together when money, or the potential for money, is involved. It's true, everyone has enough food to eat and a place to sleep, I've noted this reality before.

It is also true that community-based business business ventures have a terribly low success rate in Vanuatu. A friend of ours can give you a list of cooperative business attempts that have failed, one after another, all off the top of his head. It's counter-intuitive in many ways. People here live and work in community everyday. They are masters of community living. There are men and women working in each other's gardens most days, lots of sharing and community meals almost nightly. I have been involved in multiple work parties myself, where 10-20 people or more all show up to work for one man, without immediate compensation or even a clear agreement of how the work will be compensated at a later date. It seems like this would be the ideal situation for a community-based business venture.

There are unwritten rules about community living on the island. Rules that I certainly don't understand. There is, of course, the idea of mandatory sharing, people have no problem giving you things, because they understand that you have and will continue to give them things. But the rules are a lot more complicated than that. For example, I believe there are some men that are designated to have more wealth than everyone else, and then they, because of this designation, would always be the first person anybody would go to when they needed something. It gets more complicated, Like I said I don't really understand it.

So here's a problem with community-based business ventures: they take their unwritten rules and try to apply them to western business.

Of course the unwritten rules don't fit well onto western business models, so the rules are bent and forced on to a prototype they have little in common with. Sadly, the misfit causes lots of misunderstandings, shortcomings, envy, and broken promises. Real anger and loss of trust can ensue, and this is really bad if you are dependent on your community for daily living .

I read somewhere recently that the only clear indicator of how well a developing country will succeed in making the cross-over to western system of governance is how closely their traditional values align with the overarching western values. The unwritten rules of community living in Vanuatu do not align well with community-based business ventures.

Perhaps, if people in were a little more hungry there would be more motivation to dismiss the unwritten rules. As it stands, the unwritten rules accomplish the task of ensuring everyone has enough to eat and a place to sleep; something western business does not accomplish!

As this island's population continues to grow, they will face the challenge of producing more food on the same finite (and relatively small) amount of land. But today, food security is the least of anyone's concerns on Pentecost island. Lots of good food grows year around, and there are fruit and nut trees planted all over the place. It is not difficult to grow food here, hard work yes, but there is no chance that you would fail at growing your own food. And the traditional governance systems ensure everyone has space for a garden. You could probably gather all the food you need without even cultivating a garden, and at the very least, the mandatory sharing ensures that all your food needs are met.

Alex and I joke that this is the only place on earth where people would build a village 30-60 minutes walk from the nearest water source. This is true, it happens here, and without logical reason, there are plenty of water sources. We theorize that because the villagers are so used to getting all their basic needs met that there is little motivation to plan ahead for things like water. And they are right, because food and housing come so easily, they have the time to walk an extra hour everyday to fetch water. (Most villages now are using water catchment systems, but these villages were established well before the water tanks were an option).

In church this morning, one of the readings was the one about how God looks out for the birds, the birds don't have to plant a garden or anything and God takes care of them, and surely we, as humans, are much more important to God than the birds, so of course God is going to take care of us. The reading was about living today and not worrying too much about tomorrow because you can trust in the Lord to look out good for you.

I would have loved to hear the sermon that followed the reading. How such a reading applies to life in our communities. Was the preacher man preaching on the value of living in the moment? Sadly, the sermon was in the local language and Alex and I haven't a clue what he was saying.

February 20

our low depression turned into Cyclone Atu. It's a category 2 cyclone now, but it's past us. We are still getting heavy winds and some rain, but it doesn't feel like a cyclone anymore. Cyclone Atu should be hitting Port Vila's island around midnight tonight.

Atu means 'man' in the local language. And it's the name of a popular card game in Vanuatu too, similar to spades.

We are not sure if and when we are going to Port Vila. Hopefully we'll go Sunday the 27th. Depends on planes and cyclones more than on when we want to go.

alex is on page 315 of War and Peace. There are 1,144 pages. It's pretty good.

February 19th

hello again.
It's super windy today, there's said to be a slow-moving 'low depression' about 100 kilometers east of us. It could turn into a cyclone, but it hasn't as of yet. The wind has blown down 5 banana plants, including one that had a huge bunch of ripening sweet bananas. We've also lost many of our green beans, lots of our sugarcane, a big basil plant, some marigolds and one island cabbage bush to the wind. On a positive, there is lots of easy-to-find firewood lying about now.

We have been cooking a pot of baked beans all day, they still aren't ready, I think the wind blows all the heat away.

Back home

hey everyone,
it's been a while since I blogged. All is well. Alex and I headed to the far north of pentecost island last Thursday, the 10th. We went to the post office on Friday. Thank you for all the letters. And for the chocolate and the Splenda and the Christmas candy and the snowman candle the guitar book and the harmonica and the tea and hot chocolate and the yoga CD and the spy pen. And everything else too. We love our family and friends.

I was meant to fly into Port Vila on Sunday for an in-service training. I didn't fly. Two planes in Air Vanuatu's small fleet are currently out of commission. We got word a few hours before the flight that it was cancelled. Peace Corps tried to find me an alternate route into Port Vila. I almost had to cross the ocean on a small boat to get to the airport on another island, but that flight was canceled too.

In-service training happens annually for all peace corps volunteers. I missed the first two days of my first in-service training because a plane couldn't land at our airport because of the bad weather. And this one I will miss completely because there just aren't enough planes. Not that I am complaining - Peace Corps has offered to fly me in and put me up during Alex's in-service training next month.

We had a volunteer on Pentecost island that had to be medically evacuated yesterday because she cut her hand pretty bad with her bush knife. Peace Corps offered me a seat on the chartered flight. I could have made it to the last day of my in-service training. They gave me the option to go in yesterday or go in with Alex for her in-service training.

I am going to go into Port Vila with Alex. We are hoping to find a road into Vila near the end of February. Antarctica applications open up March 1st.

There's a 'low depression' 60 kilometers east of the island just to the north of us. It could turn into a cyclone in the next few days.

February 3rd

it's 10:13pm. We are still awake. Our friend brought us a big chunk of raw beef about two hours ago. They killed a cow today because a woman died this morning. She was the grandmother of Alex's counterpart. (and aunt of Alex's counterpart's husband)

Though it is extraordinarily exciting to get a pound of raw beef that we can cook however we like, we are typically asleep by 9.

We are baking the beef with garlic, onions, bay leaf, thyme, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It's on the fire now, I should probably go make sure the fire is still burning good.

February 1st

So I think I've probably read all four of our 'Communities' magazines from cover to cover. One of the basic premises of the Communities magazine seems to be this: "The world is changing. The growing demands for the Earth's finite resources is a disaster waiting to happen. Organized intentional communities use resources more efficiently than non-organized neighbors. Thus, at some point, we are going to need to be able to live in communities in order to survive. The problem is that we don't know how to live in communities. And this is, therefore, the main objective of many communities - to learn how to negotiate living in community."

Another common premise is that one of the key factors to successful community living is 'consensus'. All decisions are made by consensus - meaning every member of the community must agree to a plan before the plan goes ahead, no voting. Consensus, of course, is a challenge, requiring superhuman patience, understanding and humility. Very egalitarian. Not all intentional communities have sustainability, consensus and egalitarianism at the top of their lists, but these seem to be the main overarching themes.

In our district on the island, we are mostly all living in community. There are some of folks whom "stap em wan long bus" - they live with just their immediate family (partner and children) out in the bush somewhere. But all of our friends know how to live in community. And here's the thing - this place isn't egalitarian in the slightest. Egalitarianism is an American value.

Egalitarian means "of, relating to, or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities".

Our Peace Corps issued cross-cultural workbook suggests, "In a strong reaction to the repressive class structure in Europe, Americans created a culture virtually built around egalitarianism: the notion that no one is superior to anyone else because of birth, power, fame or wealth. We are not all the same, but we are all of equal value." I don't know what the deal is with slaves and egalitarian founding fathers, but that's what the book says.

There are many egalitarian values incorporated into the 'kastom' values of Vanuatu. Like "nogat man we igat samting bitim tumas ol narafala man". That translates to, "We shouldn't have any people that have too much more than any other people." That's a big one, very egalitarian. There lots of other 'kastom' values that have equality at their base as well - everyone should have access to land for a garden; families should ensure that everyone in their family has a place to sleep and enough food; and there should never be nursing homes for 'olfala' (old fellows), sick, or krangke (crazy, pronounced cranky) people, this responsibility falling on family as well.

Where Vanuatu ceases to be egalitarian is also part of the 'kastom' values of Vanuatu - "Sapotem olgeta Jif blong yumi", Support all chiefs of you and me. Which isn't completely anti-egalitarian in and of itself. But, in Vanuatu, they say ,"The chief's line follows blood", meaning the son of the chief becomes the next chief (superior because of birth and power). That seems pretty far removed from egalitarianism.

I emphasized son in the last paragraph because, unlike the olfala, the sick and the krangke, Vanuatu 'kastom' values do not place much value on women's rights. Young women are regularly forced into marriage. Violence against women is off the charts, even chiefs and priests beat their wives. All chiefs and priests are men. Husbands believe they own their wives. Certainly NOT egalitarian!

It is considered "spoiling kastom" to be a non-consenting voice. People will agree with [support] a chief, even when the chief condones human rights violations (aka beating your wife). Even when a chief condones non-sustainable ways of living in the world. Even if the chief condones inefficient use of our finite resources.

The people of our district have found a way to live in community. A way that I am sure has evolved through centuries of trial and error. A way that you and I as outsiders - as well as the folks on the island, living in the community - find many shortcomings.

I wonder if there are traditional societies anywhere in the world that rely on a consensus-based, egalitarian way to live in community?


In North Pentecost, there are two main tribes: Tabi and Bule. The tribal designation passes down the matriline and may or may not have to do with land...we've never really gotten a clear answer...But it's deeply embedded in the culture. A tabi must marry a bule (and vice versa) and the resulting children will follow the mother's line . I am a tabi (my host mom is a tabi) and Lucas is a bule (his host mom is a bule) and our kids will be tabi(they follow me, their mom). Our girl children will have to marry a bule and all her children will be tabi again...Our boy children would have to marry Bule but his children will all now be bule following their mother's line. It gets more complicated, but that's beyond the scope of this blog entry and our comprehension.

Where this becomes most apparent is around weddings or "marrieds". This last January, two men, from a family we are close to, got married. Weddings are a BIG deal on Pentecost and it is not uncommon for them to happen in stages. It is also not uncommon for more than one couple to get married at the same time. Both these men have been together with their partners for a while and they each have kids already. One of the men is a follower of the Ward fellowship, a small apocalypse-focused christian american church that despises Kastom. But, Kastom is STRONG on pentecost around certain things and Marrieds are one of them. He did not have a choice in the matter.

The following vignettes are brief sketches of the week long married:

Baratoa Rocks! During the married week, the tribe of the bride gets to throw things at the tribe of the groom. In this case, the grooms were bule. So that means, me, as a tabi, got to throw water, finely grated banana, mud, and anything I wanted for as long as I wanted at any bule I saw. It just so happens that most of my pals and my husband are bule! I ended up teaming up with muana (see picture), another tabi, and we were a baratoa machine! No one was spared--it was so much fun! I baratoaed so well, that the family of the grooms gave me a red mat.

Why two years in the Peace Corps makes sense
Marrieds on Pentecost. like in most cultures, involve the whole family. Here, family systems are intact. Strong surges of urban migration have not hit Vanuatu yet so it's not uncommon to see a great- grandmother looking after her great granchild while her daughter and grand daughter go to the garden. I love that about this place.

One of the traditions for marrieds is that there are different work teams to get everything in place. Remember, these folks are feeding hundreds of people without electricity or supermarkets. There's a work team for firewood, for taro, for lap lap leaves, for white stones (stones used for baking), for slaughtering animals, for harvesting kava, etc. It's absolutely incredible to watch.

I loved seeing all the different groups come down because they were arranged in family groups, and now, I know most of the families. My papa's family came down carrying firewood. They are beautiful: Sinuous , Strong, Black. I've never seen all the men together like that and the family line was clear and evident. This same experience happened with all the different work parties and I understood why two years makes sense for Peace Corps Service.

I know these people. I've played with their children and eaten at their kitchens and probably charged their phones. I've sang with them at church and slipped on the same paths they do on the way to the garden. I know who has had affairs with who and whose relationships are riddled with violence. I've been angry and hurt by people here as well as loved and supported. In short, my heart has given itself to Pentecost a little more each month (for better or for worse) and I can't imagine the richness of experience if it wasn't for two years. And, of course, it makes me appreciate my own family spread across two continents and my chosen family of friends that have supported Lucas and I through this time.

Longo Party
I complain to Lucas about how the culture here is so much like Junior High and how it drives me crazy eighty percent of the time. But, in the important emotional life cycles of family life, the folks here have it down.

A longo party is the last longo (lap lap in the local language language. Lap Lap is a pudding made from root vegetables baked in an earth oven with coconut cream on top) you have with the bride and the groom respectively at their home nakamal.

The bride will be leaving her village and going to live at her husband's village with her husband's family. In this case, Judy, whose longo party we went to, only lives a twenty five minute walk away to her husband's village; but sometimes, it's really far away and you might not see your daughter for a long time.

Anyways, the whole village and all the bride's friends gather together to tell her goodbye and give her a small present. It's what a bachelor/bachelorette party should be, but somehow is not anymore. The chief and community leaders give speeches and everyone lines up to shake the brides hand and cry with her. These are people that have changed Judy's diapers and watched her go through her awkward phase. These are the children, now grown-ups, who swam naked with her in the ocean and waited to hear if she passed to the next grade on the radio with her. In short, this is most everyone that's loved her with all their hearts and who she loves, too. One by one they line up to shake her hand, hug her, and cry with her for as long as feels right...they are letting Judy go as their relationship with Judy will change after she gets married.

Marriage, of course, is a happy and wonderful thing, but it's also really really sad. At my own wedding, I didn't have a longo party--instead, I found myself crying in a ditch by a turkey processing factory in rural Ohio with my amazing cousin, Michelle. It's not that I didn't want to get married to Lucas (quite the opposite), it's that I was sad to change the relational position in the lives of my friends and family--I was mourning that change. Instead of having an event designated for that mourning where you eat lap lap that's prepared with love, I mourned around turkey feathers and old cigarette butts.
American life makes it difficult to gather all those people in one place and the bachelor/ette party isn't quite the same. I can suggest a "longo" party to my soon to be married friends/family who have a sentimental streak.

January 29

we had bean burritos for lunch. It's a special treat for us. We were extravagant with the onions today as a couple kilos worth of onions just arrived at one of the stores.

I think I've officially started counting the days until I go into Port Vila (15), poor alex has another 6 weeks before she goes. I'm excited for ice cream and lots of meat and air conditioning and internet access.

Somebody mentioned again today that we are leaving soon. Eight months is a while still.

My host father's brother, whom I have never met, lives in Port Vila. He has just released a music CD. It's pacific pop, I'm not sure if that's the appropriate genre name, but that's what Alex and I call it. It's like 80s pop meets reggae meets synthesizer meets CHEESE! Anyways, about ten guys brought the CD over to our house this afternoon, so we could all listen to it on the laptop. It was the first time the artist's family had heard the CD. It was sweet, they were all really excited to hear it.

Eight months

Thursday, January 27th

Dear blog,
It's hot in beautiful Pentecost. We are listening to the BBC on the high-frequecy radio and Alex is pumping iron. Our friends Jess and Michael spent most of the day hanging out with us - looking at pictures, joking around and being too hot.
We still have lice. The Peace Corps nurse sent us special shampoo and a fine-toothed comb a couple weeks ago. We haven't got it yet. We have a friend that lives north of us on Pentecost island near the post office. He has our shampoo and comb. We could walk the 12-hour roundtrip or pay the $50usd for a boat ride. But we haven't. Instead we just scratch our heads, complain about the lice and take turns pulling louse out of each other's hair. Lucas has gotten pretty good finding and destroying eggs in his own hair.
Lucas leaves for Port Vila in about two weeks for a week-long training while Alex will stay on Pentecost for six more weeks until her training and a break in vila. We are saving money to go see the active volcano on Tanna island in the south of Vanuatu. We hope it's worth it as a week being apart will be the longest we've been separated since we married (and Alex thinks about ice on an daily basis).
We haven't been swimming in the ocean because the ocean has been rough for weeks and there's a high chance of these little biting sea bugs. No relief from the heat.
People keep talking about how soon we are leaving, but we have 8 more months. At least one person mentions it everyday. We are going to apply for another season in Antarctica, we'll see what happens. If we get the jobs and accept them, we will return to the states in March of 2012. We plan to move to the Washington D.C. area, find good jobs and pay off our student loans. And have a baby, of course.

Alex & Lucas


It is monday afternoon, a quiet day, it is hot, very hot. Alex and I haven't done much today, it's too hot. We looked at our finances this morning, just to check in and see where we stand, something we try to do at least every month or so.

I have a pretty significant to-do list, it's not really that significant, but significance is relative, eh? It's not that long of a to-do list, but longer than I typically have. I want to work on my list, but I haven't started, not today, it's too hot. The list is mostly computer work, typing out the results of a community survey that a friend and I initiated, organizing a PHAST slideshow for my upcoming in-service training, organizing the blogs I've written and finding some pictures to match, things like that, not really work that you can't do when it's too hot.

They have a word in Bislama - 'les', pronounced like 'lazy' without the 'y'. Lazy would be the literal translation. I could use the word today ' "Mi mi les tumas blong mekem eni samting" - I am lazy too much to make any something. But les doesn't translate exactly to lazy. It doesn't have the negative connotation, it's more about me acknowledging that I'm not up for it right now, that it would be healthy for me to rest.

Mi mi les.


January 23rd

Alex and I just received our first copies of 'Communities' magazine. It's the magazine of the 'Fellowship for Intentional Communities', like hippy communes and such things. It's a fascinating magazine, we can't seem to put it down. It's not like it's that great of a magazine as most of the articles are too long, there isn't a consistent level of quality, and most of the articles are geared towards folks 'living in community', not us. We are not sure if it's because it's the first new reading material in the house in three months or if it is really that interesting, but for whatever reason Alex and I are fascinated by the magazine.

Most of the authors live in community, I think they are used to everyone knowing all their secrets. Most of the articles are surprisingly open. There are lots of sweet articles about the trials and tribulations of navigating human relations and human emotions when your trying to live in close contact with lots of other people. I think it's very human.

One issue had the theme of families. There was a sweet article written by a new mother about life with a new baby in the community, she writes, "My fantasies involved dozens of fat-legged toddlers scampering through acres of basil and butternut squash, wearing clover necklaces, harassing chickens, mimicking goats, and being nurtured by many mother and fathers. That vision was a far cry from...".

The next article was by another mother writing of her sons struggles to create a family tree for a school assignment, she writes, "he's been raised with a healthy mix of strong parental ties and having lots of kids and adults in his life that mattered a lot, but aren't related". The article started off really sweet too but somehow drifted into the mother talking about her multiple partners and 'polyamorous' relationship attempts. Polyamorous means sleeping around.

As we flip through the pages of the magazine, we learn about inter-generational communities that focus on care for the elderly, communities where all of the children sleep in separate quarters, and communities for older adults that are just basically managing their own retirement home. There is a group of neighbors that share chicken-care responsibilities and cook food for each other and wonder if they are 'living in community'.

And then there are articles about polyamorous communities, advertisements for clothing-optional summer camps, and sentences like "The upstepping of the adjudication of the bright and morning star versus lucifer", I don't even know what that means. There are lots of authors with non-traditional names and groups that use the spelling womyn. There is one woman that insists on using the lower-case 'i' in her writing as an expression of her egalitarian values.

Not that I am judging (too harshly), it's just you never know what you are going to get when you flip the page, it's fascinating.

So, we've learned there's lots of different kinds of communities, big and small, most have their own focus or speciality - sustainable communities, 'consensus decision-making', and 'social experiments' seem pretty hip. Agriculture-based and homesteading communities aren't as hip as you might expect. There is co-housing, ecovillages, incoming-sharing communities, 'spiritual commitment required' communities, urban house sharing, egalitarian communities, car-less communities, 'gun owners preferred' communities and so on. Each different from the other and lots of overlapping. I don't really understand it all but it's fascinating.

There is a classified ads section. One section is for 'community openings', one ad reads "rural cohousing community with 11 members and 10 kids on 500 acres. We have four ponds, a creek; wetlands; pastures; bluff & forest lands and 80 acres of land in crops farmed organically. We strive to live lightly on the land. There are seven individual homes; and sites for six more, a common house; two barns and several outbuildings. We have a community center and spring fed swimming pond, a rec field, trails and barns for animals and storage. Decisions about the land and community are made by consensus, all others are individual. If you're interested in small-scale, organic farming or just in living in a rural cohousing community, contact us at...".

instant meals

it's Wednesday night, the moon is bright and ocean waves are crashing. We had one of those just add water instant meals for dinner, as it was late and we were tired and hungry. I spent the evening hours in a local village storying with the men and Alex was here at the house storying with a few of her girlfriends. That's how Ni-vans like it, men at one place and women at another. It's funny and silly and really annoying sometimes, but Alex and I are starting to get used to it, slowly.

January 15

It's 10 am. it's raining. It looks like it will be raining all day. Our friend, just got a new phone. The phone has an mp3 player and 3.9mb memory, which is enough for one short song. He put one song on the other day and came back today to switch it for a new one. We went through our music collection, playing each of the songs that are smaller than 3.9mb. He would listen for a few moments, reject it and we would move onto the next. It took a good 45 minutes to find a song he approved. The song is titled "Fallen Angel", we think it probably comes from the South Pacific pop scene. it is certainly not a song that Alex or I would chose to listen to multiple times throughout the day.

missing google

Today is January 13. It's a quarter after eight in the evening. We have had a quiet day, we stayed inside as we are getting plenty of rains from cyclone Vania.

Alex tells me that cats are immune from human lice. I can't hardly believe this is true. I would google it if I could, but I can't.

Being one year since their big earthquake, there has been lots of talk about Haiti on the high-frequency radio over the last couple days. Have you ever seen the aerial picture of Haiti and Dominican Republic? (if not, you must google it) Haiti is this orange-brown color and the DR is a bright green. A straight line down the middle between the two. I heard today there are something like a thousand aid agencies currently working in Haiti. Surely there are some tree-planting groups there, you think? Again, I would google it, but I can't.

January 12

I checked the cat, he has lice too. Alex carries the cat to bed more often than I do. This stands as further evidence that Alex is to blame for the lice.

January 11

On occasion, there is 'wasem aot' served while drinking kava. The literal translation of 'wasem aot' is 'wash out', it's little bite-sized pieces of food that you can eat immediately after drinking kava to get the kava taste out of your mouth. As kava has an absolute horrid taste, wasem aot is a pretty good idea.

There was wasem aot at the nakamal two nights ago. Two different kinds of wasem aot to chose from. One was aelan kabis (island cabbage), a kale-like leaf that was boiled until it was well over-cooked then served with the water it was boiled in and a little bit of salt, very slimy. The other wasem aot option was these two small pineapples that were super sweet, cut into bite-sized pieces. The pineapple was some of best, sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted and the aelan kabis was, well, gross.

After more than a year at site, Vanuatu continues to surprise, for reasons unknown to me the aelan kabis was finished (and all the water slurped off the plate) before the pineapple was hardly touched.

In other news, Alex and I both have lice. Alex blames me for not washing my hair often enough, but I don't think that's fair. She argues that because I have more lice and don't regularly wash my hair, it is obvious that I got the lice first and subsequently passed them on to her. I point out that I have more lice only because she washes her hair regularly, thus keeping her numbers down. I also point out that she has more friends than I do that share her personal space. And that she hugs others more often than I do.

in the black

it's raining, very heavy, super heavy.

I've been trying to put together a 'starting your own business workshop', it's coming together well. I am hoping to lead the workshop before I go into vila for training next month.

It's the middle of pineapple season, we get fresh pineapples most days. Yesterday's was exceptionally sweet, we made a salsa with it, soaked some black beans and fried up some tortillas. Alex commented that at the beginning of pineapple season we would eat all the pineapples as soon as we received them, only after half a season worth of pineapples can we start using them as an ingredient. Kind of like walking past good mangoes laying on the ground by the end of mango season.

I was creating some accounting tables for the new health dispensary store to keep track of their money and was inspired to see how profitable I have been in my life. If you add up our assets (including retirement funds, canoes, bicycles and book collections) minus our liabilities (student loans) divided by the number of months we have been in the work force, divided by two, we have averaged a profit of about 28 dollars per person per month. Which means we are currently in the black!! (but without a house☹)

Neither of us realized we were in the black until we made our maths today!

January 3

it feels like it's been a while since I blogged. Days slip by quickly.

I would estimate there are probably about 50 stores for 600 people in our district, or about one store for every 12 people, or about one store for every two families.

The health dispensary decided to open a small store as a fundraiser. There are already a million stores in the villages around here, all selling the same things from the same supplier in Luganville. The dispensary store is just like all the other stores, except it's not in a village, thus likely to see less traffic.

It's kind of like building flush toilets in a place with no running water and seasonal water shortages. (Those toilets still have not been used.)

The dispensary spent almost $600usd to stock the store. Imagine how many bed sheets that could buy. A good bit of the stock are things they need to sell quick before the bugs get to it, including 100 kilograms of rice.

(I wrote a blog a long time ago about about how the dispensary doesn't have bed sheets and is building a cement building to house flush toilets. I believe in that blog entry I blamed the folks who financed the toilets. The funding organization is still to blame for agreeing to financially support the flush toilets, but, perhaps, like the store, the folks here really thought it was good idea.)

I did learn one rather interesting thing while helping the store set their prices: The dispensary store (just like all the other stores) paid about 135 vatu per kilogram of rice (including freight costs) , the average cost at the local stores is 230 vatu per kilogram.

December 28

hey everyone,
just a quick note to say hello. all is well, it has been raining for like ever. we have been celebrating christmas by eating good. Our friend made cheese out of powdered milk and vinegar yesterday, pretty exciting.

Any new year's resolutions? I don't think I'll be making any, as I'm feeling lazy.

Merry Christmas everyone!

In north Pentecost we sing out 'Christmas Tavuha' which translates, I believe, to Christmas comes.

We have spent the last few days with two other Peace Corps volunteers from the central part of our island. A married couple just a hair younger than ourselves. They came up here to spend the holiday season with us. We have been preparing fancy meals and storying-on. It's been good.

We spent Christmas day with our Peace Corps friends and my host father's family. They made up a fancy meal with rice and beef and chicken and pineapple and watermelon. We brought a pumpkin pie and a loaf of pumpkin bread to share. We were given baskets and a chief's walking stick. Very sweet.

They just brought the food in, so it's time to eat. love you guys, miss you guys and thinking of you this holiday season.


We just finished a 3-day routine site visit with one of our bosses from Port Vila. It went well, she seemed to enjoy herself, complimented our cooking and as far as I am aware the community didn't complain about us too much. She had to do interviews with our host parents and our counterparts. She said my host father was very enthusiastic and complimentary, which I am sure he was.

Tata Bob (tata is the local language word for papa) has become one of our best friends on the island. We sort of invited ourselves to spend Christmas day with him. We are looking forward to it.

We took a boat to the north of the island with our boss this morning to see her off at the airport, it was nice as we were able to get some flour for Christmas baking and pick up our mail at the airport. We received a package from our friend Bamma, it was postmarked - sent in July. We also received package from Maggie that we have been anxiously awaiting, a sweet package from my mother and lots of wonderful letters. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts. Things from America gain an extra layer of specialness when you are in the middle of the Pacific ocean (aka the middle of nowhere).

We also received a copy of the Vanuatu Peace Corps volunteer newsletter. We wrote an article about our project for the newsletter. We just got a copy of the newsletter today. Here's a copy of what we wrote:

"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, was having a similar experience at his site. He called our community health program APCD Sara 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 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."


it's 6:24am on a Tuesday. I am still in bed, Alex has been out of bed for a while. For reasons not understood by myself, Alex is now a morning person, preferring to start her days before 6am. There was a chainsaw going in the distance, but it has ended now that it has started to rain.

I have mentioned before that our friends here are mostly subsistence farmers; there are plenty of stores and it's not uncommon to be served rice and canned meat by our neighbors, but the bulk of everyone's diet is locally grown foods, mostly root crops. Taro and Kava are the only two crops that are grown locally to sell outside of the district. As I have mentioned in a previous blog entry, when we did health surveys it was common for families to report that they had eaten taro for each of their three meals the previous day. Yes, taro for breakfast, taro for lunch and then taro for dinner, most days. Kava is just as heavily consumed, I am not sure how several of our male friends would function without kava. Kava is consumed at most every community gathering and all significant events that take place in our district and most nights as friends gather to hang out. (kava is a narcotic)

The kava and taro don't sell for much, but they always sell. The average farmer here could make about $1000usd a year selling kava and taro to Port Vila, if they wished. This isn't a lot of money, but there aren't many expenses on the island, mostly rice and canned meat when the mood strikes and fundraisers which people are pretty much obligated to participate. There are more, of course. Some folks are very happy with their subsistent life while others wish they could live a more western lifestyle with a fancy house and gadgets and a high-paying job.

Some development groups have suggested that those that wish for more western lives could obtain it with 'high-value cash crops', basically foods and plants that you grow to sell but you would not really grow for eating. Vanilla beans would be a classic example, as would sandalwood trees and black pepper. There's a lot more too, and probably a few that could make a meal. Some big businessman in Port Vila are pushing tamarind now. The cacao tree was pushed at some point. Islanders were told (via the radio) that everyone must plant cacao trees and they would all get rich. There is little market for the average islander for cacao now, all those trees that people invested in and planted are still growing but they are not being harvested.

Cuba was growing a lot of high-value cash crops just before their big crash in the 90's. Among others, they had plantations full of sugarcane. They were growing sugarcane, selling it outside of the country and using the profits to import food to eat. When they lost the ability to export the sugarcane and other high-value cash crops (due to the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of more than 50 percent of Cuba's oil imports and 85 percent of its trade economy), people went hungry and the average Cuban lost 30 pounds. You can't eat most high-value cash crops.

We don't grow many high-value cash crops in our district, you can still find stands of Vanilla beans from the days when the radio told everyone that was the road to richness and some stands of lumber trees that are now being harvested for local use. The radio now says that we can't compete with the Asian islands to our north in vanilla bean production and tamarind is our new road to richness.

What would happen if the radio was right this time? What if our farmers could make a significant profit with plantations full of tamarind? They could grow and export tamarind and import whatever they wanted to eat instead of eating taro for every meal. With the leftover money they could build a cement house and buy gadgets, like television and MP3 players (and water tanks and solar panels). Doesn't sound so bad? Those that were not interested in a more modern life could continue to plant and eat taro everyday.

There are potential issues that we can learn from Cuba (especially with the talk of peak oil), and there is at least one more necessary consideration. As land becomes profitable, it is coveted and thus flows into the hands of those people with the money and/or the power to obtain the land. This has been the case throughout our history. If, through the proper mix of high-value cash crops our farmers were able to make enough profit to afford a more western life, it is likely their land would be bought or taken by people who see land as a financial investment and only look at land production in terms of profitability. Of course, profits from the sale of their land could be used to build cement houses and buy gadgets, water tanks and solar panels. There's a good chance some could find work on the tamarind plantations. With more money in the rural communities, as the argument goes, other businesses would have an opportunity to grow and thrive.

We were at a big Christmas party yesterday, Anglican priests from all over North Pentecost gathered in our district for two days of drinking kava and eating. A huge picnic shelter was built with a giant table. There was a significant spread of food, all kinds of fruits and vegetables and meats and lots of rice. Beef, chicken and pig, every tropical fruit that is in season, root crops, vegetables and lots of watermelon. Do you know what food was most popular? Which food was finished first and was stacked in high piles on most everyone's plate?

Taro, of course.


It is 6:44pm on a Monday. The sun has set. It's quiet. There is a cricket sounding bug making all types of noise in the bush and some gentle waves crashing. We just finished dinner. Coconut curry with ripe bananas and green beans over rice. It's pretty tasty. We cook it whenever we have ripe cooking bananas.

There's a family staying the night at the dispensary. The wife is about to give birth to her second child. They walked the hour from their village to the dispensary this morning. She expects she'll give birth tonight, we'll see.

Post Script - She gave birth two days later, a small boy. The boy didn't have a name yet when the family left the dispensary to back to their village, a few days after his birth.

Local Paintball

There's a flower that's currently flowering all over our district. It's a pretty flower and it has these little inedible purple berries, maybe the size of a small kernel of corn.

The stem of a papaya leaf is naturally hallow, maybe about the diameter of a big drinking straw. Papaya leaf stems are always available in these parts.

While the flowers are in bloom, kids are using the hallow stems to spit the berries at their friends. Alex and I call it 'local paintball.'

mud and canoes

I used to go canoeing...a lot. And I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that I still want to write about it and compare it to my life in Vanuatu. So here goes...

When canoeing a river that is at or above your ability levels, it is easy to tell how comfortable you were on the river. At the end of the day, if your forearms are sore, it indicates, simply, that you had a death grip on your paddle all day. The sorer your forearms, the greater the intensity of your death grip. Thus very sore forearms are an indication that you spent most of the day being frightened by the river.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, Pentecost is a hilly island, to get most places involves walking up and down hills. To get to any place besides a few nearby villages requires walking up and down steep hills. Along with the hills, the soil seems to have a high clay content and it rains a lot here, like a lot. Steep hillsides of wet clay are virtually impossible to navigate for myself, Alex or anyone that hasn't grown up walking up and down them.

Yesterday I joined a group of men who are beginning construction on a new village meeting place (a village of one family, men from nearby villages (several of which are also villages of one family) are assisting with the construction project). Yesterday's work was to collect long, thin bamboo trunks for roof construction. It was probably a 20 minute walk to the village and then maybe another 40 or 50 minutes to where we harvested the bamboo. The return walk took a bit longer as we were carrying bamboo. Both of these walks had very steep parts and, of course, it was raining yesterday.

At the end of the day my leg muscles ached, very sore. A clear indicator I spent the entire day thinking I was about to fall down.

December 12

it's lychee season on Pentecost, we ate some a few days ago. It's not as popular as one might expect. In fact, we completely missed lychee season last year. It seems that some foods are designated as "kids foods" in these parts. Kid's foods aren't cultivated much, are not available to purchase at the local markets and are not used as part of the local 'kastom' economy (in that they are not given as gifts to friends with the expectation that the favor will be returned). Along with lychee some other 'kid's foods' include guava, tamarind, passionfruit and ice cream beans. I am sure there are more, but since they're kid's foods I am less likely to have encountered them.

Post Script – We later learned that there was no lychee season last year as there was heavy rains when the flowers were blooming, spoiling most all the blooms.

December 11

Those of us who know Alex really well know that she is prone to night terrors, talking in her sleep, and such things as conversations with awake and confused friends while she is dead asleep. On occasion, folks here still comment on the time Alex stood up screaming bloody murder at about 3am in the school classroom we were sharing with about twenty mommas.

Alex had two such moments last night that deserve recognition. First - she was talking/dreaming in bislama, reprimanding a group a boys (this is the first time that I am aware of that Alex talked in her sleep in bislama!); and Second - later in the night she some how managed to fall out of our bed, pulling down the mosquito net with her.

It's 7:39 pm, it's dark, the sun set a while ago, there is a boat full of older teenagers passing by our house, they are heading home from a soccer tournament up north, the small boat is packed full, really full. The teenagers are being loud and rowdy, they are singing church songs at the top of their lungs. Oh, Vanuatu.

December 10th

It's December 10th in Vanuatu.

All is well. We cleaned the house, washed laundry and organized our bookshelf today. We have gotten word that a grant that one of our villages applied for has been approved. The grant was for cement and supplies to build a water tank, but it looks like they are going to get sent a plastic tank instead. It's about half the volume they were hoping for, but still pretty exciting if your us.

Planted three pineapples today too.

business ventures

Our good friend and trained nurses' assistant has a new business venture! For the cost of 1000 vatu (just under $10 USD) you (males only, sorry ladies) can get circumcised! Yes, circumcision. Our friend has been talking up his new business at the school, especially with the 6th to 8th grade boys. He's hoping for a deluge of customers over the Christmas break. Alex and I asked him if he was worried about ruining their future sex lives and he told us that he was in it for the money.


December namba wan

I learned another new bislama word today - 'sukabak', it translates literally to 'sugar bug', think about it for a while...do you know what it is?

When our friend was describing the sukabak to us he said (a literal translation from bislama, of course) that it's this bug that people look out for and that you can eat their eggs and their eggs are sweet, very sweet.

There are no bug's eggs that humans eat, not that I could think of anyways. But that is me thinking in english. Thinking in bislama that sentence translates more accurately to" 'there is a bug or something like a bug because there are not very many words in our language and you can eat it's eggs or something like eggs or something that can best be described as eggs with our available word options'.

A sugar bug is a honey bee.

November 30

Alex and I spent the day at the kindergarten closing celebration. They call it the 'kindy break-away'. It's graduation combined with a fundraiser and lunch. We went to the kindy break-away last year too, it was incredibly more comfortable this year. Alex was passing around her recipe book and talking with all the women and playing with the kids. I mostly just ate.

There is this fruit that's in season now. I don't have a clue what it's name is in english, I don't even know it's name in Bislama. it's na-ha-clee-va or something in the local language. I struggle to find a fruit to compare it with. It's a stonefruit, it's like a soft apple, about the size of an apple and a pink to red skin with a white flesh, and taste a bit like what one might imagine a rose taste, it's a 'soft' flavor, the fruit is a bit watery and sweet. Alex and I call them rose apples, but that's just the name that the two of us made up. We have never seen them in America, and for good reason - they don't travel well at all. They get bruised on the ten minute walk from their tree to our house and their shelf-life is about 20 hours. We cut some open this evening that were harvested yesterday morning and they were infested with worms to the point of being (mostly) unusable.

We baked a chocolate cake topped with local nuts and rose apples for dinner. We can have cake for dinner because we are grown-ups.

Post Script - I think they are known as Malay Apples in English

Stealing from Children

On the first day of our PHAST in abuntunvutu, I was hanging up signs in the nakamal when I saw this half alive bird in the corner. He looked like a carolina wren with the coloring of a cedar wax wing. The translation of his name from raga is "holy bird" as they like to roost in churches.

Jesse, a ten year old boy, had stoned him as a toy for his two year old brother, Leighton. There was no way Leighton was slowly going to kill this bird while I watched. I just took him. I tried to set him on a tree outside, but he kept falling out of the high branches. I tried to put him in a safe covered place on the ground, but there were dogs and kids keeping a watchful eye on me waiting for me to leave.

I had no choice but to take him with me. Lucas and all the adults at the workshop laughed that I had stolen this bird from children. I ended up giving Leighton a lolly for the bird and Jesse fifty vatu to be free and clear of any obligation. When we got home, I tried giving him sugar water and mashed up crackers. I tried to catch mosquitos in case he was a bug eater, but he didn't seem very interested.

The little bird made it though the night and even sang in the morning. We both thought that he might survive. Later on that morning he had a massive heart attack on Lucas' finger and died instantly. I wrapped him in hibiscus petals and put his body in the bush.


November 25, 2010

Happy thanksgiving everyone. Alex and I celebrated with a can of chicken meat, fresh tomato salsa and TWO onions in the burritos we made this evening. The canned chicken came from our friend Karen, whom we met in Antarctica and who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji shortly before we met.

Along with the canned chicken and many other wonderful gifts, Karen sent us pictures of her family and friends in Fiji, we showed the pictures to our friends and family here and they thought the pictures were from Vanuatu, more specifically they thought the pictures were from the northern part of Efate island. (Port Vila is in south Efate)

Our workshop went amazingly well again today, wish us luck tomorrow, Tomorrow is the big day when we ask the community to make a plan to improve their hygiene and sanitation, we are hoping they don't come up with some kind of lame plan that we have to pretend to support.

During a break at the workshop today, a few folks from the village asked Alex and I if we have developed any bad habits since we've arrived in Vanuatu. Funny question, here were some of our answers:
I don't wash my hair much any more, only when I go to town
We only occasionally wear shoes
When we went to America we used the phrases "White man" and "Black man"
We now laugh when small children cry
Our outfits rarely match, I especially enjoy wearing a button down Hawaiian shirt with gym shorts
We hit our cat more than we would like to admit
When talking to each other, our English includes a significant number of Bislama words

All of these behaviors, of course, are perfectly acceptable where we live.

November 24

hello olgeta
It's late on a Wednesday evening, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Alex and I are in the middle of a four-day workshop. A PHAST workshop with my host family's village. The workshop has gone quite well, better than we expected. There's been a good turn out and lots of heated discussions.

I learned new bislama slang today - 'bed i glis' - which translates literally to 'the bed is slippery' and means a person is having trouble sleeping,

There seems to be an abundance of vegetables here lately. Both coming from our own garden and from our friend's gardens. We have been eating at least one green bean based meal each day for at least a week or two. We had watermelon two days ago. We received a pumpkin today. We have had regular access to tomatoes and bell peppers and basil for weeks. We've even been averaging at least one egg plant meal every week since we returned to the island. Not that you guys really care about our vegetable consumption, but it's special to us, and fun to write about for whatever reason.

We don't have any special plans for Thanksgiving, but we will make everybody in our workshop give thanks for something.

November 19th

It is a Friday, November 19th. it's about 10:30 am. I just finished working briefly in our garden. It started raining. We are glad to see the rain as it's been dry. Though I suspect the watermelons I planted last week aren't so excited about the torrential downpour.

I drank kava last night at the nakamal in my host father's village. Try to picture it - the village is right on the sand beach, the nakamal is maybe 15 feet from the ocean's edge at a typical high tide. The ocean is very calm almost always. The nakamal and most of the houses in the village look a lot like our house, they are made of bamboo that has been split, flattened and woven together. The nakamal and most houses do not have a floor built into them, just the sand they were built on top of. The men grind the kava by hand. kava is the root of a plant, it's pretty tough, tougher than root crops for sure. The men grind the kava using cylinder-shaped pieces of coral that they gather from the reef in front of their village. So, picture lots of men, all sitting around on the ground with kava roots in one hand and a big chunk of coral in the other hand, probably not too different from a long time ago. The women cook the meal, all locally grown root crops. They build a big fire and heat up bunch of stones, then they put some stones in a shallow hole. They cover the stones with a bunch of leaves that look very much like banana leaves. They put the root crops on top of the leaves, then another layer of leaves and then more hot rocks on top. ;Again, I imagine this to be quite similar to how they cooked a long time ago. Everyone is speaking the local language, a language that about 14,000 people can understand. There may be a few kerosine lights, perhaps a flashlight. It is very dark inside the nakamal.

I imagine the whole scene to be very similar to many, many years ago. Only the sound of cell phones ringing and a cluster of young men in a corner checking text messages seems out of place, and a loud reminder that they days of before are certainly 'of before'.

the bislama for 'a long time ago' is 'bifo bifo'. The literal translation being 'before before'.

Soap and Mangoes

it's thursday, early afternoon, it feels like it's been a long time since I last blogged, which is true, more than a couple of weeks. The sun is strong, we are hot today.

We are in the prime of mango season. We have four mango trees near our house, the closest is 20-30 feet from the back our house. Everyday men, women, boys and girls pass by our house in search of mangos. We are sometimes woken in the middle of the night by someone with a flashlight searching for mangoes in the middle of the night. There are always small groups of people, typically children, at the mango trees as soon as day breaks, hoping to scavenge all the mangoes that have fallen over the course of the night. Sometimes a mango will fall to the ground already partially eaten, a flying fox got to it first. We don't eat those mangoes, we leave them on the ground and the chickens enjoy them. We toss rotten mangoes into the bush, they are enjoyed by bugs and lizards and crabs. We are told that pigs are fed the spoiled mangoes and that the rat (they are mostly just fat mice, but they call them rats here) population increases dramatically during a good mango season, and we believe it, having seen two rats near our house this past week (one inside). Groups of men come and climb the mango trees and harvest basketfuls. Old men come and sit by the biggest mango tree after a long days work in the garden, they wait for a mango to fall down then they pick it up and head home. We see waves of children, before school, during lunch break, when kindergarten is finished and again at the end of the school day.

In other news, We led a soap-making workshop two days ago, it was everyone's (including ours) first time making soap. There were about 50 people attending the workshop, it seems to have worked but we have to let the soap sit for a month before we can try it out. this is the best way we could think of to get people to start washing their hands.

Here's the recipe we used:
3 liters coconut oil
225 grams caustic soda
1 liter water
Put the caustic soda in the water and wait for it to cool down. Add to oil and mix until it turns into soap. Pour into molds and let it sit for a month. Taste it to make sure it's good. They can make their own coconut oil here, so it's pretty cheap. We'll just have to wait and see if it catches on.

October 30

Alex and I have no plans to celebrate Halloween, except for possibly cooking with a pumpkin. What are your Halloween plans?

Alex saw a big fish while snorkeling today. I saw lots of little fish, one with an exceptionally long nose.

I learned a new Bislama word the other day; 'Leg blong dakdak' which would translate to 'leg belonging to a duck'; We were talking about snorkeling, can you guess what a 'leg blong duck' is?

The bislama word for snorkeling is 'mekem diva' = make diver.

Leg blong duck is the flippers you wear on your feet to swim faster.

October 29

I went to a 'fifty-day dead' last night. when someone dies their life is celebrated every tenth day for one hundred days. So the guy's life we were celebrating last night died fifty days ago. In the morning those closest to the dead (that's how they refer to the recently deceased in bislama) would mourn. They cry loudly and for a surprisingly long time. In the early afternoon, most who knew the dead start coming to the nakamal (the community meeting building), the men prepare and drink kava and the women prepare and bake food for everyone. The small children typically hang out with their mom or with their friends, a few 15-16 year old teen-age boys were preparing the kava last night. they are too young to drink kava, but not to young to work it.

So, ten days ago the mourners cried in the morning, in the afternoon I went to this nakamal and sat and drank kava and storied-on with the men. And again ten days from now and so on. The hundredth day will be a bigger ordeal with more kava and probably meat to bake. After the hundred days, the mourning is finished, there is no more sadness for the deceased. An impressively efficient system.

(It should be noted that Alex questions wether or not it really works, but I get the impression the mourning really is finished after a hundred days of sort of forced mourning.)

As is the tradition here, the person preparing the kava chooses who to offer the kava to, and, as is tradition, an offer to drink kava is rarely, if ever, refused. It is not common for 15-18 year olds to prepare the kava, but it happens sometimes, like last night. The young men preparing the kava and choosing who should drink seemed to favor their school teachers, the teachers got pretty drunk, one was puking, another was having difficulty speaking.

October 25

The sunset is gorgeous tonight, the water looks erie and dark, it makes the sunset even prettier. We spent the day around the house, mostly weeding the garden, trying to catch up from our two months away from site. Alex did a load of laundry this morning too. The garden is doing well, better than we expected and certainly better than we deserve. We planted some seeds in the nursery two days ago, watermelon, spinach and beans. Wish us luck, especially with the spinach as we haven't seen it grown here.

We will miss fresh coconut cream when we leave this place.

Back to the island


We made it back to the island, about 10 days ago, on a thursday. Upon our return, our cat, Lady Gaga, was missing, we gave her a few days to return home and then found a new one, it's name is Flopsy, it's a boy, we didn't name him, he is very loving.

it's saturday afternoon, well it's 11am, but it might as well be the afternoon. it's quiet, and wet and cold outside. We haven't left the house today and no one has come to visit. Alex is in the bedroom reading a book by Bill Bryson. I am sitting in our sitting room, on a mat with the laptop computer (iBook G4).
Part of me wants to be social, to go out and visit with neighbors and such things, maybe I feel a bit guilty staying inside all day, like I'm not being a good peace corps volunteer if I spend too much time alone. another part of me is content with not leaving the house, content to find busy work and clean up our place and such things.
In reality, I won't do anything with our communities today, unless they make the effort and come here - to our house. I already know this. There are plenty of tasks around the house and we do well enough entertaining each other.
I hypothesize the social needs of single volunteers drive them to be more active in their communities. And thus more real and connected with their community- a more human experience, I'm a bit jealous on days like today, when I wish I had greater desires to be 'in' the community.

We had two new Peace Corps volunteers, Kyle and Ebs, come visit us as part of their orientation training, they were here for 5 days, we talked a lot about our projects and our community and experiences with Peace Corps, and we tried to make lots of nice meals for them as they have had little control over their diet for many weeks now. A very nice visit.