This is a country of extreme diversity and very interlocked families. As you go from one village to the next, one island over or even within a single village, different customs, languages and styles reign supreme. For instance, my training-host family speaks a local language in which the word for goodnight is “Pongwio.” That is the standard language for Epau, Ekipe and Takara, three of the training villages. However, my sister-in-law spoke a different language which is not the same language as my papa who spoke the same language as about half the men of the village. They all moved from the same island, which speak a different language than the “usual” one in the area. It is entirely complicated. There are certain things that each island is known for, so I will attempt to summarize my impressions here.
Firstly, open a new tab and look at a map. It will help.
Torres – This is the entire group of islands. It is known for being remote* and acting sort of like Papa New Guinea.
Banks – Also known for being remote. It has a volcano that recently developed indigestion. Gaua was a previous PC post but that volunteer got moved to a safer island. The boats go up to the Banks about every month or two. Good luck going there!
Maewo – Still in the remote theme. This is the “ples blo wota.” It is sort of a large, volcano-shaped swamp. The swamp part makes it hard to travel, so much of the intra-island travel actually happens in speed boats along the coast.
Ambae – Hurray for active volcanoes! This volcano has lakes on top, which make it especially dangerous. If it explodes even a little bit it will cause a landslide and take out a few towns in lava-hot mud.
Pentecost – My new home! This is where the big Nambas and the small Nambas war with each other and occasionally jump from very high structures with vines tied to their ankles. It is also known to have the best woven baskets and the steepest hills.
Ambryn – Its got a lot of bush and a very large hill. By hill, I actually mean another volcano, also having a bit of indigestion. This one is spewing enough ash to cause regular acid rains, which prevents anything not a root crop from growing. They eat a lot of root crops. This is the place of black magic.
Espiritu Santo – This is the French island. They tried to make a new nation, or at least go join their Francophone companions in New Caledonia. It didn’t work and became as US base for the fighting that took place in the Solomon Islands.
Epi – They have Lesipsips. They are like the Ni-Vanuatu leprechauns including the wish-granting if caught.
Shepards – Another collection of islands. This one used to be one big island, but things happened. If you guessed another volcano, you’d be right. The volcano exploded to hard, it literally shattered the island.
Efate – It has Port Vila, the capital. And the bigfala road – paved, two-lane – goes all the way around it.
Erromango – Headhunters! That’s about all I know, I don’t think there are even any PC volunteers there, or if there are, I don’t know them.
Tanna – It has another volcano! This one explodes about every hour and you can hike to the summit. On the other hand, it is currently throwing a tantrum and you really shouldn’t hike to the summit.
Aneityum – We have gone back into the remote corners.
Futuna/Mystery – Basically, its remote. It appeared out of the ocean a few hundred years ago and now a few people live there. About five.
I’m sure that I’ll have to do this list again in a year as I get new and updated information. Or as I learn more about my new home. For the moment, this is at least a brief overview of what I know.
*When I say remote, I don’t mean like “well, you have to drive on a highway for awhile” I mean like “well, there goes the boat. Maybe there will be another one before next year.”