8-30 Small Steps, Big Challenges

This is Wata.  He is awesome and useful, unlike everyone else.

It is pretty much confirmed that I will be getting replaced in Vansemakul, though that may still change. With that in mind, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I would like to ready for that person. Some of it has been personal stuff, things to make her life easier in adjusting and being self-reliant but at least half of it is work stuff.

On the personal front, I have things like the garden that I am continuing to plant in, knowing that the plants won’t bear fruit until I’m gone. That’s ok, it will give the next PCV either a bargaining piece or food to eat. Similarly, we are leaving the cats here. I’m a little sad about this but I don’t think bringing Goldy or Melvin, if we can find/catch him, into Vila would be fair. They are island cats, they grew up running around the entire village and it would be mean to expect them to become semi-indoor cats.
This week has been work on the professional side. Rather, the last month has been working on the professional side. I am not a politician. I am terrible at playing politics mostly because I am too blunt and I don’t like to lie or even really smudge the truth. Or at least when I do I feel really bad about it. Despite all of that, I have spent the last month playing politics. I’ve been talking to people, hinting at things and slowly working towards a new Aid Post Committee (APC) as well as some new help in the Aid Post. I was making progress, too.
I’d gotten the working Village Health Worker (VHW), who is also the one on maternity leave, to agree that she could use more help in the Aid Post. I got the Health Center to agree to take a trainee or two doing observation rounds. I convinced the chiefs we needed a new committee and put the wheels in motion to set up that new committee. I was ready to tear my hair out at the slowness and the amount of politicking it took. Each of those points took about four conversations of several hours, just to get people to agree that that would be the next step, forget actually making those steps happen. But it was progress.
Until this week. This week has been…challenging. The kind of challenging in which I wanted to punch someone in the face or go to Vila and never come back to the island or sit in my house and cry. I did none of those things, though I did sulk for a day and refuse to leave my fence.
It started last week, really. We had set a time for a meeting to discuss a new APC. (Bureaucracy at its best, a committee to create a committee…) I went to Melsisi and typed up invitations to go out to individual people making them responsible as an individual instead of more generally to the community. I brought the invitations to my co-conspirator then I passed a message for someone else to go see her about writing in the names for the whole thing. Two days later, I went back to make sure the invitations had gone out. I was informed that the meeting had been canceled.
Yep. That’s good. The meeting I just spent a month setting up got canceled because one person wanted to go pull out a bag of kava. And I wonder why my work feels like it goes nowhere most days.
I tried to go chat with the chief about setting up a meeting. If I couldn’t get my work done one way, I’d try for another one. He was at a wedding and would be back late. I went back the next day. He was in the nakamal because someone died in Vila and they were doing kastomfor it. Not a time to talk work.
The next person I saw was the VHW who hasn’t done any work in about a year. That turned out poorly for both of us. He stopped by on the day of the canceled meeting to tell me he was going to the garden. I told him off. He didn’t know the meeting was canceled but had decided that going to the garden made more sense than going to the meeting, which is the same thing that happens with his Aid Post hours and most of his other commitments. I listened to his statements about how the lack of community support is the reason he doesn’t do his hours and how I couldn’t expect someone to give up their personal time for the good of the community. Excuse me? What the hell am I doing in Vanuatu except giving up my time for the good of a community I didn’t even know before I came? That didn’t go down well. We had a lovely conversation about the whole situation in which he got mad at me and told me everyone hates me. (I think he may also be a pathological liar but I’m not sure about that yet. He certainly has a different view of the truth than anyone else around here.)
I let the “hatem yu” comment go and we finished our conversation. Then I went to a slightly more reliable source of information to ask about the rumors. She wasn’t terribly helpful. So, like the mature adult I am, I sulked about it. I spent a day doing other work that didn’t involve talking to anyone.
Early the next morning I went to go discuss some things with my reliable source and friend. He confirmed part of the rumor, not the hating part but the part where people say I’m not doing enough work. I got a bit mad. Not the yelling and screaming kind of mad, I only put on that show for my family and close friends. Then he told me that there was a meeting today. The meeting I’d sung out for. Really? News to me. He showed me the paper, it was in fact the one I had written and printed and left with someone else, except now it had a new day written in. Stellar, we were going to have a meeting that I would have missed.
I had a nice long chat with the chief. A very long chat. We discussed many things including how if no one comes to meetings, it is very hard to get work done and how saying that I have failed to do work when no one shows up if I sing out a meeting is sort of hypocritical. We also discussed the lack of functional Aid Post in which to do health-related work and the lack of people to do that work with since of my 2 official counterparts, one disappears for months on end and the other has a 2 month old. Then, he sent me to the other chief. I had the same chat with him. Then I went back to the first chief and we went to the meeting.
The meeting was set for “morning” which here is between 7:30 and 9. It was 9:30 when I got there. It was 11:30 when the meeting started. It was 2 pm when it finished and people were confused about whether we’d gone past lunch. Really, people, are you not hungry?
The good side of all of that was the meeting. Once it got going, it got properly going. We created a new APC that has a much better balance of people. It has representatives from each part of the community and people who are responsible and likely to show up for work. We have the next meeting day set and an agenda for it written. On that agenda is the lack of Aid Post hours and the potential of getting someone else into training. We even revived the toilet project and changed it to be for VIP toilets (better idea!). All-in-all a highly productive meeting.
Now, if people will stop slandering me and actually hold on to those commitments, I will leave here on a good note. Of course, if I find out who exactly it is who is saying I’m not working hard enough, we may still have words. I’ve learned a lot about how to play politics but I’m still me. I like to know where I stand with people and failing that make sure people know where they stand with me.

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