1-8 Birdies!

Birdie on a temple…

We walked into a tourist information shop looking to book a ride to the airport for the next day. There aren’t really any public tourist information booths in Ubud, so every place is trying to sell you tours, drivers and tickets. While we were there, I asked about trips to see the herons come home to roost. I had barely asked and the guy was calling his driver to come pick us up and take us there immediately. We decided to roll with it.

One local myth says that the people of Petulu were poor and had to walk very far to find work or to go to their gardens. They felt that they had angered the gods and that was why they were being punished with a hard life. They decided to hold a major feast and ceremony at their temple for three days. They hoped that it would please the gods and they would make it possible for the people to lead easier lives. On the final day of the ceremony, the herons came and roosted in the trees. In the morning, they left but at night they returned. They made their nests in the trees around the village and raised the chicks there. The people knew that the gods had seen their ceremony and agreed to make their lives easier because now they have many people who use the street, both for tourism and as a through-way which means they can make their living closer to home.

And you thought the pigeon poop was a problem.

A second legend says the birds are the spirits of the people killed in a battle that occurred the day they arrived. I didn’t get as much information on that legend. It seemed like the people in the village believed the first while the people outside the village believed the second.

Coming home to roost.

The birds were everywhere. There were no less than twenty nests in every tree on the street. While we were there, it was nesting season, so there were bunches of baby birds peaking over the edges of the nests or wrestling with their parents. For a baby animal, bird babies are not that cute. They are so ugly they are cute, but they are not in their own right, cute. I guess birds in general are not usually cute. They are usual majestic or graceful, but the hatchlings were neither of those yet.

Look close at the nest to find the baby.

At sunset, the birds who have been out hunting all day, come back. During the not-nesting seasons, they come back by the hundreds in great flocks. While we watched, there were several groups that came back about two hundred at a time. That was neat, but not the awe-inspiring mass we’d heard about. In fairness, I got to see birdies, so I think it balances out in the end.

10-24 Slaughter

This little girl was very good at catching chickens.

Killing animals is something I expected to be dealing with a few times during my service.  I have been surprised that I have had nothing to do with it through my time here.  Until our CoS conference, I only saw an animal killed once.  It was not done very efficiently and turned me off of actually eating the meat.  At CoS, however, I got the opportunity to be involved in the process.

Opportunity is a bit of a strange word for me to put there as I do not at all revel in the idea of killing something but it is apt in this case.  In the developed world, we are separated from the food production process, especially when it comes to meat.  Through my philosophical explorations I have repeatedly confronted the dichotomy between eating meat and valuing all conscious creatures.  I decided that if I was willing to continue eating meat, I should also be willing to kill the animal I was going to consume.  Not that I think I should only eat animals I kill.  I simply needed to connect myself viscerally to the fact that eating meat means killing animals.  So, with that morbid philosophizing out of the way, on to the story.
Our doctor and her husband are Fijian.  They decided that they wanted to do a traditional Fijian roast for the CoSing volunteers.  We all chipped in to purchase two pigs and ten chickens (bought on the island and transported to Vila) which one of the staff members looked after while we were in our CoS conference.  After the final night on the cruise, four of us got up very early to slaughter the animals so they could have time to cook properly.  When we got to the staff member’s house to collect the animals, we found out that her daughter had gotten attached to one of the pigs and they wondered if we would be willing to trade.  We were happy to trade our scrappy island pig for a fatter Vila pig.  After the daughter and one of the other PCVs caught all the chickens, we were off to our training manager’s house to do the actual slaughter.
**Those of you who don’t want to read about the actual process of killing animals, skip to the end or the next post.**
Plucking is tedious work.

Everyone else, here we go.  Our training manager did the killing of the pigs.  This was with a hammer to the top of the head.  It worked perfectly well for the Vila pig but the island pig we still had hung on for a bit longer and eventually had its throat cut.  The next task is getting the fur off of them.  This is accomplished by pouring boiling water onto a particular area and the scraping the fur off with a knife.  A crude kind of shaving.  While the pigs were being cleaned, the rest of us worked on chickens.  Our training manager is not the best at killing animals it seems.  He favors the method of holding the chicken by the feet and cracking its head against a stump until it stops moving.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work so well for him and he had to do it multiple times when his chicken woke up again as he was plucking it.  Not sure why we didn’t use boiling water for the chickens, I hear it makes plucking them A LOT easier.  I definitely could have used it.  I went for the neck wringing tactic.  I am not terribly well practiced at it and took longer than I would have liked but was much more effective and cleaner than the others.  One of the volunteers apparently doesn’t know his own strength well enough.  He attempted the head against a stump method and accidentally decapitated the bird.  I didn’t know you could do that with a blunt object but there you go.  He proceeded to accidentally decapitate a second chicken while plucking its neck feathers.  We gave him a lot of grief and asked him what he had been practicing on his island.

**Descriptions of animal death finished**
Eventually we got all the animals cleaned and they were taken over to our doctor’s to be cooked.  It was DELICIOUS!
I suppose I’ll close with more of the philosophizing in my reaction to the event.  I’m really glad I did it.  I still do not feel the need to eat only that which I personally kill or anything but I have done it.  Through working in the garden, I have gained a much deeper understanding of and connection to the process of getting non-meat foods.  Now I have that for meat as well.

9-16 Following Locals in Dunedin

Living statues at the Market.  I miss art.

On Friday afternoon, we stopped in the town of Palmerston for lunch. We were ahead of our new-and-improved schedule and thought we’d pick up some internet at the library. One of our hosts in Dunedin, Zoanna, was on Facebook chat at the same time. She offered to come pick us up in Waiakouaiti. We considered our regularly frozen toes, another night in the tent and how much we wanted to watch the rugby opener and took her up on it.

We got to the Dunedin City limits on the bikes. It was another 50 k to Dunedin. Random fact: Dunedin’s city limits were set during a gold rush. The city planners were quite responsible and planned for the city to continue to expand, what they didn’t plan for was the gold to run out. So, they set the city limits based on the rate of expansion during the gold rush and now there are “urban farms” that include pasturage for herds of sheep and acres of fields. The Dunedin City limits are also outside of three very large hills. We got a ride over those. Which was good for our legs.
Our adorable guide through the city and her mama.

Friday evening, I got nominated to drive to the store to pick up more cider. New Zealand drives on the wrong side of the road and the steering wheel is on the wrong side. I didn’t hit anything and I came home with cider.

Saturday, David and Zoanna had to go do things for school but had asked friends of theirs to take us to the Saturday morning market. The market was like a Farmer’s Market and lovely in the variety of foods and art on display. It was actually overwhelming to have four kinds of apples to choose from and so many varieties of bread and pastries. Jason tried a Bacon Butty and declared it tasty. It involved bacon, cheese, and egg in a sandwich.
They gave us a short walking tour of the city including First Church, which is a lovely cathedral. Curiously enough, there was a Victorian Hat display in the museum at the back. The hats were nice and all, but why were they in a church? Some of them could have been worn to church, but some were certainly not church material. It was very odd.
Sandfly Beach at moonrise

After that, we went for a drive in the Otago Peninsula. Most or all of the Otago Peninsula is also within the Dunedin City limits. Go figure. There is a lot of gorgeous scenery and I enjoyed the conversation along the way. We even stopped for ice cream, which remains one of my favorite foods.

When David and Zoanna got back, they offered to take us back out that direction to Sandfly Beach to see sealions and penguins. Of course I jumped on that chance.
Very large mammals that smell like fish

The sealions were pretty amazing. The beach is the home to a large number of wild sealions. On our walk down the beach to the penguin hide, we were a matter of feet from some of them. It turns out sealions are enormous creatures and they smell like fish. Who’d have thunk that a sea mammal would smell like fish? There was one cute white pup with its mama, but we didn’t want to get too close expecially after Zoanna’s stories of being chased by one.

We waited at the penguin blind and got to watch a handful of penguins come waddling out of the water. Unfortunately, none of them came our way so we only saw them from pretty far off. The penguins are very shy and don’t like humans at all, so you have to stay well hidden to keep from scaring them off. We were hoping a few would decide to come roost close to us for the night, but we didn’t see the ones that did. We heard some that were very close, but we never caught sight of them.
We went back to a delicious dinner prepared by our guides from the morning. We ate while watching the England vs Argentina rugby match. It was a long day for people used to the isolation of an island or a bike and we crashed pretty hard that night.

Dunedin City from the Otago Peninsula

4-9 Tu Niufala Puskat or Mission Puskat Acquisition

Our cats are very cuddly

We have two new cats. One is an extroverted, attention-loving, outgoing orange tabby. His brother is a gray tabby best described as a scaredy cat. They are both purr machines and they team hunt with amazing success. The count today alone is three lizards that I’ve had to clean up plus one tail. I don’t know how many more they ate.

The story of acquiring the puskats is very Peace Corps Vanuatu. First, let me point out that Vanuatu is part of an archipelago, which means each island is isolated. Our only means of transport are boats and planes, though these come in various shapes, sizes, frequency and reliability.

We had a friend come visit us from the States. (She gets her own post.) We went to Vila to meet her and bring her back to Pentecost. Before she got in, we went to dinner with a couple of the PCVs who live in Vila. It was a great dinner with much wonderful conversation. Part of that conversation was me lamenting the death of Musashi and the state of the rat population in my house. One of the other PCVs immediately said, “You can take one of mine.”

Our cats are also perfectly happy to be stacked

Upon further consideration, it was determined that if I took Goldy, I would have to take Melvin, too. They are brothers and play together all the time. I agreed that two puskats would be better than one puskat and we started plans to get these critters out to Pentecost.

The first hurdle is that the puskats live on Efira, an island outside of Vila. We were doing a kayak tour based from the island, which was convenient. We picked up the puskats on our way back from the tour. By picked up, I do mean stuffed them in a box, had them escape from the box, stuffed one of them back in the box and the other in a hiking backpack. Then we jumped on a speed boat back to the “mainland” of Efate.

Hot kitties

This all happened Sunday evening. Our flight was Monday morning. We had to keep them overnight, but we were staying in a hotel. No worries though, the hotel room had a closet. I took the bag and box and put them in the closet in our room, opened them and shut the door. They stayed there while we went to dinner. I checked on them and gave them food and water when we got back then firmly closed the closet door again. Sometime around 3am, I woke up to the sounds of playful kitties in the closet. I ignored it and went back to sleep.

In the morning, we packed up our stuff and got breakfast. Just before it was time to go catch the plane, I opened up the brand new Chinese Bag I’d bought (and then cut holes in) and stuffed them both into it. The bag walked around the room while we put on shoes and stuffed the last few things into backpacks. Then it was time to go to the airport.

At the airport, I claimed my Chinese bag of puskat as a carryon and away we went. They were great on the flight, despite the incredibly loud noises and eardrum popping plane. We landed safely on Pentecost with two still-bagged puskats.

Jason’s papa met us with his speed boat to take us back to the village. In the boat, there was no good place to put the puskat bag. We shoved it under a seat where they would at least have some shade. We landed with the puskats panting in the bag. It was a hot day, even by our standards.

Look how happy those stacked cats are

We brought them up to the house where we let them out on the cool concrete floor. They both made an immediate dash for the hardest corner to reach, which happens to be under the bed. We gave them some food and water and hoped for the best.

Within an hour, Goldy had climbed the center beam of the house and escaped out the gap between the wall and the roof. Luckily, Melvin is much more timid and continued to hide under the bed. We made sure they had food and water and went about our day.

Sometime after we left for kava but before we went to bed, Goldy came back. We assume it was because his brother was still here. It might have been for the free food and belly rubs. He is a total sucker for belly rubs.

That night, they caught and ate a rat. They are still putting a dent in the rat and lizard population around our house.

They both hang out in the windows

They’ve been with us for a week and seem to be well settled in. They defend the house against the puppy that has adopted us and sit in our laps and purr like motors. Melvin is still skitish and prone to getting startled by things like being looked at funny or walking past him. Goldy likes to sprawl across the floor just on the other side of the curtain in the doorway and then be offended when he gets stepped on. They are both really cute and it is nice to have cuddly things in the house. The added bonus with these ones is that they are mousers.

Goldie is always a classy cat

3-19 RIP Musashi

In January, we got a puskat. He was an adorable black kitten with blue eyes. Actually, he was a black-on-black tabby, which was just neat looking.

The story behind his appearance in our lives goes something like this: I’ve been wanting a cat since we got here. We need a good mouser and it is just nice to have a pet. I figured having a cat, we’d be less attached than having a dog (we nearly ended up with a dog anyway). After four months or so of asking around, I found out that there was a kitten in one of the neighboring villages. I went to ask about it and was promptly handed the kitten and told to take him home. I did. He cried about it the whole way home.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that the reason there was only one kitten was that he was a bush kitten. One of the youngfala went out “torching” crabs. (They carry a light “torch” and flash the ground. The crabs freeze and then they pick them up and stuff them in their baskets. I would really like to watch them try to keep the crabs in the baskets, but I haven’t seen that yet.) This youngfala torched a whole mess of crabs and in their midst was a kitten. The crabs and kitten all tried to scuttle into the crab hole. He dug back the rocks and in the process of getting to the crabs, pulled out the kitten, too.

As cruel humans, we even bathed him.

After about a week of debate, we named him Musashi. We figured we’d give him a name suited to killing things in hopes that he would be a good mouser. We were considering Sun Tzu but I realized I didn’t want an army of rats, I wanted no rats.

Earlier this week, we found him dead. The cause of death is a little unclear. He might of strangled while trying to get out of the house, through a hole he normally used. He had grown too big. That hypothesis doesn’t quite fit because he should have cried or figured out how to get his head back. At the very least, it seems strange that a hole that he could previously walk through was suddenly too small for him to breath through. No matter what the cause, he was still dead and we are both sad.

I hope he had a happy six weeks with us. I know we tried very hard to give him a good life. I’m sorry it was so short.

Our adorable shoulder kitty is sadly missed

platypus in brisbane

Now, we’re switching the other bizarre marsupial! Here is a platypus.

The background noise was provided by the Japanese tourists next to me. I didn’t video myself talking to the platypus. I did that off the video.

2-26 Pentecost TV

The chickens provide our amusement on Pentecost. I still haven’t gotten a good video of them falling in the box, but here is a short sample. Watch the chick closest to the camera, she has some troubles. Also, the really distressed squawking at the beginning is because the mama hen is standing on one of her babies. They are truly not intelligent creatures.

Today Jason left the box sitting in the corner, not flat but tipped a bit. Apparently a chicken tried to jump inside. It flipped the box over on top of itself. There will be video of Jason letting the chicken out next time one of us gets to Vila. Now, he has the video on Pentecost and I am in Vila.

EDIT: I finally got a TINY bit of video to upload. This 9 second video took about an hour to upload. I will try to get the other videos up as well, but at this point I’m not promising anything.