1-1 Bouncing a ni-van party

My papa was really excited about the chicken
As Gaea mentioned in her blog post, Christmas is one of the few times to drink alcohol here. Leading up to it, I had a big debate with myself as to whether I should drink or not. Drinking here is not done responsibly. They drink so infrequently that they do not have a chance to build up a tolerance. They also do it in volume when they do. I ended up deciding to drink with them largely so that I could try to provide a good example. It was largely successful, though I don’t know how much good it will actually do.
Being at my papa’s house helped. I was talking to him about it as we started by sharing some Victoria Bitter. He seems to have had a similar introduction to drinking heavily wherein the people he is with insist on maintaining focus. Then my cousin and some others joined us. They brought Pastis (it’s french, that’s about all I know), Whiskey (Johnny Walker Red Label as opposed to the normal crap), and some mixers.
My papa’s house seems to be something of a “safe house” for the women. One of the other guys in the village was already drunk and hit his wife, then chased her to another house and kept hitting her. She jumped out a kitchen window and got to my papa’s house where he didn’t follow. I get the feeling that my papa disapproves of some of the antics. Other than coming in to mediate things, he generally stayed out on the porch and avoided the drunks.
For a while, the men were out on the porch drinking, storying, and watching videos through the window. Then a few decided that they wanted to dance. Unfortunately, one of them was quite drunk by this time and was being a nuisance to the women and pikinini. I started off trying to just corral him but as he got a bit drunker I just started blocking him from coming inside. I had the backing of my cousin and papa to do so and it generally worked. Eventually, he was told to go home.
He was also excited about taking pictures and the alcohol
Things went pretty well for a little while. Gradually, more and more of the guys wanted to dance. They were also getting more drunk. I took up a line through the room to try and give the women space to dance or sit. Eventually, my papa came in to draw an official line and authorize me to maintain it with a couple other guys. I was generally able to dance the other guys back to their space. Sometimes this required a little bit of physical redirection. If I gave them a little push to another guy they would get distracted.
As the night wore on, more men showed up with more alcohol. One of the other “responsible” guys disappeared and the other was getting too sloppy drunk to actually help me keep things more under control. He was more likely to stumble another guy further into the women than help guide them back. The guys who had alcohol were pouring it into each others mouths. I took the tactic of ducking outside and spitting it out rather than get myself sloppy drunk.
At one point, my uncle (who is known for at least physically abusing women) was dancing over my sister (his niece, who I noticed had a tendency to leave the room when he stumbled in). I was already getting tired of the guys’ crap and pushed him off just a little harder than I meant to. He stumbled into the wall just enough to run into it. He got mad as did one of the other youngfalla. I had to apologize and it was quickly forgotten. Once I get a chance to talk to my papa, I’m going to ask him why the other guys didn’t have to apologize to the women and how he feels about his brother dancing on his daughter. We’ll see how that goes.
Shortly thereafter, most of the women who were still around left. I stuck around a little longer and then exited myself. As I was walking back up to the house, some of the women sang out to me and said thanks for my work.
I am so completely fed up with misogynistic attitudes and domestic violence in particular. Meeting violence with violence is not going to fix anything but I’ve seen way too much of it here not to want to.
There is only so much we’re going to be able to do in a culture where it is so pervasive. The most effective tactic we’ve found is getting people to see that there is another way. Everyone grew up getting hit as kids and hitting a woman is not discouraged. Domestic violence is defined as hitting your wife “too hard,” not just hitting your wife. When Gaea and I talk about how we resolve conflicts in our relationship, we get confused looks. The idea of discussing both sides of an argument and coming to a mutual resolution is almost as foreign as the idea that the man may not be right. Fortunately, some of them do obviously think about it more and come back to us with further questions.
Serving as a couple also gives us some amount of authority on the subject. The single volunteers are told they don’t get it because they aren’t married. No one can use that excuse on us. We obviously have experience and are harder to dismiss. Not that they don’t sometimes chalk it up to “fashion blo whiteman.” I hope that we reach a few people on this issue through the last year of our service. I hope to be the proverbial American butterfly helping to create a cyclone of change on the other side of the world. This attitude will not change all at once but will take gradual improvement over the generations.

1-1 Party like a ni-Van

I wanted a Christmas Tree, so I made one.

Christmas night is one of the handful of days it is acceptable, in fact expected, for the men to drink alcohol. People drinking alcohol around here tends to end in ugliness. The first round of drinks came out by 6 pm.

I was hanging out with the women. Women don’t drink. I brought the embroidery thread my mother had sent me and started teaching people how to make friendship bracelets. The women and older girls caught on pretty fast. The boys and younger girls ranged between “takes time to learn” and “hopeless.” Jason was good enough to work on a bracelet, too. That made it ok for the boys to join in, which made it more fun for me. I think by the time I went back to my house, I’d made 8 friendship bracelets. There were a few I had to take apart and restart for some of the younger kids. I couldn’t keep a close eye on all five of them at once so a few of them would mess them up every few minutes.
I’m so glad I’m not a teacher. That was way too many things going on at once.
We got around to eating again around 6:30. More laplap taro, laplap banana, rice, beef soup, ramen noodles, pineapple and a lemon tart I made. I was so full I couldn’t move by the end of it and people kept telling me I hadn’t eaten enough. I explained my stomach was still full from lunch and they didn’t believe me.
After dinner, one of Jason’s brothers hauled his TV down to the house to watch videos. They hooked the TV up with the giant speakers and the DVD player. The cords were all a little sketchy and the audio or the video kept cutting in and out, but all in all, we watched about 30 string band videos.
Though I don’t object to string band, I do object to having my eardrums blasted. The speakers were up at full volume. They were loud enough that sitting next to another woman we had to shout to be heard. I don’t understand what the point of turning the speakers up that loud is. I could hear kick back from the speakers, which can’t be good for them, and I couldn’t have a conversation with anyone. I was busy making friendship bracelets for small children, so I didn’t mind too much at first.
Friendship bracelets with Jason’s family
Clockwise from me, auntie from the south, sister Colette,
Cousin Charlotte, Mama

It was good to hang out with Jason’s family. They are a lot more welcoming than mine and have a few teenagers who are fun to talk to. Jason’s papa is a riot and kept getting me to take pictures of him and Jason having male bonding time. Male bonding time seems to involve chicken wings and booze the world over. Go figure.

By midnight, I was tired. I tried to take a nap despite the incredibly loud music and bright lights. Jason’s sister hit me in the face with a ball. I decided I was done trying to be social. I took my leave and went back to my house. There was still music playing at the house I’d left as well as two other houses in the village and the youngfala were running drunkenly screaming through the village. It wasn’t conducive to sleeping.
Instead, I sat and played my guitar and caught up on my journal and other writings. It was a pleasant two hours until things started to settle down. I went out to take a quick shower and of course timed my mostly-naked run to my bathroom to coincide with one more trip through the village by the youngfala. I had to hope really hard that none of them wanted to chat at that point, luckily they didn’t and I got to bathe in peace. (I wear a sarong out to my bathroom when I shower. It is highly immodest by the standards here, though all the women do it because no one wants to wear more clothees than that to bathe.)

I went to bed around 3 am. At 4:30, Jason came back and woke me up. We chatted until he passed out in the middle of my sentence. At 6, I gave up on sleeping anymore and got up. We had to get moving to get to Melsisi and catch the ship to Santo.

12-27 Christmas Day

Christmas mass wasn’t as long as I was anticipating. I was thinking it would be about 3 hours, it was only two and a little bit. Of course, we couldn’t be done there. We went from Christmas mass straight into a mass baptism. Here, they do baptisms as one big ceremony that includes all the babies born between baptism day and whenever the last baptism day was. Christmas baptism had about 25 babies.

The godparents all line up facing the altar, holding their godchild. The priest first checked the baptismal names of each of the babies by walking down the line and reading from a paper. Once he had them all straight and everyone was in line where they were meant to be, he did the first bit of talking. Then he started at one end of the line with a bottle of holy water (I do mean a plastic water bottle full) and marked crosses on each baby’s forehead. Then he did some more talking and repeated the process. For the third round the god parents brought each child up to the altar where he read their name and holy watered them again. The last round of holy water to the forehead was done by one of the Catechists while the priest read something else. All in all, it took another hour and a half.
We were in the church building until 1:30 in the afternoon. We were supposed to be catching the boat back to the village but we didn’t know when the boat would be coming back to get the next load of people. I was hungry with no prospects for food. Luckily for us, the deputy principal of Jason’s school was having his baby baptized. He invited us to his house for lunch.
We stopped by Jason’s papa’s house and told him where we’d be so when the boat came he could send a pikininifor us. We went to his house and hung out for a few hours. We listened for the boat but never heard it come through. We ate heaping plates of food. Rice, laplap taro, yam, chicken, fish, beef, green beans, ramen noodles and cake. They kept giving us food until we literally couldn’t eat anymore.
Around 3:30, we pled full bellies escaped to go find our boat. We got down to the dock and found out the boat had left without us and without sending someone to tell us it had arrived. Typical. Jason’s papa is getting pretty good a ditching us or just forgetting to send someone to get us.
We walked back to the village and wished a lot of people a Merry Christmas along the way. We got back to the house and went to spel smol. I read a book and Jason took a nap. Once we were both feeling a little more lively, it was time to brave the family dinner.
It really didn’t feel like Christmas. Last year it wasn’t as strikingly not-Christmas, but this year I do feel like things are missing. It is hot and humid and I’ve heard less than twenty Christmas carols in the last month. I miss snow and ice skating on Christmas morning. I miss sledding. I miss pine trees and tinsle and the ridiculous remixes of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.”
I have wonderful friends here and the thrill of adventure, but I miss my family and the comfort of the holidays I know. I guess that’s what it means to be living abroad, right?

1-4 Christmas Part 3: Getting Home

In case it wasn’t clear from the trek of getting to the north, it is not in fact a day’s walk away. We figured we’d go the other direction and see how far we could walk before it was boat time. Catching a speed boat is a bit expensive, so the more we could walk the better.

We started out with Alex and Lucas as our guides. After about two hours of walking, they turned back. We continued on for awhile on our own. Then it started raining. We walked along a nice, wide truck road in the rain. This wasn’t a problem. The truck roads make off-roading look like a two-lane highway, but are still entirely walkable. Sometime before noon, we got to the first large village. We found out from a woman on the road that her brother is a teacher in Melsisi and would be heading back to Melsisi that day. We figured we’d look for him and see about splitting a boat.

The first person told us he was at the Catholic Mission. The next few didn’t have a clue. The one after that said he’d already gone to Melsisi. The one after that told us he was at the Mission. We decided to try the Mission. We got there and found a lot of people. More than a Wednesday church gathering would merit. Because we are white, we got attention immediately and someone came over to ask us what we were doing there. We asked about the teacher and were told he had left already.

It started to down pour. This is how Jason and I crashed a wedding. We hung out for awhile, sitting in the two of the three chairs while the priest had the other one. We eventually figured out that there had been not one, but three weddings. (This is how Jason and I came to crash three weddings.) They often do multiple weddings at once here, I guess it saves on travel for the families.

When it stopped raining and Jason and I had had our water re-filled and made a great story for the entire area for months, we decided to head out. We got about forty feet away from the gate before they decided to give us a guide. The guide was a young man in his early twenties. All his friends couldn’t let him have the glory so we got a pack of guides. The pack of guides decided to follow us and direct from the rear.

After another half hour or so, the pack left and we walked on with just the one guide. He told us we were going to go on a “short cut.” Never trust that phrase. Our “short cut” last for the next three hours and all of it was up and down paths that were mud-slick, overgrown and had never been wider than a goat’s feet to begin with. We both mostly kept our feet, but there were some near misses.

By the time we got to the village with the wedding, we were happy to go back to the main road. From there, it was only 45 minutes more hiking to the ocean where we got a speed boat back to Melsisi. We still had to walk to Vansemakul, but at least it was a familiar road wide enough for three people to walk abreast and mostly groomed with gravel.

We made it home in time for Jason to get a fever and spend the next two days in bed. He’s better now.

1-4 Christmas Part 2: The Holiday

We went north to a town called Nabarangiut where to other PCVs live. Alex and Lucas are another married couple and have been living there for a year. They offered up their house as Christmas Central to everyone on Pentecost. Unfortunately, we were the only ones close enough to make it since the ship wasn’t running.

Christmas itself was pretty mellow. We went to Lucas’ family house and had a lovely meal complete with ramen noodles and pineapple. It’s pineapple season and this is a wonderful thing.

Between eating times, I learned a couple of sand drawings. They are pretty cool and when I have more information will be a post of their own. We had enough cell phone reception to call our families for Christmas, which was also great. Jason and Lucas had a couple shells of kava apiece but we had all forgotten to bring a flashlight, so we had to make an early night of it. In fact, we walked the last ten minutes home almost entirely by feel, since it had gotten dark.

The rest of the weekend we spent chilling, taking pictures of fish and eating whiteman food. It was a really nice weekend. It was great to spend time with people going through the same experience that we are, in both being PCVs and in being a married couple. Alex and Lucas seem to have a very similar world view to me which made for some great conversation. It was also really useful to see how they live. The day-to-day routine of a PCV and of a married PCV. I feel like we learned a lot from being there including some new recipes, tips for cooking on an open fire, useful furniture and house arrangement ideas, fence-building techniques and other such life-improvements.

Really, it was a great weekend but there wasn’t a lot of exceptional stories. The highlight of my weekend happened the first night when I was sniffing fresh basil with a purring cat in my lap.

1-4 Christmas Part 1: The Trek North

Jason and I walked north for Christmas. Well, we started out walking. We were told that it would be able to eat lunch in Nabarangiut if we started at 8 am. We started at 8 am. At 9 am we got to Melsisi. We stopped there for an hour to get mail and pick up a few things from the house there. At 10 am, we started down a small, slippery “short cut.” In this case, I do believe that the short cut was significantly shorter than staying on the big road. This did not remain true.

So, we took a short cut. A narrow, half-rock climbing short cut while carrying a backpack and a basket apiece. We made it down to the shore carrying our muddy shoes, having given up on actually wearing them. By shoes, I mean flip-flops. We stayed on the path, which was our first mistake. We should have gone and walked on the beach, it would have been nicer to our feet.

Around 11:30, we re-connected with the big road. We started walking up a gently incline. We stopped and split a grapefruit. (They are super sweet here and really, really big.) We kept walking up something that was turning steeper than a gentle incline. In fact, it turned into a giant hill. It turned into a giant hill that just didn’t end. Every time we thought, “that next bend will be the top” it went on. It was a large enough hill that we stopped for a water break. Twice. Then we ran out of water.

Around 1, we got to the top. We stopped in a village to refill our water. They were very confused as to why two white people were standing in the middle of their village.

Then we got to go down the big hill. Though up is worse than down, down is rather rough, too. Slipping and sliding in flip flops down a steep incline is a really good ass and hips workout.

At the bottom of the hill, we decided that a boat was in order. Another hour in the boat got us to the village nearest to our friends’ house. From there, it was only a ten minute walk up another slippery though wide path to their house. We were very, very glad to see their house and put down our backpacks.