4-2 Biblical Slapstick and Other Entertainments

Sunday March 30th was World Youth Day. There are a lot of World Something Days that I didn’t know about until joining Peace Corps. Someone around here finds a way of doing something for nearly all of them, or at least finds a way of reminding me at an inconvenient moment that it is the World Whatever Day and I am failing to celebrate appropriately. Whoops.

For World Youth Day, the local Youth Committee (There are all a lot of Committees, usual they sort of follow their names but in this case, the Youth Committee has people who have gray hair and in fact contains both the mother and daughter in one family. I guess they just mean young at heart.) put together a shindig. It was lunch and then all the different groups of youth in the area did skits of some form or another.
The boarder girls from the school did several dances. A few of them were better coordinated, a few worse. A lot of the same moves, though one group got creative and sort of mixed some kastom dance in with some of the string band dance moves. I was impressed with the girls, since I’ve seen how they behave (or don’t) in class and I am starting to understand how crippling the idea of shame is here. For the girls to get up and dance in front of a room full of people must have been the hardest thing they’ve done this term.
The youth group from Vanmelang, my district, did several different skits, each of which required ten minute costume changes. We listened to a song about development in Vanuatu. I’m not sure where they found that one. They did a dance that looked a lot like a line dance. Then they did a dance, still in lines, that could have been a simplified version of River Dance. I have no idea where they found that, but the English volunteer sitting next to me found the whole thing as ridiculous as I did and we kept giggling that we wanted to find a DVD of an Irish Cailli to show them. I think Contradance would go down well here, though they’d have to hold hands with the opposite sex.
The last thing they did was a skit. Half way through the skit, I realized it was biblical slapstick. First, one of the youngfala came in dressed in rice sacks with a rice sack covering his face and a walking stick. He staggered around stage like a caricature of a blind old man. Eventually, he fell asleep. Then we waited awhile, like ten minutes while the previous group of performers came back in and took there seats. Finally, the procession arrived. They were singing about going to Jericho to meet Jesus while in their midst was a guy who had stolen the priests robes for the occasion. I don’t know where else he would have gotten long white robes, unless he got them off the priest. The “blind man” woke up and came to ask about Jesus. One of the leaders shoved him away in the most overdone, three-stooges-esque way. He fell down. They kept going and he came back. He got shoved back again. He came a third time and got shoved a third time. On each shove he’d find some other dramatic way of falling all over himself.
On the last time, he wasn’t turned away and Jesus laid hands on him, which involved taking the rice bag off his head. When he could see, he started skipping around the room like a five-year-old on speed and shouting about how he could see.
The entire thing would have fit will in a moralizing vaudeville performance and had the audience in stitches the whole time. Biblical slapstick is a hit around here. Who knew?

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?

12-24 Steph’s Wedding


Having a number of other white people around has been nice. It means we can get some down time with people who (at least mostly) share our culture. Recently, it also meant an interesting blend of developed world and ni-Van culture when one of our white neighbors married a local.

Steph’s family has been coming here since she was little. They have a church connection to Ranwadi school, the anglophone secondary near us. A few years ago, the principal at Ranwadi asked if she wanted to come teach there. Once she finished high school herself, she moved here to do so. Six months later, she was engaged to the deputy principal.
On the truck down to the weddig

This wedding was more of a combination of church and kastom than usual due to the white people and their different expectations. Firstly, there was a ceremony to adopt Steph into a family here. This is standard when a woman from another island marries into the area. I was not back from Vila yet and didn’t get to see the ceremony.
The day of the wedding started with a walk to Ranwadi so I could jump onto the truck to the village. I considered wearing my loincloth but Steph may have actuallykilled me. I settled for having Georgia tell her I’d done it, which was almost enough to get me un-invited anyway. After meeting her family, I jumped in the truck to the village.
First up was the kastom ceremony. This involved her new papa talking a lot. Partly in local and partly in Bislama. Most of the Bislama was about the families and countries coming together. Then the relatives walked circles around them and took the token presents – mainly luggage, baskets, and food. Then red mats and money were given to her family. This involved a lot more talking by the chief which was mostly in language. After that, Steph’s Aussie father walked circles around everything and took the gifts. I believe he may have given them to the community, school, or couple. That would have been in private but I know that he was uncomfortable taking gifts from the community when he comes here as a volunteer. This concluded the kastom portion of the wedding.
For some reason she got poked with sticks.

Next we went to the church and waited for people to change into their fancy clothes. I am always astounded at the nice clothes that come out at church weddings. It is the only time they are worn and it looks so out of place. Once the bridal party got there, they started the church service. It was very similar to church weddings I’ve been to back home. Except for the cameras. There is no camera etiquette here. During the ceremony there were half a dozen or so who would get right up on the dais where everything was happening to take pictures. I was reminded that I have been here for a while when I looked over from among them at the white people standing back to take their photos. With my willingness to get right in and my new shutter-bug tendencies, I was basically the official photographer. After A LOT (and boy do I mean a lot) of worshiping and singing, the ceremony was done and the receiving line started outside. At some point, the rain started. This being Vanuatu, some umbrellas were held up over the party so the line could keep going.
The wedding party

Finally, everything was finished and we moved to a makeshift “tent” for food. There was a whole lot of food to be had, even for Vanuatu. Big parties here often have food I would have found tasty back home but with the white people in town they out-did themselves. There was even champagne and cold cokes. Then there was the cake. It seemed like there was as much cake as there was food. Yum.
The strangest part of the whole thing was the difference in attitudes. In the developed world, weddings are exciting. Here, the woman is leaving her family and will generally have very little, if any, contact with them. People cry at weddings at home, here they wail. The Aussies were excited and the ni-Vans were crying. I’ve noted the difference before but seeing it right in front of me really highlighted the gap.
Slightly damp receiving line.

There was also Steph’s nephew. White kids are babied. The ni-Van kids his age are mostly running around on their own and often waving knives around. (Some of the babying is a good thing.) The white kid had constant parental attention and did things like tossing a shell he found and looking to his parents to get it. I honestly couldn’t tell whether he was actually being bratty/demanding or if it just seemed that way compared to the kids here.

Nothing shows differences so starkly as seeing them juxtaposed. All-in-all, it was an interesting combination.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to Steph since the wedding and am curious to find out how she is liking village life. I hope that they have a successful and happy life together.

4-23 Easter Traditions blong Melsisi

We had Easter here. It was a four day affair. I’m serious, four days.

The week kicked off on Thursday with a half day at school and an evening mass. The mass was the beginning of the vigil that represented watching over the dying Jesus. The vigil was done in shifts, which Jason thinks is cheating.

The church was tricked out for it. They turned the alter so we were facing the back of the church and the entire thing was candlelit. I don’t mean candle lit like it is in the States where you walk into the sanctuary and find nothing but candles but you go looking for your coat in the coat room with fluorescent lights. I mean, it was pitch dark and the front around the alter was light with candles and covered in white cloth that caught the light and made it almost glow.

The shifts at the vigil were organized by area or district. Vanmelang, where I live, was supposed to be number five. I figured an hour a piece and we’d be up to pray around 2:30 am. I set an alarm and went to bed. At 2:30, we crawled out of bed and went to the church only to find out that we’d missed our time to pray by about two hours. Whoops. Well, we made an appearance anyway. Jason stayed and drank kava with some of the guys on the way back while I went back o the house and my bed.

The next morning was Good Friday, which is really celebrated as a holiday here. It is a day off of work, even work in the garden. We went down to Jason’s papa’s house in the morning with hopes of going snorkeling and playing in the ocean. It worked, though not quite how we were expecting. That’s the usual around here.

We were planning on going down to an area around Waterfall, which is further south than Vansemakul, and looking for a tourist spot down there for Jason’s papa to take tourists to. He wants to try to capitalize on the tourism from Nakhol (land diving, go look it up on youtube, [seriously, it’s crazy -J]). We didn’t get there. Instead, we had a picnic on the beach and snorkeled around the reef. I swam a good way south with one of the other girls and everyone seemed a little surprised that I know how to swim well. I guess their idea of lakes and mine are a little different.

No amazing pictures from that round of snorkeling, though it was Jason’s first attempt at daeva or spearfishing. Apparently the rope was too short on the spear and he couldn’t catch anything.

Friday afternoon, we walked the stations of the cross starting at the ocean and walking up to the church. It is a big hill. It was also the middle of the afternoon in the tropics. Who’s good idea was that one? I decided to abstain from the service that followed for the sake of my nose (there was some serious BO, even by my new more relaxed standards) and not wanting to snore during church. I’m glad I did since what was supposed to be a short one hour service turned into a three hour service. I would have been sleeping.
Saturday morning we ran away and hid in Vansemakul. There was an evening service the represent the resurrection. It had a bonfire and candles and all sorts of fire. I’m sure it was very pretty. I was happily sitting in my house, eating my food, and not being surrounded by people. It was good. My introvert tendencies are coming out stronger than ever before.

Sunday morning, we went back to Melsisi for church. We showed up about an hour late and we weren’t the last ones in. Church lasted for another hour and a half after we got there, too. It was a bit long for my tastes.

After church we ate with Jason’s family and went back to the village. It was nice to be home again after the week of being in Melsisi.
I still have trouble understanding the services, but now I think it is a lack of interest and an attention span issue, not a Bislama issue. I’m just not an auditory learner and I don’t have an interest in paying attention in church. I guess I’ll just keep showing up and day dreaming. I’m good at day dreaming.

I will point out that I have had no less than an audience of five for the writing of most of this blog post. I am waiting for a workshop to start and have the computer on my lap. I’ve been the center of a group of children off and on for the last half an hour. Who knew writing could be such a fascinating spectator sport?