1-14 Silversmithing or How to Make a Silver Ring

I want to be a silversmith when I grow up.

The paper-coated silver strips

No. Seriously. I love blacksmithing (hence the blacksmithing class in my past), but it is hard to do mostly because it requires space and materials. I did do some on the little forge I built during the class, but it was always kind of a pain. I think silversmithing solves that problem.

We took a silversmithing mini-course. When I saw it on the travel sites, of course I got excited. Anything creative does that to me. It seemed cool and was well-recommended on all the sites I saw, so I contacted the place and set up an appointment. (More complicated that one might think, but it all worked out in the end.)

Punching out the letters

We walked up to a beautiful archway at 9am. Inside the archway was a family compound. We went in. The smiling grandma in the first doorway pointed us further back. The two kids in school uniforms on the next porch pointed us further back. We went down a small slope and into an open-sided pavilion. A middle-aged woman put down her wash and ushered us over to chairs. She brought us water and a bunch of books of silver jewelery pictures. We sat and slipped through them while we waited for something else to happen.

It needs to be noted that during our brief stopover in Australia, Jason once again “misplaced” his ring. He left it at a friend’s house while he showered. So, Jason was shy a wedding ring and we were making silver jewelery. Does this seem like an excellent opportunity to anyone else? We decided on rings. Just to be cute, we went for matching ones.

Welding the rings shut

The teachers at the place were excellent. They sized the ring, then used calipers and the ring size to mark out a piece of paper in the correct shape. We drew out our design. They cut out the design and glued it to a strip of silver.

Once the strip was glued on, we had to etch the design into the metal. We used a handful of tiny punches to cut the lines. The punches were straight and curved and came in a variety of widths, curvature and lengths. It was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, except instead of pieces I had to match the line to the right shape and size of punch. It took us quite awhile.

When the etching was done, we flipped the strips over and punched “TEGABIS” into the backs. I messed up the “E” in mine. When the teachers saw it, they took it away, soldered new silver over and gave it back for me to fix. Did I mention they were good teachers?

Grinding, sanding and polishing to a smooth finish

The teachers took and pounded the strips into rings by hitting the metal around a round stick with the back of the hammer. We each had to try the ring on a few times, and cut out tiny strips of metal, to get the right fit. When we were satisfied, they welded the ring shut.

After the ring was a ring, I thought we were done. Nope. First, the teacher painted them with an oxidizing agent, then he left them in front of a hairdryer. When the oxidizing agent had properly taken affect, we started buffing them. Three rounds of buffing made them shiny and smooth, then we repeated that on the inside.


At the end of the morning, we had two new rings and I have a new hobby. (Well, once I get home I will have a new hobby.) We joked that now we have wedding rings. It took us 5 years and a unique path, but isn’t that just a reflection of us?

11-30 Training the Newbies

These are now way out of date.  The process of putting up blogs has a few steps and they fell through the cracks, so here are posts about October!

Health Vols learning about participatory methods by participating

I was asked to assist with training the new PCVs this year. In my mind, this is an honor. This is a sign of my bosses’ trust in me, their respect for the work I’ve been doing, their faith that I can communicate that effectively (or more effectively than anyone else around). As is true anytime someone tells me they think I am doing well and then gives me more responsibility with vague expectations, I did my best to exceed the expectations.

I haven’t had a whole lot of say “slacker time.” (I still haven’t beat portal despite having the full game for 2 years now. If you don’t know what the game Portal is, go find out. Even if you don’t like video games. Go. I’ll wait. It’s that cool.) I am determined to make this training as good as I possibly can.
Week 1 the trainees were all together at IDS, which is like a summer camp. They had sessions on medical concerns, safety and security basics, administrative details, phone service, bank accounts and all the other bits and pieces that come with moving to a new place and starting a new job. Week 2 they moved out to their training villages where they got placed with a host family and started to really dig into culture shock. Week 3 was where I started. Week 10 they flew the nest and are heading to site, some with more success in arriving than others.
Each week of training for the health volunteers has a “theme.” All of our trainings are focused on that theme in some way or another. Week 3 was Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Luckily, I had a lot of back up that week. I had only been off Pentecost for 2 days when I started and that was not enough to screw my head back on straight and get going. We did an NCD panel with several other volunteers discussing the ways they’d approached these topics. We did a day discussing 3-kaen kakae (Vanuatu food pyramid) and a day discussing causes and treatments for NCDs and learned a few songs about the body. Like I said, I needed a lot of back up that week.
Discussing diversity in the Peace Corps

The next week was Water, Hygiene and Sanitation, which is frequently and inaccurately shortened to WASH. Our daily topics included such gems as toilet technology, water systems and not eating your own feces. For these sessions, I was given the Global Core Sessions lesson plans. I took out the objectives and left the rest where they were. I did not feel that the Core Sessions were the best way of conveying the information in a culturally appropriate, Vanuatu accurate manner. For instance, one of the sessions had the trainees using the internet for research. There is no internet on the outer islands (though that is changing). So, I re-wrote from scratch, starting with the PHAST workshop and the objectives of the Core Sessions and working outward from there. Turns out that it takes me as long to write a good lesson plan as it does to run the lesson plan.

Week 5 was my favorite theme: Sex. I have come to love talking about sex. This time, I had the added bonus of an excellent co-facilitator in a fellow PCV, Nik. He and I tag teamed the STIs, HIV/AIDS, condom demo and road blo bebi activities interspersed with stories of our experiences teaching sexual and reproductive health and a very long vocabulary lesson on all the dirty or obscene words in Bislama. For an otherwise pretty non-descriptive language, they have a plethora of words for sex in all its forms. It was interesting to teach these topics to people who were engaged, participatory, and willing to ask questions. I continue to believe in the participatory methods as the best way of teaching, both in the conveying information and in the conveying “soft skills” like public speaking and engagement.
Week 6 they went to visit volunteers out on the islands. My one regret with moving into Vila early is that I didn’t get to host any trainees on Pentecost. Last year, that was a highlight of my year. This year, I saw them three days a week until they were sicking of sorting pictures into piles. Not quite the same experience.
How to Catch a Virus – Useful lesson

They came back with a lot of new questions and a lot of new perspectives. In many ways, seeing the broadened perspective and curiosity in the trainees as they came back from the islands was one of the most rewarding experiences. We rolled straight into week 7 and prepping for their practicum without more than a day’s break. That’s Peace Corps training for you. The sessions for that week included WASH with Kids, which I gutted and replaced with CHAST (Children’s Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) as well as how to plan out a session and some basics on running a workshop.

Week 8 was all practicum, all week. They took the year 3 (~third grade) class and did a 2 day workshop on topics of their choosing. They focused on WASH topics as the most age appropriate. They had to design lesson plans, or steal lesson plans from existing resources, for each segment. Their topics included: hand washing, germ spread, rubbish disposal, tooth brushing, fecal-oral contamination routes, health diet and exercise. For each topic, they designed a 20 minute lesson with an “educational” aspect and a “participatory” aspect. I think the trainees and the kids did a good job and learned a lot through the process. In fact, the trainees probably learned more than the kids.
The following Sunday, the trainees left their training village and came to town. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of trainings, shopping, goodbyes, freakouts, shipping woes and swearing in. Peace Corps provides us with a mattress (2 inch foam pad), a bucket, a set of sheets and some little things like scissors, matches and round one of laundry soap. The rest of the things for setting up house come out of our “settling in allowance.” Of course, that means that each trainee has to go buy all of the things they want, like a set of plates or spoons. Their seemed to be two tactics to that. One was to go wander aimlessly through town until things started to accumulate vs making a list and asking current volunteers where to find the items. Eventually, I made a list of common items and shops they could be found in to hang on the wall. It seemed like the most efficient method available.
Homework presentations about non-communicable diseases

They are mostly off at site now and my job as a trainer is done for the moment. I’ll be doing more in February when I get back. I’m looking forward to it. I have throughly enjoyed training this group. I think trainings appeal to me the same way as working on the ambulance. There, I wanted to be the best thing that happened to someone on their worst day. Here, I want to be the positive influence they can see and say, “She helped me get ready for this scary/exciting/amazing/lonely/intense experience.” I hope I did it well.

Cross-posted to our new blog at tegabis.com

6-20 Sex ed in Catholic School

For the last year or so, I’ve been teaching health classes at Melsisi. Health includes things like 3-kaen kakae, which is the nutrition guidelines laid out by the Vanuatu government (they make WAY more sense than the food pyramid. The idea is there are three food groups: starch, protein and veggies/fiber. Eat every one of them at every meal.), hygiene and sanitation, causes of disease and sex ed. Of course, the thing people stick on is sex ed.

I started teaching for a couple of reasons. The first one was to help out Jason and the school. Jason cuts his class in half because he has 3-6 computers (depending on their state of repair) and about 25 students per class. To get all of them near the computers, he halves the class and takes half into the lab while the other half stay in their classroom. The half that stay in their classroom are supposed to have a study period, but I’ll let you guess how well that was going. So, I thought I’d stay in the classroom with the students and maybe teach them something in the process. The second inspiration for this was more personal. I got frustrated trying to teach people who wouldn’t turn up or weren’t interested. I figured, teenagers love to learn about sex and they have to be in school. Perfect, I’ll teach sex ed. And finally, when I did a health survey in 2010, the knowledge of STIs was atrocious. I got told earnestly that STIs come from having sex outside. I was hoping their would be a trickle up effect, that by teaching the kids, the parents would learn something.

I’ve been teaching the kids for a year now. I started part way through first term last year and continued through the year. At the beginning of the year, I went back and started again. It hasn’t been easy and teaching in a classroom isn’t my cup of tea, but it has had its rewards. I do like teenagers and all their drama and problems crack me up. I think sex education is important, especially in this society which is so repressed and where it is hard to get good, reliable information about things.

When the Melsisi school council had their meeting, they decided I was no longer allowed to teach in Melsisi. Of course, rather than asking me for a curriculum or discussing this with me, they made the decision while the principal wasn’t present and then told him two days later. He told Jason, while I was teaching, who then had to tell me. By the time it got to me, the message consisted of, “You shouldn’t teach here next term.”

I wasn’t really happy about that. I wrote a nice, long letter to the school council, in which I laid out the reasons for my teaching and the curriculum I was teaching as well as requested a meeting. Well, the chairman of the school council didn’t come back to Melsisi for a month so the principal couldn’t pass on the letter. I invited myself to the meeting at the beginning of this term. Really, I discussed things with the principal and he and I agreed that it would make sense for me to come. So, I did.

I laid out my case. I feel like I spoke well and laid out a good argument. I asked for the decision on Tuesday (they should have given me a letter on Monday). I was told by the principal that they would give me a letter. I pointed out to him that if I was going to teach I should be teaching in an hour. He told me to wait for the letter. I’ll take that as I’m not teaching anymore.

I’m upset and annoyed. I didn’t like the teaching but I was doing my best and I believe that what I was teaching is really important information. I believe that the students have a right to know what family planning is and why it is important to use condoms. I don’t think this is the right decision for the students and I think the way they went about it was quite crap.

On the other hand, the students are their children and I’m glad to see them taking ownership for something in the school. Maybe it can extend to other things and improve the school.

4-8 Boarding vs Commuting

Melsisi is a boarding school for about half the students. The other half walk to school each day and walk home each evening. At first, I felt like the boarding students got the short end of the stick. Now, I’m not quite so sure, at least not for the girls.
Life in the village isn’t easy for a girl. I swear this country runs on the labor of pre-adolescent girls. They are expected to fetch and carry things on command, they run errands and pass messages, they wash their own and their family’s clothes, the cook, the wash dishes, the work in the gardens and still are expected to do their school work and pass their classes. I’m not saying that the women are slacking mind you, they also do all those things, but there is more work to take care of a family than one mama can provide.
All of that is not counting the intense social and familial pressure the girls get. They are expected to behave in certain ways, not be bad at anything while also not showing up their sisters, cousins and neighbors. They are expected to perform important public roles while being ashamed to be seen in a public role. They are continually changing their roles in the community as they get older, as older sisters get married and move away or younger sisters start school.
By going away to boarding school, they leave the family pressure behind. That doesn’t mean it is all light and roses in boarding school. They are under constant peer pressure from the girls in their dorms and they are scheduled in class or doing school-related work from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm. But the thing that made me consider this differently happen last weekend.
I was at an International Youth Day celebration. People had been uniformly invited to prepare a skit, drama, dance or song to perform as part of the festivities. The boarding girls did several dances that they had clearly rehearsed and worked hard on. Some girls were in more than one group and performed well in all of them and I think every boarding girl, or close to, participated. The girls from the village had one dance and one song that they did with the local Youth Group. (The Youth Group includes a year 8 and her mother, a woman who’s hair went white years ago and a few men who have children in primary school “Youth” Group is a loose term.) While waiting for the next group to come on, the MC played music and some of the boarding girls got up and danced with each other.
I don’t think the lack of participation on the part of the village girls was due to lack of interest. I think it is more that the boarders get a degree of freedom by leaving home. They aren’t being stared at by the same people who raised them and the people who they will live the rest of their lives with. It may also be that they have already pushed their boundaries once by going to boarding school which makes each consecutive push a little easier.
I’m just hypothesizing and philosophizing but it was an insight to me to think that the boarding girls may actually have a “better” life than the village girls. I don’t know.