3-13 Media Storms and Tragedy

At this point, no one seems to have a clue about what has happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

We genuinely don’t know. This is uncomfortable. In our current era of instant communication, we’ve gotten used to being able to know anything. Even if we don’t have facts memorized we know how to find those facts and how to double check the facts to make sure we have them right. (Granted, this could be done a wee bit more often, but still, we know how it works.) We might not know how to lay a row of bricks or juggle four balls but we can YouTube it and find a helpful video with all the basics. We can look up weather forecasts, stock predictions, and election results around the globe.

So the idea of not knowing what happened to an entire plane? That’s bizarre. Our phones have GPS, our cars come with GPS units, and we use mapping software to get the grocery store. We have made a hobby of using satellites to guide ourselves from our front door to a specific oak tree. We can get directions from Minneapolis to London (it involves swimming). But somehow, all of our radar, satellites and GPS are failing us. We don’t know where the plane is, or even where it was last spotted.

It is our human nature to tell stories. We’ve told ourselves stories about how the world was made, why that man cheated on his wife, where our clothes come from and what motivates the chicken to cross the road. We are good at creating stories. We just aren’t good at creating true stories. As the information available from MH370 becomes less interesting, we’ve started creating stories.

The facts are unclear, and the situations is shaky. Instead of saying simply, “We don’t know,” we are choosing to speculate. The speculations don’t help. They give false hope to the families and further muddy the already muddy waters about what happened. They make a chaotic, difficult situation into something that looks like intentional misdirection.

Much of the news coming out to the public seems to be meant to hit a deadline, not relay reliable, factual information. Often, when the facts aren’t interesting enough, they get jazzed up with crying family members, ringing cell phones and stories about unstable co-pilots or other nefarious plots. This constant news stream has created the need for a team of professionals to monitor the currents of politics instead of the currents in the ocean. There are people devoted to quelling the fires started by public speculation. Imagine if they could spend their hours working on finding the lost plane instead.

This is a tragedy for families who are now missing a mother, a brother, an aunt, a son. The people left behind are grieving, angry and hopeful. They are in emotional turmoil of not knowing what happened and hoping against all odds that their loved ones survived. This is not a circus show, this is not entertainment. This is not to be sensationalized for the nightly news. This is a tragedy.

Let’s stop making hourly updates and instead say honestly, “We don’t know.” Let’s use this as a learning experience in how to improve international cooperation efforts. Let’s reflect on our expectations on the unknown. Let’s take time to grieve with the families.

12-25: Welcome back to the Developed World where Things like Mexican Food and Homelessness Exist

Jason and I spent 2 nights in Darwin before coming to Bali. In many ways, it was great to be in the developed, English-speaking world. I got Mexican food (of a fashion), decent internet (which another guest said “Is not the fastest but…” It was the fastest.  He was confused.), and generally returned to the lifestyle in which I grew up. It was an excellent break between the stress and emotions of leaving Peace Corps and the stress and emotions of traveling in foreign countries.

There is one thing that hasn’t left my mind about those few days though. There was a lot of homelessness and poverty immediately visible. It felt wrong. I know that Vanuatu is an impoverished nation, that it scores pretty poorly on development factors and the ones it scores decently on are often inaccurate for cultural reasons. (Unemployment is listed as almost non-existent because everyone subsistence farms and cell phone ownership is listed at 90%, but most people who have 1, have 2 because the 2 networks are incompatible and both have very poor coverage on the outer islands, really the ownership should be more like 45-50%.) But Vanuatu never felt poor the way the people in Darwin did.

We chatted with a young girl, maybe 9- or 10-years-old. Her questions to us mostly revolved around food and where we were sleeping. Her language was heavily accented by what I took as her local language. She may have been on school break but she didn’t seem to have any of the concepts of geography that I would expect from a fourth or fifth grader, so I doubt she was in school or at least up to grade level. She lost interest in us after about 10 minutes, but it was an enlightening 10 minutes for me.

Mostly, the homeless we saw were Aboriginal families, which I think made it all the starker for me. I’ve been working with and for people who look like them, and not like me, for the last 3 years. That little girl told us about her 6 daddies, a cultural trait shared by ni-Vanuatu, and about how she was sleeping with one part of her family now but not be tomorrow. (In general in Vanuatu, your father’s brothers and male cousins are your “dads” and your mother’s sisters and female cousins are your “moms.” The opposites are your aunts and uncles. Children are raised communally, with special emphasis from their biological or adopted parents.) Now, here is a population that no one seems to be working with or for on similar issues of health, education, and goal-setting.

Interestingly, none of the Aboriginal people were poorly dressed. The three white homeless guys I saw were all your “typical” homeless individual. Ragged, poorly kept, surrounded by filthy possessions with a rather manic gleam to their eyes. But the Aboriginals had clean, good quality clothing, were not emaciated, and seemed to spend their time laughing and joking with each other during the day. Again, this implies to me that the Aboriginal culture carries some of the family values similar to Vanuatu. Their families are helping them out with clothes and food but can’t, or won’t, help them with housing.

I don’t know what to make of this. It is something that is sticking with me and something I kept noticing. I don’t want to turn my eyes away and pretend I don’t see people because they are homeless or in need. But I don’t know how to interact either. I don’t know how to politely handle beggars without giving away everything I have. And it was just straight up disturbing to see people in true poverty while all around them people just kept on with their affluent lives. This is not something I can reconcile in my head, even as I am doing it.

Welcome back to the developing world. Welcome to reverse culture shock.

10-14 Saying Goodbye to Pentecost, Again

 We went to Pentecost for five days. We went to say goodbye to the people who are important to us and to lukluk ples one last time. I’m glad we went. We told Jason’s papa, my counterpart, the PCV still in Melsisi and my kava buddy we were coming. We thought they’d spread the news around, but I guess that message got lost on the road.

Surprises are fun. Especially when I am the surprise. One of the oldfalaeven teared up a little bit. He recently had a stroke and could no longer speak, but the look on his face was better than anything he could have said. Really, the looks on everyone’s faces were wonderful. Every place we went, we had people who wanted to shake hands and story.
Jason and Jason
As always, transport is interesting. We had called the old school truck driver to pick us up at the airport. Jason even asked if he still drove a truck. He said yes and that’d he’d be there. We arrived and saw the school truck waiting. It was the only truck. We got off the plane and looked for the driver. He wasn’t there. I asked my uncle who drove the school truck down to the airport. Turns out, my uncle drove the school truck and had no idea whatsoever that we were coming. He gave us a lift to the village anyway. Upon further discussion, we found out that the old driver now alternates months with another guy driving a different truck but that the truck broke that morning. Figures.
We spent two nights in Vansemakul. Our house is still there and in good shape, but we didn’t bring supplies to stay there. Instead, we stayed with one of my friends who has a 3-month-old baby. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The baby was super mellow and hardly ever cried. And I got to play with her baby.
My co-conspirator didn’t want her picture taken
On Thursday, we walked to Ranwadi and said hi to the volunteers there. We got to play with Sheila, the adorable half-caste child of our friend. We stopped by Vanwooki and saw Jason’s namesake. He is BIG! And walking and doing some basic words. He didn’t cry at Jason at all and even when Jason picked him up. His mom said they show him pictures of us and tell stories, so maybe that helps.
We were planning on walking all over Vanmelang, the district, to see everyone. As it happened, we did walk all over, but we saw even more people than we otherwise would have. On Thursday morning, there was a death Leguru, the village furthest up the hill. We went on Thursday afternoon to pay our respects. The man who died was popular because he was helpful and kind, so everyone who could possibly make it was there. We shook hands with a lot of people and got a lot of surprised looks. Aside from the funeral part, it was pretty great.
Ke was very happy to see Jason
Friday morning, we walked over to Melsisi. We went to the school where the students were entirely shocked to see us. Jason caused a storm of giggles by chasing the primary school students he used to play with. At the office, the teachers were nearly as surprised as the folks in the village. Jason told the headmaster, but the headmaster didn’t tell anyone else. I told my kava buddy, but she didn’t tell anyone else.
More kava
There is a certain poetry in spending the last two days in Melsisi in the convent. We started our time on Pentecost there, it fits that we should finish there as well. We spent the weekend lazing about in the convent with Alexandra. Sunday was church, which we were late to. I guess we were continuing that tradition as well. After church we walked back to the village and met up with Jason’s family. We ate with them and hung out all afternoon.
Every night we were on Pentecost we drank kava. We didn’t drink a shell here or there either, we drank like we were going to drown ourselves. Jason says its the last time he’ll get good kava. He also told me it would be sweet. The first might or might not be true but the second was definitely false. (Though, I’ll agree that it tastes better on the island than in Vila.)
Airport goodbyes
This trip was great. It gave me closure to my time on Pentecost, especially since I didn’t feel like I had that closure when I left last year. The competitive part of me enjoyed being on the positive side of some comparisons to other volunteers and it was nice to be complimented. It was nice to feel loved and missed by our community there. I know if we ever manage to return, doors will be open to us.

6-23 Funeral Rites

I have been to a lot of funerals in the last two years. In most cases, I sort of knew the deceased but not very well. I went because it was culturally appropriate.  Grief here is very public. There is wailing and screaming and crying. There is pounding the floor, shaking the body and collapsing in grief. All of this is done in public, often in the middle of the village. People come from miles around pay their respects and grieve with the family.

Funerals in the village are social events. Friends and family come together to cook a ceremonial meal, drink kava and sleep in the house of the deceased. They join together to share in the loss of the family and grieve again for old losses.
My grandfather died this weekend. My stret grandfather, the one who lives in the US. I am torn between telling people at work or people I socialize with and keeping quiet. My grief is not public. I do not want to collapse in a wailing puddle. That’s just not my style. I want time alone, to be quiet and cry on my own. And none of that makes sense here. I haven’t told a lot of people yet, though I probably will at work next week.  I hope they won’t judge me for not wailing.
A grieving period here in Vanuatu is either 5 days or 10 days (it depends on which island and how close a family member). During those days, the immediate family does absolutely nothing. They don’t cook, bathe, clean or leave the village. They grieve with every cell in their body. At the end of that time, there is a feast. The feast is a celebration of the deceased, a chance to bring old friends together and talk about the good times. The feast is also the last chance to cry. When the feast is over, life returns to normal and crying or carrying on is in bad taste.
I want the 5 day feast. I want to celebrate Nonno. I want to remember the larger-than-life character who let me slide down his belly as a toddler. I want to remember the stories he told about stealing trucks from the army lot and driving into Manila for a wild night on the town and returning the car to the lot with only three tires. I want to remember late arrivals at the trailer and the smell of greasy Italian food, cooked special just for me. I want to remember running screaming with my brother when he dumped crabs out of the trap into the grass. I want to remember my admiration when he reached down and grabbed crab after crab, tossing back the small ones and shoving the good ones in a saucepan.
I’ve lived for 2 years in a different culture. I’ve started to accept parts of this culture as my culture. I will never be comfortable grieving publicly, but I understand it a little more now. It shares the grief but it also shares the joy.
I’m glad you aren’t in pain, Nonno. I hope you followed your beliefs to a place you can share with Grandma and watch over our family.

11-7 One year in

Today (when I’m writing this) is exactly one year on Pentecost.  Here is a list of our accomplishments, the good, the bad and the medevacs.
Taught 2+ terms of sex ed to year 9s and 10s
Taught 2+ terms of computer class to year 9s and 10s (Jason says that between the two of us we’ve taught most of three.  I’m only counting his classes.)
Ran 4 Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation workshops
Trained a ni-Van co-facilitator up to run a workshop without me present
Helped my community write a grant for improved toilets
Taught community computer classes to anyone interested
Got medevac to Australia.
The other half got medevac to Australia
Held a Koala (x2)
Visited New Zealand
Watched games from the rugby world cup
Published a story, twice
Learned to cook on a fire
Learned to roast food in a piece of bamboo
Learned to skin a coconut without slicing my hand open
Trained incoming Peace Corps Volunteers for their two year adventure
Drank LOTS of kava
Learned to grind kava
Learned to milk kava
Wore a loin cloth to public events
Did a health survey of my district
Assisted with a Training of Trainers for youth leadership camps
Taught sex ed workshops
Cut a bush garden
Cut a second garden in my lawn
Carved a jack-o-lantern on Halloween.  Carved 4 more out of green papayas.
Learned the basic scripted conversation in local language (where are you going?  To the garden!)
Learned to find coconuts
Learned to find firewood
Learned many, many uses for every part of a coconut, tree, leaves and fruit
Baked vegan banana bread on an open fire that is better than most banana bread I’ve had in the States
Explain in Bislama who Bin Laden was and why he got shot
Wove a basket
Explained that not everyone in America is white
Got diahrrea
Got diahrrea again.  And again.  And again.
Got giardia.
Got scabies.
Got strep.  Again. And again.
Used more h2o2 than the entire rest of our lives.
Learned the many and varied uses of a bush knife 
Transported cats as carry-on in an airplane
Stole eggs from a mama hen roosting in my kitchen
Learned to identify edible plants and how to knock the good fruits out of a tree with sticks or stones
Learned to eat coconut milk in quantity.  Large quantity.  Everything is better with coconut milk.
Walked an hour home kava drunk.  Again.  And again.  And again.  And again.
Met wonderful Americans with similar values and diverse backgrounds.
Made friends I hope will last the rest of my life
Walked up hill.  Again. And Again.  And again.  And again.  And again, ad nauseum (sometimes literally, the hills are really hard on hot days.)
Made a friend from a wildly different culture
Ate a giant bat
Ate sea turtle (didn’t know it was until post-consumption.  They like doing that to us.)
Ate fish I’ve only ever seen in tropical fish stores or on screen savers
Drank more kava
Made friends with people from New Zealand, England and Australia.  I know I’ll have a place to sleep when I want to go visiting.  (Right guys? Right?)
Celebrated 6 years of dating and 4 years of co-habitating
Explored the medical system in Vanuatu
Broke out in more unexplained rashes than ever before
Learned that staring at the cell tower does not mean you will have cell reception
Learned to speak Bislama fluently
Learned computer words in French (other basics including Bon Appetite and Bon giorno)
Cut the grass with a bushknife
Built a bush kitchen
Pinned natangura thatch
Lived in a convent for a month
Saw Brisbane, Australia
Saw a volcano explode from the front porch
Watched a volcano explode from the rim
Read a couple hundred books
Traveled by passenger ship and cargo ship
Flew in a plane small enough that the pilot turns around to make the seatbelt announcement
Flew in a 4 seater plane (I swear I’ve been in pickup trucks that were bigger.)
Wrote 20,000 words
Developed an interest in photography
Shot 10,000 photos (some are better than others.  We’re culling the weak and ugly.)
Killed a computer
Acquired a new computer
Taken many long, long walks along the beach (aka commutes)
Had a visit by a friend
Had a visit by a mom
Drank a pinacolada at a resort in the tropics.  It had a flower in it.
Destroyed our English language fluency
Learned to recognize the sound of the rain about to soak you to the skin as it comes down the mountain
Learned the real meaning of “heavy rains”
Sat in a bamboo hut during a cyclone
Felt an earthquake.  Felt a few big earthquakes
Learned to tie on a roof with coconut leaves
Grew tomato plants taller than me
Grew basil plants as tall as me
Said goodbye to friends (hopefully just “see you later.”)
Split firewood with a bushknife
Ate ferns.  They are damn tasty, especially in coconut milk
Walked most of the north-south distance of Pentecost
Got called fatfat a lot
Got a new name and started answering to it faster than my real name
Washed clothes by hand.  Learned that tossing them in the bucket with soap is the same as washing.
Cut my hair and grew it back out
Taught children to do acrobatics through cow pies
Relished a Thanksgiving dinner of boxed mac and cheese
Watched men jump from very high places with vines tied to their ankles
Missed three weddings
Missed one new born
Celebrated 26 with s’mores, mac and cheese cooked on an open fire and a bottle of wine
De-wormed. Twice.  Out of necessity.

3-31 Being left behind for a messy medevac

Gaea has several nice long posts up about her medevac but we’ve gotten some questions about how it was for me back on the island.  This blog is being written a bit further out from the events than may be ideal for capturing my experience fully but it’s not a thing to be forgotten that easily.
In brief, it sucked.  I can’t imagine it being pleasant any time ones partner is whisked away to have surgery in another country.  Unfortunately, this whole thing went above and beyond in its commitment to being less than pleasant.  The pick-up from the island itself was rushed and awkward.  I had a class to get to in Melsisi (which, if you’ll recall, is 45 minutes away) as we were trying to get her down to the airport so I was unable to go even that far.  After she was off the island, the real annoying bits came in.  The reason that the medevac got as rushed and messy as it did was primarily the incoming cyclone which would have frozen travel.  Fortunately, Gaea managed to get out of country before it reached us.  Unfortunately, when it did reach us very shortly thereafter it played havoc with the already flaky communication systems. 

There are two cell companies in country, Digicel and TVL.  Digicel is the carrier of choice for Peace Corps because we have a deal with them allowing us to call each other for free.  However,  there has been only one place in Vansemakul where we can get Digicel when it feels like cooperating, otherwise it’s a 15 minute walk uphill on a good day.  On a good day, the path is a dirt road, on a bad day (like when there is a cyclone) it’s a muddy river.  We’re lucky to get Digicel coverage anywhere in Melsisi and it rarely appears in the same place twice.  Thus, Gaea and I have a TVL phone so that we can actually be reached.  While the cyclone was in the country, the TVL coverage disappeared completely from Vansemakul.  This meant that living in the village primarily, I had to walk uphill any time I wanted to try to find out what was going on with my partner.  Over in Melsisi I did still have reliable TVL coverage.  Of course, no matter how I got service, calling was expensive with her in another country.  Despite the difficulties, I believe we did manage to communicate most days (we are both known for being a little stubborn about making some things happen).  Not that I managed to get a lot of information even then.  It really seemed like I could not manage to get good timing to call.  The doctor would just happen to come in for one of his few minutes shortly into the call or a nurse would stop in to check on her.  It was frustrating to say the least.
TVL remained flaky until after she was already back in country.  Given that her surgery and return were on Monday and Wednesday respectively, these events coincided with me having classes and not being able to get up to Digicel.  Once she was back in country, of course, I no longer had class and TVL was back, too.  Timing continued to be poor here too as she got back later on a Wednesday, fully missing the flight out to Pentecost.  There are three flights a week to Pentecost, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  She had classes starting Tuesday so coming back Saturday and heading back to Vila Monday didn’t make any sense. It was another few weeks before she got back. 

From there communication was stabilized but still not easy as I either had to walk fifteen minutes uphill from the village at a time when she was available or we had to pay for calling.  The worry about what was happening was gone but the very rocky start made me feel uneasy the whole time she was gone.
The community did try to look after me in her absence.  I was brought food fairly often though I did make something of a point in cooking for myself so I didn’t always get as much food as I might have otherwise.  I feel that continuing to show that yes, men can cook for themselves and take care of things like the laundry is a good example.  I did also have plenty of company at the Nakamals any night I felt like going up.  This ended up being a good number of them.  I believe that at one point I was asked about the cause of earthquakes when four shells in and a little buzzed.  Not the ideal state to try to explain plate tectonics but I think I got the point across.
All in all, not an overly pleasant experience.  It was, however, one that reminded me how strong the community here is.  Anyone I saw expressed concern and I was looked after, as always.

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

2-1 Identity and Ice Cream

There are a lot of really interesting parts of living abroad. The first is in realizing what you took for granted. Doesn’t everyone have milk and cookies as a childhood treat? Or ice cream? Who doesn’t like pasta and pesto or a good pizza? Walking into a room and flipping the light switch is autopilot for most of us, we only notice when we have to grope along the wall for it. Even things like playing a couple games of solitaire on the computer to unwind or drinking a glass of juice are so second nature that their removal causes a sense of disorientation.

I am surprised by how much I miss cheese and how little I miss ice cream. Not that I don’t miss ice cream, but I just don’t crave sweets the way I crave savory on the island. I don’t know if it is an availability thing or that I sweat so much I never feel like I have enough salt in my body. But I do often wish for things like pesto, crackers or garlic mashed potatoes.

Those are all surface things. My identity isn’t wrapped up in how much juice I drink or how much ice cream I eat. I’m learning that my identity isn’t really wrapped up in whether or not I put on a skirt, too. The skirt doesn’t change who I am, it doesn’t negate my ability to climb a tree or suddenly give me feminine wiles. It just means I occasionally trip over the extra fabric while I romp through the bush or have a little extra towel available to wipe my hands on. The me doing the romping and the wiping is fundamentally the same, just in a skirt now instead of pants. I do miss pants.

There are other cultural assumptions that have been part of “me” in the US that I am learning are not “me” but rather what the culture around me has imposed as part of my identity. Now that I am in a totally different culture, I can see more and more of these cultural expectations and how they fit with me. I notice them most strongly when they contrast with the culture here.

For instance, I don’t consider myself an affectionate person. I’m not a big fan of kissing in public, holding hands only really happens when I’m intentionally being affectionate, like on a date. Even with children, I limit my physical contact and affection. Here, I am considered incredibly demonstrative. Jason and I talk to each other in public. We intentionally spend time together during the day. Sometimes, we touch each other outside of a handshake. We laugh together. I pick up puppies and kittens and play with them. I go out of my way to make faces at children and make them laugh. None of these things are done here, they are all much too affectionate. Here, I am a very affectionate person. Go figure.

1-8 On being a Woman in Vanuatu

The gender divide here dwarfs the Grand Canyon.

Women do all the day-to-day cooking, women do all the laundry, all the dishes and all the cleaning in the house. Women discipline children and reward them. Women wake them up in the morning and put them to sleep at night, comfort them when they cry and play with them. Women weave matts and baskets. Women work in the garden. Women carry water and store water for when the taps run dry. Women look after the chickens and feed the pigs. Women sell extra food at the markets.

Men go to the garden, where they grow kava as well as vegetables. Men build things, when there is something to build. Men slaughter animals for special occasions and cook the meat, for special occasions. Men make kava. Men drink kava.

Women do not build. Women do not go in the nakamal. Women do not wear pants. Women do not leave the house area without their husbands’ permission. Women do not walk around alone. Women do not take part in courts or “community” decisions. Women do not have the right to ask for help from a man who is not their husband.

Men do not raise children.

Men can hit their wives, if she deserves it. Deserves it means: not making food on time, not being at the house when he expects her to be, cheating, talking about family planning or going to the Aid Post for a condom.

Men can cheat on their wives. In fact, it is almost expected. The self-reported rate of men with multiple, concurrent partners is 33%. The women self-report at 11%.

This divide is visible even in children as young as three or four. Girls are told to go help with the wash or the cooking. Boys roam the village playing games all day. By the time they are ten, the boys are wandering around, eating whatever fruit is in season and swimming in the ocean while the girls clean their brothers’ clothes, cook their meals and general keep house.

Community life revolves around the nakamal. It is the ceremonial center and the meeting house. Decisions about community issues are made there, while drinking kava. Kava has a calming effect, which makes for great discussions about whatever problems are plaguing the community. Women are not allowed in, except during ceremonial meals. Women don’t drink kava. Women have no voice in the running of the community.

I miss my freedoms. I miss being able to go where I want to, talk to who I want to, feel that it is my place to be in any room or with any group of people. I miss women and men sharing housework, childrearing and daily chores. I miss having male friends. I miss feeling like I have value in the community without a judgment based on whether I was born with a penis or a vagina.

I’m writing this after a rough day of feeling like the social inferior of my partner. I’m upset, but in the spirit of honesty, I am writing about it. Not every second here has been laughter and fun, but enough of them have been to make it well worth it.

Up, Up and Away!

We have arrived on LA. Tomorrow we have “orientation” for 8 hours. It sounds like it will be “welcome to the PC, don’t mess up.” At 9:30 tomorrow night, we catch a plane to Aukland, New Zealand. We have a short layover in Aukland and then we are on to Port Vila Vanuatu.

The schedule we have for the next few months goes something like this. Sunday through Friday we will be at the training center 20 minutes outside Port Vila. We will be doing the “how to survive” portion of training. I think it is funny that this information is given to us when we are totally sleep deprived and jet-lagged. Anyway, that is the health, safety/security and language and cultural basics. On Friday afternoon, we will go in small groups to a community-based training site on the north coast of Efate, the island with Port Vila. Our literature specifically states that couples will train together, which is one relief. We will be in these villages/communities/huts-on-the-beach for 6 weeks. This time will include language lessons, but the expectation is that the best way to learn a language is through immersion. I agree, but that doesn’t make it less scary.

Sometime after those 6 weeks are up, we will be given our assignments and sent off to do them. Presumably, we’ll be sworn in as volunteers first. We won’t really know what our assignments are, where we are going or what kind of conditions to expect until we get there.

On less factual notes, these last few days have been chaos. We returned from the east coast late on Monday and spent the night at my dad’s. We dropped him off at the airport sometime before any sane person is awake and then continued on to my mother’s where we took a nap. Tuesday we spent the entire day shopping. We tripped the fraud detector on my card. I actually had to call the bank while in line at Target to allow them to run my card. We had dinner with Jason’s parents on Tuesday night and then went back to my mom’s to start packing. We spent Wednesday packing and sorting. Several friends stopped by which was wonderful for my mental state but not for my productivity. This morning, we finished stuffing things in bags and ran the very last minutes errands that needed doing. We and our bags made it to the airport underweight, underslept and with time to spare.

These last few days, and the east coast trip, have been so hectic I haven’t gotten a chance to really think about the fact that we, that I, am leaving the country. For real leaving the country. This is not a one month or four month trip. This is for real, I’m moving out of the US and expect to be living somewhere else long enough to have to pay taxes there. (If Vanuatu has an applicable taxation system.) Turns out, its a big deal and scary and exciting and sad and whole lot of other things.

Leaving friends is always hard because I never know if the older me will still be friends with the older them. Apparently I haven’t yet learned from experience that the really important ones just keep coming back and I shouldn’t bother to worry. Leaving family is hard in a different way. I’m close to both my parents, I’m used to talking to them several times a week. I won’t be able to call to ask advice, to complain about Jason not sweeping the floor or to beg for help with my broken car. The change is scary, because change always is.

Today it has sunk in a bit more that I’m leaving and I am worried and scared. But there is the little un-silenceable voice in the back of my head that keeps yelling “adventure.” With a voice like that, how bad can it be?