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.

5-2 Back to the Land of Hills and Taro

Some guys went net fishing.  That’s Ambae in the background.
I went back to Pentecost for 4 days. I was sent for official Peace Corps business, which means I didn’t get to chose where I was going, so I saw North Pentecost, but not my beloved Central. Maybe next time.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, part of my job description says I should be doing site visits. Every year, each volunteer should be visited by a staff member. The visit is a forum for the community to discuss the PCV’s work, family situation and overall demeanor and for the PCV to address any issues they are having. Basically, it is the “are you doing your job?” check up. There are 65 PCVs currently in Vanuatu. Which hopefully means lots of traveling for me. I’m crossing my fingers anyway.
I followed Judy, a staff member, on her site visit to my friend Mike’s site. He lives in Nabarangiut, the village I visited way back in Christmas of 2010. Not many people recognized me, since I’ve lost weight and cut my hair. A few did though, which was fun.
The sun was strong, so they gave me an umbrella.  It makes sense here, I promise.
The official work happen on Thursday. We met with Mike and then with his community. It was an easy visit. His community’s main question was how they could get him to extend for another year. For complaints to have, that’s probably the best one I can think of. They also had questions about the water project he’s been working on, which is being funded through the grants that I’m on the committee for. Convenient. I spent awhile explaining the long and complicated road that their money had gone on to reach them and how it would be there soon. They were glad to hear it. I even got applause.
Baby Alex is now Toddler Alex.  And pretty cute.
Mike’s community felt bad for him trying to feed five people. I think they realized that was outside of his cooking capabilities. (There was another PCV visiting him and Judy brought her son.) So, the community set up a feeding rotation. They told us where to be for each meal and we showed up to massive feasts each time. I got my fill of water taro.
One of the places we dined was the previous PCV’s host family. Shortly before they left, a baby was born and named Alex in her honor. I took pictures of baby Alex to pass along to her. Then I took pictures of the village and the family, because they wanted me to pass those along, too. I will, because I hope that in a year or two someone sends me pictures of Vansemakul and the people there.
Mike is fearless about jumping in the waterfall.
We had enough time on Friday to cool off at the waterfall. It was the first time Troy, Judy’s son, had seen a waterfall. He’s a Vila boy. He got excited then freaked out and refused to come back in the water. I guess that’s how small children are. Mike on the other hand, had no fear and climbed around the top to jump in. Crazy man.
It was fun to visit Mike and see Maureen. I enjoyed a brief return to Pentecost. I wish I could have gotten down to Central. That would have made my month. Next time.

10-22 Transfer Complete

Fresh news! Not a month and a half old!
Office at the Big Smoke

We have moved to Vila. We arrived on Efate on Saturday, October 20th. We immediately moved into our new house, or at least we left all our stuff there. Due to the help of some lovely friends, most of our bags and boxes that we shipped ahead of time were already in the house when we arrived. I have great friends.

Saturday we spent in Vila Shock. (It is a unique syndrome in which the early symptoms combine a fear of crossing traffic with an intense urge to sit in the Peace Corps office and waste time while alternately craving and gorging on cheese and ice cream. Late symptoms include dairy-induced gastrointestinal distress, confusion about the loss of hours of productive day time and the sense that you have misplaced all of your last paycheck.) We made it over to the office in the afternoon and then goofed off on the internet for awhile. We celebrated our move with dinner at a new Indian restaurant.
Sunday morning I ‘slept in’, cooked and ate breakfast and showered then looked at the clock. It was 7:30. I guess I’m still on island time. Still, that meant we had plenty of time to work on moving stuff into the house before we were expected to be anywhere.
Jason started pulling things out of bags while I reorganized the kitchen. It didn’t take very long for us to decide that what we really needed to do was move a bunch of furniture which somehow led to me removing two pieces of trim. On the up side, the fridge is now in a much better place than it was and the kitchen has a bit more space. Somehow, the six bags we’d brought off the island managed to explode enough stuff to cover every flat surface in the apartment. I’m still puzzled about how that happened. We’re getting things moved in and put away pretty well. There is still several hours of work to do, but that will have to wait until the end of the week.
Carla, the previous denizen of this house, left us really well set up. The apartment itself is pretty nice but she left it fully furnished and well furnished. We have 4 sets of good American sheets, 4 fluffy towels, as much cook wear as I could want and high-quality pots and pans. The only things we will be purchasing as kitchen knives (she took hers back with her), a blender (I love smoothies!) and maybe a book shelf or two. Oh, and I have to put the trim back on the wall, which means I need a saw to cut it the right length.
I am pleased with the new house. I’m excited about the new job. I’m looking forward to getting to know the new trainees and help them adjust to life in this wacky place. I miss Pentecost and free mangos, but life is looking pretty good at the moment.

6-1 VIT Visit

Last week, I went to the Vanuatu Institute of Technology for a visit. They have been asking for a Peace Corps volunteer in IT for a number of years but needed on with computer networking experience. Turns out I’ve got some and might be interested in moving to Vila. How convenient.

Tuesday morning, I jumped into the truck with my Program Manager and Assistant Program Manager to head over to VIT. After a short wait in the lobby, we sat down for a meeting with the Principal, Deputy Principal, and Director of IT. The meeting was typical Vanuatu style which goes on for too long and everyone says the same thing a few different ways and is always vaguely awkward. I was told many times how excited they are that I am interested in working there. After the meeting, the IT director took the my bosses and I on a tour of the campus network. I felt a little bad for Antoine and Len as we looked at switches and talked tech. Fortunately they seemed to be fine chatting with each other.
The network at VIT is actually pretty decent. Not terribly well maintained at the moment and not living up to its potential, but has the right pieces. To talk tech briefly, they’ve got a Windows 2008 server (not running a domain), windows 7 clients, and an extensive network of managed switches (not managed) connected by fiber optic links. The switches around campus are even in mini racks that have locks on them… but aren’t actually locked. Also, they tend to be in break rooms where people eat. The rats then take leavings and go up into these safe looking boxes to eat their gains. Sometimes they eat the cords too.
The current IT Director actually seems to have a good idea of what the network needs. Unfortunately, he is kept too busy teaching to look after it properly. It also seems that his status as another teacher means he doesn’t have the clout to put the necessary policies in place, even though he knows what they are. It seems to be fairly common here for people to see what needs to be done but not be given the appropriate authority for others to follow them.
I also met the few other young men who make up the IT department. I did not get a lot of time to talk to them, but I understand they are capable at basic desktop support but not much higher level. I will also be working with them on improving their skills to keep up maintenance when I leave.
Once we finished the tour, we shook hands with the Principal and Deputy again and chatted briefly. Starting to discuss when it might work for me to start working and what that would look like. They remained very excited about the idea of having me there.
It was definitely a good visit. I feel like this could be a very good one year posting for a third year volunteer. A year should be a good bit of time to get things cleaned up and policies put in place, then turn it back over to them to run. Having lived on the islands will help me with understanding the culture as well as “street cred” with the other staff. At the same time, I can be an outsider with the authority and knowledge to put the policies in place and have some ability to enforce them. If I can do that, it will be easier for the local staff to maintain some amount of compliance. Also, if I do run out of other things, there are always plenty of viruses to deal with.
I think that VIT will be a good fit for me. My project managers also remain very excited. They have already passed my extension request letter on with enthusiastic recommendations.