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.

8-6 Relationships

The longer I live in Vanuatu, the deeper I can dig into the culture and cultural differences of this place. That also opens up chances to reflect on my own cultural perspective and biases. It is a fun bit of navel-gazing and fascinating as an anthropology of my own culture as well as the culture of my host country.
Most recently, I’ve noticed a difference in the way people approach relationships. At home, a personal relationship starts through a mutual interest whether it is at work or meeting on a sports team or through a mutual friend. The relationship grows, or doesn’t, based on the personalities of the people involved. If I meet someone at work who I hit it off with, I may seek them out for other activities that appeal to our mutual interest. If I meet someone at work who I don’t hit it off with, I will leave that as a purely professional relationship and not pursue anything further. All of that happens based on my personality and the other person’s personality.
Here, it seems that relationships are based on the roles a person plays. Each relationship is a role which includes a set of responsibilities and rights. That role is referred to as the relationship. If I sing out ‘sister’ to someone, then I fill the ‘sister’ role for them. That role includes things like companion in the garden, assistance with marriages of children, sharing of food and cooking duties, sharing of child rearing duties, evening conversation, and basket weaving company. It isn’t important in that relationship if the person is older than me or younger than me, if we have mutual interests outside the work being done right now or even if we speak the same language. We fill the roles assigned to us by the relationship.
Most interestingly to me is that the personalities take a backseat to the role a person is supposed to fill. I am supposed to fill the role of daughter-in-law to Jason’s papa. It doesn’t matter that my name is Gaea because he only calls me Bali (language for daughter-in-law). It doesn’t matter that I don’t eat meat, he will give us meat when he has it because if you have meat, you share it with your children and their partners. Who I am plays a role in our relationship but it does not define the relationship. The relationship is pre-defined by the relationship, as circular as that is.
This is contrasted against my relationships at home. Jonah is my brother which gives him that role. I can’t see another person filling the role of brother. If I had another brother, the relationship would be different because it would be a different person. Jonah’s interests and passions color our relationship. If Jonah was interested in cars and not acting or he was a teetotolar instead of a bar tender, we would have a different relationship. He would still be my brother, the name of the relationship would be the same and the general shape of the relationship would be the same, but the details would be drastically different.
I’m not sure which is better. I started this post thinking that a relationship based on knowing the person was a better kind of relationship. It means that you pursue a relationship with the people you really care about and can leave the other relationships at a lower level of intimacy. On the other hand, if you put the role above the person, you know how to interact with any person you meet. You have a preset relationship and expectations within that to meet. You can’t exile a person from your relationships based on something that may change in a year or two years. You are forced to treat everyone with a certain level of respect, because every defined relationship has respect built in to it.
Navel-gazing is fun!

6-19 Family structure

Families are complicated. Even in the US, we struggle to accurately define family from a social and legal perspective. Here, it is even larger. Let me try to define terminology.

Mama is the woman who gave birth to you.
Other Mamas, or small/big mamas, are your mama’s sisters.
Papa is the man who is married to your mama.
Other papas, or small/big papas, are your papa’s brothers.
Aunties are your papa’s sisters.
Uncles are your mama’s brothers or sometimes a man’s nieces by his sisters.
Brother or straight brother is the boy who came from the same womb as you.
Sister or straight sister is the girl who came from the same womb as you.
Cousin-brother or sister is the child of your papas brothers or your mamas sisters.
Cousin brother or sister can be the child of any of your parents siblings, depending on other factors.
Child or straight child is the one you contributed DNA to.
Child is also the child of your brothers and sisters or your spouses brothers and sisters.
Bubu is the person two generations away in either direction, either grandparent or grandchild and extends out to cousins and then some.
Adoptions are common and are treated as if they were born into the family but when trying to distinguish between born and adopted people will say the mama who birthed you vs your straight mama.

Confused yet? It gets more complicated out in the second cousin area, but I still haven’t gotten that sorted out. Here’s a diagram. Maybe it will help.

5-28 Mommy came to visit – Part 2

Nagol remains crazy.
Back in Vila, we spent Friday re-packing for the island and wandering around town.  We headed to Pentecost on Saturday. Air Vanuatu had apparently received more bookings than usual to go see Nagol (land diving) and took two flights. We got on the later flight which left time to go cinnamon rolls.
Once we arrived, it was straight over to the dive site. They put on a dive for tourists right at the airport so it was a very short walk. There were a lot of spectators. The weather was mostly cooperative. It didn’t rain and the clouds even wandered off for part of it so we could get some good pictures.
During the week, there had been some back and forth about whether Gaea was going to be able to make it to the island. She had been in Santo for a Peace Corps workshop. Air Vanuatu ended up canceling her flight and didn’t have space to connect through Vila. After a trip to their office where I was told the flight was still on and she could get back on it, we checked again Saturday morning. It was cancelled. She talked her way onto a flight through Vila which got her back in time to catch the last plane that was coming for the tourists. I had just enough service to find out that she was coming and hold the boat. When she got in, we loaded into my papa’s boat and made the trip up to the village.
Meeting the host family before dinner.
Since the flight got in late, the sun was setting and it was dark by the time we got home. Night time boating is cool but unfortunately there were too many clouds to get a good view of the stars. There were algae or small glowy fish in the wake of the boat, so I think that made up for it.
Sunday we got to show my mom around the house and a little of the village. We decided to walk over to Melsisi for church so that she could see my site, too. It’s a long walk but pleasant and we were in no rush to get there. After church we took her around to shake hands with the people we spend time with and gave a little tour of the school. After resting at our house over there, we walked back to the village.
Tossing my sister around the waterfall
That evening, we went down to my family’s house for dinner. As always, it was a little awkward but we’re used to that. My papa enjoyed showing off his pigs while we waited for food. My momma can cook some pretty good white-man acceptable food so it wasn’t too bad. My mom even tried the laplap (which was taro, the best one.) After dinner, my family gave my mom a basket and a red mat and I handed out various presents she had brought for them with the appropriate toktok(small speech).
Monday we were headed back to Vila. We caught the afternoon flight and spent the morning at Waterfall. My momma and my sisters joined us in going for a swim. This involved my little sister getting tossed into the water a couple of times and was great fun! Eventually, we got back in the boat and down to the airport.
Obligatory resort promo shot.
Coming into Vila always seems to entail being busy and this time was no exception. Tuesday, I had a meeting with the Vanuatu Institute of Technology and Wednesday I had a safety and security training. Gaea hung out with my mom and did some shopping and read.
Thursday, I was finally free again. My mom rented a car and we checked into Aquanas Resort where she was putting us up. Staying at resorts has been one of the most fun things we have done with family when they came to visit. Aquanas was a very nice resort with a pretty beach (parts of which have wi-fi) and fantastic food. There was also AC in the rooms and the internet was quite fast for Vanuatu. It was so nice that we decided to just hang out at the resort on Friday. Reading on the beach, going for a tour around the lagoon in kayaks, playing around on the internet, and eating delicious food. It was a good, relaxing day.
Meeting the training family, getting an island dress.
Saturday, we drove around Efate. There is a black-top road the circles the whole island. I had called my host brother from training to tell him that we were going to go out. He failed to let the rest of the family. Even with no warning, they were very excited to see us. Unfortunately our mama wasn’t home but our sisters cooked lunch and gave my mom an island dress. We walked down to the ocean while lunch was being cooked and then storied while we ate. We handed out a few small thank you presents to this family as well. On the way back to town we stopped at Onesua School and took a tour around with Tim, the volunteer there.
The last night at the resort we filled with delicious food. Every meal, we would banter with the staff. I enjoy surprising ni-Vans by telling them that I live on one of the outer islands and drink kava, especially the ones that work at resorts and are used to tourist white people.
This is where we ate most meals.
The next morning, we had a last breakfast on the beach and said goodbye to the wonderful resort. After dropping our stuff off at the cheap Peace Corps dive, we went with my mom to the airport to say goodbye. We saw her off to security and she has now arrived safely back in the US.
It continues to be wonderful having family come visit. Not only is it fantastic to see them, but it also means they really get what we’re talking about when we call home. They’ve seen where we live and met some of the people. Having people back home who can relate means a lot.

2-19 Family Visit, Part 4 (The Last)

Pondering the wine. 

Tuesday morning, the threat of a cyclone became real.  I spent the day assisting the staff in coordinating the housing for the 40-some volunteers currently in Vila.  At that point, the cyclone path was heading straight at us.  By Tuesday afternoon, my family’s flight was cancelled and we were cyclone ready.

Jonah and Daddy went shopping and got pasta, cheese and crackers, wine, fruit, granola and milk.  Enough provisions for two days, including extra water and a deck of cards.  They’d also mailed themselves the things that wouldn’t make it through customs in New Zealand and were re-planning their New Zealand trip.  While they did that, I hauled mattresses around, called other volunteers and generally made myself as useful as possible.  Jason was teaching sessions to the new group, which at least kept all of them contained.
Jason and I made it back to our hotel around 3:30.  At that point the cyclone was aiming a bit south of us but had bumped up to a category 4 storm.  My phone battery was nearly dead and we had forgotten the charger in the office.  On that flimsy excuse, we went to a birthday/cyclone party at Carla’s house.

We ate homemade pizza and drank wine with a bunch of other PCVs.  None of us were in a hurry to go anywhere and no one had another agenda, so Jonah and Daddy got to really meet a few of my friends.  With people running in and out of the office, it is hard to focus on meeting a few person or really getting to know someone.  This way, we got to just chill.  Jason and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I hope Jonah and Daddy did, too. 

They were pretty cool star fish
By 8 pm, the storm was sliding south of us, following the corridor between New Calendonia and Vanuatu.  We walked back to the hotel with high winds and an overcast sky.  We locked ourselves in and never woke up for the worst of it.  By 6 am, Cyclone Jasmine was tearing through Tanna and Aneityum, having missed the urban center of Vila.  The best part, in my mind, was having an extra three days with my family.

We didn’t do anything spectacular during those days, just sort of hung out and relaxed.  We went back to Wan Smol Bag and got posters and booklets for me to take to the island and Jonah to take to New York.  We cooked and ate together.  We drank went to the mama’s market where Jonah and I got excited about food all over again.  We wandered through the craft market that feels more like the pushy Central American markets than the usual ni-Van sales style.  We spent time together as a family.

The last night they were in town, we went out to Iririki Island for dinner.  I thought Aore was posh but this place put it to shame.  I prefer Aore, but Iririki is more of the classic 5-star hotel kind of place.  We sat at the tiki bar and watched the Vila lights, then we went to dinner with white table clothes, five pieces of silver ware and two stemmed glasses each.  After dinner, we went back to the tiki bar where we enjoyed dessert and after dinner drinks.  At some point, Jonah befriended the bar staff (of course), and got invited behind the bar.  He made a drink which they promised to make as the special for the next day. 
My bro ended up behind the bar.  Busman’s holiday, I guess.

We got to the airport at 5:30 am, plenty of time to check in and say good bye.  They left for 4 days in New Zealand and I went back to do as much work as I could before returning to Pentecost.

I was an amazing trip.  I miss them already but I’m happy they got a chance to see this crazy life I’m leading.

2-19 Family Visit, Part 3

As always, travel in Vanuatu is exciting.  It rained all day Friday and most of Friday night.  We were meant to fly out on Saturday morning.  There are 6 rivers and 4 run offs between my house and the airport.  We got in the truck at 6:45.  We got out of the truck and started walking at 7:30.

We made it most of the way in the truck, which was good.  Our check in was supposed to be 7:30.  We got to the last river and stalled out for a bit.  The truck ford was flooded to my floating ribs.  The other crossing is on a fallen tree that was rain slick.  Finally, we just walked under the tree where it was only about waist deep.  None of us fell over and all of the bags made it across dry.  I considered it a successful crossing.  Of course, we walk as fast as we can the rest of the way to the airport only to wait for two and a half hours for the plane.  It was late.  Typical.
Flooffy Flower Drink!

We stopped in Vila for a 4 hour layover on our way to Santo.  Since we were there, we dropped our extra bags off at the office and got a good lunch.  When we arrived in Santo, we called a taxi driver Jason and I befriended over New Years.  He took us to the dock where we could catch the ferry to Aore Island Resort. 
Let me get this out of my system.  Aore Island is flas we!  That is possibly the fanciest place I’ve stayed, ever.  Coming from Peace Corps standards, it felt like a day spa.  We had real beds, clean sheets, a ceiling fan, 24-hour electricity, good food and wine, a fridge in the room, hot water and a beach front view.  It was posh.
Now, a quick history lesson.  Espiritu Santo island was used as the forward base for the action is Guadacanal in the Solomon Islands.  Guadacanal was some of the bloodiest fighting in WWII, something like 150 US deaths for every 10 feet the US soldiers took from the Japanese.  The landing strips on Santo were built in 22 days with a minimum of equipment, something like less than 12 large pieces of equipment total.  It was either get the landing strips done or lose Guadacanal and probably Vanuatu as well, since the Japanese were building their own landing strips at the time.  Despite all that, there was exactly one fatality in Vanuatu due to fighting; a cow died when a Japanese plane was gunned down. 

Do you see the real white sheets?  And Mattress?  And Electricity?
We spent a day at Million Dollar Point, the place where the American Army threw a bunch of equipment in the ocean at the end of the war.  The story I’ve heard is that it was cheaper to manufacture new equipment than it would be to transport the old stuff back to the US, so they attempted to bargain with the local businesses and governments to sell the stuff they were leaving behind.  The locals (mostly French at that point) figured that they’d be leaving it all behind anyway and didn’t want to pay.  When it got to $.18 on the dollar, the Americans got annoyed and threw it all in the ocean rather than give it away.  Now, it is a really cool artificial reef.
I’m not a military history buff, in fact I care very little about military history.  Congratulations, you killed each other.  I am not proud of that, I have no interest in studying it.  However, seeing all the old bits and pieces was probably one of the cooler things I’ve done recently.  There was a tank and a jeep as well as a crane, a lot of treads and tons of roofing and building material. 

They put me in “jail.”

Part of the cool aspect was my own imagination.  I can imagine the people who took care of those machines, who used them, who cursed them when they broke and babied them back to life.  I sympathize with the men who threw them in the ocean after years of working on them.  I imagine that some of them did it with relief and some of them cried as the metal submerged.  I can see a man tossing the coke bottle in as an after thought, or two soldiers competing to see who can throw his the furthest and dreaming of throwing a baseball instead.  Its almost like the machines are inhabited by the ghosts of the soldiers who worked on them.  Or maybe I just have an overactive imagination. 

We left Million Dollar Point with a different perspective on World War II.  We decided to try to find a few more relics the next day.

We had another fabulous meal at the resort and I got a drink with a flower in it.  I hadn’t had a drink with a great big flower it in it Vanuatu yet, so it was a necessary accomplishment. 

This is a WWII era Camion that still works.  Awesome!

Before we flew back to Vila, we did a little snorkeling around the dock at the resort where they have three firefish and went to check out other WWII relics.  There is a working camion on a cattle plantation and the wreck of a plane further down the road.  We also went to what looks like a communications tower, though our local driver said it was a jail.  It would have been a pretty brutal jail with three small, square rooms and no windows.  It also overlooks the entrance to the channel which puts it in a perfect place for a look out or a relay station.

We made it to our flight and to Vila before the winds got to strong and were safely landed when the first “cyclone warning” was uttered.

2-19 Family Visit, part 2

Boys at the nakamal

We got to Pentecost without a hassle.  Jason met us at the airport, ear infection and all.  We relaxed at the house for the afternoon and Jonah and Daddy tried laplap simboro, which they said tasted green.  In the evening, we went up to the nakamal.  I spent the two weeks leading up to their visit telling the people in my village that they’d be here and we should do a welcome for them.  They got as far as kava, which is better than they did for my mom.

Jonah jumped in to learning to grind kava.  He got a good inch worth of kava before the man he was grinding across from had enough of a pile to milk.  The men in the nakamal were having fun correcting his grinding posture, his grip and teasing him about how little he was getting.  Then, we drank kava.  My dad had one shell and was talking like John Wayne.  Jonah and I stayed for 6 more while Jason and Daddy went back to the house.
Showing my dad my teaching resources

We were all suffering a bit of laz the next morning, the three of us from kava and Jason from being sick.  We didn’t do much.  Jonah and I cooked.  It was exciting to have another person who gets excited about food and cooking to play with.  I run out of ideas by myself.  We brined a pumpkin, then roasted it with  soup of veggies in coconut milk and a mango chutney on top.  It was tasty, though it took all day.

We took our time getting going on Monday, too.  We walked to Melsisi around lunch time.  We took a tour of Melsisi, though it was pretty empty.  I showed my dad the health center and we saw the church.  We went to Jason’s lab for a bit.  Then we walked back to the village.  School was still on break, so there wasn’t a lot going on there.
Jonah and I cooked a lot

Tuesday it rained.  I realized how far I’d come from my life in the fast lane in the US while watching my family.  Rainy days here are a great excuse to do a whole lot of nothing.  It was raining cats and dogs, so I figured maybe a game or two of Scrabble, cook a good meal, read a book and go to bed.  By the time I’m getting worked up to cooking, my brother is knee deep in firewood he’s chopped out of logs using nothing but my bush knife and my dad is busy trying to figure out how to make a shelf out of the bamboo I have laying around the house.  I watched them do productive things and realized how much I’ve slowed down and mellowed out.
Wednesday, we had a date to pin natangura (thatch roof) and drink kava in Lalbateis.  We jumped in the ocean in the morning and went over around 3 pm.  We spent an hour or two learning to make a roof.  Jonah and Daddy did pretty well, though the men in Lalbateis kept showing Jason and I off by telling us to go get things or go work on pinning another “shingle.”  We timed it about right, we had enough time for Jonah and Daddy to pin a “shingle” each before it was time to start cutting kava.
A couple of very white bums

Of course, my brother could not be outdone by my partner and went over in true Pentecost style.  By that, I mean in a loin cloth.  While I was finishing up the “shingle” I was working on, he and Daddy followed Freddy on a short tour of the village.  Freddy’s mama saw Jonah and said something along the lines of, “His bum is too white, tell him to cover it up with this,” and gave him a tsip or small read mat.  The red mats are used as currency here.  It was a valuable gift and something Jason and I have been wanting for awhile.  Jonah wore it for the rest of the night, though he did complain that it was chaffing. 

Thursday we went to Waterfall.  We played on the sand beach there and then Jonah and I found as many high places as we could to jump from.  It was fun.  I do really love to swim in fresh water.  I like the ocean but the salt makes me itchy when I get out and I don’t like to open my eyes.  The waterfall is more my speed.
This is what we do at Waterfall.  JUMP!

By Friday, it was raining again.  We walked to the garden anyway.  Walking there and back was a good reminder of how far Jason and I have come in walking on foot paths.  My family is pretty fit and agile, but when Jason went ahead to get a fire started, he beat the three of us back by half an hour.  We have a learning curve.

The three of us in the back met an old couple on the way back from the garden.  After they got over their surprise, they kept laughing to see three white people dancing about on the path.  (Dancing is Bislama slang for slipping and sliding.)  Jonah and Daddy were thoroughly impressed to see this little old couple walking down a slippery foot path.  Jonah kept trying to help the old lady, which was cute but really she was doing better than he was.  Finally, the man went in front of me to show me a different path back, which meant he giggled at us a little less.  Just a little though.
It was really cool to be able to show them how I live now.  I know they have a different understanding of what I am doing and how I am doing it.  I also really enjoyed watching Jonah interact with my friends here.  There is a youngfala man who I would be friends with if it weren’t inappropriate to have cross-gender friendships who took to Jonah.  He’s decided that Jonah needs to learn Bislama so they can talk on the phone.  My dad is under the impression that this lifestyle would suit him well now, but I think he needs a few more modern conveniences, like lights at night.  Still, having them here in my house and my life was awesome.

2-17 My family Came to Visit!, Part 1

They made it all the way to my airport!

My family came to visit, well the rest of my family came to visit.  My mom came in July and in January, my dad and brother came for two weeks.

We got lucky with travel on the end that mattered, which was meeting them.  I had timed my flight to come in fifteen minutes after their flight landed.  We were about half an hour late, so rather than watching them walk through customs, I met them at the door.  I asked another PCV to meet us there, just in case something came up and my flight didn’t go or whatever.  It all worked out and I met them at the airport.
After forcing them to stay awake until 8 pm Vanuatu time, which was 3 am their time, we got up early and went to play tourist in Vila.  We spent the day at Mele Cascades, which are quite lovely.  It was brilliant fun to go exploring with my brother again.  We kept finding little alcoves and pools to romp in.  He has the same sense of wonder and delight that I have, which came up a few times during the trip. 
We left from the Cascades and went to the Secret Garden.  It was interesting but not something I’d go back to.  A lot of information and I think it used to be a botanical garden and “around the islands” kind of tour, but our guide was in a hurry and skipped to the big sell ideas.  I wanted the little ones, I’ve already seen the big ones.  It was fun to read some of the signs they had that told kastom stories or origins of different island traditions.  The mosquitoes were atrocious and it was raining so we left pretty quickly.
Brother and Bear

On Friday, I checked the weather.  We were intending to get on a boat on Sunday.  The forecast called for 3.5 meter swells.  That is what I call rough seas.  We had to do a bit of travel re-planning.  We spent the morning in the Air Vanuatu office booking tickets and spending large amounts of money.

Our medical officer, the MD who looks after the health of the volunteers, offered to take my dad on a tour of Vila General Hospital.  They had quite a correspondence while Jason was on medevac and my father has experience working in developing world hospitals, so it made sense.  I left him in Nelsine’s hands and took my brother to Wan Smol Bag, the local (and only) theater in Vila. 
Wan Smol Bag is awesome.  We got an impromptu tour of all of their facilities.  They started with a theater and a spitfire writer who wasn’t afraid to broach the hard social topics.  They tackled AIDS and STIs.  People got back to them saying, “We want to get tested but can’t afford the hospital fees.”  So, they started an STI clinic.  Then they started doing plays about appropriate behavior from youth.  The youth got back to them saying, “We can’t get jobs and we can’t go to school.”  So, they started a youth outreach center with computers, English and literacy classes, dance classes, an acting troupe and a library.  During all of that, they also expanded from stage to radio and film, they started a soap opera about AIDS, they developed publications to compliment their shows and started a sports program.  Now, they are working on a nutrition center which will include cooking classes in a Western kitchen and a bush kitchen and balanced meals for everyone in the classes. 
Jonah, of course, loved it.  I did, too.  It was great to see the kind of work they are doing and it got me really excited about it being possible to do that kind of integrated social messaging work based around a theater.  On that note, we left for Pentecost.

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.