1-30 Gender divide from a male’s viewpoint

You’ve all probably read Gaea’s rundown of the gender divide from her point of view so I figured I’d put up my take on things.
I think that one of the other volunteers put it very well during our training when he said that men here are rock stars. Basically, it’s true. To be fair, just being white makes us both celebrities. We walk around and are known everywhere. It’s actually strange being in Vila where I am relatively unknown. Even here I can get a bit of the celebrity treatment just by talking in Bislama and telling people what island I’m from. On the island, everyone knows who we are and wants to chat with me, usually over a shell or five of Kava. When I say everyone, I do mean the men. The women mostly want to chat with Gaea and don’t really want the kava. Of course, the kava happens in the Nakamal, which is also where the business of the village is discussed. Not that I can understand what’s going on, everything being in language but I can be there.
I do get a good deal of enjoyment from pushing their ideas of gender roles. I wash clothes, I cook, I clean the house. I do all these things publicly. It causes confusion. Of course, I’m white and expected to be strange. I also take the opportunities I can to discuss with people that Gaea and I share all the housework. I really don’t know how much mind-changing I’m doing but I like to think I’m at least opening windows if not doors. Not everything about the culture is 100% divided, especially in our area. Kastom dictates that the young men go live in the Nakamal where we are told that they’re expected to cook and clean their own clothes as these are important life skills. Once they get married, they’re not expected to keep doing such tasks but they do learn and if their wife is sick or visiting family they may have to take care of themselves. They are also expected to help their wife raise their grandchildren.
Domestic violence is acceptable here but hitting your wife or kids hard enough to injure is not. Of course, there are only certain people that can actually tell someone to knock it off unless the woman goes to the authorities, be that the chiefs or the law. Hitting someone else’s wife, especially your brother’s, has been demonstrated to carry a pretty hefty fine. Rape is being dealt with more harshly than I understand it has been in the past. Enough so that a chief was stripped of his position and banned from the Nakamal for it. Being banned from the Nakamal is a HUGE deal. It means you aren’t even allowed to witness ceremonies and you aren’t included in community business. That this happened to a chief says something to me.
I don’t excuse some of the behaviors I’ve seen here. It’s incredibly frustrating to see some of the attitudes here. On the other hand, I do feel like progress is being made. I feel like the society as a whole wants to change. Is it moving fast enough? No, but these things take time and I have hope.

11-25 on naming and families

Our current host family situation is interesting.

Let me start by trying to explain mine. I have a host papa. He is a youngfala (unmarried, youth). That means I have no host mama. I do on the other hand have a lot of aunties and uncles, and some grandparents. Everyone one of my host-papa’s brothers are my papas and everyone one of his uncles are my grandfathers. Same goes for sisters (aunties) and his aunties (grandmothers).

Now, the kastom name I was given has two parts, the first part “Matan” is a clan name. The clan name alternates by generation. So, my host mama, if I had one, would be a “Mabon” which makes me a Matan which means my daughter would be a Mabon. I think the “lala” part means something along the lines of “girl.” Now, Matanhelala is a common name. Because Matan is the clan name, every Matan is related to me. Which means that every other Matanhelala is now my sister. By extension, that means that every man with a daughter named Matanhelala is now my papa and everyone woman with a daughter names Matanhelala is now my mama.

Curiously enough, that means that Alexandra, the next closest volunteer to me, is both my sister and my cousin since we share a name and our papas are brothers of some form.

The men’s clans alternate the same way except with “Tabi” and “Bule.” Here is where things get complicated again. Bule can only marry Mabon and Tabi can only marry Matan. I think this is a trick to keep people at least a generation apart when the entire island population is less than a few thousand.

Now, let me back up a few days. Jason has met two men who have claimed to be his host papa. The first one didn’t give him a name, he said that would happen later. The second one named him on the spot. He named Jason a Bule.

(Another tangent: Jason, Alexandra and I were walking to her house in Melsisi one afternoon. The truck in front of us was getting some repair work done by a gaggle of men. We could see only part of one of the men from the top of the hill. The part we could see, wasn’t wearing pants. Nope, just a loin cloth. As we approach, he comes around the truck and greets us. We say hi politely and he asks who will be working in Vansemakul, I say me and he says good. Then he looks at Jason and says, “I’m your papa. You’re name is Bule(something).” We stand there and blink and then say thank you and carry on our way.)

If you are still following, you’ll notice a problem here. Bule can’t marry Matan, but we are married. So, now we have a conflict of interests. The first man who claimed Jason would make him a Tabi, but he hasn’t given Jason a name.

To complicate matters still more, Jason has not been formally adopted. It was supposed to happen last week, but didn’t and then we were under the impression it would happen at the same time I was, but it didn’t. Maybe Saturday.

UPDATE: Jason has been adopted and named with a Tabi name. His kastom name is Tabikirian. His host papa is not the pantsless wonder, but the other one who really likes to tell stories. Both of our names mean “good person” essentially.

The Little Moments of Realization

I seem to be accepting my move in little moments of intense panic. The first one happened when I discovered I had to wear a skirt. If you know me, you understand why I had to panic about it. I’m accepting it better now, in fact I even found myself disappointed that a cute skirt didn’t fit me. Look out, I’ll be a fashionista soon. A fashionista in a mumu.

My second moment of panic was when it sunk in that there is only one book store in the entire country. Talk about lacking a culture of reading. For me to not have books is like to say I’ll now be surviving without carbon. I won’t die so much as cease to exist. I’m coming up with creative ways around this problem including a Kindle (which may be a bad idea), friends who have promised to send me a book a month, filling one entire suitcase with nothing but books and most importantly, remembering that I’m writing a novel while I’m there.

Today’s moment of panic was less funny and more worrisome. Jason got us scheduled on the flights we are taking. I was talking with a co-worker about it and he asked if I was excited or scared or overwhelmed. I said, “Yes.” He asked me what I was scared about and I was thinking about my family. I’m in close touch with my family. I talk to both my parents three or four times a week, I’m used to seeing both of them two or three times a week. I talk to my brother every week, or at least play voicemail tag. None of that is going to be possible from Vanuatu. If we have internet, than I might be able to skype with them some, or if we have cell phone reception I’ll be able to call more regularly. But we might be on an island where the fastest communication with the outside world is via Hamm Radio. You read that right, radio. Shortwave radios aren’t going to reach to the US.

I’m sure that this is just one more surmountable obstacle and one more learning experience. I’m sure I’ll adjust and my relationships will not be harmed from it. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t scary right now. A lot of things are going to change and I don’t know how to plan for all the changes. I guess that’s part of my adventure and something I will have to learn throughout this experience.