7-14 We live in a small country

When we lived on Pentecost, we could look out from our  house and see Ambrym whenever it wasn’t pouring. From the other side of the point, we could see Ambae. When it was clear, we see Malekula. This lead to a discussion about the size of Vanuatu vs the size of Lake Superior. Since one cannot see the opposite shore when standing on one side of Superior.

And now, thanks to viewing both places from the same virtual height in Google Earth, I bring you all of Vanuatu’s islands in lake superior.

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.

9-3 (yes, last year) The Land of Overgrown Houseplants

I really think Vanuatu is the land of the overgrown houseplants.  There are plants that I have seen people trying to grow in greenhouses, on windowsills and through the long, cold Minnesota winter that are weeds here.  Basically, its like Jurassic Park, except without as many large, ravening dinosaurs trying to eat us.

Here are some pretty pictures of plants that you may recognize:
We call this one natangura here, but I have no idea what it is called in English.  Anyone who knows feel free to comment.  My dad has a few in his house, except they are about chest high, instead of tree sized.

The plant is the palm-looking thing over on the right of the photo, behind the rock.
This is something my mother calls “Wandering Jew.”  I don’t know if that is the right name for it or not, but it grows as a house plant and an annual around the Minneapolis area.  Here, it takes over sections of the bush.

I don’t know how many plants have the same name, but this one grows everywhere there are rocks to climb.

This is something my grandmother calls a Croton, we call it a flower.  My grandmother has been trying to get these things to grow with minimal success for longer than I’ve been alive.  Here they are trees.  They are one of the few “flowers” that the cows won’t eat.  They grow all over.

Its a tree.  Seriously, tree.
At home, Poinsettas are a small, seasonal, potted plant.  Here, they are rampant bushes.  Both the white and red varieties grow with no attention by humans.  In fact, the students in Melsisi decided to line a path with them by ripping of a couple of branchs and shoving them in the ground.  They all have new leaves now.
That’s Jason’s grandma.  She’s doesn’t speak Bislama but she smiles a lot.

I don’t have a good picture, but I’ve seen something that looks a lot like a plant I think is called Mother-in-Law’s tongue or some other equally awkward name.  Long stalk leaves coming up from a central base that are white in the center and green on the outside. 

There are more, but my botany is not the best.  Overall, the plants here grow to ridiculous sizes.  The castor beans average around 10 feet tall, my tomato plant is taller than me and my basil is shoulder high.  Everything likes to grow here.

1-4 Christmas Part 3: Getting Home

In case it wasn’t clear from the trek of getting to the north, it is not in fact a day’s walk away. We figured we’d go the other direction and see how far we could walk before it was boat time. Catching a speed boat is a bit expensive, so the more we could walk the better.

We started out with Alex and Lucas as our guides. After about two hours of walking, they turned back. We continued on for awhile on our own. Then it started raining. We walked along a nice, wide truck road in the rain. This wasn’t a problem. The truck roads make off-roading look like a two-lane highway, but are still entirely walkable. Sometime before noon, we got to the first large village. We found out from a woman on the road that her brother is a teacher in Melsisi and would be heading back to Melsisi that day. We figured we’d look for him and see about splitting a boat.

The first person told us he was at the Catholic Mission. The next few didn’t have a clue. The one after that said he’d already gone to Melsisi. The one after that told us he was at the Mission. We decided to try the Mission. We got there and found a lot of people. More than a Wednesday church gathering would merit. Because we are white, we got attention immediately and someone came over to ask us what we were doing there. We asked about the teacher and were told he had left already.

It started to down pour. This is how Jason and I crashed a wedding. We hung out for awhile, sitting in the two of the three chairs while the priest had the other one. We eventually figured out that there had been not one, but three weddings. (This is how Jason and I came to crash three weddings.) They often do multiple weddings at once here, I guess it saves on travel for the families.

When it stopped raining and Jason and I had had our water re-filled and made a great story for the entire area for months, we decided to head out. We got about forty feet away from the gate before they decided to give us a guide. The guide was a young man in his early twenties. All his friends couldn’t let him have the glory so we got a pack of guides. The pack of guides decided to follow us and direct from the rear.

After another half hour or so, the pack left and we walked on with just the one guide. He told us we were going to go on a “short cut.” Never trust that phrase. Our “short cut” last for the next three hours and all of it was up and down paths that were mud-slick, overgrown and had never been wider than a goat’s feet to begin with. We both mostly kept our feet, but there were some near misses.

By the time we got to the village with the wedding, we were happy to go back to the main road. From there, it was only 45 minutes more hiking to the ocean where we got a speed boat back to Melsisi. We still had to walk to Vansemakul, but at least it was a familiar road wide enough for three people to walk abreast and mostly groomed with gravel.

We made it home in time for Jason to get a fever and spend the next two days in bed. He’s better now.

A bit more about the islands

This is a country of extreme diversity and very interlocked families. As you go from one village to the next, one island over or even within a single village, different customs, languages and styles reign supreme. For instance, my training-host family speaks a local language in which the word for goodnight is “Pongwio.” That is the standard language for Epau, Ekipe and Takara, three of the training villages. However, my sister-in-law spoke a different language which is not the same language as my papa who spoke the same language as about half the men of the village. They all moved from the same island, which speak a different language than the “usual” one in the area. It is entirely complicated. There are certain things that each island is known for, so I will attempt to summarize my impressions here.

Firstly, open a new tab and look at a map. It will help.

Torres – This is the entire group of islands. It is known for being remote* and acting sort of like Papa New Guinea.
Banks – Also known for being remote. It has a volcano that recently developed indigestion. Gaua was a previous PC post but that volunteer got moved to a safer island. The boats go up to the Banks about every month or two. Good luck going there!
Maewo – Still in the remote theme. This is the “ples blo wota.” It is sort of a large, volcano-shaped swamp. The swamp part makes it hard to travel, so much of the intra-island travel actually happens in speed boats along the coast.
Ambae – Hurray for active volcanoes! This volcano has lakes on top, which make it especially dangerous. If it explodes even a little bit it will cause a landslide and take out a few towns in lava-hot mud.
Pentecost – My new home! This is where the big Nambas and the small Nambas war with each other and occasionally jump from very high structures with vines tied to their ankles. It is also known to have the best woven baskets and the steepest hills.
Ambryn – Its got a lot of bush and a very large hill. By hill, I actually mean another volcano, also having a bit of indigestion. This one is spewing enough ash to cause regular acid rains, which prevents anything not a root crop from growing. They eat a lot of root crops. This is the place of black magic.
Espiritu Santo – This is the French island. They tried to make a new nation, or at least go join their Francophone companions in New Caledonia. It didn’t work and became as US base for the fighting that took place in the Solomon Islands.
Epi – They have Lesipsips. They are like the Ni-Vanuatu leprechauns including the wish-granting if caught.
Shepards – Another collection of islands. This one used to be one big island, but things happened. If you guessed another volcano, you’d be right. The volcano exploded to hard, it literally shattered the island.
Efate – It has Port Vila, the capital. And the bigfala road – paved, two-lane – goes all the way around it.
Erromango – Headhunters! That’s about all I know, I don’t think there are even any PC volunteers there, or if there are, I don’t know them.
Tanna – It has another volcano! This one explodes about every hour and you can hike to the summit. On the other hand, it is currently throwing a tantrum and you really shouldn’t hike to the summit.
Aneityum – We have gone back into the remote corners.
Futuna/Mystery – Basically, its remote. It appeared out of the ocean a few hundred years ago and now a few people live there. About five.

I’m sure that I’ll have to do this list again in a year as I get new and updated information. Or as I learn more about my new home. For the moment, this is at least a brief overview of what I know.

*When I say remote, I don’t mean like “well, you have to drive on a highway for awhile” I mean like “well, there goes the boat. Maybe there will be another one before next year.”