12-22: Up, Up and Away!

Our students came to see us off at the airport.
We left Vanuatu on Friday, December 20th. I tried to use up the credit on my phone as we sat on the runway and got down to 30 vatu before they made me turn my phone off. Jason did better, he was down to 2 vatu.
We spent Friday night with friends in Brisbane. Did you know there is this magical box that you put dirty clothes in and they come back clean and halfway dried? That thing is full of black magic and miracles. Our friends let us use their washing machine and drier, though half the clothes ended up on the line anyway because the dried was too small to dry all the clothes.
Saturday morning, we flew to Darwin. We are now off on our grand adventure! We’ll be traveling for the next few months. The general plan is to spend about 2 weeks in different Southeast Asian countries. We leave for Bali, Indonesia on the 23rd where we have a room booked until the 26th. On the 5th, we fly from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore. We leave Singapore three days later by bus and head into Malaysia. That’s as far as we have planned.
Red rocks along the road in Darwin

Leaving has not been easy. First of all, we both worked up until the end. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday at work, then stopped by on Thursday for a last review with my counterpart. Jason worked Tuesday and part of Wednesday and stopped by Thursday for an exit interview with his principal. So, we’ve been cleaning out the house, packing up and saying our goodbyes around a more-or-less 40-hour a week schedule. Insanity.

Smol spel from wandering the streets.

The emotional part of leaving is a combination of unreal and bittersweet. I don’t real believe that I won’t be returning to Vila in a few weeks. Jason hasn’t realized that he won’t be drinking fresh kava again for a very long time. The moments that have made it real are odd. My mother’s worries about contacting us was one. Usually, we call about once a week and I sit outside the Peace Corps office and tell her about all the insanity that made up my life. Now, we will be reliant on skype and email. (We may have a phone while traveling but it will vary country by country, depending on the price of phones plans and SIM cards.) Jason closing his bank account was final for him. They let him keep his cards, though. (They took mine, but I didn’t ask for them back.)

In many ways, the “big” things really didn’t feel big to me. Wan SmolBag did a very nice little goodbye. There was awesome cake. They gave me a t-shirt and set of Love Patrol as well as a tablecloth and napkin set in Vanuatu style. I got calicoed but not baby powdered. (Traditionally, gifts of calico are wrapped around people’s shoulders at these things, then they get baby powder dumped on their heads.) We did our last kava with staff and volunteers on Thursday evening. A bunch of people came out, but it just felt like a nice evening for a shell. I’ve been to so many last kavas, I don’t think my heart recognized that one as my own. 

I think it will set in more strongly in a few days. Once we are really going and it is clear we really aren’t going back, then it will be real. Right now, I’m just on vacation. 

The view from Shefa Kava Bar where we did our last kava with staff and many, many other kavas over the last three years.

12-22 Happy Solstice, Darwin!

Bromeliad at the Botanical gardens.  Red for the sun, going or coming.

We celebrated the Summer Solstice by sleeping in and then going sightseeing at the Darwin Botanical Gardens.

The gardens are beautiful. They are full of plants, as Botanical Gardens should be, but it wasn’t all cultivated and tidy. The well-groomed paths ran between bushes, through green houses and under giant trees. In places, the jungle was growing and doing its thing with only a few plaques to show that we were in a garden at all. In other places, fountains shot jets of water in the air and a lilypad pond had 2 different colored flowers. Jason and I both got distracted by the spinny toys on the playground. I couldn’t figure out how to get off mine once I got it spinning. The gardens were a perfect blend between botanical garden, state park and city park.
Lilypads and pretty flowers at the Botanical Gardens.

It is fitting to me that I spent my Summer Solstice playing in the sun.

It is even more fitting that I left Vanuatu 2 days before the Winter Solstice. My family has celebrated Winter Solstice for years by inviting over family and friends and making merry in the darkness of the longest night. We celebrate the change in the year and make ready for the new year by thinking about things we have or want to leave behind. I’ve left a lot behind, but I am taking more with me.

Hanging on by a thread
Or by many threads.

12-19: Its been awhile…

So, I have completely failed to update in the last 2 months.  Sorry about that.

I plan on spending the next few weeks catching up on a lot of blogs but here is a short overview of the last few months:

– We started a program to bring 3 ni-Van youth home to train at the dojang in Minneapolis.  It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and failures and small successes.  More information about the program available at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hwa-rang-do-exchange-program–2
– I got a book contract to write a travel guide to Vanuatu. 
– I wrote a travel guide to Vanuatu.  (This is a significant part of why the blogs stopped.  Too much book writing.)
– We competed in another Judo Tournament with the club we’ve been training with.
– I ran a Girls Leading Our World Camp with three other PCVs.  It was fantastic and I’ve been able to see the change in the girls as they try to apply the skills they learned there to their lives at the Youth Center.
– We’ve continued our HRD/TSD martial arts club at the Youth Center to great success.  We have 6 yellow belts and 4 orange belts who train regularly.  They have promised to continue training next year using the videos and with a different instructor we identified.
– There were many Christmas and Break-Up parties at the Youth Center, Wan SmolBag, VIT, and the volunteers we’ve befriended.
– There have been hundreds of other little moments that deserved recognition, but trying to crank out a book took precedence.  Expect me to better in the next few months. 

We are leaving Vanuatu on Friday the 20th of December.  We will both be finished with our Peace Corps service and off to new adventures.  We will not be returning home in any kind of a timely fashion, but we will get there eventually.

Our plans at the moment are 3 nights in Australia then fly to Bali, Indonesia.  We will spend 2 weeks in Indonesia then hop across the sea to Singapore, Malaysia.  After a few weeks in Malaysia, we are hopping over a different sea to Cambodia or Vietnam.  We’ll backtrack sometime in early February to meet up with my dad, brother and brother’s girlfriend in Thailand.  After that, plans are quite up in the air.

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.

10-16 Last Trip to Maorip

Back in June, Noel-Marie, the main guy we were training martial arts with in Maorip injured his eye. He was cutting firewood and a splinter flew off and hit his eye, which scratched the surface. He was smart enough to go down to the Health Center where they referred him to Santo for surgery. Something about buffing out the scratch, which makes his eye sound like a glass ball.
The final test for Jason’s primary student.
He got his orange belt.

He left for Santo to stay for a week or two and came back nearly 3 months later. Thus it goes in Vanuatu. The doc wanted to see him after a month so he found work at a construction site which turned into more work because it was paying work. Cash is hard to come by on the outer islands so this was a great opportunity to earn a bit of money for his family as well as a walkabout for him.
The other men we’d been training with were afraid they’d forget something without him there and didn’t want us to come train them. So, we haven’t been to Maorip in a few months, which is too bad but again, thus goes life in Vanuatu.
At First Communion I found Jocelyn, Noel-Marie’s wife, and told her we were leaving in two weeks. She told Noel-Marie who came and found us to confirm if that was true. We told him it was and sorted out a day to go up there for a last visit. We wanted to go say goodbye to their kids as well as the other people in the village.
We left Tuesday after school and walked up as it was getting dark. We made the walk in just over an hour which is very good time. When we got there, they were already grinding kava. I went to the kitchen to story with Jocelyn while Jason hung out in the nakamal. I got about half an hour of chatting in before they sang out for my kava.
Jason and Noel-Marie grinding kava for the last time antap.

The chief did a nice thank you speech and talked about how it was important to their community that we had made the effort to come. They had only one basket which the chief smoothed over admirably by saying we were “one body” and could share the basket. I think we just didn’t give them enough warning to have another one made. Noel-Marie had more to say that was more emotional, but he said that to us individually.

The kids had to go to school in the morning, so we did a brief goodbye with them. We gave them lots of presents some of practical value like rulers, erasers and notebooks and some of fun value like fake tattoos and frisbees. They were excited, though the littlest one was afraid of the stuffed animal I gave her, at least until her big brother wanted to play with it. Then it was most definitely hers.
Our family in Maorip: Papa Noel-Marie and Mama Jocelyn.

Leaving those guys was harder than leaving many people. They have been nothing but welcoming and friendly with us. I’m sure part of it is not living in the village we only ever saw the best, but we still saw the best. I like Maorip and the people who looked after us up there. I will miss training with them and drinking kava in that nakamal, though I can’t say that I’ll miss racing up the hill at the end of a long day.

That day was a 10-day kakae for a deadman (part of the funeral rites). Jason helped move a pig to the correct village while I hung out with the little kids and Jocelyn. We all went over to the village in the afternoon where Jason got to work grinding kava. He understands his role in the nakamal very well, though everyone else seems confused at first. I hung out there long enough to take some pictures then went and found the women.
My smol sista Sawan.  She’s a cutie.

We only stayed for an hour or so because we had to walk back down the hill and then over to Vansemakul before dark. That is about an hour and a half of walking but they thought we needed kava before that happened. There is a phrase in Bislama that I really like. They say that kava makes the road small. I agree. The road gets narrower at night, I swear!

We hoofed it down the hill after a few shells and picked up our bags in Melsisi then off we went to Vansemakul. We arrived back at dusk in time to collapse into bed and sleep for 12 hours.

3-12 Goodbye Internet!

I’m heading back to Pentecost in eight hours. I’m glad to be going, though having the internet really is nice. It means a lot to have easy access to communication.

On the other hand, I’ve been away from my partner, my work and my life for too long. It will be great to be back to my long, quiet days, plenty of writing and teaching myself the guitar and lots of time to read.

I will be back in April or May depending on how some scheduling things work out. You should know how to write to us by now, but if not, just address it to us in Vansemakul, Central Pentecost, Vanuatu. It will get there, eventually.

Take care and stay away from bush knives. They bite.

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?