9-20 Weddings in Vanuatu are Still in Vanuatu

The first full bus.  It got fuller.

A few weeks ago (I’m really far behind on blogs, I’m sorry) a fellow PCV got married. The wedding ceremony was sweet, touching and short. The bride and groom looked radiant. People cried. The decorations were elegant and fit in around and among the tropical location beautifully. We ate, we drank, we danced, we partied. It was, all in all, a success. But straight up success makes for a poor story, so this blog is less about the wedding and more about getting to the wedding.

We met at Anchor Inn around 1 pm to catch buses. At 1:15, we found out that the buses wouldn’t be there until 1:30. At nearly 2:30, we were still at Anchor Inn. By we, I mean about 50 people. (It was not a small wedding.) After a short conversation with the now very stressed bride, they canceled the buses. We were to find our own transport.

Lovely lanterns in the tree

Telling a group of people here to “find their own transport” is like telling a bunch of bears to find their own honey. Out came the cell phones. Half the group went outside to flag down a bus, half called their friend/family member with a bus. After a brief burst of chaos, we reorganized. The cafe manager and a few PCVs emerged as the strongest leaders and started loading up buses. Loading the buses was a complicated feat of politics. The buses that had been called had to be filled if/when they arrived, otherwise it might spoil the relationship between the bus and the person who called. However, that required waiting for those buses to arrive while the other buses in the lot saw a good thing and tried to get us on their bus instead. I stayed out of it.

After about half an hour, I ended up on a bus with Jason, two PC staff and all of the staff from Nambawan Cafe. It was a crowded bus. Then we stopped to pick up the laplap and some more staff members. There was no way we were all going to fit on that bus, so we called a second bus and broke up the group. That left our bus full at 14 people.

We were having a blast playing music from people’s phones and generally goofing off in the bus. I mean, we were going to a party. We got to the really big hill by Lelepa Landing. All of us were happily unaware of how much weight we were putting on the bus. When the brakes and engine started smoking, we suddenly realized that loading 15 people in a van that is old enough to vote might not be a good idea. Especially once that van is pointed downhill on a curving road.

The driver stopped the vehicle on the shoulder by putting on the parking break, slamming on the normal brakes and turning the van a bit sideways. We all got out in a hurry. Which left us standing on the side of the road, half an hour outside of town, 20 minutes from our destination and an hour late to a wedding.

Joel provided music for the ceremony

The bus that had come to pick up the laplap and last few people saw us on the road. Rather than wait for it to go, unload and come back for us, we opted to pile in. (Because overloading the bus worked so well the first time, we thought we should do it again.) We fit 18 people plus a laplap on that bus. The laplap took up two seats. I made good friends with someone, who’s name I still don’t know.

We arrived at 3:30, an hour and a half after the wedding was supposed to start. We had time to get a coconut and a glass of wine before the wedding did start. I sat on a mat with the cafe staff, because it was more comfortable than the benches.

The wedding was beautiful. The scenery was stunning. I enjoyed myself. Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves. It was good.

8-21 (Trying to) Donate Blood Party!

Blood and Needles!  Don’t look if you get queasy!

 An email went out at work today saying that my co-worker’s father is sick. Because there isn’t much in the way of a blood bank here, she asked if any of us could come donate blood. I am O+, so I can donate to a whole lot of people. (And interesting note for all my medical friends, all ni-Vanuatu are A+ unless they have other south pacific islanders in their gene pool.) I talked to another person and we agreed to go after lunch.

After lunch came around and we jumped in a bus. Of course, the bus then had to stop and wait for some people, which left us sitting at Wan SmolBag in a bus. One of the youth thought he’d be funny and jump in the bus like he was coming with us. He didn’t get out fast enough and did come with us.

They tested me, but I failed.  Stupid vegetarianism.

We arrived at the hospital and went wandering around to find the right place. I was totally lost, which is not real surprise to anyone who has encountered my sense of direction. We found our patient and were immediately ushered out to the lab. Four of us showed up to try to give blood. They took samples from each of us and sent us back out to the hall to wait. We waited. We didn’t wait quietly since we all kept cracking up and goofing off.

When we got called back in, they read off the names of who was allowed to donate. As is pretty normal in my life, I was too anemic to donate. Rather than leave in shame, I stayed to support my friends. (Especially since Nancy was having a hard time with the idea of needles.)

Tanika with his tube

Nancy got stuck first. The nurse missed and she refused to try again. A different nurse stuck Sera and Tanika, successfully. Then we got the party started.

My cultural conditioning tells me that I should be quiet and sober in a hospital. Something about hospitals, even open air ones, makes me feel like I should be serious. It is hard to be serious with four adults giggling like school children.

At first, we were just joking around. Then Tanika got bored and started playing music from his phone. He could only DJ one-handed since his other hand was attached to a needle, but he managed fine. The attending nurse liked the song he was playing to started singing along while checking the blood bag of Sera, the other person who succeeded in donating. Meanwhile, Nancy decided to start dancing, which she can do very well. She is the dance tutor at WSB.

Lafet Wan Taem!

By the time both of our donors had filled their bags, we had gone through about a dozen songs and we hadn’t stopped laughing the whole time. I’m sure anyone in the hall thought were were having a dance party, which I guess was partly true.

At home, someone would have frowned and put an end to it. Here, the nurse started singing along. These are the things I’m going to miss about Vanuatu.

8-8 My Life is Not What I Expected: Part I-Have-No-Idea-How-Many

Fancy-shmancy invitation.  I’m important.

My work with Wan SmolBag hs started to get noticed. Two weeks ago, I received a very pretty, formal invitation to a screening of a film at the Australian High Commissioners Residence. The film, “Trashed,” is about waste management around the world. It seemed interesting and like a good chance to talk to some people, so I went.

I can’t talk to white people. Seriously. Jason and I showed up, shook hands with the person doing the greeting and then wandered out onto the porch. We started by joking with the ni-Van catering staff. Most of the white people, primarily Australians but a few New Zealanders and a Brit or two mixed in, were on the porch. The handful of ni-Van guests were on the grass just off the porch. Jason and I gravitated that way as soon as we ran out of jokes for the servers.

We started by chatting with the peons. The Lord Mayer’s son and driver (hold on, who has a Lord Mayor? Who calls them “Lords” anymore? I guess, the English colonies…) were hiding at the edge of the light. We got to chatting with them. We must have seemed like more fun than the people the Lord Mayor was talking to (or he was worried his driver was getting too tipsy) so he came over. We struck up an interesting conversation.

The owner of RecycleCorps, the only company in Vanuatu doing recycling, came over. Then the conversation got awkward. I disagreed with several of his policy opinions and, me being me, I didn’t keep my mouth shut. Before any of you who know me too well start worrying, I was very polite about my disagreements. There were no swear words involved. But, I continued to disagree. I don’t like to lie, not even by omission and especially not about important issues. So, we politely danced around our disagreements and I got the distinct impression that he considered me a stupid idealist. (I can’t help wondering if that was heightened by being a 28-year-old female. If I’d been a middle-aged man, would he have viewed my opinions differently? Or if it had been Jason voicing them? I digress…) He found a polite out of the conversation and Jason, the Lord Mayor and I started a new conversation with the Japanese Aid country director and head consultant. Both of the Japanese development workers are lovely people and we had an interesting conversation about potential survey methods of property lines and waste management for Port Vila. That lasted until we went to watch the movie.

Movie poster.  Go find it.

The movie was interesting. I would recommend it as a starting point for anyone interested in waste management options in the first world. I don’t think it effectively addressed the needs of the developing world and I was not satisfied with the depth of some of the information presented about research being done, but as an introduction for the general public, it was a great start. The information is accessible, the numbers are clear, the presentation is excellent with a good combination of horrifying and beautiful photography. Seriously, go check it out.  http://www.trashedmovie.com/

After the movie, the caterers came around with food again so we wandered back outside. We once again failed utterly to schmooze with the one white person who came our way. Instead, we had an interesting conversation about plastic bag taxes and reducing the use of plastic bags in Port Vila with the Lord Mayor. It seemed like the idea of a plastic bag tax was brand new to him, which is a bit surprising. Still, if I planted the seed of it in his mind, that’s something.

A bit later, he offered us a lift home. His driver had been drinking steadily since arriving because as the Lord Mayor put it, “He has to come to all these things and then he gets bored, so I drive home.”

In short, after a 3 hours event with a mixed group of ni-Vans, developement workers and ex-pats, Jason and I befriended the ni-Vans, had a lovely conversation with the development workers and utterly failed to connect with the ex-pats. We are going to be so weird when we get home.

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.

5-26 Race day: Boat Race Part 3

Manuella, sporting the Australian flag.

The race itself could not have gone better. We transported the boats in and on two trucks. I ended up in the back of a moving-van-style vehicle with three boats and my feet dangling off the back with the doors wired partial shut while another staff member rode on top of the truck to hold the boats in place. The youth in the bus behind us acted as security. I think our little procession increased our crowd.

We got the first boats in the water around 1:00, right on time. Miraculously, they even floated. Then we had to get people on the boats. That took a little longer. The kayak style boat had a stability problem and took three people before someone got it balanced properly. While that was going on, an eel decided to come check out our launch place and sent all the youth screaming back to shore. Ten minutes and a lot of thrown rocks later, the eel was scared off and we were back in the water.
The Titanic.  Perhaps not the best name, but there isn’t ice in Vanuatu…
The fire boat launched and took a quick tour. Then it came back and they lit their mast on fire. Intentionally. As the fire squad, they decided to mark their territory and had a flame at the top of the mast. Of course, by the time we finally got around the racing, they had to add more fuel, which was done by pouring kerosene on fire. I’m pretty sure someone has told me in the past that that is a bad idea, but their other idea was to do a fire breath on it. I liked the pouring better than the plume of flame option.
The first three boats raced and raced fast. They were the more solidly constructed boats with less problems, so they moved better and held together. The fire squad used leg blo dukduk (fins) to add extra speed, but their kicked got tired part way through.
Look closely.  You can see the legs of the overboard…
Halfway through the first heat, we had a crowd of probably a hundred. By the end of the third heat, we had probably over 500, maybe pushing towards 700 people watching. That’s what I call successful promotion.
The second race was uneventful, at least for a race with 9 youth on boats made of garbage. The little literacy team’s oldest boat member was 11. I made them race on the inside so if I went swimming after them, I wouldn’t have to swim as far. I didn’t have to go swimming and they finished the race under their own power.
Lining up for the speed heat.
The third heat was where things got interesting. The refrigerator boat had a problem with taking on water. And with wobbling. And with steering. And then it had a problem with crewing. One of the guys fell over backwards and went for a swim. The boat had lost a few cans along the way, which I sent him back out for. He was already swimming, it wasn’t going to be a problem for him to go fetch the cans back to shore.
Somewhere around then one of the youth borrowed a kayak from the place we were using as an finish line and started kayaking through the race course picking up rubbish the boats were losing. I told him he was a smart guy and saving a number of people a swimming trip.
The final speed heat finished and then we went to the main stage to hand out prizes. I never managed to find sponsorship for the race, despite several promises from people. I am lucky to have resourceful coworkers who magicked up a few prizes and a sponsor came through with 50 USD at the last minute. Put it all together and re-distribute it a little and I had nine prizes, one for each boat.
Tonny’s dance moves, with a reggae paddle.
The stage had live coverage from two radio stations and the TV station of the Information and Communication Technology Day celebrations. They graciously allowed us fifteen minutes to hand out prizes, which was aired live across Vanuatu. The youth got to claim their prize and have their 30 seconds of fame, all except Tonny, the captain of the boat who lost a crew member. He got a bit more than 30 seconds when the radio announcer told him to dance on stage and he did.
We returned the youth to Wan SmolBag by bus. I stayed until the last trip and got back at 5:15, just in time for my photography field trip. (We ended up postponing the field trip because we were all too tired to do it.) I slept 13 hours on Friday night. The boats made the front page of the newspaper on Saturday morning. They were in the paper again yesterday as a promotion for GIZ. I wrote the second article, because the first one misspelled my name.

10-9 The Clothing Arc

Early morning clothes.  They are plentiful.

The hot season has returned. Sori lo mi. I am not a hot weather person, but I live in the tropics. Poor planning on my part, I guess. Since it is always hot here, I noticed the return of the hot season through what I have dubbed ‘the clothing arc.’ It goes like this:

Early morning, 5-7 am: Women in skirt and t-shirt or long sleeve, Men in shorts and t-shirt, Children in long pants and long sleeve over a t-shirt with socks as an optional choice.
Mid-morning, 7-10 am: Women in skirt and t-shirt, Men in shorts, Children in shorts and t-shirt.
Mid-day, 10 am – 2 pm: Oldfala women in a skirt, younger women in a skirt with their shirts tucked up around their boobs or in a tank top, Men in shorts, Children nekkid!
Mid-afternoon, 2-4 pm: Women in skirt and t-shirt, Men in shorts, Children have acquired an article of clothing, take your pick which piece it might be.
Clothes?  Who needs ’em? Sawan just needs a basket!

Late afternoon, 4-6 pm: Women in skirt and t-shirt, Men in shorts and t-shirt, Children in shorts and shirt

Evening, 6-8 pm: Women in skirt and t-shirt or long sleeve, Men in shorts and t-shirt, Children in long pants and long sleeve over a t-shirt with socks as an optional choice.
The nekkid babies were easy to get used to. It seems ridiculous to me that we cover our children up as much as we do. Little boys and little girls really have no reason to put clothes on, especially since they will just get dirty and that goes doubly for toddlers. The sign that I’ve been here for awhile was when my bubu (grandmother) walked in carrying my cousin-sister who is 20 months. The girl was nekkid but my bubu had on a skirt and button down shirt with no buttons shut. I didn’t even blink in taking my cousin-sister to play with me in the corner.
Who is the poet who said, ‘When I am old I will wear purple’? It was either Maya Angelou or Zora Neale Hurston. I have a slightly different sentiment. When I am old, I will be NEKKID! (Or at least topless.)

8-12 The World has a Sense of Humor: Slapstick

Hammock, pre betrayal

There are moments in which I am convinced the world is laughing at me and it likes slapstick. I had one of those recently.

I woke up early with belly cramps (a depressingly frequent occurrence in this land of no hand-washing). I did the morning things that needed doing, including taking some tums but didn’t feel any better. I decided that the correct course of action for the day was to curl up in my hammock until I felt better.
I got a new book that I knew would be interesting and a quick read (Coraline by Neil Gaiman, if you’re curious). I got a mosquito coil and put it next to the hammock. I got a bottle of water. I laid down in the hammock.
The string snapped on the right side. I did a perfect continuation of the sitting motion all the way until I was laying on the ground.
Really world? Must you?
I took three hours to turn twine into rope and fix the hammock. By then my belly was feeling better but I read through all of Coraline in one go anyway.

7-11 Breaking News*

A minor explosion

There is a hose that attaches the toilet to the wall.  It is silver mesh around a black tube and is what runs the water from the pipes in the wall into the toilet.  Mostly when I’ve seen these, they are equipped with a small on/off valve at either end, but I guess that isn’t strictly necessary.
Captain, the water line has blown.  That black tube appears to have some of the same problems as say, a faulty vein in the human body, by which I mean it can rupture.  Seriously, the water line in the room upstairs just blew out.
Now, I would imagine that one could turn off the on/off valve on the wall side and stop the flow of water.  Unfortunately, this particular toilet was not equipped with the on/off valve in question. So instead, we sat and giggled while the water gushed out of the pipe and swamped the floor, the towels we put down to soak it up, the mop and eventually got to be about ankle deep in the bathroom.

Clean up crew: Neill and Princess

Someone finally got a bucket to catch the water in and we started emptying it into the shower rather than having yet more go spilling all over the floor, but well, there just wasn’t much we could do until the manager showed up.  She shut off the water line.

We mopped, dragged and bailed the water out of the room and moved the two people out into the next room over.  They are resettling and I am tempted to have a water fight.  Anyone want to try sliding on the tile floor?

*There is a pun there since this is actually written when I’m publishing it.  Weird.  I almost never do this.

7-5 The French Invaded Melsisi!

Light two lamps, the invasion is coming by sea! *

The French army is doing some good-will building stuff with the Vanuatu government.  The Ministry of Health selected the Melsisi Health Center for an upgrade to a mini-Hospital.  I’m not totally sure what that means, I’m not sure anyone outside of the Ministry is sure what that means, but it sounds pretty good.
There are now 81 French soldiers, 6 New Zealand soliders and 6 ni-Vans from the Vanuatu Mobile Force (which encompasses army and police) running around Melsisi.  Technically, I think the French and Kiwis are marines, but whatever.  They arrived on a Big Ship.  Seriously, the ship was nearly the size of Melsisi.
We walked over to see it because we have become man bush smol.  What else did you think I had to do today?  (Actually, I had scheduled a workshop for this morning but it got canceled on account of the Big Ship coming, so I had something better to do but it was canceled.)  They were scheduled to debark at 0600.  Of course, this is still Vanuatu, even if it is the French army.  The Brisk, one of our cargo ships, came at about the same time.  The smaller and more nimble cargo ship slipped into shore and unloaded while the French Big Ship was still dancing around.  They didn’t actually debark until around 7:30 or 8. 
The community did a really nice welcome.  They lead the delegation of French officers to the sports field with a kastom dance where all the students in Melsisi – kindi through year 13 – sang the French national anthem, the Vanuatu national anthem and the Penama provincial anthem.  They did it up proper on the kastom dance, they were all in malmal in their tsips (aka, red mat loin clothes).  Even the women took their shirts off and did the proper red mats, though some of them did keep their bras on.  (Proper kastom dictates that people be mostly naked.  I love the tropics.)  The kids did a good job on the songs and the kindi kids were super cute.  They were really well-behaved through the speeches.  I guess ni-Van kids are as good at waiting as their parents.
The speeches were shorter than I expected.  I think the weather contributed to that.  I didn’t understand most of the talking because I still don’t speak French, but the general gist was “We’re glad you’re here!  Yay!’  There were several officers, a representative from the provincial office, a representative from the chiefs of the area and a representative from the Ministry.  The chief is a friend of ours, so we made sure to take some good pictures of him in his red mat loin cloth with the military brass.
While the speeches were going on, the grunts got the job of modifying the beach for landing.  The beach is pretty sharply angled, which wouldn’t do.  They got to dig gravel for an hour or so.  Poor guys.  Before the boat could come in, they had to check to see if the reef had space for them to beach.  They sent down two scuba divers.  (Badass moment of the day – diving knife strapped to the calf.  I want one.)  The scuba divers gave the all clear, the diggers made the beach the right grade and the ship came to shore. 
They just doubled the number of vehicles in Central Pentecost, I think.  They brought off 3 camions, an SUV and a fork lift.  That about sums up the number of trucks we have.  Then the soldiers got off and started carrying things up the hill. 
We left when they were still unloading.  I guess I’m not that much of a man bushyet.

*For all the non-American readers (and the Americans who don’t read enough American classics): During the American Revolution, Paul Revere and about 4 other guys were sent to warn the people of New England that the British forces were on the move.  Along with the verbal message that was passed, they were to light lamps in a lighthouse: one if by land, two if by sea.

6-23 Bra SALE!

A volunteer who has finished her service and gone home started the wheels in motion for a donation of bras. The bras were being donated by a group in Australia but the shipping was going to be extremely expensive so she contacted the Red Cross who agreed to put the boxes in their shipping container to bring over. By boxes, I mean something like 8,000 bras. Kirsten, the PCV who replaced the one who started the project got a call saying, “We have bras, come get them.”

Kirsten has been coaching girls soccer, but many of the girls don’t own a bra. This is not unusual here, however playing soccer with no bra just sounds unpleasant. So, Kirsten though that she’d check and see if they had sports bras she could acquire for her soccer team. They didn’t. Instead, they had lace bras and fancy, frilly things. She took a few boxes anyway; any bra is better than no bra for playing soccer.

Kirsten showed up in the PC office with a bunch of bras, which prompted a discussion among all the volunteers. She figured she’d just give them away to her community, but that goes against a lot of what all of us are working towards. (Short of a rant, we believe in sustainable efforts and people working to benefit their own lives in ways they deem important, not just giving things to people, willy-nilly.) She didn’t feel right giving them away. I suggested she do an Aid Post fundraiser. Sell the bras for cheap, like 100 vt (~$1) and use the money to fund her work with her Aid Post. The women get bras, the community gets a stronger Aid Post, everyone wins!

Suzanne, the PC staff member who’s office is in the Volunteer Resource Center (our lounge/workspace/computers/mailboxes/center of Vila-life) stuck her head out of her door at the mention of a fundraiser to ask if the bras were for sale. Kirsten turned around and said, “Yes, 100 vt each. We’re going an Aid Post fundraiser.”

Suzanne told the other female staff members and in two days Kirsten sold 40 bras to friends and family of the staff members. That is 4,000 vt of fundraiser, which is about the best we’d get on a kava night here. So, the PCVs asked Kirsten if we could get more bras. She called the Red Cross and off we went for round two.

Round two was 10 boxes of bras. We sorted them and stuffed them in Chinese bags of about 75 each to send to the islands with volunteers. We had 6 bags, plus the rest that were sold in Vila and the extra three boxes Kirsten brought to her village.

I did my fundraiser after a workshop. It was like the best day of shopping with your girlfriends you could imagine. The women were excited to have access to good bras and to try them on before buying. We used the Aid Post as a changing room with women helping each other find ones that fit well and joking about breast size the whole time. The women who are pregnant or breastfeeding even got to buy ones that fit them well now and ones for post-baby size, because they were so cheap.

The fundraiser has so far raised 3,800 vt and I still have about 20 bras to sell. I declare this a success!