9-23 Following a Deadman

Funeral procession, the flowers are covering the coffin

After our last trip to Vila, we came back to Pentecost at the same time as Eric, the PCV in the southeast corner of the island. I’ve been wanting to get down to visit him more or less since we got to Pentecost. The idea of going to the east side of Pentecost is fascinating and I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about his village.

The truck driver he called to take him to Ranwas was the same driver we usually use. The driver lives about an hour’s walk south of Vansemakul. Since the driver was taking Eric down to Ranwas and then going back to Waterfall village, we thought we’d tag along for the ride. We all agreed on this plan in the Vila airport.
Remember how well planning transport has gone for us in the past? Yep, still works that well.
We got to Pentecost and found out that Eric’s uncle in the village had died. He’d been in the hospital in Vila so the body was coming back on the plane behind us. We had to wait for the body, or the people with the body, or something. I chatted with a group of women and got the post office opened up to get our mail. We waited for a few hours.
The body came with seven people and a truck’s worth of Chinese bags, suitcases, mats and other such things. We danced around trying to figure out how to get a coffin, seven crying people, three PCVs and all the stuff up to Ranwas. Jason and I volunteered to walk to Vansemakul and not go to Ranwas. In fact, we started walking. We got about three minutes down the road when the truck came and got us. They’d called a second truck and now there was plenty of room. Sort of.
We ended up on the same truck as the coffin. Not my favorite place to be, less because of the coffin and more because of the intense grief and grieving process here. I mean, I can’t say that I’m a fan of dead bodies, but they don’t squick me out too much and this one was firmly covered in a coffin, so there really was nothing to squick out about. The wailing, screaming grief on the other hand, I haven’t learned to handle.
The truck went slowly, as befits a funeral procession. It was not the usual pace for the driver who seems to believe in two speeds- “crossing the river” and “try to toss everyone out of the back of the truck.” We arrived in the first village twenty minutes later. The truck stopped next to a gathering of women. I saw the wailing coming and jumped out of the truck. I had a nice sit down on a tree root while everyone cried over the body. Then I got back in the truck and on we went.
After the third village, I switched to the second truck in the caravan, the one that was full of all the things. That was much more my speed. I like inanimate objects when my other options is a coffin full of deadman. Not that that was animate, either. That would be a zombie.
The football team carried the body from the truck up to the
house.  I don’t know if they were in uniform anyway
or if they kitted up  to be pall bearers.

We continued that way for another few villages until we got to the last one before the ascent to the east. There, we stopped and took the body off the truck and brought it into someone house to cry properly. The people not busy crying were busy cooking so we had some rice in a leaf while we waited.

They brought the body back out and onto the truck. The truck in the back, the one I’d been riding in, turned around to go back to the airport. We took out all the stuff and stood around in confusion. Another truck came, which no one else was surprised about. I guess the usual ni-Van telepathy kicked in and I missed the memo. Still, we jumped on that truck and off we went.
The drive up was very, very pretty. Stunning views out over the ocean or across jungle-covered valleys. We saw a few people from Bunlap, the kastomvillage in the south. They are recognizable as being from Bunlap because they don’t wear clothes. As we arrived in Ranwas, they started the funeral. We continued on the truck until it stopped, then we left the funeral party and the falling-down grief.
Ranwas is a tidy village with about three times the population of Vansemakul. They have their own Aid Post and primary school up to year 6. There is a main nakamal and several smaller ones, which seems to be the normal layout in the south. The other villages I’ve been to there have a similar system. I got told that being a vegetarian is the best option because it means I don’t eat whiteman food. I don’t think the person telling me that noticed the irony of me being white.
We went to the internment part of the funeral and then hung around for awhile longer and chatted with people. We got given some more rice in a leaf. That is the standard at funerals. After about two hours, it was dusk and the driver was impatient. We jumped in and waited another half an hour for the rest of the people following the truck down.
Sunset over the mountain.  Yep, still beautiful here.

The drive down the mountain was more beautiful than the drive up had been. We were driving into the sunset which cast crimson and sapphire shadows through the valleys and created silhouettes of the black palms. The sun set completely before we got back to the shore.

We didn’t make it back to our house until well past dark. I think it took about two hours from when we reached the shore to when we arrived in Vansemakul. The day was full of travel, but it was worth it to take that detour. A bit of kastomand a bit of sightseeing always make a good day.

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.

4-8 Pentecost’s War

There was a “war” on Pentecost. It wasn’t anywhere near us, though it did affect another PCV. She came and stayed at our house for the duration of the madness.
The story as we understand it goes something like this:
A man from Londar told a man from Bunlap that no one in Bunlap could sell kava on the beach anymore. The man from Londar was not a chief, which leaves me confused about why he had that authority. Bunlap is one of the inner island communities and doesn’t have its own beach front area. Kava is a main source, or only, source of income for most families on Pentecost. The Bunlap men got mad. The told the Londar man that if he or anyone from his family went to the gardens, they would hunt him down and “kill” him. (Kilim in Bislama means both “to hit” and “to kill,” which leads to some confusion in this situation.)
Everyone here does subsistence gardening. You can’t not go to your garden. He went, they caught him. They beat him up. He was found by another man from Londar and “brought back from the dead.” My guess is that he had a concussion or he fainted from pain. I don’t think he was dead, despite the stories.
Because that wasn’t enough, the Bunlap men then threatened to go burn down the village by the ocean where they were no longer allowed the sell kava. The men from the an tappart of the village went running down to defend the lower village and the women and children ran to hide in the bush. That night, the men came back without having gotten in a fight and set a guard around the nakamal that contained all the women and children.
The next day they were told the police were coming. They waited in the school building all day but the police never showed up. That afternoon, the promised fight at the ocean happened. Three men from Bunlap were sent to the dispensary due to knife wounds. No one from Londar went.
The next day, the police showed up in the afternoon and “made peace.” I’m still not clear what they did to make peace but things have been quiet since then. We haven’t heard of anymore fighting and the PCV went back to her village. She said she is safe there and doesn’t feel threatened.
All of this happened about an 8 hour walk south of my village. The general agreement is that they are all nuts and shouldn’t be doing these things. In my opinion, they need to drink more kava. It makes you happy, friendly and full of good will. It also makes you sleep and too lazy to go starting fights.
Ol kranki man bush i spoilem ples.

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.

1-19 The State of the Work

Despite what this blog reflects, I am actually in Vanuatu to do a job.  That job is a little unclear most days, but I am here to do it.  My job description translates to something like “Improve the health of the area.”  It is up to me to determine what that means.

PHAST in action, discussing toilet improvements for the community
I like these parameters.  I am a self-starter and I work best with minimal supervision.  (Its a nice way or saying I don’t like authority.)  Most of the time, this works out great for me.  However, there are days it is kind of rough.  There are days I want nothing more than to show up to a job and be told to go take care of something that I can then proceed to ignore or half ass until the end of the work day when I can go home and feel like I did my eight hours.  I don’t do that here.  Even on the days I feel like slacking, I have to motivate me to go do work.
This conundrum has been challenging for some Community Health volunteers.  It is hard work to go make yourself a job every day.  For some volunteers, their last year of service becomes a year of watching time pass.  They’ve run out of steam to find work and are just waiting to finish their contracts.  I’m at the point right now where I can choose to sit back and play with my cats and go swim in the ocean or I can make the choice to keep working hard and searching out things to do and people to do them with.  Those of you who know me know which choice I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.
Here is what I’m doing and how it is going. 
After a four day PHAST workshop, we did a group picture


I did a lot of workshops about hygiene and sanitation.  In them, the community chose a project to improve their hygiene and sanitation.  I chose these workshops based on surveys in which the community members told me there is a lot of trouble with toilets.  So, the community chose to build water seal (dump a bucket to flush) toilets.  I agreed to help them write a grant.  That was over six months ago.  The grant is still incomplete, though it is under consideration by the funding agency.  The community contribution was due over a month ago and I haven’t seen or heard of anyone giving their portion of the money.  The person I was working with has forgotten to show up to talk about this twice in a row.  In a continuing effort to not give up, I went to the chief to discuss this state of affairs.  We’ll see if there is any change in the coming month.  If not, I will strongly consider pulling the grant out of consideration. 
Children’s Sanddrawing workbook
There are beautiful sand drawings that have meanings and stories that go with them.  The stories and even the drawings themselves are disappearing as the oldfala die or become to senile to show them to people.  There are a few people who are interested in preserving this art form.  I am trying to work with one of them to create a small workbook/coloring book for kids that include how to make about a dozen of the drawings and the stories that go with them.  If I can pull it off, I’d like to stories to be in Apma, Bislama, French and English.  Literacy, here we come!  Of course, the last three times I’ve tried to meet with the oldfala, something has made us not connect.  I still don’t have the drawings or the stories so I can’t even start to type them up and create a layout for the book, much less look for a publisher or funding to publish it.  Sigh.
Weekly Health toktok
I want to get my  counterpart involved in doing more health outreach as well as learning more about health and medicine herself.  She is interested in going to nursing school in the future.  I thought we could do weekly or bi-weekly lectures of an hour or less about one or two topics each week.  It would give the two of us a chance to discuss health topics and hopefully increase her knowledge while doing some basic education within the community.  We set a date for the first one.  She cancelled it the night before.  We set a second date.  She cancelled it.  I went to her about a third date, she cancelled it.  I tried a fourth date, she cancelled in the morning of.  I think I’m done trying on that plan.
High School Health Class

In Jason’s classroom, mine is up the hill with chalkboards, not computer.

I was teaching the high schoolers health.  By health I mean sex ed.  This is one of the places I can say I’ve been successful.  I’ve increased the knowledge of STIs and STI prevention among the 14-17 year-olds in the area.  I know they are using condoms because I keep finding the condom wrappers hidden in dark corners.  When we did Sex Jeaopardy on the last day of class, there were only a few questions that stumped them.  I’ll be teaching in the school again this coming school year, though I may try to expand from sex ed to include nutrition and basic first aid.

Children Hygeine and Sanitation Transformation
It isn’t a success yet, but its getting there.  I’m working with some other PCVs to create a toolkit of pictures to teach hygiene and sanitation to first through fifth graders.  We’re ready to do a beta test of it when the new school year starts, I’ll tell you if it goes anywhere from there.

At the Training of Trainers for a GLOW/BILD.
Next step: run a GLOW/BILD


These are youth leadership and empowerment camps that are really encouraged within Peace Corps.  We went to a Training of Trainers last May.  We left with every intention of running one in our community.  Since then, the girl who came with us left to get married on Santo, one of the boys got married and is too busy and the other one hasn’t showed up to talk to me about it.  We may try to do a long weekend instead of a full week sometime in the next few months.  Again, it seems like the momentum is lost and it will take some serious effort to build it back up.
Adolescent Reproductive Health Curriculm
This is another project to try to give Peace Corps more resources for the future.  I’m basing it on my experience teaching last year.  I haven’t done a lot yet, but again, I have high hopes.  I always have high hopes.

I have a few more ideas of things I want to do before I leave.  I’d like to do a AIDS/STI workshop in the community.  I may try to make it a really big deal over two or three days and do a tournament and hire the band to play or watch AIDS related videos in the evenings.  We’ll see.  I’d like to do a maternal and child nutrition workshop with the mamas.  I’m going to talk to someone about that today.  We’ll see what other work I can find to do.  I’m good at coming up with ideas for work, anyway.

10-23 Walkabout or The Reason Jason Can’t Join Me on Pentecost

On Thursday, I went on a walkabout. Alexandra and I thought we’d head up to her village to pick up some of her stuff. We’d been trying to do that for the last two weeks but kept getting stymied by things like rain storms. Finally, we had a few days to go and come back while the weather was clear, so off we went.

We left from Vansemakul. I’ve taken the trail to her village from my village exactly once and that was back in January. I wasn’t confident I knew the road, I just figured we’d find someone along the way to point us in the right direction. So, at 10:15, off we go.
The beginning of the road is an hour long ascent. Vanuatu is basically the tip of a young mountain range, the rest of the mountains are just submerged, so when I say ascent, think up a mountain track. We stayed on the truck road which is a switch back and only passable by truck when it isn’t raining. We got about halfway up before the rain started. By then, we were grateful for it because it cooled us off.
There are some stunning views from the road. At each switchback, the view opens up and you can see out across the ocean to the neighboring islands or across the bay to Melsisi. When not admiring the view, it is hard work to huff and puff up the road.
We got to Lesube in about an hour, which is not great time but not bad time either. I saw a trail that seemed likely. We followed it for about ten minutes before it disappeared into a family’s compound. No one was home to ask directions of, so we backtracked on ourselves and got back to the main road. A bit further along, we came to a coconut plantation I recognized. I threw a stick at a lemon tree until it yielded enough lemons for lemonade that night and we continued on. (Throwing stones or sticks at trees is common practice to get fruits.)
Another half an hour plodded by and we were still going uphill. I kept recognizing bits and pieces as we walked. I’d catch a glimpse of a taro garden or a certain dead tree and know we were on the right road. Once in a while, I’d get something better like remembering a place we stopped to rest or where a turn off went. Finally, we got to the point where I thought it was time to turn down hill.
The hills are really ridges or “keels” divided by creeks. So, though we’d been going steadily uphill, we needed to be one creek bed over to get on the right outcropping for Alexandra’s village. That meant finding the right creek bed and the right crossing on it. It is complicated and I can’t draw a map, at least not an accurate one.
We started down a likely looking path towards the creek bed. We got about three minutes downhill and found a garden, not a creek crossing. We turned around and went back to the main road, which given the steepness of the hill was now five to ten minutes away. It had been raining off and on for long enough that it was more like ten minutes. We did that twice more, each time we’d start down a nice wide trail only to have it peter out into nothing or into a field of taro.
We rounded a bend in the main road and I found another concrete marker. The last place we’d rested on the road in January was under a giant mango tree that had one root jutting out to form a natural bench. The root is quite distinctive. I recognized the place. We rested there and ate the simboro that a mama had given us in Vansemakul. That spot also marked the end of the main trail. It was all foot paths from here in, though we still needed to find the turn off down into the creek.
We carried on and took a few more scenic detours. Finally, we found a main path that felt like a main path, not another garden trail. We got to the creek and I was utterly lost. We’d taken a turn somewhere that put me someplace I’d never passed through but Alexandra thought she knew where she was.
It took about five minutes for her to realize that she also had no idea where we were.
We did the perfectly logic thing when lost in a jungle. We kept walking. We were on a main path, which meant that at some point we were bound to find a village if we just kept going. The other option would have been finding the ocean again, but we were hoping for a village not the ocean. We were supposed to be in middle bush area, not a coastal area.
We did find a village about half an hour later. We were even lucky enough to find someone in the village. He’d just come back from the garden to cook cabbage for lunch. He invited us in for a late lunch and some time to storian.
About an hour later, he was ready to head back to the garden. He said he’d show us the road on his way, so off we traipsed again. We’d already been walking for over three hours. He led us down some trails neither of us would have considered wide enough or well-used enough to be worth following to a village until it came to a fork in the road.
He gave us directions to stay on the path, don’t take any turns and follow the keel. Then he looked at Alexandra and told her she’d recognize the place. I’m amazed he still had that much faith in us. We’d gone an hour or more out of our way and he still thought we could be trusted to walk about on our own. Not the same protective attitude we’re used to, but a pleasant change.
We followed the trail and it did indeed pop out in Alexandra’s village. If we’d missed his village and kept going, the next stop is East Pentecost. That is a long ways to be walking in one day.
The morning after our adventure, we packed about fifty pounds of stuff into our packs and hiked back down the hill. We left Lengali at 7:00 and reached Melsisi at 9:00. We rested an picked up mail and were in Vansemakul before 11:00.
The lesson here? Take some one with you, know where you are going or get ready for an adventure.

5-18 Gardening on Pentecost

First off, let me clarify the term “garden.” In the US, I had a nice little garden. It was about twenty feet square. This was acceptable. Here, that is laughable. When they say “garden” here, what they actually mean is “multi-acre subsistence farm.” When they say “kava garden” what they mean is “multi-acre hand cultivated cash crop.”
I have a very small garden. It is less than an acre. They tease me about it, but I consider it good integration, a claim to my independence and just fun.
I cut the garden out of the bush in mid-April. That was a solid morning’s work with a bush knife. The trick is to get the knife at an angle to hit the dirt just below dirt level. If you do it right, you sever the plant from its roots and make pulling it away easy. If you do it wrong, you fight with the stupid vines for hours and wave your knife around a lot. I’ll let you guess which way my day went.
I’ve been planting things little bit by little bit. The first day, we planted island cabbage and bananas. Since those are the absolute staples around here, it was appropriate. The next week, I went back and planted corn, cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon. Those are just tasty. On my last visit, I planted sutsut, navisso, wild ginger, bok choi and more cucumbers.
Because I’ve done much of the planting on my own without the input of a Ni-Van, I apparently am planting things “wrong.” Some people here do rows of plants, but not many. Mostly, they just plant all about. I planted my corn in close packed rows, like you’d see in the Midwest. I have since been informed, that corn is to be planted all about. When I asked about the navisso, the little girl helping me promptly planted it in rows. The same thing happened with the manioc. I don’t understand.
Jason has just informed me that when we go to the garden alone, he gets teased. In a society where personal space is non-existent and privacy is totally optional for the person impinging on you, the garden is one of the few places not crowded with friends and family. Planting manioc is a euphemism. I chose not to point out to them that we have a perfectly good house, bed and door with an internal lock. It is more fun to have them tease Jason.

5-8 Daily Schedules: Not just a Participatory Activities for Community Action tool!

The Daily Schedules is an activity to get a community to examine where its time and resources are going. Through activities like this, problems and resources can be identified. Or, when I did it, you can start a fight between the women and men in the community.

It works something like this. The women make a “daily schedule” for both themselves and the men. The men do the same. The daily schedule should include any day-to-day tasks like cooking as well as what the bulk of the day is spent working on. If these things vary by season, day of the week or anything else, there may be more than one calendar.

Here is an example:

Gaea’s life on a workshop day
5:50 Crawl out of bed and try not to step on any dead rats or lizards (the cats leave us presents)
6:15 Go run
7:00 Get home
7:10 Write Morning Pages (three pages of writing whatever comes out of my head)
8:00 Shower
8:15 Cook and eat breakfast (For varying definitions of cook. Peanut butter doesn’t require a lot of heating.)
8:30 Walk to Lalbeteis to find my co-facilitator
8:45 Walk to the village for the workshop
9:15 Say hi to the chief and start to gather people
9:30 Twiddle my thumbs, write letters to friends, read a book, chat, play with the children, eat grapefruit and naus, translate the rules of football, and otherwise kill time
10:30 Start workshop
11:30 Break for lunch
12:00 Eat laplap and boiled bananas (on good days there is coconut milk and bush cabbage!)
12:45 Spell (aka Siesta time)
1:30 Remind people we are doing a workshop
2:00 Re-start workshop
4:00 Finish workshop
4:30 Chat
5:00 Watch the men grind and drink kava (I drink once in a while, particularly on the first day of a workshop since it is kastom to start an endeavor with kava.)
8:00 Walk home
9:00 Get home (It is dark and still slippery)
9:15 Dinner (hopefully it was given to us, otherwise I have to cook. Or eat more peanut butter.)
9:45 Write
10:00 Shower (again)
10:15 Go to bed.

Gaea’s life on a Non-Workshop Day

7:00 Get up
7:15 Go run
8:00 Get home
8:15 Write
9:00 Cook and eat breakfast
9:30 Do a crossword puzzle
9:45 Clear the table of junk
10:30 Do laundry (I will someday own a washing machine and every day I will tell it that it is a wonderful machine made of genius and rainbows and unicorns. Laundry sucks.)
12:00 Do a logic puzzle
12:30 Cook lunch
1:15 Eat Lunch
2:00 Nap
2:30 Clean the house some more
3:30 Prep for workshops/enter survey results/other work related things
4:00 Go find coconuts and coconut leaves
5:00 Start to cook dinner
6:15 Eat dinner (It takes a long time to cook on a fire)
6:45 Try to ignore the dishes, fail and go do them
7:00 Do another crossword or logic puzzle
7:30 Try to start writing, get interrupted by my host papa
8:30 Start writing
9:00 Jason comes back from the nakamal and interrupts my writing
9:30 Give up on writing
9:45 Shower
10:00 Go to bed

Jason’s life on a work day
5:50 Crawl out of bed
6:15 Train and Meditate
7:00 Write morning pages
7:30 Help prepare breakfast
7:45 Start a fire
8:15 Eat
8:30 Do the dishes and leave for Melsisi
9:20 Arrive in Melsisi, shower quickkly
9:30 Generator goes on and I start my first class
11:30 Generator goes off and my class is finished
11:45 Wander down to my host family’s house in search of food
12:30 Finish storying and go back to my house to nap
2:00 Get up, shower again
2:15 Go to the post and/or store. Buy bread from school
2:30 Generator goes on again, start my second class
4:30 Generator goes off, class finished
4:45 Start computer theory class with teachers
5:30 Finish class, start walking home
6:15 Sun sets
6:30 Arrive home
6:45 Eat
7:00 Do a crossword or logic puzzle
7:45 Shower
8:00 Write in my journal
8:30 Get in bed and read
9:30 Sleep

Jason’s life on a non-work day
7:00 Get up
7:15 Train and meditate
8:00 Shower
8:15 Write morning pages
9:00 Deal with my demanding belly
9:30 Do a crossword puzzle
10:30 Clean the house
12:00 Do a logic puzzle
12:30 Help prepare lunch
1:30 Help eat lunch
2:00 Do the dishes
2:30 Go look for someone to go to the garden with
3:00 Fail to find anyone (they’re already gone most likely)
3:15 Go cut firewood
4:30 Drag firewood back to the kitchen
4:45 Collect coconuts
5:00 Help prepare food
5:30 Wander up to the nakamal and story
6:30 Start grinding kava
7:00 Start drinking kava
7:15 Try to figure out what the heck people are talking about with the limited grasp I have on language
7:30 Shell two
7:45 Ask someone what the heck people are talking about
8:00 Shell three
8:15 Get told about someone giving birth to a snake
8:30 Shell four
8:45 Remain in the dark about what people are saying
9:00 Shell five, give up understanding and go home
9:15 Eat
9:45 Journal
10:00 Shower and bed

When I did this as part of the PHAST workshop (that will be explained in a different post), the women did a very detailed schedule for them and the men. The men didn’t come out looking too good. After a lot of cheeking each other back and forth, they did seem like they were going to start a fight about it. I had to intervene at that point.

The idea here is that by identifying where the most time and energy go, you can identify what the best problems to tackle are or what will prevent change in behaviors. By examining the amount of time individuals spend on an activity, it is often possible to find activities that could be simplified to improve quality of life. For instance, in a community where the women spend an hour or more carrying water from a river, it is less likely that anyone will wash their hands. The water needs to be used for other things.

I put it in the blog as an entertaining look at part of the work I am doing as well as what my life looks like. The schedules are accurate in an idealized kind of way.

1-8 Wet is a Fact of Life

Just to point this out, we are in the tropics. Though it involves a lot of beautiful, sunny moments, there are an awful lot of really wet ones, too.

I did the laundry yesterday morning (I feel the need to point out that Jason helped). I hung my laundry on the line to dry. It got rained on. It wasn’t worth bringing it in before since it was still wet for the wash. Then it got sunned on. It got drier. Then it got rained on. Then it got sunned on. Then it was night time and I brought it in for the night. I put it back out this morning. It got sunned on. It finally got dry around 1 o’clock today. It is that humid here.

Our usual days involve a sunny morning and a rainy afternoon. Every once in awhile, we get a rainy day where it just doesn’t stop. Those usual come when there are things like cyclones nearby. But for the most part, it rains, we get wet and then it suns but we don’t get dry.

My life is damp.

Who likes religious holidays in French?

We do!

We are going to Pentecost Island. Look it up on google earth and youtube. Google earth will show you beautiful vistas and youttube will show you land diving. Jason will be teaching basic computing to 9th and 10th graders at the Catholic Mission of Melsisi. The reason he isn’t likely to be teaching to the older students is because this is a Francophone area, which is to say, they speak French. I will be working at an aid post in a village about an hour’s walk away. You may be thinking, “Wow, an hour walk, isn’t that rather a long commute?” And I would say, “Yes. Luckily the Peace Corps has considered this and built us not one but two houses.” Seriously, we have 2 houses. I’m not sure how this is going to work out, I’m just thinking that my childhood experiences with divorced parents and changing houses is probably going to come in handy. And apparently it is reasonably normal around those parts for families to have two houses, one at the mission and one in the village or by their garden.

Here is our work as far as we know so far. Jason will be teaching basic computing and keyboarding skills to young teens, supporting the computer lab on the tech side, and assisting his counterpart in teaching computers and in building curriculum for the upper grades. For those of you who realize Jason has basically no experience with teaching in an academic setting, don’t worry, he doesn’t. But, we’ve been in training for two months and there are some really excellent resources in the other volunteers and their experience.

My job remains a lot less well-defined. I am going to be working in the public health field in the village of Vansemakul. If you can figure out how to pronounce that, more power to you. Depending on what my counterpart wants, I could be doing anything from running workshops, trying to re-invigorate interest in general health in the area, starting a water and sanitation project, building toilets, teaching teens about reproductive health at the high school, running and leadership camp or anything around the idea of making people healthy. Some projects that have been successful have been things like hand-washing programs, running water projects, toilet projects and the leadership camps.

The first thing we are both expected to do is actually nothing. We are under strict orders from the Peace Corps to sit and integrate. Don’t work on projects, don’t start trying to push an agenda, just sit and watch and listen and eventually, the projects will start to appear. This is a challenging order for people like Jason and I who are more active and involved than might be healthy.

For the sake of time on the internet and needing to go make dinner before the Halloween party tonight. Happy Halloween Everyone!! (It is Halloween here, as I’m writing this.)