1-24 Ringing in the New Year with Guinness in Jember, Indonesia

We spent New Year in a hotel bar in Indonesia. This might sound like we spent it alone, having not ventured out, in fact it was quite the opposite.

Late night, or is that early morning? in the rain, like you do on the New Year’s

We left our hotel to find a taxi in the rain. After fifteen minutes, we determined that there were an insufficient number of taxis on the road, at which point we went back to our hotel and asked them to call a taxi. Fifteen minutes after that, we were in a taxi with a “broken meter.” In Indonesia, taxi drivers tell you the meter is broken so they can over charge. This is particularly used against tourists. Lucky for us, we were going to meet our two PCV friends. That meant, they could argue with the taxi driver in Bahasa, making it much less likely we’d get scammed. We hoped.

After a wrong turn and a phone call to the PCVs which got passed to the driver, we found them. They then noticed that the meter wasn’t working, which caused a bit of an argument. The PCV in the back with us quietly muttered, “If we get out and give him money, just jump out.” The driver and the PCV in the front seat reached an agreement and we continued on our way.

We were planning on going to a club, because why not. We arrived at the club doors and it looked swanky. We sent the best dressed of us in to scope out the scene. He came back out 60 seconds later and jumped back in the taxi. It had a $10 cover fee and a dress code. Not our kind of place. (A $10 cover fee is steep for Indonesia. We were both eating entire meals for $6-8.)

Chow time!  The low tables were standard for street food stalls.

We continued on, at no additional fee from the scammy taxi driver, to a slightly less swanky hotel. The month before, the PCVs had found cheap drinks there. They had increased their prices for the evening, so it was $3 for a giant bottle of Guinness, instead of $2. The PCVs were disappointed. We were delighted to have Guinness.

We spent the next three hours drinking Guinness and discussing politics, corrupt governments, educational policy, the importance of fiction, and other such weighty topics. I also got a serving of banana fritters topped with chocolate sauce and parmesan cheese. I know it sounds weird, but I promise, it worked.

A few minutes to midnight, we started a countdown on Jason’s phone. At 20 seconds to midnight, our companions interrupted the band to get the countdown going. Since we were the only ones in the bar, that wasn’t really a problem. We toasted the New Year with double shots of Johnny Walker.

Sorry it is blurry.  Long exposure + Alcohol = Difficult.

The bar was trying to close, so we decided to leave and go find some food. We ended up at a park of some sort that had wonderful patios lined with food stalls. It took a few tries, but we found one that suited our PCV friends and ordered food. Indonesian food is perfect drunk food and fairly vegetarian friendly. I had fried noodles with veggies and egg.

We walked from there back to our hotel. We got in at two in the morning, like one should on New Year. I woke up with a minor hangover, which was justly deserved. Luckily, it didn’t last long since we were on a train from Jember to Surabaya to Jogjakarta at 10:30 in the morning.

1-8 Birdies!

Birdie on a temple…

We walked into a tourist information shop looking to book a ride to the airport for the next day. There aren’t really any public tourist information booths in Ubud, so every place is trying to sell you tours, drivers and tickets. While we were there, I asked about trips to see the herons come home to roost. I had barely asked and the guy was calling his driver to come pick us up and take us there immediately. We decided to roll with it.

One local myth says that the people of Petulu were poor and had to walk very far to find work or to go to their gardens. They felt that they had angered the gods and that was why they were being punished with a hard life. They decided to hold a major feast and ceremony at their temple for three days. They hoped that it would please the gods and they would make it possible for the people to lead easier lives. On the final day of the ceremony, the herons came and roosted in the trees. In the morning, they left but at night they returned. They made their nests in the trees around the village and raised the chicks there. The people knew that the gods had seen their ceremony and agreed to make their lives easier because now they have many people who use the street, both for tourism and as a through-way which means they can make their living closer to home.

And you thought the pigeon poop was a problem.

A second legend says the birds are the spirits of the people killed in a battle that occurred the day they arrived. I didn’t get as much information on that legend. It seemed like the people in the village believed the first while the people outside the village believed the second.

Coming home to roost.

The birds were everywhere. There were no less than twenty nests in every tree on the street. While we were there, it was nesting season, so there were bunches of baby birds peaking over the edges of the nests or wrestling with their parents. For a baby animal, bird babies are not that cute. They are so ugly they are cute, but they are not in their own right, cute. I guess birds in general are not usually cute. They are usual majestic or graceful, but the hatchlings were neither of those yet.

Look close at the nest to find the baby.

At sunset, the birds who have been out hunting all day, come back. During the not-nesting seasons, they come back by the hundreds in great flocks. While we watched, there were several groups that came back about two hundred at a time. That was neat, but not the awe-inspiring mass we’d heard about. In fairness, I got to see birdies, so I think it balances out in the end.

12-28 First Impressions: Bali

The path out to the rice fields.

I realize I’m writing this a bit after the fact, but it struck me again as I am sitting in the airport.

My first impression of Bali, driving through in a taxi at night, was one of high walls and open spaces. I realize this seems contradictory but give me a minute to explain.
Every place seems to be walled in. The temples are walled in, the hotel has a wall, the family compounds are walled, even the beach had a wall running along the back. The only thing that doesn’t seem to be walled in is the shop fronts, and I think they might if they could find a way to display their wares at the same time.
The walls are built around very large spaces. The family compound comfortably houses fifteen or twenty people, while the hotel had over fifty rooms. Once you are inside the walls, the place is wide open. There are very few truly closed in areas. Like Vanuatu, the cooking seems to be done primarily outdoors. The communal spaces all have a (really water-tight) roof, but very few walls. The first hotel we stayed in had no rooms, except the guest rooms. The communal space was divided by a few walls, but otherwise open.
A side road in Ubud.

The finest example of this open-to-the-elements architecture I can think of is this airport. We have passed through 4 security check points and a ticketing counter to get to our gate, but we have yet to go through a door. Technically, we are indoors but we are not indoors.
So, high walls and open spaces. Also, primary colors, white fabric, huge crowds, constant voices and the smell of frying food.

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.

8-3 Playing Tourist on Santo: Water Music and Kastom Dance

Water music

Along with my adventures going to people-I-don’t-know’s wedding, I got to tag along on a water music and kastom dance tour. (This is the fun part of having other PCV’s family come visit. Well, that and meeting people’s families.)

We arrived at the place and were ushered into a small seating area with a natagura roof. In the middle was a young man making kava by basis– stone-ground. He greeted us and the tour guide started talking about the kastom way of making kava, what the ritual is around kava and other anecdotes of the lovely drug we drink. His English was very good and he could answer the questions the other people asked. He sort of used me as a crutch, but I think that was out of habit and embarrassment, he didn’t need me.

More kava pictures…

We each got a shell of basiskava, which was nice. I miss basiskava, it tastes better and is stronger than meat-grinder kava. It was also pretty fresh, as opposed to a lot of Vila kava. The best part was the rest of the groups reaction to the kava. The parents were not going to drink anymore kava, but then didn’t want to be rude. After they drank, they looked at me and said, “It really is better that way.” All the volunteers with us said the same thing. I said, “I told you so.”

The women who perform are all from Gaua directly or are married to men from Gaua. Gaua is one of the larger banks islands and is an active volcano. They said they want to do this kind of tourism there but there aren’t enough tourists, so they came to Lugainville to do it instead. When they got to Lugainville, they needed a place to do it. So, they started a a kava bar to raise money to build a swimming pool. Now, they have a swimming pool and seating for tourists.

Badass face paint, take 1

The women of Gaua do what they call Water Music. They cup their hands in different sizes and slap the water of a pool to create different sounds. I’m not sure I would call it music, at least not music like a concert. I would liken it to a drum line, rather than a symphony. The sounds were mimicries of sounds in nature, like the sound a bird makes taking off from the water, or rain on a nataguraroof. Still, it was neat to hear and watch. I imagine it would be more impressive with more people, but it is midwinter here and not a lot of women were willing to get in the water.

Badass face- and body-paint

After the water music, we turned our chairs around and faced the dancing ground. The men came out and performed three kastomdances. My chair was at an awkward angle for photography, so I sat on the floor with my legs dangling over the edge of the stage. One of the dances was about kava, including the effects of kava. One of the effects of kava, is staggering around and holding onto your friends. The dancer who ended up in front of me grabbed onto my legs, instead of his dance partner. It was a cute touch to performance.

Afterward, we got pictures and refreshments. We were the last tour group of the day, so the tour guides sat and chatted with us longer than usual. I’m willing to guess that was partly due to being able to chat in Bislama, too. Still, we wandered over to their kava bar to wait for the bus and had a shell with them. The bus was late (of course), so we had a few shells with them. Unfortunately, it was not basiskava.

Every once in awhile, I do silly tourist things.

7-24 Tourism and Weddings

Tourism is the biggest industry in Vanuatu. Recently, I’ve noticed more people doing “destination weddings” here. It may just be that I moved into town where the “destination” part is more likely to happen, rather than that there is any real increase in weddings, too. On Monday evening, I got to see this industry up close.

While I’ve been visiting Santo, I’ve spent some time playing tourist. Though part of it is research, part of it is that my visit happened to coincide with another volunteer’s family coming into town. I’ve been tagging along on the more interesting events for that. On Monday, his mom and step-dad got married on a beach in Vanuatu.
Honestly, I just like this shot.
We arrived at about 5pm, just as it was starting to get dark. They immediately swept Andrea away and into a private hut to change clothes. And by change clothes, I do mean reduce clothes. She walked in wearing a lovely blue dress and walked out wearing a lot of leaves. The mama who made the skirt, neck piece, bra and crown was a super cute older woman. I learned later that she loves to dance because she totally got down with the PCVs.
I was the photographer for the women’s part. Mike did the photography for the men’s part. So, I don’t have any pictures of what happened to Bill, nor do I have any idea what happened to him. By the time we came out, he was safely dressed in a nambas and surrounded by a bunch of young men.
Off to the “new island” for the bride exchange.
They put Andrea on a canoe with a young man who paddled her out around the point. He blew a bubu shell horn as they traveled and the men went to wait on the beach. As they approached, one of the men on the beach stood forward and said, “You can’t land here. Not unless you pay me pigs.”
That started a short skit that went something like this:
Chief on Land: You can’t land here. Not unless you pay me pigs.
Chief on Boat: I don’t have any pigs.
Land: Then you have to fight my warriors.
Boat: I can’t fight your warriors.
Land: Then your daughter has to marry my son.
Boat: My daughter will marry your son.
The “procession” to the marriage arch.  Accompanied by string band.
The two on the boat disembarked and they walked to the group of men where the happy couple were formally “introduced” to each other. Then we walked over to the archway they’d covered in leaves an flowers and a priest performed a short ceremony. I wasn’t listening to most of it, I was busy taking pictures.
They exchanged rings made of coconut leaves and then the priest blessed the union. The boys who had been warriors during the skit turned out to be a string band who played the first song for the happy couple to dance to. After the first dance, we took a break to cut the wedding cake, which was yam laplap. The happy couple toasted their marriage with green coconuts and we got back to dancing. (Neither of them liked the coconuts so Hunter and I drank them instead.) We all munched on fresh fruit, sandwiches and fried tuna cakes while a couple of the guys went to get kava. We toasted with the kava and called it a night.
Blessing the joining at the end.
It was a fun, cheesy fusion between island and western. I enjoyed it and the rest of the volunteers there seemed to, as well.

7-20 I’ve Learned to Integrate

So, I arrived at Northern Care Youth Center (NCYC) on Thursday morning. Brian and I made a quick tour of 8 local schools to drop off our letters and make sure we had meeting times established. After lunch, I went back to NCYC. They were doing a nem cooking workshop. (Nemis like a springroll and they are sold in almost every Chinese store.) I stood around, watching other people do things. I wasn’t the only one standing around, because watching other people do things is a national pass time. I cracked a few jokes about making sure to cut up the hot water (cultural humor) and generally hung around.

Poi class at NCYC.  There are going to be some bruises today…
I met the coordinator of the Youth Center and got to chatting. She is excited to have me teach a basic poi class and an arts and crafts class. I realized I didn’t have the supplies needed to teach, so I asked if I could make a few sets of practice poi from scraps from the sewing class. She was fine with that.
I went to the sewing class and chatted with the tutor there. She agreed to let me use a sewing machine outside of class times and showed me where the bag of scraps was. She had to leave because she had another commitment, but left me with scissors and fabric. I sat down on a mat and got to work. About five minutes later, one of the mamas in sewing class came up and asked me who I was and what I was doing at NCYC. We got to chatting. It took another 5 minutes for the second mama to join the conversation. Two hours later, I had all my poi cut out, had contact information for a village we’ve been trying to reach, and an offer of transport to the village.
The next day, I arrived in at NCYC after lunch. The youth center coordinator and the NCYC manager got in a lively discussion of the politics within the youth center around the fire dance/poi class. It culminated in them deciding that I should meet with the youth, and that the coordinator and I should go to a fire show.
The beginners fire show.  Not pictured: Kava.
She and 2 tutors picked me up in a taxi and we went to the show at 7:30 at night. We watched the show. We drank kava. We drank more kava. We called the taxi. We had another shell of kava. We waited for the taxi. We ate laplap. The taxi finally came at 10:30 at night. They dropped me off at the hotel at nearly 11 pm.
In short, it took me two days in a new city to make friends and end up spending a late night with ni-Vans who seemed to genuinely enjoy my company and for me to get into a political mess as the arbitrator between two groups. Yep, I’m getting good at this “Peace Corps” thing.

5-5 Judo Tournament (I swear it isn’t martial arts infidelity!)

Yeah, what his gi says…

A few months ago, Jason and I started training with the Judo club. We started training with the Judo club because we want to be training. With people. I’m sick of training alone. It gets boring to do nothing but the same form, over and over. Even doing techniques against Jason gets old, because the same thing happens every time. I know how far his wrists bend, I know where his center of balance is. Before any Hwa Rang Do people read this and think we’re cheating on HRD, I promise we aren’t. Well, we are but only due to lack of options. I know that Jason wants to go back to HRD and is viewing this as a chance to improve his throws and take downs. So, I swear it isn’t infidelity.

The women’s division.  Note how much bigger I am than all of them…

About three weeks ago our English-speaking instructor, Ted, announced a tournament. ( We have a French-speaking instructor, as well.) It was limited to the club we’re in, because he didn’t think there were enough competitors to invite other countries in the South Pacific. At practice one day, Jason and his partner and me and my two partners (uneven number of women) were all working near each other. Ted walks over and says, “After class, all of you register for the tournament.”

After class, we all registered for the tournament. Two weeks later we had the tournament.
Me and Florence.  I was having fun.

Judo has rules that I haven’t fought under in a while. No touching the face or head, not even in ground work. No small joint manipulation, which includes wrists, knees and ankles. Not attacking for 15 seconds or so counts as stalling and gets a penalty. And it is possible to win on a good clean throw. We both had to readjust a little.

Judo competitions are done by weight class. Unfortunately, there were only 5 women competitors and all of them were not anywhere near my weight class. I asked if they’d prefer to have me fight the men because the rest of the women were fairly close in weight. I would feel like it was an unfair win if I won by growing bigger. After a bit of discussion, they agreed that was a good idea. Then I felt bad because I thought I was forcing my way into a division I didn’t belong in. So I talked to Ted and explained it to him. He talked to Florence, the French-speaking instructor, and they put me back with the women. As Jason pointed out, sometimes my sense of fairness gets a little out of control.
Jason and the boys, waiting for their divisions to start.

I got a penalty for stalling in one match, which is not too big a deal. It doesn’t affect scoring until you get more than that. Otherwise, my matches went well. I won 2 on throws and a third with a hold down. I do think my weight made a difference, but that is the risk of fighting in an open division. And the other people there ranged in belt rank from white to black. I lost my fourth to Florence, the French-speaking instructor who used to train with the French national team. I’m not upset about that loss.

Jason also took second in his division. He lost one match to a brown belt and won the rest, mostly on holds and tap outs. From what I saw, he got a couple of good moves but I didn’t get to see much since our divisions went at the same time.
Jason’s last match.  He won on the tap out.

I learned to score the matches because there was a shortage of people willing to do that. The scoring makes sense once you understand that the three numbers on the bottom are not a 3-digit score but are rather 3 columns of number representing the different types of points. Then it all makes sense. Before I figured that one out, I was really confused.

We finished at 1 pm. It felt early to be finishing up a tournament, but I’m used to HRD tournaments that have 5 divisions for each participant. It was nice to finish early and get to have some of my day left over to do other things with. I kind of would have liked a few more matches though.

4-15 Photos!

Monday morning commute.  We towed another bus across town.  The rope came off 3 times, which prompted my bus driver to swear at the other bus driver about using his breaks too much.  No one minded that I was 45 minutes late to work.

Pins and earrings made of old bottle caps.  The skills and technology are courtesy of other people.

Making bottle cap pins.

Hip hop battle at WSB.  This group is new and had a fantastic sense of drama.

Free style after the official battle was over.  They were just having a blast.