4-9 (slightly late) Photos from last week

Bi-weekly Rubbish clean up with the literacy class.
Kam Pusum Hed Clinic is doing an STI promotion.  I got a shirt, the nurse got some urine.  A win-win all around.
Our family’s nakamal in town.  Jason’s thigh is in the bottom right corner.

My little brothers and sisters from Pentecost.  Or the ones who live in town but I call brother or sister.
Blacksands Wokabaot with the photo class.  These three were having family time.

My bubu (grandmother) in Vila. She runs a store.
We stumbled on a kastom while we were out with the photo class.  They were celebrating the birth of a baby girl with song and dance.

4-2 Last week in pictures

Playing games in the schoolyard.
Note the height of that string she is jumping over!
Gaea’s counterpart teaching the kids
Lion, Hunter, Lady is like Rock, Paper, Scissors for the whole body.
This is our night sky.  So many stars, even in the city!
Beautiful moon-rise

3-24 Another week in pictures

Teaching kids about hygiene.  Specifically, trying to get them to be quiet so I could teach.

Circus class.  We did falling pyramids.

Beach clean up with the youth at Wan Smol Bag.  We collected 15 bags of garbage in about an hour.

Photography field trip to the cruise boat.  Andrew and I were playing spy.

Saturday night fire show.  They do a good show.

3-18 Peace Corps Moment

For the most part these days, life is just life. I’m doing my thing, working my job, drinking my kava and getting on with it. But every once in awhile, I get one of those moments where I have to take a step back and realize that Peace Corps is pretty great.

I play frisbee with a group of mostly ex pats every Monday. It is super laid-back pickup with an age range from 10 to 55 years old. The skill level runs the same gamut. There are 3 or 4 ni-Van pre-teens who have been coming and playing fairly regularly and are getting pretty good. I would say that with a little formal understanding of tactics, they have the makings of good club players in the US. (The kids here are just that athletic. It’s crazy.) While we play on the main field, there is usually some football-esque game going on behind us. (Football in the global term, not the American one.)
Today, we got about an hour into a 4-on-4 when one of the footballers started watching. We invited him to join in and gave him a three second rundown on the rules. It took about 90 seconds for his friends to realize he was playing. Then our field got swarm by 30 screaming children. I mean that literally. They were screaming like baboons.
We paused the game, explained the rules in a bit more detail and broke into teams. Lights against darks. It ended up being 18-on-18 on a half-size field. You can imagine how the next hour of frisbee went. They loved it, I had fun. I think that was a win-win.
Standing on that field was a Peace Corps moment. Those are the stories you hear, the pictures you see, the expectations you have of Peace Corps before you arrive. I don’t have those every day. In fact, I don’t have them every week.  But when I do have them, they are sweet.

3-3 Books I Read (So far)

I did a lot of reading on the island.  About a year in, I decided to start writing all the titles down.  I think I missed a few so here is a mostly complete list of things I’ve read in between September 2010 and October 2012.  I’m happy to write reviews or give recommendations on any of them and I may do a short recommendations or best of list at some point in the future. Sorry for the couple that I don’t have authors on.  I forgot to write some down.

Also, do not judge me for reading Twilight.  It was necessary.

Samuari – Jason Hightman
Rune Lords – David Farland
Brotherhood of the Wolf – David Farland
Packing for Mars – Mary Roach
My Stroke of Insight – Jill Bolte Taylor
Seized: A Seacaptains Adventure Battling Scoundrel’s and Pirate While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Oceans – Max Hardberger
The Fever: How Malaria has Ruled Humankind for 500 Years – Sonia Shah
Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – Steven Johnson
The History of the New York Underworld
Heaven – Mur Lafferty
Hell – Mur Lafferty
Earth – Mur Lafferty
Wasteland – Mur Lafferty
War – Mur Lafferty
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Mocking Jay – Suzanne Collins
Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Little Brother – Cory Docterow
Makers – Cory Docterow
Mastiff – Tamora Pierce
Bloodhound – Tamora Pierce
Terrier – Tamora Pierce
Tortall and Other Lands – Tamora Pierce
Changing the World – Edited Mercedes Lackey
A Matter of Magic – Patricia Wrede
Heartless – Gail Carriger
Blameless – Gail Carriger
Changeless – Gail Carriger
Soulless – Gail Carriger
Dragon in Distress – Mercedes Lackey and Elizabeth Waters
A Posse of Princesses – Sherwood Smith
Moving Targets – Mercedes Lackey
Young Warriors – Edited Tamora Pierce
Spellwright – Blake Charlton
Odd and the Frost Giants – Terry Pratchett
Farthing – Jo Walton
The 7 Towers – Patricia Wrede
Wiseheart – Jack Kornfeld
Meditation Now or Never – Steve Hagen
The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley
7th Son (Audio book) – JC Hutchins
25 Lessons in Digital Photography
The Scarlet Letter – Nathanial Hawthorne
Travel New Zealand
Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard – Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Wicked – Gregory Maguire
Son of a Witch – Gregory Maguire
Slumgirl Dreaming – Rubina Ali
The Nation – Terry Pratchett
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Peter and Max: A Fables Tale – Bill Willingham
1421: The Year China Discovered America – Gavin Menzies
How to Build a Dinosaur – Jack Horner and James Gorman
Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes
The Saint of Dragons – Jason Hightman
Harpy’s Flight – Meghan Lindholm
Sun of Suns (Audio) – Karl Schroeder
Twilight – Stephanie Meyer
Charmed Life – Diana Wynne Jones
Conrad’s Fate – Diana Wynne Jones
The Lives of Christopher Chant – Diana Wynne Jones
Enda –
Rescue 471 – Peter Canning
The Pinhoe Egg – Diana Wynne Jones
Thud – Terry Pratchett
The Silk Code (Audio) – Paul Levinson
Unfolding the Moon – Lissant Bolton
Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
The Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson
The Hero of Ages – Brandon Sanderson
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Playing for Keeps – Mur Lafferty
Getting the Buggers to Behave – Sue Cowley
The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The Dark Side of the Sun – Terry Pratchett
Timeless – Gail Carriger
Sky-tinted Waters – Edited Michael Merriam
Unbowed – Wangari Maathai
The Better Angels of Our Nature – Steven Pinker
Masked – Edited Lou Anders
Ender in Exile – Orsen Scott Card
Crystal Rain – Tobias Buckell
Coarline – Neil Gaiman
First Flight – Mary Robinette Kowal
Templars: History and Mythology
On Basilisk Station – David Weber
The Honor of the Queen – David Weber
Poetics of Aristotle – Aristotle
No Mercy – Sherrilyn Kenyon
The Curse of Chalion – Lois McMaster Bujold
Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett
Deadly Promises – Sherrilyn Kenyon and Company
Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword – Tee Morris
Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
The Magicians of Caprona – Diana Wynne Jones
Witch Week – Diana Wynne Jones
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
The Spirit Thief – Rachel Aaron

So, that takes me though the list.  I think there were a few more I missed along the way, but I guess they didn’t leave much of an impression. 

3-2 My Week in Pictures

Sunday evening Petanque game.  A chance to relax and unwind like the French.
I got back from my run to this view.  This is a beautiful country.

We made a valiant effort to get the kite up.  We didn’t succeed.  The small boy on the right finally did it by himself.
Still trying.  Still not flying a kite.
Wednesday Evening was a fire show at Holiday Inn Resort

We took the photography class there for a lesson.  These are what Jason got to shoot while I was chasing my students around.

1-2 Culture Shock, part 2: Crowds

We took a Big Plane on the trans-Pacific flight. The usual international flight with two seats, an aisle, five seats, an aisle and two more seats. The planes are so big, they break them up into sections about 20 rows deep. In the section of the plane we were in, there were more people than in the village of Vansemakul. In the entire plane, I estimate there was at least half the population of the district.

Population density is different here. It is overwhelming.
I’ve gotten used to long, quiet days where I talk to two or maybe three people throughout the day. I’ve gotten used to silent evenings alone with my book or my writing while Jason drinks kava in the nakamal. I’ve gotten used to silent days when Jason is at a training in Vila and the rain is pouring down so I can’t be bothered to leave my house and I don’t speak to anything that can talk back for the entire day.  That wasn’t every day, but it was often enough that my brain had room to stretch and fill the silence.
I am not used to crowds. I’m not used to being jostled by people. I’m not used to needing to be constantly aware of people, or having their personalities pressing against me. My tolerance has gone down. A lot.
Being in a room of five people is fine. In fact, it is kind of fun. There are people to talk to and things to do. Being in a room of ten people is less fun. I have trouble parsing out which is the conversation I’m having and which is the conversation someone else is having. I get lost and loose my train of thought because there is too much English happening around me.
I’ve never had a high tolerance for crowds. It got lower. I’m getting better about it just being home. And I’ve discovered that beer helps. I get a bit less of the sandpaper on my psyche feeling when I’ve had a drink or two. Unfortunately, my alcohol tolerance has gone down at the same time, so I can only have one or two.

1-2 Culture Shock, Part 1: Target

Shortly after I got back to the US, I decided I needed a few things I’d forgotten to bring with me. Things like razors. (I started shaving my legs again and it is kind of shocking to everyone, me included.)
My dad needed to stop by Target, so I went along for the ride. I mean, how bad can it be, right?
Target is insane. Seriously. I will leave the rest of the store out of this and focus exclusively on razors. The purpose of a razor is to provide a sharp edge with which to remove any offending hairs, right? So, the basic concept is “piece of metal with sharp edge.” Now, I understand that this basic concept can be improved upon by adding a second piece of metal next to the first to ensure that all the hairs are caught on the first go round. Fine. I get that. I can kind of even understand that some people might like some “conditioning strip” thing after the razor has crossed their skin in the hopes that a little pad of soap stuff is going to make a difference in the shine and luster of the skin you will never show in the Minnesota winter, not to mention that same winter is busy sucking all moisture out of your body and drying out your legs faster than the razor can keep up with. I mean, it seems a little silly, but ok, fine. I can handle that, too.
But why do we need 17 kinds of razors? I tried to understand what the difference was between one pack of razors and another. I looked to see how many blades (2 or 3, every time), how many in the pack (3-5), if the “conditioning strip” was different (not, and there aren’t any that didn’t have something there), the price (about the same across the board) and the colors (all pansy, stupid pastels). So, what’s the point of having 17 choices of disposable razors?
My conclusion is that there isn’t a point. One name brand is not significantly different than the other and in fact, having that many choices reduces our choices. We (I) get overwhelmed and fall back on whatever is familiar. I’m not going to branch out, try a new product or style. Advertising isn’t going to help, because everyone is doing the same advertising. Making a product more attractive won’t make a difference because my brain has gone into panic mode. There is no reasonable way to compare and contrast all those choices while standing in the store. So we don’t. We stick to the easy and the familiar.
I did get my razor, though my dad was wondering where I was by the time I had that conversation with myself. They work fine. My legs are shaved. I don’t even remember what brand they are, I only know they are pink and that also bothers me.

12-6 (From the island) Kastom Danis

Better late than never, right?
Lining up for the dance

Back in October, we had First Communion at the church. To counter any complaints I’ve had about the church, they have done an impressive job of incorporating kastom into the church. That is sort of how the Catholic church rolls, but still, I like to see the things that support local kastom here. Too much of it is being swallowed up by Western culture and Western ideals.

After the church-y bits of First Communion, there is kastom dancing. As I’ve commented before, kastom dancing is a lot like follow the leader and a pow wow. Get in a line, follow the person in front of you and stamp your feet a lot. It is fun enough to perform it but the really interesting part is in the rehearsal.
Chicken to the face prevention

Despite how simple that sounds, we did three multi-hour rehearsals. Because the girls are at school during the day and the women are busy in the evenings, we would start the rehearsal a little before dusk. The week leading up to the dance was the week of the full moon. We rehearsed until about 8 every night, which is my bed time and well after my dinner time.

Peace Corps moment: Dancing amid a horde of women in girls by moonlight.
For the most part, the rehearsals were just that. We would dance for awhile, the women would yell back and forth about how to do the dance in language and I would watch the pretty moon. The last night of rehearsals though, the boys decided to “help.” They finished their practice and came and joined ours. Rather than being at all useful, they got in the way, messed up the lines and sang the wrong songs. I scared one of them out of line when I told him if he wanted to dance with the women he needed to dress like a women and tried to tie my lavalava on him like a skirt. He hid from me the rest of the practice.
When my patience was gone and then some, we changed to a different dance. The boys kept adding in an extra shout where there wasn’t supposed to be one. Somehow, that was the issue that made the women chase them away. It was not the disrupting the lines, or distracting people, or flashing flashlights in people’s faces or getting in the way of the dance. The issue was shouting at the wrong moment. I still don’t understand some things here.
They did finally chase the boys off that night but throwing coconuts at them. That also struck me as just a bit odd. They were stoning their own children with coconuts. Whatever.
Dancing into the night

It turns out that the rehearsal with too many boys in the way was actually a good practice for the real deal. When the men finished their dance, they turned around and joined the women’s dance. So, we danced with all of the men messing up our lines, just like in rehearsal.

They explained that the story of the dancing is funnier if the men come inside it so the men come in to make fun of it and make it funnier. Or something. Again, I don’t quite understand. I just made sure to follow the person in front of me and try not to get hit in the head by a wooden chicken.

Cross-posted to our new blog at tegabis.com

11-30 What have I been doing? aka Where did November go?

Sorry for the lack of blog posts. I’ve been slacking. Sort of.

Wan Smol Bag’s Vanuau Fire Troupe

We got in on October 20thand it has taken me over a month to get my life organized. I don’t think that is surprising. I moved, I started a new job, I started another new job, I rediscovered dairy and the Western world, I reconnected to the internet and wrote 50,000 words on a novel.

So, I have been working with my Assistant Project Manager, Excellent (who has the best name ever), to do all of the technical trainings with the new group. We had Global Core Sessions provided by Washington DC to use. After looking at the first week of sessions, I pulled all the objectives out and chucked the rest in the “alternate filing folder” for safekeeping. I haven’t looked at them since. So, we started from scratch to design sessions that meet the criteria from Washington while remaining accurate and relevant to Vanuatu. I have no background in curriculum development, teaching or development work. I refuse to do things halfway so I poured a lot of time and effort into creating sessions that would be interesting, informative and useful. I think I mostly succeeded. I still need to get the review sheets back and see how my pupils graded me. That job was taking up 3 afternoons of teaching each week and at least 3 mornings of prep, if not more.
Playing in the solwota at the picnic

I started working at Wan Smol Bag a few weeks ago. (That will get its own post.) The main thing I’m doing there at the moment is “integrating.” I sit and chat with people, I listen to their opinions about what they want me to do or what they think I’m there to do, I ask questions, I show up and be present. I’ve been doing that a few days a week.
They are touching each other.  Eep!

I am starting as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. We’re still working out what that means, but as you may have guessed, it means more work with the same amount of pay. (I’m a terrible capitalist.) I am the PCVL for Small Grants Coordination. I’ll be working closely with a staff member to help other PCVs write and submit grants and I will be especially focused on using a new funding source we just acquired through USAID. Basically, I’m ghost writing grants. Can anyone say useful future skills?

When I’m not working, I’m trying to find a balance in my life between ex-pats, ni-Vans and alone time. There is a Monday afternoon pick up frisbee game which is a good time, though it is nearly exculsively ex-pats. I drink kava a couple nights a week, usually one or two with PCVs and ex-pats and one with ol man Pentecost. I’m trying to re-establish all my good habits of running and working out, thought that is proving challenging. I have to get up before 6 am to do any real work out otherwise I run into this new “being at work” deadline before I get a proper workout in.
Wan Smol Bag’s New Generation Hip Hop Troupe

The other huge project I took on was NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month happens in the month of November. It was started by a creative writing teacher to teach people that writing a first draft isn’t about crafting the perfect most beautiful creation in one go but rather to get words on the page that can be sculpted into your magnum opus. The goal of the month is to write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th. You are considered a winner if you finish the 50,000. I finished my 50,000 on November 26th. I am very pleased with myself and plan on finishing the novel in December so I can start the New Year with a new writing goal: learn how to revise.

Basically, I’ve been crazy busy and I love it. I haven’t gotten over how awesome it is to have light switches and how the light switches connect to light bulbs that produce light when I turn the switch on. Also, hot water is a gift from on high for stinky people and don’t let me get started on ovens. My life is different and busy and full and it is going to be a great year.

Cross-posted to our new blog at tegabis.com