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

10-22 Transfer Complete

Fresh news! Not a month and a half old!
Office at the Big Smoke

We have moved to Vila. We arrived on Efate on Saturday, October 20th. We immediately moved into our new house, or at least we left all our stuff there. Due to the help of some lovely friends, most of our bags and boxes that we shipped ahead of time were already in the house when we arrived. I have great friends.

Saturday we spent in Vila Shock. (It is a unique syndrome in which the early symptoms combine a fear of crossing traffic with an intense urge to sit in the Peace Corps office and waste time while alternately craving and gorging on cheese and ice cream. Late symptoms include dairy-induced gastrointestinal distress, confusion about the loss of hours of productive day time and the sense that you have misplaced all of your last paycheck.) We made it over to the office in the afternoon and then goofed off on the internet for awhile. We celebrated our move with dinner at a new Indian restaurant.
Sunday morning I ‘slept in’, cooked and ate breakfast and showered then looked at the clock. It was 7:30. I guess I’m still on island time. Still, that meant we had plenty of time to work on moving stuff into the house before we were expected to be anywhere.
Jason started pulling things out of bags while I reorganized the kitchen. It didn’t take very long for us to decide that what we really needed to do was move a bunch of furniture which somehow led to me removing two pieces of trim. On the up side, the fridge is now in a much better place than it was and the kitchen has a bit more space. Somehow, the six bags we’d brought off the island managed to explode enough stuff to cover every flat surface in the apartment. I’m still puzzled about how that happened. We’re getting things moved in and put away pretty well. There is still several hours of work to do, but that will have to wait until the end of the week.
Carla, the previous denizen of this house, left us really well set up. The apartment itself is pretty nice but she left it fully furnished and well furnished. We have 4 sets of good American sheets, 4 fluffy towels, as much cook wear as I could want and high-quality pots and pans. The only things we will be purchasing as kitchen knives (she took hers back with her), a blender (I love smoothies!) and maybe a book shelf or two. Oh, and I have to put the trim back on the wall, which means I need a saw to cut it the right length.
I am pleased with the new house. I’m excited about the new job. I’m looking forward to getting to know the new trainees and help them adjust to life in this wacky place. I miss Pentecost and free mangos, but life is looking pretty good at the moment.

5-23 We are Extending

So, the big news of this visit to Vila.

We’re extending our contracts in Vanuatu. We’ve applied for a year extension to work in Vila. The details are still being worked out, but here is what we know:
Jason will be working at the Vanuatu Institute of Technology (VIT). He’ll be working with their IT department to implement their server, clean up the network, re-wire the campus, train the lower level techs up to a higher level and do some server maintenance and upgrades. This is way more up his alley than what he has been doing. He’ll have fancy toys and networks to play with as well as other people already interested and working in networking. He is already getting excited for it, though he has a few more months of teaching kids to double click first.
If all goes well, I will be working at Wan Smol Bag, which is a social justice theater, STI clinic and youth center. Officially, I’ll be under the peer educator program in the STI clinic, because that is how I can fit into the framework for Peace Corps. If I get my way, I will be able to do some work with the peer educators, some work with the youth center sports program and maybe a bit of theater or cooking classes. Really, I’m excited for the chance to see how this organization runs. They are doing a lot of what I want to do around social justice and social messaging.
We will likely be moving into Vila in October/November. We’ll take a month or so to get our feet on the ground here and feel out our jobs as well as help train the new group of PCVs. As extendees, we get a Peace Corps paid trip home for a month, which we’ll try to time to happen over Christmas. That’s right, Christmas and New Years will be Stateside and then back to Vanuatu in January for another year.
A lot of things have played into this decision. A few factors include: no pressing reason to go home, though we have lovely and wonderful friends that we miss, we know all of you will still be there in a year. We have no job prospects and I still don’t know what I want to do for school or not after this. Jason has put off school this long, one more year won’t matter that much more. Most importantly, we don’t feel like we’ve gotten what we want out of this experience. It has been a great experience, but there is still something missing. I hope that part of what has been missing will be fulfilled for Jason by working with people who already know something about computers and fulfilled for me by working in the arts.
We will be back in the US for a little over a month and we want to coordinate to see as many people as possible in that time. If you live somewhere by our extended families, we should try to do lunch at least. If you live further away, consider a trip to lovely Minnesota for a white Christmas. We want to see you!
All of these plans are pretty conditional right now. We are waiting to hear more details from Wan Smol Bag and VIT about start times and job descriptions. We are waiting to hear from Peace Corps about training the new group and moving into Vila. We are waiting to hear from our project managers to see if they will grant our extensions. We are waiting on a lot of things. When we have better details, we’ll let you all know.

4-9 Tu Niufala Puskat or Mission Puskat Acquisition

Our cats are very cuddly

We have two new cats. One is an extroverted, attention-loving, outgoing orange tabby. His brother is a gray tabby best described as a scaredy cat. They are both purr machines and they team hunt with amazing success. The count today alone is three lizards that I’ve had to clean up plus one tail. I don’t know how many more they ate.

The story of acquiring the puskats is very Peace Corps Vanuatu. First, let me point out that Vanuatu is part of an archipelago, which means each island is isolated. Our only means of transport are boats and planes, though these come in various shapes, sizes, frequency and reliability.

We had a friend come visit us from the States. (She gets her own post.) We went to Vila to meet her and bring her back to Pentecost. Before she got in, we went to dinner with a couple of the PCVs who live in Vila. It was a great dinner with much wonderful conversation. Part of that conversation was me lamenting the death of Musashi and the state of the rat population in my house. One of the other PCVs immediately said, “You can take one of mine.”

Our cats are also perfectly happy to be stacked

Upon further consideration, it was determined that if I took Goldy, I would have to take Melvin, too. They are brothers and play together all the time. I agreed that two puskats would be better than one puskat and we started plans to get these critters out to Pentecost.

The first hurdle is that the puskats live on Efira, an island outside of Vila. We were doing a kayak tour based from the island, which was convenient. We picked up the puskats on our way back from the tour. By picked up, I do mean stuffed them in a box, had them escape from the box, stuffed one of them back in the box and the other in a hiking backpack. Then we jumped on a speed boat back to the “mainland” of Efate.

Hot kitties

This all happened Sunday evening. Our flight was Monday morning. We had to keep them overnight, but we were staying in a hotel. No worries though, the hotel room had a closet. I took the bag and box and put them in the closet in our room, opened them and shut the door. They stayed there while we went to dinner. I checked on them and gave them food and water when we got back then firmly closed the closet door again. Sometime around 3am, I woke up to the sounds of playful kitties in the closet. I ignored it and went back to sleep.

In the morning, we packed up our stuff and got breakfast. Just before it was time to go catch the plane, I opened up the brand new Chinese Bag I’d bought (and then cut holes in) and stuffed them both into it. The bag walked around the room while we put on shoes and stuffed the last few things into backpacks. Then it was time to go to the airport.

At the airport, I claimed my Chinese bag of puskat as a carryon and away we went. They were great on the flight, despite the incredibly loud noises and eardrum popping plane. We landed safely on Pentecost with two still-bagged puskats.

Jason’s papa met us with his speed boat to take us back to the village. In the boat, there was no good place to put the puskat bag. We shoved it under a seat where they would at least have some shade. We landed with the puskats panting in the bag. It was a hot day, even by our standards.

Look how happy those stacked cats are

We brought them up to the house where we let them out on the cool concrete floor. They both made an immediate dash for the hardest corner to reach, which happens to be under the bed. We gave them some food and water and hoped for the best.

Within an hour, Goldy had climbed the center beam of the house and escaped out the gap between the wall and the roof. Luckily, Melvin is much more timid and continued to hide under the bed. We made sure they had food and water and went about our day.

Sometime after we left for kava but before we went to bed, Goldy came back. We assume it was because his brother was still here. It might have been for the free food and belly rubs. He is a total sucker for belly rubs.

That night, they caught and ate a rat. They are still putting a dent in the rat and lizard population around our house.

They both hang out in the windows

They’ve been with us for a week and seem to be well settled in. They defend the house against the puppy that has adopted us and sit in our laps and purr like motors. Melvin is still skitish and prone to getting startled by things like being looked at funny or walking past him. Goldy likes to sprawl across the floor just on the other side of the curtain in the doorway and then be offended when he gets stepped on. They are both really cute and it is nice to have cuddly things in the house. The added bonus with these ones is that they are mousers.

Goldie is always a classy cat

Packing up all my material goods

We have spent the last few days shopping and packing to move to Pentecost. This has been slightly complicated by a few things.

Firstly, we’ve never seen the house. Either of them. In fact, the pictures I have of my house don’t exactly have a house in them. They have a slab of concrete and a couple of rebar rods. The view looked pretty nice, though I think it is on top of a hill. Hopefully, I’ll have a house when we get there. If not, we’ll stay at Jason’s.

Secondly, we have to buy the things required to live in Vanuatu, which we’ve only been doing for two months. It is rather hard to know what is required, what is necessary, what is necessary to me, and what I can live without. We also don’t know what we can buy when we get there, including what food is available. This challenge is added to by the shops themselves. Nothing here is consistent, one week there might be lentils the next week they are out and the boat doesn’t bring more. The same goes for just about everything. The only things that you can consistently acquire in some form are soap, TP, ramen, toothpaste (most of the time), root crops and laundry detergent.

Third on the list is shipping. Peace Corps is paying for us to take 36 kilos on the plane. After that, we’re on our own. Shipping on the plane is super expensive, so instead people ship on the boats. The issues with the boats is sort of the epitome of society here in Vanuatu. The boats go where they want, when they want. A few are reliable enough to get to your island, eventually. Even if you manage to get a boat that comes to your island, you still have to get your stuff off the boat. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. In fact, your stuff, if well labeled, may ride back and forth a few times before getting off. If not well labeled, it could get off at any number of other ports, or wherever the captain decides it should get off. If you are particularly unlucky, your boat will come with the tide and the tide will be in the middle of the night. You still have to get up and make it to the wharf if you want your stuff, if you aren’t standing there, you can almost guarantee that your stuff will take a tour of the islands. It is a challenging system.

After we get our stuff from the boat, we still have to get it to our site, which offers yet another set of challenges. Jason and I have it a bit easier, there is a truck-worthy road that goes between Melsisi and Vansemakul. All we have to do is find a truck driver willing to take on that stretch of road, which includes fording 4 rivers (my oxen might die) one of which floods on a regular basis. Our nearest neighbor is not so lucky. She doesn’t have a road, she has a dirt track that horses occasionally fall off of. (Did I mention that Pentecost is known for being steeply hilly?) If she wants anything at her site she has to shlep it up the hill, or hire a teenager to shlep it for her. Hiring local teens is the preferred Peace Corps choice.

Jason and I have now packed everything we will own for the foreseeable future down to 2 hiking bags, 2 duffel bags, 3 big tupperwares and 3 chinese bags. That includes the 2 mattresses and bednets we need as well as all our clothing, kitchen supplies and food. Hopefully there will be a picture sometime soon.