12-22: Up, Up and Away!

Our students came to see us off at the airport.
We left Vanuatu on Friday, December 20th. I tried to use up the credit on my phone as we sat on the runway and got down to 30 vatu before they made me turn my phone off. Jason did better, he was down to 2 vatu.
We spent Friday night with friends in Brisbane. Did you know there is this magical box that you put dirty clothes in and they come back clean and halfway dried? That thing is full of black magic and miracles. Our friends let us use their washing machine and drier, though half the clothes ended up on the line anyway because the dried was too small to dry all the clothes.
Saturday morning, we flew to Darwin. We are now off on our grand adventure! We’ll be traveling for the next few months. The general plan is to spend about 2 weeks in different Southeast Asian countries. We leave for Bali, Indonesia on the 23rd where we have a room booked until the 26th. On the 5th, we fly from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore. We leave Singapore three days later by bus and head into Malaysia. That’s as far as we have planned.
Red rocks along the road in Darwin

Leaving has not been easy. First of all, we both worked up until the end. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday at work, then stopped by on Thursday for a last review with my counterpart. Jason worked Tuesday and part of Wednesday and stopped by Thursday for an exit interview with his principal. So, we’ve been cleaning out the house, packing up and saying our goodbyes around a more-or-less 40-hour a week schedule. Insanity.

Smol spel from wandering the streets.

The emotional part of leaving is a combination of unreal and bittersweet. I don’t real believe that I won’t be returning to Vila in a few weeks. Jason hasn’t realized that he won’t be drinking fresh kava again for a very long time. The moments that have made it real are odd. My mother’s worries about contacting us was one. Usually, we call about once a week and I sit outside the Peace Corps office and tell her about all the insanity that made up my life. Now, we will be reliant on skype and email. (We may have a phone while traveling but it will vary country by country, depending on the price of phones plans and SIM cards.) Jason closing his bank account was final for him. They let him keep his cards, though. (They took mine, but I didn’t ask for them back.)

In many ways, the “big” things really didn’t feel big to me. Wan SmolBag did a very nice little goodbye. There was awesome cake. They gave me a t-shirt and set of Love Patrol as well as a tablecloth and napkin set in Vanuatu style. I got calicoed but not baby powdered. (Traditionally, gifts of calico are wrapped around people’s shoulders at these things, then they get baby powder dumped on their heads.) We did our last kava with staff and volunteers on Thursday evening. A bunch of people came out, but it just felt like a nice evening for a shell. I’ve been to so many last kavas, I don’t think my heart recognized that one as my own. 

I think it will set in more strongly in a few days. Once we are really going and it is clear we really aren’t going back, then it will be real. Right now, I’m just on vacation. 

The view from Shefa Kava Bar where we did our last kava with staff and many, many other kavas over the last three years.

9-8 Close of Service: The Nuts and Bolts

Hard at work…drawing stick figures.
 So, the nuts and bolts first. Close of Service is the last official Peace Corps training we attend. It covers things like resume writing, interview skills, reverse culture shock and choosing a future path. It has been the most helpful and interesting of our In-Service Trainings.
It is not a PC training without an icebreaker

Day one was all about sharing our feelings. I know I am a crunchy hippy, that doesn’t mean I like to share my feelings. I’m not big on emotions and such. We spent that first day reflecting back on two years of service. There were some poignant moments. We made lists of things like what we weren’t going to miss (banana laplap, roosters at 3 am, kiaman taem), sensory moments we’d never forget (the smell of laplap leaves hitting hot stones, roosters at 3 am, the sound of the ocean), and things we’d learned about human nature (schaudenfreudan is funny everywhere, we are all afraid of looking stupid). We moved on to discussing what we can do to deal with the inevitable reverse culture shock. Everything from speaking in a school when our friends and family and sick of listening to us talk about it, to going for professional counseling came up. There is a huge network of people and as many ways of dealing with the transition.

Day two was a bit more practical. Our safety and security officer spoke to us about the importance of maintaining vigilance in these last few months and how difficult it will be to get rid of belongings without offending anyone. I agree with that. I’m sure I’ll piss people off, but that is there perogative. They get to get mad, I get to leave. We all have the things we have to do.
Fancy fishes!  They were pancakes and very tasty.

We spent a lot of time on medical stuff, too. Peace Corps does their damndest to take care of us, which is awesome. They do a good job of it, too. After Peace Corps, we have insurance options and plans to choose from. I presume none of them involve a 24/7 on-call staff person and free medical advice/consultation/prescriptions and everything else. That really is too bad. Still, we need to go over what things we can claim under what and what things fall under insurance. That took a few hours.

Today, we spent the morning going over resumes and talking about cover letters and interview skills. We got lucky. The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Papau New Guinea embassy is in town. He came by and spoke to us about how the Foreign Service works. He was informative. I had a nice chat with his husband as well, especially since we’d had kava with them on Wednesday. (I lead a very odd life these days.) He re-sparked my interest in the Foreign Service so we’ll see about the exam or what exactly that means.
The IT Crowd, PC Vanuatu style

This afternoon, we spent more time sharing our feelings. Really, this afternoon was a chance to talk about highlights of our service. It was inspiring to hear some of the other stories. There were some I’d heard before, but a lot of the stories were successes I hadn’t heard of. The chance to celebrate our minor successes was good.

Tonight was a different sort of celebration. Tonight was the goodbyes. While, really tomorrow is the good byes. Tonight was karaoke on a boat while we cruised around the lagoon. Tomorrow is a Fijian pig roast. Then it is back to the islands briefly. Most people are leaving in early October, before Jason and I move to Vila. I am sad about this. I will discuss feelings in a different post.

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.