Farewell for now

In just a few hours, I will be on a plane back to the island… well, the island I live on.. I’m actually on an island now.  Anyway, we will be back mid-may with more crazy stories of our adventures!  Until then, stay safe and enjoy yourselves.

I’ll drink a shell of kava to you all… better make that a few shells, just to be safe.

3-9 Farewell Interwebs!

I am off to the island in less than 8 hours.  I hope you all have a fabulous spring and that all major life events go well.  I know some of you have things planned that I’d love to see, but know we’re both thinking of you often and wish you all the best.

Time to go find me some taro!  See you in May!

2-23 Skul i Start Bakagen!

We had our first day of school.  It was every bit as confusing and chaotic as last year, but this time we were ready for it.
School officially, according to the Ministry of Education, started on February 13.  (Remember, I live in the Southern Hemisphere, our summer break was the same as Christmas break.)  On February 14th, they had the Melsisi school opening.  Everything here has to be opened and closed with a ceremony, so no classes could start on Monday, before the ceremony or on Tuesday, the day of the ceremony.  That made Wednesday the first day of classes.  The schedule as it stands right now has Jason’s – and therefore my – classes on Monday and Tuesday, making week 1 a wash.
We sort of figured on that happening.  It happened something like that at the start of every term last year and seems to be normal across the schools, not just for Melsisi. 
We chatted with the new Project Teach Vanuatu volunteers over the weekend and found out that there were, in fact, students at school.  That was sort of unexpected.  Ranwadi has less than half its students back but somehow Melsisi is a little over two-thirds.  So, we enter week 2 with high hopes of having a class.
Teaching on Monday went fine.  I did a “how do we get sick” intro class where each student had to name a kind of illness and say where they would go for it.  For the most part, they chose the Aid Post and the Health Center, though one brave student chose the Kleva (kastom healer).  Jason did a class about how to use a mouse.  We start with the basics here.
Tuesday was a public holiday, thus ending the arduous second week of school.
Next week we should see a change in the schedule to put Jason’s classes back on Tuesday and Wednesday so we can help out with Sport class as well.  He’ll find out in the Staff Meeting today, you know, the one where they will discuss the events and classes for the term. 

1-10 Ta ta!

We’re heading back to Pentecost in a few hours.  We’ll be jumping on a ship then, anyway.  Chances are good we’ll be eating lunch in our own house tomorrow, or at least we’ll be eating near our own house.  It will likely involve taro.  Most meals on Pentecost involve taro.

I’ll be back online at the end of the month.  It is still taem blong spel so we’re traveling a lot.  Basically, we’re on summer break.  We’ll have to settle down again in a month so, until then, stay safe!

12-17 New Friends!

Our trainees out on the island.  They are PCVs now.

On December 8th, Peace Corps Vanuatu group 24 swore to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic and become Peace Corps Volunteers. I watched them do it and took lots of pictures on a borrowed camera.

The swearing in was a nice ceremony. Nothing too fancy, though they looked sharp in their island dresses and island shirts. Nothing like big floral print to say “Important Ceremony” in the South Pacific. There were speakers from Vanuatu and the ambassador from the US to see it all happen. I had a shell of kava with him afterwards. This is still Vanuatu.
The after party was at a American bar which includes swinging, saloon style front doors, a dog that likes to be petted and is welcome at the bar and a 10% discount for all PCVs. The bar is covered in American kitsch like license plates and a mounted deer head and serves things like jalapeno poppers. It is the perfect place for a Peace Corps after party. They also brew their own beer. I appreciate that.
The new group went to their sites the next week and are finding out what the realities of island life entail. So far, the reports I’ve heard back are more or less the same realities we’ve discovered. One of the volunteers who is replacing someone doesn’t have a house. It isn’t ready, even though the previous volunteer was living in it. Sound familiar? (That happened to Jason.) Another one got to site only to find out they’d built her kitchen with a raised bamboo floor. She was intending to cook on fire. Fires on bamboo floors are not recommended.
More new PCVs!

It is hilarious to hear the stories that we all faced last year from the new group as they experience these things for the first time. It is also a reminder of how I’ve grown and changed as a person. Or how my standards have just gotten lower than I ever dreamed possible.
Last year, another volunteer’s host family gave her plain white rice for lunch. She was horrified. She called me and I sympathized. Who eats just white rice for lunch? That is not a complete meal! Today, my brunch was plain white rice followed by a well-balanced and nutritious lunch of plain white rice. I got pineapple for dessert on that one. As far as most people here were concerned, I should be eating plain rice for dinner, too. I decided to roast some corn to go with it.
I hope the new group is discovering the insane, quixotic and wonderful island life. I hope I keep getting phone calls from them about their adventures, because the best part of being a Peace Corps Volutneer are the other Peace Corps Volunteers

12-17 Goodbyes

Matt, Jason, Me, Eleanor and Hayley

We’ve said one more round of goodbyes. When we got to Pentecost, there were two Oxford (now Project Teach Vanuatu) volunteers in Melsisi and three in Ranwadi as well as a GAP (now Latitude) volunteer. We said our goodbyes to them after only a month. They were replaced in February and we got to know the new kids. The last of them left for home on Monday. In between, there were a few other goodbyes for the 3-week to 6-month term volunteers.

Matt and Georgia at a fundraiser

It is strange to see these people come and go. They become our nearest English-speaking neighbors and a refuge from the struggles of living in a intensely different culture. We get to know these people in a pretty intimate way, just due to circumstance. We’re all on this rollercoaster together, so get along or get lost.

Then they leave. Sometimes they leave behind things that are tasty or they’ll send back care packages that are truly relevant, but it is odd to not have them just down the road or a text message away. When I’m really lucky, I get to go visiting. I hope to do some globe trotting post-Peace Corps, so I have hopes that I’ll see many of them again and maybe sleep on a coach or two.
It will be interesting to see the new group come in February and find out what my relationship will be with them. I hope they are as great as the rest have been.

12-10 Back to the Island

A few last things before I head back to the land of no internet.

This is an article an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) wrote about her Peace Corps experience.  I agree with a lot of what she said and I think she said it very eloquently. 


And, while I’m linking to things, here is our current wish list of material goods.  To be perfectly honest, we’d rather have you send us letters or postcards no matter how inane.  Pictures of you and what you’re doing are wonderful, too.  On the other hand, if you feel like sending a care package toss some chocolate and boxed food in a box and mail down here to the South Pacific.  If you don’t want to bother with a box, give us kindle books online and we’ll pick them up whenever we get internet again.  We certainly won’t object.  Here is a link to our current amazon wish list. 


We miss you all!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

11-7 How to Lose Your Trainees

In case this has not previously been made clear, travel in Vanuatu is a chancy game.  You take a chance and hope everyone is game.  Lucky for us, our latest visitors very much were game.
We had three Peace Corps Trainees come out for a visit.  (In Peace Corps language, you are a Volunteer only after you swear in.)  They arrived in Vanuatu in early October.  They were sent on their Host Volunteer Visit or Walkabout last week.  There were eleven heading to Pentecost, six to the south and five to central. 
Three days before they arrived, we booked a truck to meet them at the airport.  Two days before they arrived in started raining.  They morning they were meant to arrive, the truck showed up at 6:30 am.  He’d wanted to cross the river early out of concern that it would flood.  A valid concern, since the truck that crossed at 8 am almost didn’t make it. 
We left an hour before they were meant to touch down.  We got to the first major river between Vansemakul and the airport and ran into trouble.  The river was huge.  It was flooded a good ten feet on either side of its normal banks and probably three feet deeper than normal.  We don’t have bridges on Pentecost, we have fords.  (Think about how often your oxen died in Oregon Trail and you’ll get why this might be a pain.)
The truck taking Eleanor, the English volunteer to the airport was parked on our side of the river and empty.  After a few minutes of dithering, we walked up to the “bridge.”  I put bridge in quotes for good reason.  The bridge is three pieces of buraow wood (the same stuff we use for fence posts and toilet paper) about as thick as my arm loosely tied together and tossed across the river.  There is a natural handhold at about head height from the branches of the buraow tree.  The whole arrangement requires a bit of monkeying to get onto and off of and jiggles so much when you walk so you feel like you might be doing the moonwalk in a bouncy castle.  A bouncy castle over a raging torrent of river.
We ran into the other people from the truck coming back.  Alexandra and Hayley said they’d stay with the truck while we crossed and walked down to the airport.  We crossed in pretty good time with the only casualty a shoe that fell out of my basket and got to walking.  Jason and two other volunteers took the lead, leaving me with Jason’s ten-year-old sister who is shy to the point of utter silence around men and while people, and a volunteer from Ranwadi named Matt who’s left shoe had been the casualty in the river.  I have been in more awkward situations in my life but I try hard to avoid them.  I was stuck trying to make conversation with two people who didn’t want to talk in two different languages while walking more slowly than I wanted and in a hurry to get to the airport. 
Eventually, we lost sight of the other three entirely.  I found out about an hour later that they’d jumped a truck.  They hadn’t asked the truck to wait for us, they’d just gone on ahead like the good friends they are.  We kept walking.  We heard the plane land and take off.  I tried to convince Matt to take my shoe so we could walk faster.  I tried to convince him to just wait on the road since the plane had already gone.  Eventually, I just ditched him.  I felt bad about it but didn’t want to lose my trainees.  Matt knows the road, the trainees didn’t.
I tried to call Betsy, my trainee, to tell her to stay at the airport.  Jason and I were playing walkie-talkie with our phones we were calling each other so often for short bursts of information over a bad connection.  Finally, Jason got to the airport.  The trainees were not there.
Jason found out that they’d jumped on a boat and were somewhere between the airport and Melsisi.  We didn’t know where they were going to shore or where they were.  Alexandra was calling saying the driver on the other side was impatient.  Finally, after many phone calls and much chaos, Jason found out that they were on the Melsisi side of the river closest to the airport.  I flagged down a truck, related the story to him and convinced him to go back for them while Jason walked from the airport.  As my truck pulled up, Jason walked up to them from the other side.
We loaded into the truck and headed back to the other flooded river.  We picked up one-shoed Matt on the way.  We got to the river and unloaded from that truck.  We considered our crossing options and went for the “bridge.”  After passing all the bags across, we all monkey-shuffled across and onto dry ground.  We piled everything back into the original truck and got to the village without further incident.
It is not recommended to lose, break, scare or otherwise deter your trainees.  We were a little concerned after that introduction, but they took it like troopers and thought of it as one big adventure.  With that attitude, they will do well as PCVs.

10-11 The Joys of Teaching or How I am Going to be Pigeonholed into a Sex Educator for the Rest of my Life

The 11th and 12th grade classrooms on a windy day.
I thought that in being a Community Health Volunteer, I would be discussing a wide variety of issues. I might work on a vaccination program or hygiene and sanitation improvements. Maybe I’d travel to villages to talk about NCDs and do NCD screenings. I could help with the weekly early childhood nutrition days or do anatomy lessons in a kindergarten. What have I been doing since I ot back from New Zealand? Teaching sex ed in a high school. What are my plans for Friday? Teaching sex ed to the teachers at the high school. Next week? I’m supposed to start the planning process for 4 sex ed workshops in my district.
I have been doing “health” class with the 9th and 10th graders since April. I quickly realized that “health” was code word for “sex ed.” I don’t come every week, or I didn’t first term and the beginning of second term due to workshops. Towards the end of last term, I started coming more regularly. Now, Jason is in Australia and I’m running classes on my own. Well, sort of on my own. My lovely and wonderful neighbor up the hill has been helping me and the two English volunteers in Melsisi are giving me a hand this week.
Last week, Alexandra and I did a two-hour AIDS workshop. We took the co-ed class of 10thgraders and tried to keep them focused for two hours while talking about sex. They did ok, though we ended up breaking them up into boys and girls. Then we did the same with the 9thgraders. They did not do ok. They were atrocious. So, I started today’s lesson with a discussion about appropriate behavior and a reminder that I don’t need to be in their class. I think it was the right tone with which to start a condom lesson.
The view from the classrooms.  Not distracting at all.

Halfway through the lesson I had to ask myself, how is it that I am once again standing up in front of people talking about sex? And why is it that I never blush? It seems to be that I will forever be the person who doesn’t flinch from talking about sex. I can remember being the go-to person in high school for sex questions, if I didn’t know I’d go ask my dad and find out. Then it happened again in college. I figured when I graduated from college, the time period in which people need lots of questions answered by a friend would be past. Not so, I continued to be the main person to ask random questions about birth control, STIs and general reproductive health.

I guess I better get really good at talking about sex because it seems to be that I will be doing it for the rest of my life. I can think of worse fates. My dad will be happy and sex is interesting.

EDIT 11-30: Two days ago I was asked by a woman from another NGO in Vanuatu to do a day of anatomy and physiology and family planning for her 5 day sexual and reproductive health workshop.  They will be flying me into Vila for it and putting me up at a hotel with a per diem.  They offered to pay me, but I can’t take money due to Peace Corps restrictions.  I guess I really am starting to be known as a sex educator…

10-9 to 10-21 Alone on the Island

Jason petting a kangaroo while I sat on a rainy island

I am getting a taste of my own medicine. I left Jason in February to go to Australia on medevac when I hit my hand with a bush knife. Now, I’m stuck on Pentecost while he is in Australia on medevac. His is not self-inflicted or an emergency, which was good planning on his part.
My medevac experience was miserable. I can’t say that being on the island is really great either. Now, I am alternating between worry about Jason and annoyance that he gets things like pizza and rugby. I’m in the day-to-day routine while he is on an adventure.
Look! Paved roads!  

Right now, it is useful that we started out our relationship long-distance. We try to talk every day, though that isn’t always possible between hit-or-miss reception and too many cloudy days. (I can’t charge my phone if it’s cloudy.) We send each other random text messages about the things we find funny or reminders to take our antimalarials. They are the same things we’d share over lunch or on the walk to and from Melsisi, now it is just squished into a text that may or may not make it through. This isn’t the longest we’ve been apart and we have practice on how to make it work.

Basically, we try to keep the lines of communication open. It isn’t easy to be separated, especially when we are both in the habit of relying on each other. On the other hand, we are getting a taste of the single volunteer experience, sort of.
The correct hospital to go to for medevac.

Jason read an article about how couples function better than the individual skills would imply, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts kind of a thing. The study showed that couples use each other as a sort of “external hard drive.” Unfortunately, my external hard drive has been temporarily disconnected so I can’t dump the things I normal would on it. I have always been independent, now I am being forced to remember how to be alone as well. This is a good reminder of all of those skills, though not the life path I’ve chosen.

I will point out that of the 80 volunteers currently in country, there have been four out of country medevacs. Jason and I are two of them. When did we become such sh*t magnets? There is a long list of things that people say are a “once in a lifetime” kind of bad luck, yet I’ve had like four this year. Really, what mirror did I break or black cat did I cross? Maybe someone did do nakaimos(black magic) on me. 
He was in Australia.  Of course he held a koala.