12-24 Book Deal!


So, I got a book deal. That’s pretty cool. I’m pretty stoked about it.

Back in like March, I read an article in the Worldview, the magazine for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV), in which a guy was pimping his publishing house. The publishing house is Other Places Publishing. He started it when he got frustrated by the poor travel guides to his country of service. He wrote his own travel guide, started the publishing house and published the book. From there, he’s published 13 more travel guides written by RPCVs and 2 other Peace Corps related books. One is a photo essay and looks gorgeous, but I haven’t been near a bookstore in a year, so I haven’t gotten to handle a real copy.
At the end of his article, he had a paragraph asking for solicitations from currently serving PCVs who were within 1-6 months of finishing service interested in writing a travel guide. So I wrote to him. He sent me the application requirements which I did and sent back. He offered me the Lead Writer position on the book in May or June.
The US government has very strong ideas of what its employees should and shouldn’t be doing. One of the shouldn’ts is “any work for anyone else.” Basically, one of the clauses in my PC contract says that I won’t sign a contract or take money from any other organization while working for them. So, I couldn’t sign the contract when he offered me the position. He knew this and understood so we were both on the same page and it was not an issue.
In an attempt to get the book in sooner, and therefore get some feedback before leaving Vanuatu, I finished my PC contract on November 30th. I turned the rough draft of the book in less than a week later. A bit over a week after that, the publisher sent me the book contract which I signed and sent back to him. Now I have a signed book contract. The huge amount of research needed for this project is the reason that I kind of, sort of, completely stopped blogging for a few months. I couldn’t mention it here, then, because I didn’t actually have the contract so I hope you will retroactively forgive me.
I am still creating the maps and the photo spreads but the rough draft is done. It clocked in at ~138,000 words. That is more that I have ever written on anything by almost triple. I’m proud of myself and a little worried that something is still going to go terribly wrong.
The book should be out in May or June. I’ll let you all know. Now that I’ve announced it to the world, I’ll probably let you know the milestones as the process goes on as well.

10-14 Trash Talk!

How long does it take for popo skin to decompose?
My job in the last year has been focused on trash. I spend a lot of time talking about trash and compost and other such goodness. It isn’t nearly as fun to write blog posts about trash as it was to write blog posts about sex. That’s why there has been less work-related things on the blog. But, here goes another update on work.
My counterpart, Brian, and I got noticed back when we did the trash boats. Since then, we’ve been working on some fairly public stuff. Most recently, we’ve been part of a team effort to change the solid waste management system in the mamas’ market.
A few quick numbers on waste management in Vila. The downtown mamas’ market produces 55 metric tons of rubbish each week. The smaller Freshwota market produces 515 kgs of rubbish each day. Of that rubbish, 97% is compostable materials such as coconut husks, leaves, cabbage stems and coconut leaf baskets. The average single-family home in Vila produces about 15 kgs of waste that is about 50% compostable each week.
Peak Tire of Mount Trash.  (More on Peak Tire later)
These numbers are important for a two reasons that I understand enough to explain. The first is that we live on a small island. Land is scarce and needed for food production, especially as town is growing and the import/export difference is not in Vanuatu’s favor. The Municipal dump was meant to last 100 years. At current rates, it will fill up in 20-30 years. This is due to the speed at which Port Vila is growing and that it is the only dump available so everyone uses it, not just people inside Municipal boundaries.
The second reason also has to do with food production. The soil in Vanuatu is extremely rich. It is the kind of rich that makes fence posts sprout. Historically, the ground has been managed using a system that in the US would be called permaculture. (Here, it’s just called farming.) The crops are mixed together and plots are rotated every 4-7 years to allow fallow time. Due to increased demand and people’s interest in winning cash money, the fallow times are shortening or disappearing entirely. At the moment, the soil is rich enough to sustain this, but it is only a matter of time before this impacts yields. Replenishing the soil now by using compost will ensure continued fertility for future generations.

Minister of the Environment, putting his rubbish away.

So, back to the market. The previous system was to heap up all the trash – organic, inorganic, and recyclable – in a couple of major places. After a few days, scrape it up with shovels and move it to where the Municipal truck can reach it. The Municipal truck would come through “twice a week” (kinda, sorta, maybe) and scoop all the now-rotting trash up into a truck that would take it away to the town dump. The market smelled like sewage and rotting food (not helped by the sewer that runs in front of the market).
The new system is a bit more complicated. The mamas, or whoever is throwing away garbage, separates the waste as they throw it away. There are 55 gallon drums placed around the market with pictures of vegetables, tin cans or plastic. The person throwing away the waste, puts the right kind of rubbish in the right bin. Municipal will carry away the green waste every day (right now it is taking 2 trips a day). They will remove the other waste twice a week. The green waste is going to Rainbow Gardens where it will be used as compost or pig food.
Painted drums to show where things go.  It isn’t working.

Brian and I fit into this in the education side. We’ve been running “awarenesses” about decomposition, compost and rubbish separation. We started by creating a timeline that showed how long it takes different kinds of garbage to decompose. (Newspaper = 3 weeks, plywood = 3 years, cigarette filter =3-5 years, biodegradable plastic bag = 13 years, etc.) Our next lesson was all about compost. We took samples of raw materials, half-composted material and fully composted material and asked the mamas to guess what was in the half-composted stuff. We also explained how they can make this at their house to improve their yields. A lot of the flower farmers already use compost, but the vegetable farmers don’t much. Now, we are focusing on appropriate waste separation. Before you think this is too basic, keep in mind there is a problem in using the toilet properly. As in, which way to sit and where the toilet paper goes. Seriously.
The new system took effect last week. I left and went to Pentecost. I’ll see how it is going when I get back to Vila. We have 2 more weeks of educational activities, then it is up to the city to maintain the system. Cross your fingers that we’ve done enough and this takes off.

Waste in the right drum!

7-20 Work Trip Rollercoaster

 I’m in Santo. I came up north on Thursday morning and will be staying for a week.

Setting up the CD player
Brian and I are visiting schools around Santo to check on, and encourage, their Environment Committees. We should be hitting 2 schools a day every weekday and one school as an overnight because its out of town. When I’m not at the schools, I’m teaching poi spinning and recycled arts class in the youth center. It’s going to be a busy week. Unfortunately, it got off to a rough start.
Thursday morning, I left Vila. I had to get up at 5am to catch the plane. That is never a good start to my day. Then, when we arrived in Lugainville, we discovered that I did not, in fact, have a hotel room. The hotel had mis-booked us. We decided to leave our stuff in Brian’s room and go drop letter off at the schools. Brian grabbed the letters, only to realize they were empty envelopes and he’d forgotten the letters in Vila.
We stopped by the northern branch of Wan SmolBag, Northern Care Youth Clinic (NCYC), long enough to write and print new letters, then went around to the schools dropping them off. Because there is no mail system, no reliable internet and no landlines, the best way to inform a school we are coming is to go to the school and drop off a letter. We tried to get a hold of anyone in the one school we couldn’t easily drive to. We failed.
Friday morning, we went to the first school. It was a great success. The students were curious and engaged, the head mistress was excited to have us there and the teacher came to our lesson. The teacher even came up with ideas for the environment committee to do for their next lesson, without my giving them to her.
Friday midday, we found out that our plans for Friday afternoon had just fallen through. So, instead, I went to NCYC. I thought I’d teach a poi spinning class. Turns out, I walked head first into a massive hornet’s nest of politics. Ugh. I spent all afternoon discussing the situation with various people. At the end, the youth center coordinator and I decided out best option was to go to the “fire show” that was on for the evening. We didn’t actually know when it started, but we had a person in the village who would call us when they were announced.
I left NCYC and went to meet someone at a bar. This person usually drinks at this bar on Friday evenings, and I want to contact him. I didn’t have any other contact information, so I went to the bar and stood around awkwardly. Eventually, I discovered he was not there.
Fire spinning
The youth center coordinator called me and I met her on the road. We went to the fire show. It was not bad, but it was also not good. Then we decided to drink some kava. Then our taxi forgot us, for two hours. We drank a lot of kava. Our taxi did eventually come back for us. I got back to my hotel at 11 pm.
If the rest of the week is this much of a roller coaster, I’m going to need like a week to recover when I get back.

5-26 Race day: Boat Race Part 3

Manuella, sporting the Australian flag.

The race itself could not have gone better. We transported the boats in and on two trucks. I ended up in the back of a moving-van-style vehicle with three boats and my feet dangling off the back with the doors wired partial shut while another staff member rode on top of the truck to hold the boats in place. The youth in the bus behind us acted as security. I think our little procession increased our crowd.

We got the first boats in the water around 1:00, right on time. Miraculously, they even floated. Then we had to get people on the boats. That took a little longer. The kayak style boat had a stability problem and took three people before someone got it balanced properly. While that was going on, an eel decided to come check out our launch place and sent all the youth screaming back to shore. Ten minutes and a lot of thrown rocks later, the eel was scared off and we were back in the water.
The Titanic.  Perhaps not the best name, but there isn’t ice in Vanuatu…
The fire boat launched and took a quick tour. Then it came back and they lit their mast on fire. Intentionally. As the fire squad, they decided to mark their territory and had a flame at the top of the mast. Of course, by the time we finally got around the racing, they had to add more fuel, which was done by pouring kerosene on fire. I’m pretty sure someone has told me in the past that that is a bad idea, but their other idea was to do a fire breath on it. I liked the pouring better than the plume of flame option.
The first three boats raced and raced fast. They were the more solidly constructed boats with less problems, so they moved better and held together. The fire squad used leg blo dukduk (fins) to add extra speed, but their kicked got tired part way through.
Look closely.  You can see the legs of the overboard…
Halfway through the first heat, we had a crowd of probably a hundred. By the end of the third heat, we had probably over 500, maybe pushing towards 700 people watching. That’s what I call successful promotion.
The second race was uneventful, at least for a race with 9 youth on boats made of garbage. The little literacy team’s oldest boat member was 11. I made them race on the inside so if I went swimming after them, I wouldn’t have to swim as far. I didn’t have to go swimming and they finished the race under their own power.
Lining up for the speed heat.
The third heat was where things got interesting. The refrigerator boat had a problem with taking on water. And with wobbling. And with steering. And then it had a problem with crewing. One of the guys fell over backwards and went for a swim. The boat had lost a few cans along the way, which I sent him back out for. He was already swimming, it wasn’t going to be a problem for him to go fetch the cans back to shore.
Somewhere around then one of the youth borrowed a kayak from the place we were using as an finish line and started kayaking through the race course picking up rubbish the boats were losing. I told him he was a smart guy and saving a number of people a swimming trip.
The final speed heat finished and then we went to the main stage to hand out prizes. I never managed to find sponsorship for the race, despite several promises from people. I am lucky to have resourceful coworkers who magicked up a few prizes and a sponsor came through with 50 USD at the last minute. Put it all together and re-distribute it a little and I had nine prizes, one for each boat.
Tonny’s dance moves, with a reggae paddle.
The stage had live coverage from two radio stations and the TV station of the Information and Communication Technology Day celebrations. They graciously allowed us fifteen minutes to hand out prizes, which was aired live across Vanuatu. The youth got to claim their prize and have their 30 seconds of fame, all except Tonny, the captain of the boat who lost a crew member. He got a bit more than 30 seconds when the radio announcer told him to dance on stage and he did.
We returned the youth to Wan SmolBag by bus. I stayed until the last trip and got back at 5:15, just in time for my photography field trip. (We ended up postponing the field trip because we were all too tired to do it.) I slept 13 hours on Friday night. The boats made the front page of the newspaper on Saturday morning. They were in the paper again yesterday as a promotion for GIZ. I wrote the second article, because the first one misspelled my name.

5-25 Get Out of the Way and Let Them Build: Boat Race Part 2

The inside of a rain tank makes for a three-men-in-a-tub style boat.

Monday morning the boat race construction was supposed to start. I showed up at work and started bothering tutor after tutor about who was going to be on their boat, who was going to pick up the garbage, where they were going to build their boat. I was handing out transport money like a pusher peddling drugs.
Styrofoam mixed with gasoline makes glue.  Or Napalm.  You know, whatever.

Tuesday I went to the Peace Corps office and did my PCV Leader work.

Wednesday I showed up at 8:15. Three different people told me the tutors were looking for me. Each one I found asked for more transport money and told me the plans they had for their boat. The Youth Center agreed to fund the materials. GIZ, a German government organization with a name about a sentence long, agreed to fund the transport for the boats and the litter clean ups. By Friday, I had tutors and youth coming to me to ask for more tape, more rope or just to show me the boats.
The next week was all about boat building. A lot of the tutors canceled normal classes to build boats or stayed late and worked their days off to build their boats. It was incredible to watch the Youth Center work on the project as a group.
Lots of bottles make things float.

I challenged them to be creative. They met my challenge. The music group built a boat around an old refrigerator. The computer class built their’s using nothing but bottles, glued together with glue made from gasoline and styrofoam (also possibly the base to napalm) and packaging tape. The literacy class used the insulation from an ice chest for the floor of their boat and made a frame from leftovers from building the set in the theater. Hiphop and the Girl’s Group used bamboo they got from a torn down nakamal as the structure of their boats. The Fire Squad used shipping crates and stuffed their kerosene bottles in between for flotation. The Sport team wrapped bottles in old goal nets. Nutrition sewed a sail out of broken umbrellas.

Tearing apart an ice chest to use the styrofoam for a boat bottom.

By Thursday afternoon, I was mostly convinced we were going to have boats that could finish the race. I was also pretty convinced we were going to have boats that were not going to finish the race. In fact, I was not-so-secretly hoping we’d have 2 or 3 boats finish and 2 or 3 break apart spectacularly or capsize in the middle of the race. I’m all about the comedic effect.

Friday morning, I had to chase youth away from their boats to get them to attend the weekly youth meeting. I used the meeting to explain how the day was going to run and remind them that if their boat broke, they had to retrieve all of the pieces. We were supposed to be showing good environmental management, not polluting the ocean.

5-25 The Intersection of South Minneapolis, Vanuatu and Climate Change Awareness

Interviewing at Radio Vanuatu to promote the race.
My childhood in South Minneapolis included things like the Mayday Parade and the Milk Carton Boat Race. I created a crossover between the creative, constructive process I learned while building boats of milk cartons and parade floats out of paper mache and this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was pretty fantastic.
My job at Wan SmolBag is outreach about the environment and waste disposal. On a small island, landfills are a pretty unappealing concept, however there is no trash incinerator to take care of the rubbish a different way. We have a new metal recycling place, but that doesn’t help with the plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass and paper waste. So, I’ve decided that my job needs to be teaching reuse and creative thinking about garbage.
Here is where the Milk Carton Boat Race comes into this story. From when I was 6 or 7-years old, my family built boats made of milk cartons and raced them on Lake Nokomis against other equally questionable seafaring vessels. We saved milk cartons, milk cartons which would have been thrown in the trash, for months before the race. Then we used them as the building blocks and flotation devices for our boats.
I took the idea of boat racing on things that would go into the garbage a step further. I opened it up to any form of garbage and put in a rule that they couldn’t buy anything from the store. I looked around online and found other people with the same ideas. I took pictures of their boats and showed them to the staff at Wan SmolBag. Then I asked if they were interested in a boat race. They said yes.
The public schools here run on a trimester system. Between each term there is a 2 week break. School break causes a disruption in the population of the youth center with regulars going out to the island to visit family and students coming down with their friends. I suggested that we should do our boat race during school break so as to not disrupt the classes any more than they otherwise would be. That was one week before the term break.
I spent that week requesting funding and sponsorship from local organizations, interviewing to promote the race, writing and re-writing budgets and generally doing all the behind-the-scenes work these things take. On Friday, I presented the boat race concept to the youth at the Friday meeting. Then I forced them to sign up. Every youth I saw that day, I made sign up with a team. At the end of the day I had under 50 youth signed up for 6 teams and I was pretty convinced it was all going to fall apart under me.

11-30 Training the Newbies

These are now way out of date.  The process of putting up blogs has a few steps and they fell through the cracks, so here are posts about October!

Health Vols learning about participatory methods by participating

I was asked to assist with training the new PCVs this year. In my mind, this is an honor. This is a sign of my bosses’ trust in me, their respect for the work I’ve been doing, their faith that I can communicate that effectively (or more effectively than anyone else around). As is true anytime someone tells me they think I am doing well and then gives me more responsibility with vague expectations, I did my best to exceed the expectations.

I haven’t had a whole lot of say “slacker time.” (I still haven’t beat portal despite having the full game for 2 years now. If you don’t know what the game Portal is, go find out. Even if you don’t like video games. Go. I’ll wait. It’s that cool.) I am determined to make this training as good as I possibly can.
Week 1 the trainees were all together at IDS, which is like a summer camp. They had sessions on medical concerns, safety and security basics, administrative details, phone service, bank accounts and all the other bits and pieces that come with moving to a new place and starting a new job. Week 2 they moved out to their training villages where they got placed with a host family and started to really dig into culture shock. Week 3 was where I started. Week 10 they flew the nest and are heading to site, some with more success in arriving than others.
Each week of training for the health volunteers has a “theme.” All of our trainings are focused on that theme in some way or another. Week 3 was Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Luckily, I had a lot of back up that week. I had only been off Pentecost for 2 days when I started and that was not enough to screw my head back on straight and get going. We did an NCD panel with several other volunteers discussing the ways they’d approached these topics. We did a day discussing 3-kaen kakae (Vanuatu food pyramid) and a day discussing causes and treatments for NCDs and learned a few songs about the body. Like I said, I needed a lot of back up that week.
Discussing diversity in the Peace Corps

The next week was Water, Hygiene and Sanitation, which is frequently and inaccurately shortened to WASH. Our daily topics included such gems as toilet technology, water systems and not eating your own feces. For these sessions, I was given the Global Core Sessions lesson plans. I took out the objectives and left the rest where they were. I did not feel that the Core Sessions were the best way of conveying the information in a culturally appropriate, Vanuatu accurate manner. For instance, one of the sessions had the trainees using the internet for research. There is no internet on the outer islands (though that is changing). So, I re-wrote from scratch, starting with the PHAST workshop and the objectives of the Core Sessions and working outward from there. Turns out that it takes me as long to write a good lesson plan as it does to run the lesson plan.

Week 5 was my favorite theme: Sex. I have come to love talking about sex. This time, I had the added bonus of an excellent co-facilitator in a fellow PCV, Nik. He and I tag teamed the STIs, HIV/AIDS, condom demo and road blo bebi activities interspersed with stories of our experiences teaching sexual and reproductive health and a very long vocabulary lesson on all the dirty or obscene words in Bislama. For an otherwise pretty non-descriptive language, they have a plethora of words for sex in all its forms. It was interesting to teach these topics to people who were engaged, participatory, and willing to ask questions. I continue to believe in the participatory methods as the best way of teaching, both in the conveying information and in the conveying “soft skills” like public speaking and engagement.
Week 6 they went to visit volunteers out on the islands. My one regret with moving into Vila early is that I didn’t get to host any trainees on Pentecost. Last year, that was a highlight of my year. This year, I saw them three days a week until they were sicking of sorting pictures into piles. Not quite the same experience.
How to Catch a Virus – Useful lesson

They came back with a lot of new questions and a lot of new perspectives. In many ways, seeing the broadened perspective and curiosity in the trainees as they came back from the islands was one of the most rewarding experiences. We rolled straight into week 7 and prepping for their practicum without more than a day’s break. That’s Peace Corps training for you. The sessions for that week included WASH with Kids, which I gutted and replaced with CHAST (Children’s Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) as well as how to plan out a session and some basics on running a workshop.

Week 8 was all practicum, all week. They took the year 3 (~third grade) class and did a 2 day workshop on topics of their choosing. They focused on WASH topics as the most age appropriate. They had to design lesson plans, or steal lesson plans from existing resources, for each segment. Their topics included: hand washing, germ spread, rubbish disposal, tooth brushing, fecal-oral contamination routes, health diet and exercise. For each topic, they designed a 20 minute lesson with an “educational” aspect and a “participatory” aspect. I think the trainees and the kids did a good job and learned a lot through the process. In fact, the trainees probably learned more than the kids.
The following Sunday, the trainees left their training village and came to town. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of trainings, shopping, goodbyes, freakouts, shipping woes and swearing in. Peace Corps provides us with a mattress (2 inch foam pad), a bucket, a set of sheets and some little things like scissors, matches and round one of laundry soap. The rest of the things for setting up house come out of our “settling in allowance.” Of course, that means that each trainee has to go buy all of the things they want, like a set of plates or spoons. Their seemed to be two tactics to that. One was to go wander aimlessly through town until things started to accumulate vs making a list and asking current volunteers where to find the items. Eventually, I made a list of common items and shops they could be found in to hang on the wall. It seemed like the most efficient method available.
Homework presentations about non-communicable diseases

They are mostly off at site now and my job as a trainer is done for the moment. I’ll be doing more in February when I get back. I’m looking forward to it. I have throughly enjoyed training this group. I think trainings appeal to me the same way as working on the ambulance. There, I wanted to be the best thing that happened to someone on their worst day. Here, I want to be the positive influence they can see and say, “She helped me get ready for this scary/exciting/amazing/lonely/intense experience.” I hope I did it well.

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

10-9 World Vision Workshop, Round 2: Nutrition

Doesn’t this place look like a real office?

Sometime in August, Jason did a computer use workshop with the local branch of World Vision. (I think that blog went up in early-September.) While he was doing the computer stuff, I got to chatting with the manager of the early-childhood education program. World Vision is rolling out some new messages and trainings for their programs but the people implementing them were not feeling qualified for the work. So, he asked if I would come do a bit of additional training on nutrition, participatory methods and first aid. Actually, he asked for a whole bunch of other things, but we narrowed it down to those. Jason and I squished in a few days between all the end of term commitments and went to Lekavatkaimal where they have their Pentecost office.

First, the office. WTF? It is a concrete building with stairs, a veranda with fancy bricks making a half wall, five rooms inside, a generator, a stove and five computers. What? Standing in the building felt like someone had picked up a Vila office and dropped it in the bush in Pentecost. There were posters on the walls talking about the issues they address. There was a photocopier and two printers. There was a generator with enough benzine to run however much we needed it. There was 2 futons and a real mattress that had springs, not a foam pad. Bizarre.
I don’t think this truck has moved recently.

Once we got over the sheer wierdness of the office, we made ourselves at home. They had rainwater tanks for water but it hadn’t rained in about two weeks so the tanks were totally dry. That meant no bathing and minimal water to drink. That at least felt normal.

The first day of the workshop was all nutrition. I was really tired of the sound of my own voice by the end of the day. I tried to use as much participatory methods and engagement as I could but at some point, I just had to stand there and say, “This is vitamin A. Signs that a child isn’t getting enough include nightblindness, spots on the skin, and blah blah blah.” Which I did. For all of the vitamins. Then we played nutrition bingo, which is much more fun and interesting than me lecturing. The afternoon was all about breastfeeding and early childhood nutrition, which included pregnancy nutrition.
I learned a ton about nutrition, vitamins and vitamin deficiencies through prepping for this workshop. The resources I had for it included wikitaxi, an offline wikipedia. Any one who had been to college or high school knows how valuable wikipedia is for research, just like we all know we aren’t supposed to use it. I supplemented that with a bunch of WHO materials and some stuff from UNICEF working with a Fijian organization to make materials relevant to the South Pacific Islands. It really helped to be able to show pictures of things they recognize and use examples from staple foods here.
They fed us well, which I’ve come to expect. Lunch on the second day involved a chicken breast for Jason. He has been wondering where all the breasts go when they kill the chickens since he has yet to see one outside a restaurant in Vanuatu. He found one, which only increases the mystery since they should come in pairs.
Sometimes there has to be shadow puppets.

We went on a short walkabout to visit one of the other villages in the evening. We were standing outside their nakamal and chatting with the boys working kava when I decided to read the sign hanging on the wall. It was an announcement of a political meeting. One of the men asked what I thought and I made some non-commital answer about having recently heard a speech in my own nakamal about politics. I did not realize that that would fire up the volcano. Turns out, that guy was the organizer of that political party which is in opposition to the party I’d heard the speech by. I got out of any committed statements by claiming to have not understood a lot of it. (Actually, most of the speech was in Bislama with only a bit of language and French so I understood more or less all of it.) I still got a very informative lecture on the platform of the Vanuaka party and their stance on free education for primary schools. Then the person walking with us unsubtly decided it was time to go and we ran away. I have enough problems with American politics, I don’t need to get involved in Vanuatu ones, too.

We drank kava with the village in the evening. The chief there was a hilarious guy who really liked Americans. He kept telling us that Vanuatu needs to work with America more because America believed in equality and freedom for the ni-Vans when the French and English were busy colonizing the place. It is a common sentiment here which makes me curious about the view of Americans in the protectorates like Guam or American Samoa. That chief was a young man when the fight for independence was in full swing and had some very strong views about who was right and who was wrong.
This included a half a chicken as a thank you for our work.

For day 2, Jason and I tag-teamed. He did budgeting and money management while I prepared a powerpoint about participatory methods. (Don’t point out the irony there.) They really appreciated the budget stuff and had a lot of positive feedback for him. I dug into participatory methods, behavior change and PHAST after lunch. I used the PHAST pictures as examples of participatory methods and made the group actually do the activities which helped everyone stay awake. I had an extra hour at the end, so I did a quick lecture on heart attacks. Lucky for me, my medical background covered things like how the blood goes round and round and what happens when the arteries get clogged, so I could just BS my way through that one.
The group was a pleasure to work with again. They were attentive, curious, friendly and ready to learn. As I told them in my thank you talktalk at the end, the work isn’t hard when you have good people to work with. Working with them was a pleasure and World Vision is lucky to have such good staff.

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.