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!

8-15 Jason’s Going to be a Star! (Or maybe just a two-bit bully)

Behind the scenes of a bus crash.

 Love Patrol is a soap opera produced by Wan SmolBag. It was started to try to open up conversations about HIV/AIDS and STIs. It did pretty well and was granted a few more seasons. Now, it is a venue to talk about all sorts of nastiness. The most recent topics have ranged from domestic violence to police corruption to corrupt foreign investment and mafia involvement in politics. It airs all across the Pacific and is the basis for the sex ed curriculum in Fiji. Most recently, it got a slot on Australian TV.

Taking notes.  The director is on the far right.

A few months ago, my boss asked me and another volunteer at lunch if we knew any white men who would like to be in Love Patrol. He went on to say that the parts that needed filling were the sleazy investor and the mafia hitman. (As a side note, there are no positive roles for white people in the show. I don’t not like this, I think it is just a different kind of racism and a poor portrayal of people who are doing good things. Especially given that the writer and producer are white people and the organization runs on the backs of a small number of volunteers along side the large number of skilled local staff. I digress.)

I suggested Jason. I figured he’d get a kick out of being a mafioso. He went in for the audition. The director cut him off before his scene was finished. He got the part. According to my inside sources (I gossip with the crew all the time) Jason’s audition was great and they knew he’d get that part from the beginning.

The Good Take (on try #4)

So, now Jason is playing a Russian mafioso on a soap opera. He doesn’t have too many lines, but he’s not exactly silent, either. Much like his stint with the Comedia del’Arte troop at Fest, he spends a lot of time lurking in the background looking evil and not a lot of time speaking. Also like the Comedia del’Arte show, his character is a big jerk. Directors keep seeing a bully in him.

His first shoot was Sunday night. I hung out on set with him and my work colleagues and took a few pictures. It was fun. He only had one shot to do on Sunday, so we finished “early” at 10:30 pm. I expect future shoots to run a lot later. The crew hasn’t been finished before 1:30 am in the last three weeks.

Just to give you a hint of the drama…dead body!

So, Jason has a new hobby (bullying people) and a new career (soap opera villains). I have a new source of entertainment (teasing Jason about the above.) Vanuatu continues to provide us with opportunities we would never have in the US. Which is pretty neat.

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.

6-17 A Talent Show, Done Right

One of the final singers of the night.

You know when you went to talent shows in high school to support your friends but then spent the rest of the time kind of bored, or enjoying the schedenfreude of your peers’ botched performances? This was like that, except awesome.

Friday night was Talent Night at the Youth Center. The Youth Center has kind of a lot of talent, so I had high hopes. Most of my expectations were met, including the ones where everything was going to start late and run later.
Jason and my “karate” class volunteered to move chairs, which meant we should have been leaving the Youth Center at 3:30. We left at about 4 and made a pit stop to pick up 10 kilos of green kava on the way. We should have had 12 youth moving chairs but since the kava wasn’t finished, we only had 7. The other 5 went to go skin, grind and squeeze the kava. Still, we got the chairs into the hall and arranged before they opened the doors, though I’m not convinced it was before 5:30 when we supposed to have finished.
The lead singer from Realistic, a hip hop-reggae fusion band.
Festivities were meant to kick off at 6. My group started selling kava around 6:15. Festivities kicked off around 7:30, which worked to our advantage since that left more people outside buying kava, juice and popcorn from us. (Yes, I was basically running a lemonade stand. Except a lemonade stand for adults!) We were set to do a demo at 8. We actually performed around 9:30.
The police stopped by around 12:30 to tell us that we needed to clear out, which sort of kabashed the last few performances, though we actually finished at 1 am. Jason and I left before we had to move chairs again.
Don’t they look sharp?
First review: our youth did great. They were ready to take the stage when we were called. They walked on in order and went immediately into their lines. They bowed. They did their form, in-sync and with decent kyops. They bowed. The exited the stage precisely and sat where we told them while Jason and I did a bit more of a demo. They stood up together. They bowed. They left in a neat, single-file line. I have never seen them so well-behaved. They looked more put together and professional than any other group there. Not that I’m biased or anything.
Aside from the stellar performance, they also did a great job working the concessions stand. They coordinated themselves (with a few nudges from me) to get the popcorn popped and into newspaper cones to sell, make the kava, make the juice and start selling. They handled the money all night and handed over a completed stand to me at 1 am. I have no complaints.
The group before us took awhile getting set up.  We waited.
It has been rewarding to me to see the way they are coming together. They have gone from a group of youth interested in learning “karate like Jackie Chan” to a group of friends who use each other for support. I am watching them blossom into leaders within the group and within their wider social group. They are gaining confidence and with it, they are learning to speak up and assert themselves in a healthy way. They are not without their faults, like being way too squirrelly during class, talking too much, giving each other a hard time and spending 3 minutes trying to form a straight line. But to see where they were in March and where they are in June makes me want to stay here and train them until they grow into all this potential that I see.
Jason being a jerk.  Then again, I tossed him across the floor onto tile.
The other groups performing ran the gamut. Alpha, the hip hop tutor, did an impressive bit of coordination where he got about 12 groups to do a 5 second bit as part of the opening. The opening singer had a set of pipes that professionals would envy. She set the bar high. As usual, the hip hop dance groups did an excellent performances, all 5 of them. I particularly enjoyed a band called Realistic who I think embodies the future of music in Vanuatu. Rap lyrics and vocals over reggae-esque keyboard, drums and guitar. It works, despite that description.
I am impressed with the capabilities of the youth. I know that 90% of them are just killing time down at the Youth Center. But the other 10% are busy creating something amazing. I love watching that something.
[Photo credit goes to my photography class.  They took 541 photos.  I’m proud of them, too.]

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.

5-8 Earth Week Photos from April

First tree planted for Earth Day, 2013.  It was planted at Wan Smol Bag.  Hopefully, it will give both fruit and shade.
Pango School planted 2 trees.

Ecole Centreville called a school wide meeting to discuss tree planting.  Then we planted trees.

Ecole was pretty excited about their tree.  It is next to the Kindergarten playground where it will shade the swings, once it is big enough.

Fresh Wota school planted their trees at the gates, to welcome visitors with shade and fruit.

5-2 Back to the Land of Hills and Taro

Some guys went net fishing.  That’s Ambae in the background.
I went back to Pentecost for 4 days. I was sent for official Peace Corps business, which means I didn’t get to chose where I was going, so I saw North Pentecost, but not my beloved Central. Maybe next time.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, part of my job description says I should be doing site visits. Every year, each volunteer should be visited by a staff member. The visit is a forum for the community to discuss the PCV’s work, family situation and overall demeanor and for the PCV to address any issues they are having. Basically, it is the “are you doing your job?” check up. There are 65 PCVs currently in Vanuatu. Which hopefully means lots of traveling for me. I’m crossing my fingers anyway.
I followed Judy, a staff member, on her site visit to my friend Mike’s site. He lives in Nabarangiut, the village I visited way back in Christmas of 2010. Not many people recognized me, since I’ve lost weight and cut my hair. A few did though, which was fun.
The sun was strong, so they gave me an umbrella.  It makes sense here, I promise.
The official work happen on Thursday. We met with Mike and then with his community. It was an easy visit. His community’s main question was how they could get him to extend for another year. For complaints to have, that’s probably the best one I can think of. They also had questions about the water project he’s been working on, which is being funded through the grants that I’m on the committee for. Convenient. I spent awhile explaining the long and complicated road that their money had gone on to reach them and how it would be there soon. They were glad to hear it. I even got applause.
Baby Alex is now Toddler Alex.  And pretty cute.
Mike’s community felt bad for him trying to feed five people. I think they realized that was outside of his cooking capabilities. (There was another PCV visiting him and Judy brought her son.) So, the community set up a feeding rotation. They told us where to be for each meal and we showed up to massive feasts each time. I got my fill of water taro.
One of the places we dined was the previous PCV’s host family. Shortly before they left, a baby was born and named Alex in her honor. I took pictures of baby Alex to pass along to her. Then I took pictures of the village and the family, because they wanted me to pass those along, too. I will, because I hope that in a year or two someone sends me pictures of Vansemakul and the people there.
Mike is fearless about jumping in the waterfall.
We had enough time on Friday to cool off at the waterfall. It was the first time Troy, Judy’s son, had seen a waterfall. He’s a Vila boy. He got excited then freaked out and refused to come back in the water. I guess that’s how small children are. Mike on the other hand, had no fear and climbed around the top to jump in. Crazy man.
It was fun to visit Mike and see Maureen. I enjoyed a brief return to Pentecost. I wish I could have gotten down to Central. That would have made my month. Next time.

4-2 They Work for Love

Talking about the moment we knew we’d made a difference.

 Last week, one of my co-workers commented that Dan, my photography co-teacher, and I work too much. He pointed out that we are volunteers and don’t get paid, but we work harder than everyone else. I replied that the direct Bislama translation of “Volunteer” is “Work thank you.” We aren’t working for money, we are working for the thanks we get at the end of the day.

Last month, I was reading an article in a Peace Corps journal about the early days. The writer mentioned in passing that in the local language of a country, “Peace Corps” translated to “They work for love.” Then the article went on to talk about whatever it was it was talking about. Clearly, that part wasn’t important to me.
I got stuck on these two ideas. Language is important and the words we use to think about ourselves make a difference. When we translate things between languages, sometimes the words take on levels of complexity they lack in a single language. Or sometimes they express a concept better when you get all the translations.

As a Volunteer I work for thank you, I work for love. I love my work so I work hard. I work harder at this job than I would at just about any other one, because I believe in what I am doing. I believe in the impact I can have, if I work hard. I believe in the betterment of people as individuals on the grass roots level and that if enough people try hard enough to have positive impact, then our world really will be a better place.

If I didn’t love my job…

It all sounds cliche when I write it. Because we hear phrases like, “Change the world,” so often, we’ve equated it with something trite. But that is why I am here, it is why I am still here. That is what I see in my fellow PCVs, the ones here in Vanuatu and the ones serving in the rest of the world. All of us believe that our tiny contribution can and will make a difference.

I work for love.

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.