Friday, December 25, 2009
This holiday season I’ve definitely missed my family and friends back home in the states – it’s the sounds of football games, laughter and smelling lumpia cooking in the kitchen. It’s not about the presents, but about being surrounded by the ones you love – corny I know – I am not the Grinch any longer!
But today I was surrounded by plenty of people that care for me like a family. This morning we all drank tea and biscuits/bread together at the nakamal. For lunch we listened to string band music and ate goat soup with rice. For dinner we had baked pig and banana lap lap.
During the holiday season, every meal is eaten together as a community and we are split up into 3 groups and rotate helping to prepare the lunch or dinner until the first week of January.
The survey has been going well - although some mamas and papas were nervous at first talking Bislama (as many were not educated in Bislama or hardly use it) and not knowing the answers to my questions (I tried to explain its okay to not know the answers and that it actually helps me figure out what topics to cover in workshops etc).
Yesterday some of us went hiking to the highest point on the island and reached On-on point and then Tolulu point. We had a little picnic on top with roasted corn and pineapple. It’s like a rainforest at the top and the girls started to decorate their hair with the moss (see picture below). Long ago the villagers wore custom clothes made from leaves and such but now everyone wears western style clothes.
The aelan dres (island dress or mother hubbard) is a whole other thing. When the missionaries came and saw the scantly dressed woman they were horrified and in an attempt to cover them up they created an unflattering and stifling hot dress. But as they say “when in Rome” – so I myself have 11 aelan dresses and will dawn them on special occasions or for church (otherwise they stay hung up).
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tongariki has had to suffer a long 4 (almost 5 months) with no rain (normally the dry season is just 3 months long). However, they were rewarded with a ton of mangoes because normally the rain would wash a way the flowers and there would only be a few but this year the branches were so heavy with fruit that they needed to be supported with bamboo. And because there was only one ship that came to the island sadly no one could profit from it. But everyone, young and old, ate mangoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The kids were dirty from mango juice and dirt and tons of flies all around from the rotten ones that fell. One kid I know ate 68 mangoes in one day!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Today 2 ships arrived to Tongariki. The last time supplies were unloaded was November 12 – for those of you who aren’t quick at math that’s 39 days. So the island has been without flour, rice, crackers and all other western comfort food as well many family members were aboard to come back home to the island for Christmas. So it was a big day at the saltwater. When a ship comes there is no wharf or dock they must idle in the water while a small outrigger motor boat goes between transporting cargo and people. Also because the shoreline is so rocky (smooth rocks but rocky none the less). They throw the cargo off the boat and we make a line to throw and catch to get the packages “safely” away from the water. All the men are strong but sometimes a person will fall in and get soaked or a bag of rice will get wet but it’s still the best and only way. Everyone comes down to watch no matter if you got packages or if your leaving – it’s a special occasion and everyone gathers together, brings food and the kids swim.
I thought my Christmas packages and letters would be on the ship however they left them in the ship office, so I’ll have to wait till next time – whenever that will be. Before there were 2 ships that are owned by a man from Tongariki that would come weekly but they are broken and waiting for parts to repair the engines. So now we depend on ships owned by other islands and most times they will pass Tongariki completely because maybe we are too small of an island to be profitable for them or something – humpf! And when you call and ask when to expect them they tell you “Monday” and then they say “Wednesday” and then they say “Next Monday” – so I’m waiting for the MV Tomorrow.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Because this village is a lot bigger than the others I meet with 2 families a day. And each day I’ve drank a glass of kava with the families – I want to be respectful and not refuse. But kava does not taste good and when you put the glass up to your mouth and your nose takes a wiff your stomach lurches in anticipation and you find yourself having to give a pep talk to your body to just “drink quickly – get it over with – one, two, three, embong (good night)” but the benefits of a good night’s rest is nice. The taste makes you want to spit and most do (I use water to really wash it out) and then eat nuts or fruit to take away the taste. After your mouth and lips tingle a bit and your mind is a lil fuzzy and your eyes hurt if there if there is too much light. If you eat right after it makes the kava work quickly and most are ready for sleep soon after. Of course with anything - different people have different tolerances or reactions. Myself I can only drink 1 glass which is fine because I feel drunk on kava easily and my reaction is that my mind starts to work in overdrive buzzing and I want to storion with everyone. This is too bad because everyone around me wants to sleep. Some shake when they have had too much. Some can’t walk about. For some who drink a lot and for a long time will have severely dry skin like a snake. Woman and kava is always debatable because before it was just for men only and before that just for chiefs on special occasions. In some places today (example in Tanna) if the men are preparing kava at the nakamal a woman can’t even look in their direction or walk past them. So with each village on Tongariki the tolerance or acceptance is very different, like with Lawaima, Lakilia, Tafea & Mu-ur it is a lil more liberal and in Erata the woman can drink but should be out of sight (maybe at home instead of the nakamal).
This is my papa Edward (in Lawaima) and Uncle Tom chewing kava for us to drink
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I’m staying with Aunty Winnie and Uncle Mark and they are both so sweet and have made me feel at home. I think too I like them because they remind me of my Aunty Tina and Uncle Derek back home. Being away from home is getting harder with Christmas approaching.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
1. “Misis” is a popular one as any non Ni-Vanuatu woman is referred to as a “European
2. “Lei Riki” or “Lei Rik” is my custom name
3. “Niki” or sometimes even “Nicole”
4. “Pis Kop” (pronounced “Peace Cop”)
5. *Kissing Sound* which is a regular way for anyone in Vanuatu to holler out – similar
to the “hey, you!” in America
6. *Pisst Pisst* another non verbal greeting that means “hey, you look over here!”
7. “Lei Tong” who is the last PC volunteer on the island (it’s just like my mom to get the
kids names wrong)
Basically I respond to any sound or motion.
Phrases I hear often:
“you go rest small” or “go sleep” or “matir shushum” (sleep small in local language)
I’ll hear these phrases anytime I am done eating or if there is a pause in the conversation or if I’ve been working hard (or at least in their opinion of too much for a white man – so if I’ve been cooking or in the garden or weaving for 5 minutes).
At first I took offense, I thought I am an adult, I know when I’m tired and this isn’t kindergarten - I don’t need nap time! However, privacy can be a luxury in a small village and on a small island. So I quickly realized “resting/sleeping” could mean for me some alone time to write, to read, to watch a movie –absolutely anything that I wanted. I can just close my door or tell everyone “Bae mi go rest noa” and everyone will leave me alone. It’s the polite way of communicating “Back off!!!– I need some space!”
Cooking by fire while camping is fun because it’s just for a short time and you can make smores or hot dogs. Well I have no marshmallows or hot dogs here on Tongariki. And somehow the allure and adventure disappears when you have to cook over fire for every meal. Luckily my host family and other families in the village always bring over plates of food so I’m not going hungry - but sometimes you want to have control of the time to eat or I will crave some pasta (or some other “white man kakae”). My fire building skills I’m sure in a few months of this will put to shame some boy scouts, however at this time it usually takes me a few (maybe a lot of) tries. Of course the frustration of starting a fire is only magnified when I have an audience of small children crowding around and my overly independent and stubborn side hates to accept help. But I figure at least I’m trying and they have to respect that.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
My Thanksgiving meal was flying fox (fruit bat) with yam lap lap. The meat was a bit gamey for my tastes but I at least tried it.
scratch coconuts and squeeze out the juice and mix with lap lap
wrap the lap lap in big banana leaves
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I’ve started my “Round the Island Meet & Greet” and will spend a week (day and night) in all 5 villages on Tongariki getting to know the people, their way of life and complete a health survey with each family.
Tafea has 8 households and about 36 people. I’ll spend a day with each family (one day will be doubled) and we will eat together, storion (Bislama for ‘chat’) and maybe walkabout to their garden or go down to the water.
So far it’s been a few days since arriving and I’m still working out the kinks of my survey and my Bislama is getting better with all the questions I’m asking. The survey was made by previous health volunteers and asks about the family’s health and the knowledge about certain health concerns. It helps to get them talking about what needs they have and gives a good baseline data so that hopefully after this I’ll be able to have some ideas of projects and workshops to try to accomplish.
I’m the second volunteer to come to Tongariki. The volunteer before me - Sarah (custom name Lei Tong – also means ‘woman of Tongariki’) – taught the kids health in the primary school, got funding for fiberglass water tanks for each community/village and started building a first grade classroom. Of course coming after another volunteer there is the inevitable comparisons made and anxiety for trying to live up to expectations. I hope that I too can leave my mark on the hearts of the people of Tongariki.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
There is a little less than 300 people on the whole island and there are 5 villages (I live in Erata & there is Lawaima, Lakilia, Tafea, Mu-ur). The island is about 2 km by 4 km (and if I want to jog around to all 5 of the villages it takes about 45min), with a rocky shoreline and steep cliff (all the villages are located on top (about a 30min hike up– so no problem if a tsunami hits). No volcanoes but I do feel small earthquakes often. The local language is called Namakura, but most know Bislama (pidgin English) and few know English.
There are 3 different types of churches on the island: Presbyterian (with the largest congregation), New Covenant (2nd largest) and Bible Church (the smallest).
There are no trucks on the island so everything is carried. No airport but if you want to take a plane you have to take a boat to Tongoa first. Cargo ships can take you to Vila but can take anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days – it’s not a comfy ride, standing or sitting only – not a cruise ship. In an emergency or if you’re a high roller you can take a helicopter for $1000 US.
The island has no electricity. Most families use kerosene lanterns at night. Some have generators to charge electronics or sometimes watch movies. And very few have solar.
Cell phone service is hit or miss and only certain areas on the island get reception. The closest spot for me is across the field and through someone’s yard to a ‘lookout point’. Of course when the reception goes in and out it does make it tempting to fling yourself over the cliff – joking but truly devastating being interrupted or not getting through at all. There are a few land lines run on solar, but even that is not always reliable. Finally if all else fails I’ve got a satellite phone.
My address is the same
Port Vila, Vanuatu
There is no post office on Tongariki and so my mail has to be shipped to me from the PC office. This means mail is less frequent and dependent on ship schedules (which is whole other story for another blog post).
The food is free. I’d say ¼ of the island is houses and ¾ is gardens so there is always plenty to eat. Such as: watermelon, pineapple, cucumber (they are huge!), manioc (cassava), kumula (sweet potato), papaya, mango, nuts, oranges (rare but sometimes), lemons, grapefruit (and they are sweet), corn, yam, cabbage and more. I like the island food (aelan kakae) but of course I miss the cheeseburgers, salads and Mexican food. Everyone on the island tells me I’ll be fat fat when I leave and I think they are doing their best to help me achieve that by always bringing me plates of food. Maybe they are fattening me up to roast me and sacrifice me to the volcano (there actually is no volcano on Tongariki but if there was…). As for cannibalism (if you’re wondering) the last guy to be eaten was in the late 1800s and stopped because the missionaries came to Tongariki and told them it really isn’t the best negotiation tactic. I agree :)
Everyone eats from their garden so no paying for food (well this would be the case if the villagers didn’t love “white man kakae” so much so they do spend the money for flour, rice, crackers, cookies, and etc). So for the other necessities like soap, kerosene, transport to come to Vila, etc - some will work in Vila and send money back, others try to sell food , kava or mats in the market in Vila or sell meat (chicken, goat, pig or cow) to other families on the island. Unfortunately, there are no organized farms that export any great amount and transportation to Vila is unreliable to send meat or fish quickly enough. It makes times hard for them, but they make do and are thankful for what they do have.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The huts are custom design with wild cane (thin bamboo like sticks) woven walls and the roof is panels of coconut leaves and wild cane. The floor is black coral with pandana leaf woven mats laid on top.
To give the place some color and to shield me from creepy crawlers I’ve hung yards and yards of different patterns (lots of island print) and colors of fabric (or ‘calico’ as all the Ni-Vans say). Anywhere else it would be extremely tacky but each piece of calico was tied around me like a sash given as a gift when I arrived and now it decorates my walls and ceiling – it’s a nice reminder of my welcome to the island. And all the kids think it looks “tuf” (pronounced ‘daaff’ = means ‘cool’).
In my kitchen, I’m using only fire to cook just like all the other islanders. However, it usually takes me multiple attempts, lots of matches wasted and tons of smoke before I get a roaring fire going. It doesn’t help too that I always have an audience of kids watching, but I have a lot more respect for the woman of Vanuatu – cooking is hard work here – even a simple dish.
The bathroom. The toilet is a water seal toilet meaning it’s a cement version of a real American toilet without the flush. I have to manually pour down some water to make it “flush”. Pretty posh for a hut? (sorry for the details of a toilet but I figure you might be curious) The shower room has a tree stump stool and small shelf to make taking bucket showers all that more easy and comfortable.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I had a week in Port Vila (the capital) to buy all my groceries and supplies to set up house on Tongariki. However, without ever visiting the place you can never remember or even think of everything you will need or the opposite that you end up with a ton of crap. I tried not to think too much about cost and focus more on what will make me comfortable and happy – as was suggested by all the current volunteers.
And so I ended up with 6 bags, which they all arrived on the ship (Saratoko) and I spent the rest of the day unpacking and putting those little personal touches around the hut.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
They had a welcome ceremony once I came on top – the shell horn blew and I was escorted with a singing and dancing procession of villagers to the front door of my new home. When I first saw what I would be calling “home sweet home” for the next 2 years I instantly gave a sigh of relief and tears started to well up because it was an adorable hut and I could tell how hard they worked on it.
I stood in front of the house for a bit while everyone gathered outside around me and the chief gave me my new custom name – Lei Riki (which ‘Lei’ means ‘woman’ and ‘Riki’ is for ‘Tongariki’, so woman of Tongariki).
Next we all walked over to the nakamal (central meeting place in a village) where welcome speeches were given and then I got up and in my best Bislama I could muster how grateful I was to be there and gave a short bio about myself. Everyone was all smiles towards me so I think their first impression of their new volunteer was a good one – at least I hope so.
Before we all ate lunch there was a kava ceremony.
*Side Note: in Vanuatu there are many different ways to prepare kava (piper methysticum – a mildly narcotic drink made by squeezing liquid from the roots of the plant). In the capital they will use a meat grinder, on Maewo they use stones to grind the roots and on Tongariki they chew the roots first and then squeeze out the liquid. I’ve tasted all of these different ways and kava on Tongariki is strong – mi harem I kik!
After the feast and chatting with my new neighbors I was exhausted and relieved.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
I'll be on the island for the holiday season so I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!
Hopefully you all got a chance to check out my adventures in training - I wrote the posts in the village and just back dated them all once I had internet access - so you may want to start from the begining and work your way forward.
Also, I wont have internet until I come back into the capital (Port Vila on Efate) in January so this will be my last post for awhile but look for updates mid Jan.
Miss you all and please write letters if you can :)
Friday, October 30, 2009
Today I found out that my new home for the next 2 years will be in a village called Erate on Tongariki. Now it’s a very very small island (2km by 4km) – so small it may not even be on your map but its just below Epi and Tongoa. There are 4 other villages on this island (Lawaima, Mu-ur, Tavia, and Lakilia) and only 350 people total on the whole island. In order to get there you can either take a ship from Port Vila (which could take 18-24 hours) or fly to Tongoa and then a quick (~1.5 hr depending on the ocean) to Tongariki. Once you get to the shore I hear it’s a steep but short climb to the village. We will see how I react after I go for the first time if this island is easy to get to or not. There are no banks or post offices on the island so I’ll have to go to Tongoa every other month or so because really how much money do you need on an island? But I’ll likely head over there anyways just to go and socialize with another volunteer as on Tongariki it’s “mi wan nomo” – I’m it for the island the closest volunteers are on Tongoa. But its all good – just think I’ll helping an entire island.
If you want to read about the previous volunteer, Sarah Sherry, that I’ll be replacing you can check out an article she wrote – she’s a much better writer then I am and she gives a good description of the island and the work I’ll be doing.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
So, as a little background on the interworking of the health care system in Vanuatu let me try to briefly describe how it works (keep in mind I still am learning too)… Each village (in a perfect world) will have a health committee that designates one person in the community to be trained (10 wk program) as a Village Health Worker (VHW) and then run the Aid Post in the community. Now the VHW can do basic first aid and can give medication for common ailments - however it isn't stocked with drugs and if there is a serious problem the patient must be referred. There are problems that arise in this situation as some villages don't have a properly functioning health committee and therefore don't have a aid post or they may have a VHW but they cant continue to work and support their family (they may not have enough money or can't get to the garden to get food - that's also why the health committee is so important as a village they need to support the VHW). The next step on the health care chain is the Dispensary, which is supposed to have a nurse and possible a nurse aide as well (however in many cases it’s just one of the two) and the facility can do first aid, treat ailments, deliver babies and is stocked with medications. The next step on the referral system – since at the dispensary they can not necessarily diagnose everything and a patient may need to go to the hospital or if the problem is too big they will go to the nearest hospital. But we are on islands here and due to weather and distance trying to get to a hospital can be a difficult task.
On the boat ride to Nguna - next to me are my Aunt (smol mama) and my cousin
All of us on the Nguna's shore
Thursday, October 1, 2009
I also have learned how to weave using pandana leaves - I can make bracelets, rings and mats (they are still very small more like a place mat - it just hurts my back too much to be hunched over - I dont know how the Ni-Van mama's do it).
I'll definately fetch a nice bride price with all my new skills I'm learning :) haha
Friday, September 25, 2009
Suzy the crazy (and lazy as you can see) cat
My friend in the room - I call him Geiko and he likes to make a shrieking noise sometimes that's not always appreciated in the middle of the night
Sunday, September 20, 2009
We are now in our training village and because we are such a big group they had to split us into 3 different villages – Samaa, Emua and Paunangisu (each are a 30 min walk apart). P-town is like a rural suburbia since we are still so close to Port Vila (less than an hour drive – but as a trainee we weren’t allowed to leave the village), we have piped water, water seal toilets (similar to the toilet you know and love but this one you just use a bucket of about a liter of water to “flush”) and they have a lot of “waetman kakae” (so bread, kato – doughnuts, coffee, tin meat/fish and rice). I do like aelan kakae as well which can be surprising to some who know my eating habits but they have a lot of coconut, papaya, banana, mango, yams, manioc, taro - so a diet of fruits and starches - good thing I'll be wearing a mother hubbard as I might gain weight out here :)
P-town is also like any other big city with its own share of land disputes and power struggles as there are two chiefs that are claiming rightful authority over the village. It has split the village into two – not two sides of the road north and south but its divided house by house so its kinda hard to know who’s on what side – I just avoid the question or smile and nod when the topic comes up. There was a riot in the early 90s and houses were burnt and things said but now its just an annoyance – even for us volunteers as we have to split into two groups for community projects and such but hopefully us being there might help show them they can work together.
This is the house I slept in - there is also a seperate house for where my mom slept and the "dining room" and then there is a custom kitchen (meaning its made of leaves)
View from the beach at Ptown - you can see Nguna and Pele in the distance. The bay is really calm no waves just great views :)
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
It was hard to say my goodbyes - lots of tears - and for those who I wasn't able to say to in person or over the phone "Tank yu tumas for all your support and love".