Saturday, November 28, 2009

Encounter Some Cultural Differences

I now respond to a variety of names and sounds.
1. “Misis” is a popular one as any non Ni-Vanuatu woman is referred to as a “European
white woman”.
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

Celebrate Thanksgiving – Tongariki Style

This is my first holiday in Vanuatu and although I missed mom’s turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy – I was still surrounded by loving families here on Tongariki.

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.

My 15 year old brother, Mackin, killed this flying fox with his sling shot

***Side Note: You may think – “what is lap lap?” Well, its grated yam (or they use maniac/taro/banana) mixed with coconut milk to a pudding consistency and then wrapped in banana tree leaves and cooked over hot stones. ***

all mamas gather to grate the banana and make lap lap

scratch coconuts and squeeze out the juice and mix with lap lap

wrap the lap lap in big banana leaves

hot stones to put the lap lap ontop

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Go To Tafea


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

Explain Tongariki’s Amenities

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
Peace Corps
PMB 9097
Port Vila, Vanuatu
South Pacific
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

Describe Her New Home

This is the front of my hut
My compound is a nice sized property complete with a one bedroom house with a entry room/office/pantry, a separate kitchen hut and an outhouse/shower hut. And I’ve got a yard :)

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’).

the front room my bedroom

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.

this pic is taken from my front door looking at my kitchen

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.

my yard & in the distance is my bathroom hut

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Inside my hut before I unpacked and decorated

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

Arrive on Tongariki

my bags are packed and waiting for my ride to Tongariki

the shore of Tongariki

Well it was more like land on Tongoa (flight time 30min) and take a boat (for 1 hr) over to Tongariki and then hike up (35min) to my new home in Erata village on Tongariki.

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

Get on a plane then a boat & finally arrive home

I am heading off to Tongariki this afternoon and I'm nervous and excited. I hope they like me.

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 :)