Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finally update her blog

Many apologies for not keeping my blog up to date but with the few times I go into Port Vila I find myself with a massive to do list and my blog ends up last. So I have entries now starting from

May 16th to Sept 26th

Please check them out since lots has happened:
- My Dad’s visit to Vanuatu (and we both got tattoos)
- A truck arrived to Tongariki
- My project wrapped up
- My family came to Vanuatu
- My cat had kittens

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Become a Grandma

My cat, Leno, who a month ago I thought was just getting fat fat was indeed preggos. And today she delivered 3 adorable kittens (2 girls and 1 boy). I had never seen kittens born before an was a lil nervous anticipating the day – would she shriek in pain or would in be messy and isn’t she too small to pop ‘em out???

But on the day she just meowed at me to tell me to get ready – so I got out a box and a towel to put together a makeshift delivery room. And after an hour or so of panting and huffing they all came out and Leno kept the place clean and in order.

The kittens eyes haven’t opened and they barely can walk. They are just so cute and tiny – they fit in my palm.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spend Some Time on Buninga and Makira Islands

Through some US Govt. funding 3 other PC volunteers (Amy, Chris & Jared) and myself set off to visit two nearby island to hold a day long HIV/AIDS workshop in the communities.

Buninga Is. Is just next door to Tongariki – about a 20 minute boat ride over – and is even smaller than Tongariki in size and population (about 100 people total). The island has an Aid Post which can distribute over-the-counter drugs and dress wounds, but anything more serious must go either to Tongoa or Port Vila. The Aid Post is run by a great village health worker named Sepa Wilson who has a lot of experience and is hoping that one day he will have a PC volunteer to help him. The talk was successfully with a big turnout of young men and women. We stayed over 2 nights and enjoyed chatting with the locals and they too seemed very intrigued by us Westerners. Sometimes it feels like we are some kind of zoo animal.

Then the gang of us went back to my home on Tongariki for the weekend. A lot of the time was spent watching Glee on my portable dvd player and reminiscing about life back home in the states. Its good to every once in awhile hang out and vent to other volunteers.

After recharging over a lazy weekend we set off on a 2 hour boat ride to Makira Is. It is another small island with a lil over 100 people. Here we were greeted by Fanee the Village Health Worker in charge of the Aid Post. He is expecting his first PC vol to arrive in November this year and the community is anxiously waiting. This new PC vol is lucky as their house is on the white sandy beach with views of the ocean (rough life). But they will be like me the only volunteer on the island so it won’t necessarily be easy for them. Once we arrived we were given an unexpected request of holding a hygiene talk that night – so we threw something together. The second day we held the HIV/AIDS workshop and my host papa from Tongariki (who drove us over in the boat and helped out with the workshop) was able to field a lot of questions and further explain certain things which was a big help to us. One particular question we got was “why doesn’t the government test everyone and then inform the villages: who has HIV and does not?” – I was a lil horrified by the thought of tattoos branding people with HIV/AIDS. But my host papa took the lead and basically went into a civic class describing the rights of people and government control. And then we explained really it just comes down to the individual to get tested and protect themselves.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Celebrate the “Give Light” Project

The health program I’d been working on the past 4 months finally wrapped up today. We had a big celebration in honor of everyone’s hard work. As you know from my previous blog entries the families participated in workshops and are trying to make their futures healthier. My friends and family back home raised enough money and then some to reward each family’s efforts with a solar lantern. And some of my family were present at the celebration to personally shake hands and distribute the lights on behalf of the donors. It was truly a special occasion for everyone and a step to a brighter and healthier future for Tongariki.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Welcome her Brothers to Tongariki

Kevin and Bryan finally made it to Tongoa after a 4 hour delay (go figure). It has been 10 months since I have seen them and so the first hug was a lil emotional for me. The boat ride over wasn’t too bad and they lucked out as the truck was waiting for us on the shore of Tongariki (both my mom and dad had to hike up).

Once in Erata Village (my hometown now), all the kids were curious to see my brothers and they would try to sneak a peak through the door or hide around the trees. The older boys and men though were so excited to hand out with them that they came over to try to steal them away to get a tour or drink kava. I think they are more popular then me. That night they both tried kava for the first time and we even tried to chew a piece of the kava root like the locals but it tastes horrible and I could only bear it for a minute before I spit my out. *Remember kava on Tongariki is made my chewing the roots and then spiting them into a bowl where water is added and then sieved through a cloth to make the drink.*
The next day the boys were hard at work building me a chicken coup that my dad (David) designed and sent from the states. The afternoon though was spent celebrating the health program that recently completed and distributing the solar lanterns.

On Friday, the boys had to say their goodbyes to Tongariki. As we left on the boat toward Tongoa dolphins swam near and bats flew in the air (quite the send off).

Bry and Terelyn

Saturday, July 3, 2010

At the Celebration (Part 2)

(1pm) In classic Vanuatu fashion we started the ceremony about 4 hours late. So from 1pm till close to 6pm we listened to speeches by chiefs, pastors and government officials. There were several ribbons cut and lots of pictures taken. Many songs later we all relaxed for a late lunch/early dinner around 4:30pm. The 5 villages pulled enough money to buy a cow and sow we had beef stew and an assortment of lap lap. For entertainment the men and women performed custom dances – the costumes and performances were amazing. It was such a treat to watch and I think its great that they are keeping their traditions alive.

Although it was a very long day I was so glad to be a part of the celebration.

At the Celebration – Part 1

(8am) Everyone has been up since 3:30am when the community bell rang (very loudly) to announce today we’d celebrate (and get up mamas and start cooking!). Today is the official opening of a lot of stuff:
- Tongariki Public Road
- Water Project (water pumps were placed down by the water – but in reality it takes a while to reach the pumps and needs 2 men to pump it)
- Renovated Classrooms
- Solar System (for the school and dispensary)
- Football field (I mean soccer for those Americans reading this)
- Kindergarten House
- Fisherman’s Center (which doesn’t function - a business man organized all the small islands around to catch fish and store them in the center’s freezer until a big ship comes around to pay for the fish and then sell them in Vila – good idea but never came true as we don’t have a freezer and there is no ship)
- And the Official handing over of the Tongariki Community Truck!!! (the island hasn’t had a truck for almost 30 years the last one was given during “colonial time” or when the British and French were in charge)

Most of these projects have long been completed but no government officials have come to witness its opening so today 30 delegates should arrive any minute to take part in the celebration of the island’s many blessings. The truck is currently outside my hut blaring string band music (Vanuatu style island music) and the kids are hooting, yelling and dancing. Some of the kids (and adults) have never even seen a truck in real life only in movies so its quite a novelty. I’m so glad that they have a truck to aid in development of the island because before everything had to be carried up the hill on their backs – cement bricks, tin roofing, water tanks, supplies – and so you can understand how projects could take such a long time to finish. The projects are from an assortment of donators such as AusAID, SOPAC, Vanuatu government and the truck is a gift from the Green Federation Political Party.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Give Her Last Talk of this Health Series

This evening I gave my last talk of the “Parents Health Awareness Talk Series” that is associated with the program to receive a solar light. As a thank you from each community they put together a small feast after my talks in each village. We got to enjoy kava and kakae (food) together and celebrate their hard work and participation.

The last talk focused on obesity (in Bislama its “fat fat tumas”), diabetes (“sik suga”) and high blood pressure (“hae blad pressa”). As more families are moving away from their home islands and working in the capital they are leaving behind their gardens and trading it for a sedentary lifestyle. Living in the “city” means they are not walking around as much and they are choosing rice, crackers, bread and oil over aelan kakae. For the talk I decided that I’d measure everyone’s height and weight as rarely everyone makes it into the clinic for a general check-up (as if we even do general check-ups that’s actually something I need to work on the nurse about – future project). I was able to tell each person their BMI and give them an estimate of their health currently based on body mass. Soon I hope with the extra money from the project we will be purchasing an electronic blood pressure machine so that we can do more screenings. As for testing the blood unfortunately we don’t have the equipment and those that need a test have to go into Vila (I’m hoping to request the Ministry of Health to send us urine test strips).

And so we try our best with what we got.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Talk about Family Planning

I was really glad to see both mamas and papas at my talks. I think in the past many men felt birth control was just a women’s thing, but I am glad they understand it should be a decision together. And the men also got to hear the facts about dangerous pregnancies and gave them a lot to think about in terms of family responsibility. And I was happy that some youth came that should be aware of their options. Of course I hope that parents will take my lessons I teach and talk about them with their kids but some things may be a little uncomfortable for them. My host papa was a big supporter – lecturing the men that it’s not easy for the women to give birth and that he has witnessed the pain and joy of all 3 of his son’s births. He also told them that he has realized that the day to day responsibilities of looking after the kids usually lands primarily on the women and therefore too many kids can be overwhelming for a mother. Which is so true these moms are up when the roosters crow in the morning till everyone is asleep – cooking over a fire, gathering food from the garden, hand washing all the clothes etc etc.

I am just so amazed by my host papa he is such a forward thinker.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Talk about HIV/AIDS

This week my health talk topic was on HIV/AIDS. For many of the papas and mamas this was the first time hearing about this disease. As I mentioned before HIV/AIDS has barely touched Vanuatu and very little has been done in the past to educate the people especially those on the small rural islands, but that is beginning to change now through radio broadcasts and more training of Village Health Workers to spread the word.

The parents all seemed appreciative to have someone care to give them the facts and they all were enthusiastic to take the information back to their homes. Many of the older parents see how life has changed in Vanuatu and not necessarily for the good. And although Port Vila (the capital) represents a lot of opportunity for education and income they also see it as a place of temptation and sinners. I understand their apprehension sending their kids there but as I’m sure every parent no matter what country feels some sense of fright and hope that their kids will make good decisions – that they taught them well.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bring her Dad to Tongariki

On Friday, we made it safely to Tongoa – the plane was very small just 6 passengers. And the boat ride over to Tongariki was a lil bumpy but no one got sick just a lil wet.

That night the Health Committee got together to welcome my dad and exchange gifts. He also tasted the kava (Tongariki style) and definitely felt more effects then when he tried it in Ambae.

Saturday and Sunday it rained and rained so we were stuck in my hut reading and playing gin rummy. Monday the weather was better and my dad was able to fly back to Vila to catch his flight home.

I think my dad really got a true taste of Vanuatu and the experience of a volunteer:
- we went to 5 islands
- he met a lot of the volunteers in Vila
- we had plane delays and cancellations
- tons of rain
- hiked a volcano and got a tattoo
- ate lap lap
And so much more

Although I’m sure my dad appreciated getting a first hand account – I think he was glad to be going back to the comforts of home after 2 weeks of “aelan laef”.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the Road to Manaro

On Ambae there is a volcano named Manaro that is not easily hiked, somewhat picturesque and has a few custom stories behind it. One story is that a small man used to dwell in the volcano and he was the volcano’s source of power but then the American came over and stole the man away for his strength and power and that is why America is a super power and why the volcano hasn’t erupted again. Another story is that there is a custom tattoo of 2 parallel lines representing the road to Manaro and those that possess this tattoo will be permitted in the after life to return to the volcano and dance on the top. When I heard this story I thought we gotta hike this and get the tattoo which many past volunteers have done before.

My dad the avid hiker agreed to come along as well as Ed and Beth. We drove out to the South side of the volcano and started from xx village. There we were greeted with flowers, coconut water and a welcome ceremony from the chief. We set off about 930am with a large group of locals and trudged our way up to the top. The view was non-existent since too much fog and clouds but it at least the temperature was cool. The Hike was strenuous and seemed to take forever, the guide kept telling us “just 10 more minutes” which really meant “another hour”. Finally we made it to the top and could look out to the lake and see steam rising. It was nice although no as spectacular as the view from a plane up above or to seeing an active volcano like on Tanna. So some may ask why get the tattoo since who would want to dance for eternity on a so-so looking volcano. But it felt like a rite of passage to make it to the top where so many other PC vols journeyed and with similar stories of struggling up and having a sense of accomplishment once completed. It’s kinda like a PC volunteer’s service. We all made it down by sunset and enjoyed some island food and kava at the village. They even performed some custom dances for us that were so neat to watch (not at all touristy but genuine). Now as I mentioned it is tradition that vols not only hike Manaro but as well get the custom tattoo. I somehow convinced my dad that he and I should get the tattoo. I’d actually convinced him months ago because I really wanted to share the experience with him. To me the tattoo wasn’t just about the hand stamp to some party on a volcano in the afterlife it represented to me the PC journey and Vanuatu. And it wouldn’t be me dancing for eternity but hiking with my dad forever. The tattoos were done by Bob who has done 24 PC vols before us. He used a orange tree needle and kerosene soot and ashes as the ink and dapped medicinal custom leaves to the area. My dad got his on his right calf on the outside and I got my on the inside of my right wrist. The lines are not exactly straight and precise but that what the road is like. The pain was bearable once the area went numb (haha). As we were getting the tattoos the villagers all crowded around to watch – Dad said we were their entertainment for the night. Around 8pm we finally made it back to Ed and Beth’s house and everyone was tired and sore. It was a quick bucket shower and straight to bed for us all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In Espiritu Santo

My dad arrived on May 8th after a long delay in Fiji, however I am so glad he made it. His first few days unfortunately had to be spent in Vila on his own since I had a PC In-Service Training to attend. So, while I was listening to quest speakers from various aid organizations and departments in the Ministry of Health my dad was wondering the streets (really though Port Vila is really small – only 2 main streets). But once my training was over we headed off to Espiritu Santo – a large Island North of Port Vila, Efate. We stayed in Lunganville where the US had a large military base during WWII. Santo is known for their diving, however neither my dad nor I are certified. Instead we hiked through the jungle to Millennium Cave. The cave got its name because it just opened in 2000, before locals believed it was taboo to go inside since evil spirits lurk in caves. Well no evil spirits just lots of water and some kind of crawfish. In order to get to the cave we walked about 2 hours in the bush, over bamboo bridges and down ladders to the mouth of the cave. Once inside it’s almost an hour walk though knee to waist deep water. The cave is huge and when you look up you can barely make out the roof and you can see bats fluttering around. The walls are smooth but carved in waves. It was definitely a site to see unfortunately the water was fairly strong and I was more worried about getting carried away then enjoying the scenery. Once out of the cave the river winds back towards the start of the trail. We were supposed to ride inner-tubes down the river but since the current was too strong we had to hike back around the cave. The weather held up just until we reached half way back to the care and then buckets of water rained down on us. Around 6 pm we got back to the hotel soaking wet, cold and completely exhausted.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Attend a Weeklong HIV/AIDS Workshop

Today was the last day of the workshop. There were about 50 participants both Village Health Workers (VHWs) and PC health volunteers. The beginning of the week we focused on the facts and the last half focused on how to take the information and share it with communities. Vanuatu only has 5 reported cases of HIV/AIDS, however I am certain that the number is actually a lot more. Not nearly enough of the population has been tested due to accessibility and lack of education. All of the VHWs seemed to have learned a lot and are excited to get back to their communities. For some this was their first trip to Port Vila. It was also interesting to witness some good debates on the practice on encouraging condom usage amongst the unmarried youth. One individual felt very strongly that condoms were like a passport for wreck-less behavior having multiple partners and such. Another, a Pastor, defended condoms stating that the reality is kids will be kids and some will “wokabaot long road” no matter what and so it’s better to arm them with protection. I wonder what kind of reaction I’ll get from the mamas and papas on Tongariki when I talk to them in a few weeks???

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tokabaot the helt program on Tongariki

Today we had another Health Committee meeting to focus on the final details of the Helt Program (health program) that the committee and I have created.

From the household surveys that I did with every family there was an overwhelming number (almost 100%) that expressed they needed an alternative to the costly kerosene lantern. As well many other issues became apparent from doing the survey such as a lack of health education with the adults.

I knew of an alternative solar powered lantern (D.Light) that sells in Vila for about $60, but I didn’t know how to incorporate everything into a project.

But with some encouragement and help from family and friends the “Give Light & Help Make a Brighter Future” Health Program came about.

The health survey of 47 households gave me and the health committee a lot of valuable information to help design a program that addresses some of the lack of knowledge and good health practices of the people.

The following are some of the statistical results from the survey: Hand washing is not a high priority as most reported that they occasionally will wash before cooking or eating. 66 % throw their trash in the bushes and burn it. Only 16% of young girls and women use some form of family planning and 57% could not name one sexually transmitted infection. 42% think that people get sick because of black magic.

At present there are only four homes that use solar lighting and the rest rely on kerosene lanterns and battery operated flashlights. One family will typically use 2 bottles (about a total of 24 ounces) a week at a total cost of 200 vt ($2) and 10,400 vt ($104) for the year. Batteries are costly as well at 100 vt ($1) per battery. Another disadvantage is due to the limited shipments arriving to the island there are frequent shortages of kerosene and batteries and families must resort back to making candles with coconut oil or be in bed by 7pm.

There are few paying jobs available on the island and all 10 positions are provided through the health facility and school. Most families depend on selling crops, mats and small animals on Tongariki and in the capital city (for example a chicken fetches 500 vt ($5) or a mat will fetch 500-1,000 vt ($5-10) for 1-2 days of weaving). Many families find it difficult to provide even the basic necessities such as clothes and school fees for their family.

The Health Program won’t just give solar lanterns to the 73 families on Tongariki but each family will participate in a program in increase their knowledge and encourage better health practices. The adults in each family will attend 6 health talks that I will give with the aid of Shelly and Pastor Rueban on: hygiene, common illnesses, first aid, HIV/AIDS + STIs, family planning and non-communicable diseases. Also, each household will need to have a trash pit for all non-degradable items and a place to wash your hands outside of their toilet.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

At the first fundraiser of the year for the dispensary

Many families donated food and kava and my mom had brought a lot of used clothing and old jewelry to sell. The prices maxed out at $2 and almost everything sold. We were able to raise $165. The money will help to pay for rain gutters and paint for the dispensary and nurse’s house behind

The villagers looking over the 2nd hand clothes

Monday, March 22, 2010

Send her mom off to Vila on a helicopter

My host mama Mary, lil brother Eddie, me and my mom

Well, that’s the end of the story of my mom’s trip to Tongariki but I’ll let her in her own words describe her trip out to my lil island in the south Pacific…

Light, electricity, hot running water, a toilet, a shower, a stove, a refrigerator, a washer/dryer, good cell service, internet...these are all the things we take for granted and Niki does not have in her village: Tongariki, Vanuatu. But, what she does have are people who are so hospitable and thankful that she is there to help them! All in a beautiful landscape of lush green foliage as the background for a severely impoverished village. It was a joy to be there with her and share in her simple life.

Leaving Los Angeles, I was fearful of the impending cyclones that were due to hit Vanuatu in the next few days. But, other than the fact that Air Pacific moved up my flight an hour ahead without informing me, I arrived in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, into the loving arms of my daughter! We hugged each other so tightly and realized how much we missed each other in the last six months!

Early on, we decided to spend several days in Port Vila before going to Niki’s village. We chose a beautiful island “honeymoon” resort called the Iririki. It was a wonderful place that provided Niki with some well deserved R&R...including some of Niki’s favorite things: a washer/dryer, a spa with all the luxurious treatments, and great restaurants set in the most beautiful surroundings! Port Vila was an interesting city of many souvenir shops where the hottest items were pirated DVD’s including Avatar, good restaurants, and a fabulous open air marketplace. We were able to visit the Peace Corps offices and I met many nice people...even went out with them to dinner at a pizza place on the beach. By far the coolest thing, was watching a movie projected on a sheet between two poles while rain poured off the roof in sheets! We also went to a Nakamal (which traditionally is an outdoor men’s club of sorts) with a group of Peace Corps volunteers and tried Kava. Kava is the island elixir which I think is supposed to have the same affect as Marijuana. However, for me, it had no effect...probably because Niki only gave me half a shell! I was blown away by the fact that you had to drink it, and because the taste was so bitter, you rinsed your mouth and spit it out in troughs that were on the sides. My Newport upbringing wasn’t quite used to people spitting loudly all around us! However, it was a fun thing to do and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations I had with Niki’s friends.

Well, it was time to begin my adventure to Tongariki! It rained constantly in Port Vila and we weren’t quite sure that we would even make it to the island. The air field in Tongoa was grass and the planes were grounded. But, as luck would have it, it all cleared up and we were on our way in an unbelievably old prop plane. I was sitting behind the cockpit and getting nervous because the wiring all looked frayed and the pilots didn’t look too knowledgeable. After a safe landing in Tongoa, Niki hired a truck to take us to the beach where we would take a boat to Tongariki. The boat ride wasn’t too rough and as we approached the shore of Tongariki, I could see many villagers who had come to welcome us. The waves were getting pretty rough and we weren’t sure how they were going to get the boat to shore. Pretty soon an outrigger canoe came to the boat and I was told to sit on the outrigger and they would paddle me to shore. Niki was laughing so hard and she took photos of the strong young men lifting me and the boat off the water to the shore! After all the introductions, we began our steep climb to her village in the pouring rain! The women whittled some walking sticks for me and hacked away the brush with their machete knives! It was quite an experience...I think Niki was proud of me that I made it up the hill!

Then, we came to Niki’s little compound of huts. Hers is, by far, the nicest in the village. She has three little huts: her living quarters, the cooking hut, and the shower/toilet hut...all connected by a black coral pathway and surrounded by a shrubbery fence. On the inside, the grass roofs were covered with colorful calico fabrics and shelving was crudely made with tree branches and wood planking. Niki was lucky because the Peace Corps provided her with a solar panel and she is able to have a low voltage strip light which is an enormous help to her. It also powers a charger for some of her electronic equipment: a Kindle, a DVD player, a cell phone, etc. She has the cutest little kitten, Leno, who keeps the rodents at bay at night. We could hear them rustling, but fortunately, I never saw one! Cooking on a grate over burning branches was not the easiest thing to do, especially with the smoke constantly getting in our eyes. Also, Niki is quite fortunate to have an outhouse where there is a toilet of sorts and a stump to sit on while pouring water over you for a shower.

The people of Tongariki are so gracious. On my first night, several women representing the different villages came to welcome me with gifts of island dresses, calico fabric, and food. Niki’s host mom, Mary, was in charge and she was so nice! Every day, they brought us food...mostly lap lap, which is made of white yams. I couldn’t believe that my picky eater daughter loves it and I, who usually eat everything, just couldn’t get used to it! They brought us so much of it and bananas that at night when everyone was asleep, Niki and I would sneak out and feed it to the pigs! They eat totally off the land and the sea with a small amount of protein from the chickens that freely walk around and the pigs for huge celebrations. I am concerned that Niki is not getting enough protein and I hope on her visits to Vila, that she purchase some canned goods to provide her with a more balanced diet. One night, we were invited to have Kava with her host family. Here, however, the Kava which is extracted from a root was made in the old fashioned way. Men chew the root and spit out the juice into a bowl. Then, the juice is mixed with water and strained. Needless to say, drinking this Kava was a little sketchy. But, I couldn’t insult my hosts so I took a deep breath and swallowed! This was a little stronger than the Kava in Vila so I did have a little buzz!

We had one sunny day and I was able to do a walkabout of her dispensary, the school, and visit another village. The huts were not as nice as Niki’s and the brick houses had corrugated metal roofs. All in all, it was definitely the conditions of a third world country. However, I was struck by the sense of family and the hospitality I received from everyone. Tongariki is lush with beautiful views of the surrounding islands. The water is very clear and is colored in shades of aqua to dark blue.

Afterwards, it continued to rain and rain and rain some more... I eventually missed my flight to Vila because the grass fields in Tongoa were flooded! I chose Air Pacific because it was the lowest fare...however, because I missed my flight, they were going to charge me as much as my RT flight for my new one way trip home. Fortunately, David was able to talk them into just charging me $450, but I assure you if I had chosen Air New Zealand or Quantas, they would only have charged me the customary change fee. It was a good lesson for me!

The additional three days gave me more time to spend with Niki and we had some amazing conversations. I have never felt so close to her or so in tune to what she’s going has totally been such a blessing to be with her! But, you can only play so many games of rummy, watch a lot of DVD’s and read all the magazines possible until you start to get cabin fever. I was ready to go home...but maybe that was not meant to be. It still continued to rain! One of the highlights was going to the New Covenant Church on Sunday. It was a very spirit filled service...with singing loudly and with great verve- it was definitely a joyful noise unto the Lord! They all said their prayers out loud and at once...Niki said, “It must be like the way God hears our prayers!” I, of course, was the guest of honor and I received more island dresses and fabrics. They did a robust laying of the hands on me for a safe journey home and I felt truly blessed to be there on that Sunday!

Come Monday, it was still raining and, unfortunately, Niki and I had to put Plan B into action. We actually hired a helicopter to come pick me up and take me to Port Vila. Thanks to David who made all the arrangements, I was finally going to leave Tongariki. The villagers were all excited and Niki said I would be talk of the village for many years to come! When it arrived, I said a tearful goodbye to Niki but I was comforted to know that I would be back in July with the rest of the family. This was just a special time for the two of us!

I enjoyed my time with my mom and was really appreciative to have the extra days with her and most importantly glad that she could experience it all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bring her mom home to Tongariki

I was afraid my mom wouldn’t get to see my home since it rained every day since she arrived to Port Vila. And the airstrip on Tongoa is a grass field that easily gets flooded with a few days of consecutive rain.

But luckily as it was raining in Vila the sun was shining on Tongoa and we arrived with no problems. I turned to my mom as we landed and couldn’t quite make out what she was thinking about – the tiny plan, the grass field, or the shack/airport office – but she was smiling. We loaded up into a truck to take us to the beach to catch a boat over to Tongariki (you have to charter a boat each time you want to go between Tongariki and Tongoa and costs about $120 a day). My mom didn’t get sea sick although the water was calm. Until we got screaming distance from Tongariki and then it started to drizzle and rain started to fall. The waves made the boat owner nervous to get too close to the rocks that line the shore so one of the boat boys swam ashore and fetched a handmade canoe and paddled out to us to ferry us over. My mom was shuttled first and as I took the pictures below of my mom being carried onto shore in the canoe. I couldn’t help but laugh and think “only in Vanuatu”.

After arriving safely onto land we still had about an hour hike up to my village. The villagers helped with the bags and even cut my mom some walking sticks. We took it slow and steady and got up to my hut by mid afternoon a little fatigued but soaking wet (it started to down pour on the way up). All the rain made my stomach go into knots worried that this could be a storm --- my mom needs to catch the flight back to Vila on Friday to then catch a flight on Saturday back to California. Oh well no one can predict the weather in the South Pacific – I’ll just pray it all works out.
Mom made it to the top with her wooden walking sticks

Monday, March 15, 2010

Get ready to bring mom home to meet the natives

It’s a sunny day here in Vila, finally. The last week has been raining non-stop and the cyclone warning was exciting – had to bust out my cyclone tracking map and all.

But I was so thankful that I was able to get off of my island and into Vila before the storm really hit and my mom made it in safely to Vanuatu. The last 3 days we have done some shopping for souvenirs & pirated copies of dvds and eating lots of delicious foods (all my favs that I only dream about when I’m home in my hut). It’s been so nice to live in a luxurious hotel and enjoy the comforts of hot water, a washing machine and air conditioning, however today I’m mentally preparing myself and my mom to go to the bush tomorrow.

I’ll have plenty of pics and stories to share when I come back to modern civilization in May about her trip to Tongariki (haha should be interesting) and other stories from Feb/Mar that I just didn’t have time to update the blog with – sorry.

Until then – lukim yu,

Lei Riki - Niki

Tanem ting ting blong olgeta*

*Bringing hygiene awareness to the home

In my last blog entry I described my first health awareness talk to the village Erata.

On Monday morning a mama chatted with me about her weekend. On the Friday before I had just given a health awareness talk on hygiene to the mamas and papas and was eager to hear if parents took the next step and taught their kids, at least this was my hope. Well, at this particular home there are the grandparents, a single mom and 3 young boys and that Friday night the adults shared with the kids what they had learned. The kids listened intently while eating their dinner. The youngest couldn’t quite understand germs and how they end up making him sick so his mom explained to him that they are like invisible snakes that find ways into your body and grow big and make you not feel good. The little boy’s eyes got wide and scared. The next day at breakfast the boys announced that no one would go to the garden that it was important that everyone pitch in and clean up the house and yard. They dug a rubis pit and collected the scattered tin cans and bottles and other non-biodegradables to throw in, they raked and cleared away overgrown bushes close to the house and they built a stand outside the small house with a bow of water and soap. At dinner before saying prayer the oldest boy looked at the others with a questioning look and asked if they all had washed their hands. The smallest boy had forgotten and so he quickly ran to the door to go wash his hands but couldn’t find his shoes and began to scream because he wasn’t going to walk barefoot and let snakes come into his sore on his foot, he finally went to the “bush sink” wearing his grandpa’s shoes.

Obed washing his hands

Uncle Eddie throwing away a tin can

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Give her first health talk

One of my posters of the different paths to getting germs inside the body

Today I gave my first health talk and it last a lil over an hour and the topic was hygiene – the different ways germs are spread and how to block them. I gave the talk in my home village, Erata, and surprisingly all the mamas and papas showed up and we started on time (730am). I’m sure their enthusiasm is due to attendance being a requirement of the health program but I with more things in life we need a reward to be motivated.

I started the talk with a quick game, which I had learned in training. Each person receives a piece of paper with a stick figure in green and 1 person has picture of figure in red and 2 have a picture of soap. After everyone goes around and shakes hands with 3 people. Then the person with the red figure comes into the center of the circle and I explain that this person has the flu and they had spit into their hand before walking around. I ask then who shook hands with this particular man because now they too have the flu and should come into the center of the circle. I repeat this again till almost everyone is now in the center of the circle but the 2 with the picture of the soap which had washed their hands and didn’t get the flu. It was a good game to play to get them awake and moving and show that germs spread quickly and when one person is sick it’s not long until another and another and then the whole village is sick.

The rest of the talk went just as good and everyone was attentive and seemed to nod in understanding. At the end we had some good discussions. Like about lice and if they were germs (I answered – not exactly but they spread just as easily) and another question came up if it was okay if the mamas continue to pick lice out of the kid’s hair and stick the lice in the mouths to kill them (my answer was that the stomach will kill the lice but I doubted that they tasted good).

Next week Monday through Thursday I’ll give the same talk each morning in a different village. I decided to do it that way instead of just one big one because it would be more convenient for the parents who have lots of work to do in the garden and preparing lunch for their kids in school (the mom’s carry hot food every day at 1130am to the school located a the middle of the island). Plus this gives families an opportunity if they miss the talk in their own village they can come to another and catch it.

Get a police escort to Tongoa

The two police officers

Tongariki is in the background

Well, the heading is not what you think – I haven’t committed any taboo acts or anything. The police boat just happened to be dropping off the Christian Youth group from Tongoa for a retreat. So, I decided to hitch a ride with them back and head into Vila early to meet my mom who would arrive on Saturday. The police guys were so nice and even gave me a lift in their truck to Pele village which would have taken me almost 2 hours to walk. I met up with a friend, Bridgett, who is an educational PC volunteer on Tongoa (and my closest American neighbor). When I got to Bridgett’s school I was able to catch the last half hour of her first grade class. And afterwards she held a hip hop class for the older kids. Bridgett is in her 3rd year in Vanuatu and has accomplished so much and inspires me to keep with it and that we can make a difference.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Go to the 1st Health Committee meeting of 2010

This morning Tongariki held its first Health Committee meeting of 2010. It was a long but productive meeting and I was so impressed with how organized they are – I’m sure Sara (the last volunteer) worked especially hard to get things in order and running smoothly. The chairman of the committee is my host papa – Pastor Rueban, the secretary is Shelly (the nurse’s aid) and the treasurer is my aunty Winnie. The rest of the committee is made up of a representative from each community: Danson (Shelly’s husband and rep for Erata village), Peter (Lawaima village), Winnie (Lakilia), Pastor David (Mu-ur), and Rebecca (Tafea). At the meeting we finalized dates for our first fundraiser and worked out the details of the health program I want to start next month.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Get another tsunami warning

This is the second one in the 6 months that I have been here. I guess its better to be scared and ready but nothing happen then washed away.

So, I woke up this morning tired because it had rained all night and there was a small earthquake. I drank my coffee and oatmeal as usual and the there was a knock at my door – my host mama heard on the radio there was a tsunami warning for Vanuatu and she wanted to know what information I had. But I had no news, so I quickly rang my mom and she gave me all the details: an 8.8 earthquake hit Chile and the whole South Pacific is on alert for a tsunami to hit somewhere between 8am and 11am. The time then was 7:45am. I rushed back to my hut and told my host family what I knew and then I got out my emergency backpack and lifejacket and waited. I figured I was already high up (it’s about a 20min hike up from the ocean) and I could go higher but Id have to hike down and then up again and there just wasn’t time. I just stayed put with my backpack on listening to the radio and the waves crashing in the distance (or at least I was listening in case I stopped hearing the waves crashing – then I’d need to brace myself). There was nothing to do but wait – I tried to read a magazine to take my mind off the situation. And then after 2 hours had passed, I called my mom and was assured that no tsunami will be coming. What a relief.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Think about trash with dread & confusion

What do you do with trash on an island – a very small island??? In some places in the world a dump is the same size as my whole island.

From my survey I found out that most (practically everyone) just throws their trash in the bush or down a cliff and burns most of it and the rest just piles up. I’m sure my lungs don’t like inhaling burning plastic – not sure what the effects are but they can’t be good. And the batteries, tin cans, and glass are scattered about waiting to injure some little bare-footed kid. These are just little things we also have lots of rusted sheets of corrugated tin for roofs that you need a tetanus shot just from looking at it. And as I’m cleaning and organizing the dispensary I’m troubled by what should I do with the unusable old stretcher circa WWII and other relics from “colonial times” (aka before independence in 1980 from Britain and France, who ruled together in a condominium style government).

In the past some families had trash pits for batteries (which should probably be disposed of in a cement pit but 1 step at a time), glass, plastic and tin cans. But they all are filled up now. So, I hope to give a workshop on sanitation and environmental health and hopefully encourage the communities to make some new pits – they recognize the need but just lack the motivation.

But still what to do with the big junk?

What do we do with junk in America – I guess we too throw it in our equivalent of the “bush”.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Go to work at the dispensary

Today was my first day a the dispensary (a smaller version of a health clinic minus a trained professional and advanced equipment – imagine a first aid stand with antibiotics). I’ll now be working every morning with Shelley, the nurse aid, helping her with organization, record keeping and other tasks.

So many people ask “what does a Peace Corps – health volunteer do in Vanuatu???” And I’m not sure if I even know the answer to that because this is unlike any job I”ve ever had – there are no specific tasks or deadlines just a basic outline and you can color the piture however you would like.

The outline says we are not here to provide medical care but to work to educate and create awareness of health issues. And to work with the health committee & health facility at site with their organization, projects and help keep them motivated. Some examples of community health volunteer projects:
- teach health classes at the school
- community health survey
- health workshops (on topics like reproduction, hygiene, malaria, etc)
- work with the village water committee to develop water projects
- toilet projects
- health food and how to cook workshop
- assist with health facility fundraising
- help community to organize a village cleanup
- help nurses in record keeping

These are just some examples and it all depends on the community what their needs are and what projects or activities they are interested in because it must start with them. I’m here to help and what I think are problems may not be the same as what they view as problems and sustainability will not occur if I’m the only driving force.

So right now I’m excited and flexible and ready for whatever – who knows how or what my service will be like – I just hope I can do some good for my peeps on Tongariki :)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Updated Her Blog

From November 10th to January 15th there are new posts - so check them out!!!! I'm still working on putting pics but internet is just too slow - ugh!

On the boat to the airport on Tongoa and Tongariki is in the background

The plane from Tongoa to Vila - it only holds 8 people and a pilot that looks like he cant be more than 16 years old (and why isnt he looking where he is flying???)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Receive Mail Finally

Today is the first time I’ve received mail since arriving on Tongariki. As I’ve mentioned before mail has to be shipped from the PC office to my island since there is no post office or airport. It was either the ships kept changing the departure date or they completely passed Tongariki (apparently we are too small to matter) or the ship company forgot to put my packages on the ship and they stayed in their office for 2 weeks. So, when I got my mail I had 4 packages and over 20 letters. Thank you to everyone who has sent me something – it means so much to me to have all your love and support (in other words they keep me from going island crazy). It was like Christmas today – I though about spreading everything out over the next week but couldn’t resist. I was so excited to open everything I carried 2 of my 3 bags up the 30 min hike to my hut (I’ll pay for it later already my neck is sore).

Some highlights of the swag I got:
- coloring books and crayons (for the kids that come over and hang out – my place is like a youth center)
- bracelet making supplies (I’m queen of the friendship bracelet and I ended up making one for every kid in Erata. I felt like a sweat shop and so after I said nomo)

some samples of my mad bracelet making skills

- tons of magazines (thanks so much! I love reading about gossip, fashion and whats going on in the rest of the world)
- soup mixes (beans – its been 4 months since I’ve seen you)
- and tons of other stuff and great letters.

I loved reading all your letters – they made me cry, laugh out loud and miss you guys even more. Keep sending the letters I’ll eventually get them and it gives me a way to stay connected.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Learn Local Language

Slowly I am learning a few local words and phrases, such as:

NuNu = Mom
Bob = Dad
NaNa = Sister
TiTi = Brother
Uma = Grandma
BuBu = Grandpa
Meeme = Aunty
LoLo = Uncle

Shu Shum = Small
Keeya = Big

Will-Lou = Quick

Sikeetek = One
Kerroo = Two
Ketoll = Three

Corro = Go
Corra = Come

Cokinneekan = To Eat
Corro Go LoLo = Go Shower

On the left is the Kinde and on the right is the Coconut Primary School (1st - 8th grade)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Finish Her Survey

I have completed 47 health surveys and I am exhausted but it feels good to have been able to talk to every family on the island. I now feel ready to move forward and try to make an action plan and figure out what I can do to help. The troubles and challenges they face are common anywhere such as:
- Income and budgeting
- Family planning
- Jealously
- Over consumption (and the struggle between keeping their traditions and
Western influence and goods)
- Climate change

I’ll be leaving soon for Port Vila (back to the capital) to meet with the other health volunteers and should get a better idea of how to put all the information I gathered to good use. I’ll keep you updated on my projects and workshops.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Live in the Rat Hut

Rats Rats Rats. Well I guess they look more like large grey mice then the traditional huge brown rats with long tails – but everyone here calls ‘em rats. So, I’ve actually spotted in the daytime GusGus (who is fat) and Jerry (who is petite) both run across my floor and at night I can hear them both eating. “Eating what?” you may ask. Well, EVERYTHING – from the cap of my water bottle to my toothbrush holder, my toothpaste, my clothes and even playing cards. They pee on my stuffed animals and leave dropping everywhere.

Exhibit A & B: Can you see the holes in my shirt and toothbrush holder???

I had a cat – Dracula – who I inherited from Lei Tong (the last volunteer). However, he threw up worms all over my floor and I got pretty angry and made him sleep in the kitchen after that. He was good at killing rats but was picky about the food I’d try to give him – I think he wanted tuna but I always tried to feed him island food. While I was going around to the different villages he was caught eating baby chickens and so they killed him.

Sadly one of the last pictures of Dracula - RIP

Also, while I was going around to the villages and sleeping in other’s huts I had some run ins with the rats. One time I awoke to one licking at my foot – from then on I wore socks or made sure to cover them up. I found out its common for rats to try to eat people’s feet because maybe they didn’t wash them good or have food still stuck on them. One boy had a huge chunk chewed off – I asked him why he didn’t wake up but I guess he just sleeps like the dead. When I hear a rat scurry close to me or feel his weight on my legs I always kick them or shine my light to run ‘em off.

I have a new kitten now, her name is Leno and she is small still but I can already tell she’s going to be the best rat killing machine ever. And at least at the moment just her presence in the house is scaring the rats.

Leno resting and Leno practicing her quick reflexes w/ my handmade toy

Friday, January 1, 2010

Say “Tata 2009” and “Halo 2010!”

Happy New Year everyone!
I stayed up till midnight to bang bells and shout but soon after I was ready for bed. I had a glass of kava with dinner and I think it made me tired. New Year day we ate together as usual at the nakamal, danced to string band music and watched some videos. Yes we watched videos because the community pitched in for benzene (fuel for the generator). Of course the selection is not great - either home made string band videos, compilation fight videos like of Mike Tyson, or straight to DVD type movies in America. Oh well at least it’s something and you can’t be choosy out in the bush.

For entertainment I’ve been reading a lot. Thank goodness for the kindle because in the last 2 weeks I’ve read 5 books.
The Red Tent
The Handmaids Tale
The Assassin’s Apprentice
The Royal Assassin
The Assassin’s Quest
All great books. Keep sending me more recommendations!