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.