It should go without saying...

...but it doesn't. None of the viewpoints or opinions expressed on this blog reflect the views and opinions of the United States government, the Peace Corps or anybody else besides me!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part Three

After a great week in Nambwaranyut with Alex and Lucas, I was ready to move on.
I spent all night by myself on the beach waiting for the Brisk to come back through. As I've probably mentioned on this blog before, nothing--ships, planes, community meetings, not even church services--moves on a set schedule here. All is subject to the vagaries of "island time". If a Ni-Van tells you to meet him somewhere at 3 pm, you shouldn't ever show up at 3 pm. If you do that, you'll be waiting around on him for a few hours, hopefully in relative comfort beneath the shade of a nearby tree. The implication of island time is that this entire country operates on a gross approximation. When someone tells you to be somewhere at 3 pm, he or she could mean 4 pm or 5 pm or 6 pm or maybe even 2 pm. But you can be certain he doesn't mean 3 pm.
So, when I called the Brisk and they told me they would reach my area "this afternoon or early evening", I didn't even leave for the beach until half past midnight. And I still ended up sleeping on the beach all night by myself. The Brisk eventually showed up around 5:30 am. If you'll consult the map, you can follow the course we took from Nambwaranyut to Laone, Ryan's village.

Ryan works at school of sorts. Its not really a school, though, more like a vocational training center. Young Ni-Vans receive training in mechanics and hospitality and the like. Pictured here is Ryan's living room and the chicken coop he had built for his chicken project (I'll let you determine which is which). Ryan lives in what I contemptuously refer to as a "white man house". You'll note the concrete construction, ample shelf space and--most damning of all--ample electricity.

Here's Ryan and his dog Bear. The other picture is Sara Airport (visible on our map). It's virtually identical to both airports on Epi.

While I was in Laone, I went to the nakamal and drank kava with some of Ryan's male relatives (girls aren't allowed to drink kava, not an uncommon proscription in this country). I was eager to try Pentecost kava because they prepare it differently than back home. As you can see from the photograph, this man is grinding up the kava with some coral stone from the beach, as opposed to pounding it with a big bar like on Epi or grinding it was a metal machine like on Efate. I had never sampled that kind of kava before.

And here I am drinking a shell. Despite all the hype and boasting, I didn't think it was any stronger than the stuff I drink back in Malvasi. This is further proof that the strength of kava is most directly effected not by the method of preparation but by how much water is added during preparation.

Oh, an here's a picture of Lucas coming back from their garden. What a great view, huh?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part 2

Like many Peace Corps volunteers, Alex and Lucas' home is blessed with a picturesque setting amidst the rugged wilderness of northern Pentecost. Their house is actually perched at the edge of a heavily forested cliff that sort of gradually rolls down into the sea. The picture with the ship in it is the view from their front yard. The ship is the MV Tina I, sister ship of the Brisk and reputedly the nicest one in the Vanuatu merchant fleet. I've never been on it but it certainly looks bigger than Brisk. The other picture is the view from Alex and Lucas' latrine (or "smol haos" in Bislama). That's right, whenever you have to "make a deposit" down at the "office", you have this breathtaking view of the ocean and distant Maewo.

This is a picture of Alex's work site, Tari Ilo Dispensary. Her counterpart is a nurse there and Alex works with her on a regular basis. Dispensaries in Vanuatu are the most advanced medical care and the largest health facilities people in the outer islands have access to. It's not like health care back home. There usually aren't trained doctors or sometimes even nurses at outer island dispensaries. I'm not sure what the level of training there is, but on Epi the health center is over seen by a guy who--I think--has had some nurse training but certainly wouldn't qualify as an RN back home.

Here's what I look like these days. My hair is still really blond and my beard is starting to get a little out of control again (I'm going to try to find some beard trimming scissors or something while I'm here in Vila) and I broke my other pair of glasses. The nice thing about winter is that I don't have to walk around shirtless all the time anymore which is good because having to do so is embarrassing for skinny dudes like me. Winter in the tropics, I've discovered, is my ideal climactic zone: spring-like in the day, early to mid-fall-like in the evenings. Some rain but no more Biblical floods. And with the humidity summering in the northern hemisphere--primarily in Oklahoma, I suspect--it no longer feels like I live on the surface of Venus.
One day in Pentecost, we bought our lunch at the local market. Mine came with a surprise: a chicken foot, still clenched in pain from being hacked off by someone's bush knife (just kidding...probably). I elected to give the foot to Alex and Lucas' cat instead of eating it myself, but the "Oh, Vanuatu..." moment it provided me was far more delicious than any cut of meat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part One

One of the really great things about being in the Peace Corps is having almost absolute freedom to do whatever you want (as long as whatever you want doesn't require electricity or internet access). Another great thing about Peace Corps service is that it takes place within a sprawling, primeval wilderness, ripe for exploration and adventure. So, back in May I decided I would take advantage of these unique life circumstances and go for a little vacation.

Pentecost (if you'll consult your Vanuatu map) is the large, skinny island up north. Three of my very favorite Peace Corps volunteers are stationed there: Alex & Lucas and Ryan. My plan was simple and deliciously open-ended and spontaneous. Really, my plan was to not make a plan. But the general idea was I'd take a ship up to visit Alex & Lucas first for an unspecified amount of time and then go visit Ryan (mode of transportation unspecified) for another unspecified amount of time.

Alex and Lucas' site is near Nambwarangiut on the northern part of the island. You'll note the lack of roads in the general vicinity. It's a clump of little villages in the middle of the jungle, as cut off from civilization as you can get apart from Antarctica (an adventure destination my intrepid friends have actually called home as well, but that's another story).

Alex and Lucas had been in Vila for a few weeks doing PC training and such. They elected to take a rain check on the Peace Corps plane ticket in favor of the MV Brisk, the same cargo ship I took back to Epi after my own training in February. I jumped on the Brisk when it reached Lamen Bay. The guy in the picture is Lucas. He's a few years older than me and a native of Ohio. Before joining the Peace Corps, he worked at the American Antarctica base (living "on the ice" in the local parlance). He's a business volunteer, an avid gardner and an accomplished chef.

The ride on the Brisk wasn't nearly as unpleasant as last time. As you can tell from the picture of Lucas, we sat up near the bridge this time instead of down below in the filthy sardine can hold. There's was a nice breeze and considerably more leg room. The 18 hour trip from my island to theirs flew by. Early on in the voyage, we had a rather spectacular view of mighty Lopevi, a volcano just off the coast of my island whose fearful blast radius would easily encompass my little hut.
Also pictured is Alex. She and Lucas are newlyweds. They met on a hiking trail somewhere in the US South, fell in love and did a stint "on the ice" together in Antarctica. Alex is a health volunteer like me. She is also an avid gardener and an accomplished chef. She's very cheerful and funny and she reminds me of my Aunt Nancy.

Here's a picture of Alex and Lucas in their home. As you can see, it's made of the same stuff as my hut except they have nice concrete floors.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Team Epi; Ship Trip; Cosmonaut Cote;

Well, I'm in Vila for a bit longer than I thought. I didn't change my plane ticket in time and so both the flights I wanted were booked up. So, I'm going back to Epi on a ship but not until Friday. But that means I have two open tickets I can use any time. Should anybody decide to come visit me.
Above is a close up of the "Kawale", one of the copra ships, when it visited Malvasi months and months ago. I'll be travelling on a ship not unlike this one. Only a bit bigger.

Here's a photo of Epi from the air. I think its Epi, anyway. There's a bunch of islands out here and none of them have name signs large enough to be seen from the air.

Team Epi, with our dogs. I'm on the right, Christopher Eckert is in the middle and Amy "Torisu" Orr is on the left. Obviously this picture is a little old, as Attlee is a lot bigger now. So is Chris' dog Ender and Amy's dog is a LOT bigger. His name used to be Kulee (pronounced "cool-e"), which means "dog" in her local language. But then they decided that was a dumb name so they changed it to something else (pronounced "Sue-Wall"). I can't remember what that means in language.

Evidence of the economies slow but steady recovery: my little Aunt Lindy found a job!! At NASA!! She now works at Johnson Space Center in sunny Houston. She's going to have a security badge and an office (or cubicle, at least), possibly with a view of cool space stuff. I've already encouraged her to take some pictures of Mission Control for us, which I'll happily post on my blog. Congratulations, Auntie!!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Team Epi Strikes Again!

I always knew I'd find true love in the Peace Corps.

We did a big nutrition workshop on Amy's island.

Chris and Lauren.

Chris is my good Peace Corps bud. He lives in Niku. He has a traditional island house like mine, made out of bamboo but he's rapidly turning it into a white man house. The Peace Corps gave him a big solar panel for his satellite radio and he's used it to power electrical lights, his dvd player and ipod. Chris is from Portland, Oregon, and he's quite proud of his hometown. He's about convinced me I should move out there when this all over and sample life in a Blue State for once. My exercise regimen is also modeled on Chris'. I never had any problem with maintaining the motivation to do it, I just lacked the knowledge to design a really effective program. Chris had the opposite problem. So, I help keep him motivated to do his and he gives me technical advice on mine. Chris is also a huge Battlestar Galactica fan and all around nerd.

Lauren is perhaps the nicest person I've ever met (except for mom). Her Peace Corps nickname is "Mother Teresa".She always has something nice to say about everybody and everything. She's a hippie but she believes in Jesus (::sigh::). She's from Ohio originally but has lived in Sacramento, CA for the past few years. She used to volunteer at a homeless shelter. She came to Vanuatu with Group 21B, the group immediately prior to my group, Group 22. Those folks are all supposed to COS (close of service: go home) in November, but Lauren has elected to extend her contract for a year.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pigs, Dogs, Aid Post Committees

Hog-tying a hog.

20 March: 22 easy 32 hard. Sunny in the morning, cloudy and intermittent rain in the PM. Storian smol (visiting) at the nakamal. Cooked some of the taro I bought at the market for dinner. I let Attlee sleep inside because there were drunk yangfala (teenagers) about in the PM.

21 March: 23 easy, 34 hard. Sunny most of the day. Didn't do crap all day except talk to Aunt Nancy for one minute and six seconds. Attlee crapped ALL OVER my kitchen last night. Next time, the yangfala can have him.

The President came to Rovo Bay to nationalize the land. There's a lot of land disputes because of differing land titles that were given out.

20 February: Attlee wasn't depressed he's in agony from a disease or ailment, probably of the stomach (its swelled up in the picture). Stayed up all night with him trying to comfort him. Spent most of the day with him on the beach, waiting for cell reception so I could talk to a PC doc about it. Tonight, I broke out the sat phone and spoke to Nelsine. Hannah and Lauren dropped off my laptop in the evening. Watched "Apollo 13" with the Ni-Vans.

26 April: 17 hard, 53 easy. Lauren and Chris came to Malvasi around midday to take my laptop to Lamen Bay for Amy to use in Vila. They stayed for a few hours. I'm invited to come to the chili cook off in Niku Friday. After they left, me and Tony (the village health worker) started walking to Alack to storian with the vice-chairman of the aid post committee but when we were almost there we learned he had never received our note of 23 April and was in Rovo Bay working. So, we turned around and went back to Rovo Bay. We storied smol and agreed to set an APC meeting after me and Tony get back from Vila.

Days of Our Lives; I Ate a Bat; I Dedicated (Another) Solar Panel

This is the aid post where I work.

30 March: (27 easy push ups, 33 hard ones) The new solar panel at the Mama's center in Yapuna needed dedicating and I was invited to represent the Peace Corps. Simion (host dad) said to be there by 1 pm; I was. I walked over with Alili, Tony and one other guy. Then we waited for nearly three hours on a mat under a tree (island time). Once it got started it was pretty standard procedure: you're presented with a ceremonial necklace, sit through a boring sermon from the pastor, clap, space out during a couple of boring speeches, clap some more, stand up and say a few words on behalf of the good 'ol US of A, everybody else claps, pray some more, receive a ceremonial mat and--in this case--a ceremonial yam, then kava time. I gave my kava to an elder because I didn't feel like throwing up all night. Afterwards the chief led me on an inspection tour of the house they're building for the future Peace Corps volunteer who'll be arriving in November. Then kakae (eat) and back to Malvasi.

16 March: (26 easy, 29 hard) Good sun today but plenty rain after dark. I was able to charge up the laptop enough to watch about half a "West Wing". Marko--Simion's brother--somehow managed to capture a bat and its ted up upside down. The Ni-Vans like to torture it by poking it with a stick.

March 17: I weighed 57 kilos. 23 easy push ups, 30 hard. Good sun, light rain only. Ate, swam and read in the AM as usual. Also, Terekea (PC staff) came through Malvasi on her way back to the airport and Port Vila. She stopped in for about two minutes to say hi. The cell tower on Lamen Island started working again after another week long break down--talked to Ryan (PC Vol on Pentecost) and Nelsine (PC doctor). The Ni-Vans killed that bat Marko caught the other day and cooked it. I tried a couple of nibbles. It was truly vile. It was tough and gamey and tasted exactly like it smelled in life (like burning tires). Attlee really liked it, though. Spent all afternoon at the aid post.

The bat came in a bowl of taro with coconut milk. Taro is really good and in my neck of the bush it's a rare enough treat that I was mildly disappointed they'd ruined a perfectly good bowl of it was throwing in a bat wing. And it was a bat wing, all leathery and stuff. Yuck. "Oh, Vanuatu..."

This is the MV Brisk. It's the boat I rode back to the island after my first IST (in-service training) in February. I took this photo from the beach where it dropped me off in Lamen Bay.