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!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome to Port Vila!; Good-Bye Again

Welcome to Port Vila, the bustling capital of our beautiful aelan kantri. The picture at the top is the park right behind the Peace Corps office. It's a great place to unwind and watch the ships come in. Sometimes you can spot one of enormous cruise ships coming in to dock. The other two are just shots of different places around town to kind of give you a flavor.
I spent most of today running around trying to assemble and pack all my stuff. I still believe in the principle of packing-more-is-packing-less, but it hasn't worked out that way in practice. I put seven bags, boxes and Chinese bags on the ship this afternoon. That's in addition to the three I'll be carrying on the plane. I also went ahead and got the two burner stove (and the regulator, hose and 11 kg propane tank). It was expensive but will probably worth be worth it when I'm tired of eating aelan kakae and hunger for some white man food....of course, come to think of it, I'm fresh out of vatu and so won't be taking any white man kakae with me. Oh, well.

This is the last blog posting I'll be making for a while. I'll be back in Vila next year, maybe late January, probably some time in February. Until then, I'll be far away from internet and phones. I think everybody's pretty excited about going away to their new homes, but, truth be told, I'm more nervous tonight than I was my last night in Oklahoma. This seems like a much more irrevocable divorce from my life back there in America. Of course, I didn't really like my life in America that much--indeed I always looked at Peace Corps service, depravations and hardships and all, as a bit of a vacation from that life (among the many, many other reasons I decided to join up). A breath of fresh air after the past few years of post-Disease stagnation and torpor seemed--and still seems--like just what the doctor ordered. But certainly not all of it was bad. Many parts of my life I loved a lot--like all of you reading this blog, for example (yes, all three of you). And I will miss you during the next two years. I'll try to write. I'll try to go to the Digicel coverage area (an hour walk away) to give you a call from time to time.
I really don't have any idea what to expect when we land on Epi. We'll be met at the airport by a few of the current volunteers and maybe a family member or two. Chris will go with me to my site to check out and learn where I live for when he comes to visit and then after that...I don't know. We'll see. It'll be an adventure.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Randon Pic Posting

Left: the old nakamal where Samaa vols had their meetings, next to the new nakamal, currently under construction
Right: an interior shot of the community hall in Emua, where we had meetings and a few classes. Pictured here are volunteers Frank and Gloria Larson.
Left below: boats on the beach klosap my host families house

Right: the path in front of my host families house
Right below: an aelan kitchen

Shopping & Packing; Parting Is Such Bitter & Intoxicating Sorrow; Three Pledges

To the left is a photo from Blue Water, the resort where we spent our first week in Vanuatu, of a trail through the bush leading to the beach. To the upper left is an early evening shot from Blue Water. To the right, is another picture from Emua, the path leading up past Ryan's papa's house and the community center to the big "ring road" that circles all of Efate and is now mostly paved.

I've been spending some mad vatu, folks. I'm still comitted to the idea of packing-less-is-packing-more, though. Yesterday, me and my once and future neighbor Chris went out shopping in Chinatown. Yes, Vila has a Chinatown but it isn't anything like the one back in San Francisco. It's mainly just a few streets that have a lot of Chinese shops on them. We've all been buying a lot of our stuff in these Chinese shops because they have a lot of stuff in them and aren't too expensive. They're operated by Ni-Vans and fulap with Chinese goods and products. I bought a couple of durable-looking container things for washing clothes, a bigfala plastic container for storing water (yeah, apparently we only have water once every two or three days in Malvasi), a couple of Chinese bags to carry stuff in, a dartboard to help me amuse myself on those long, hot afternoons on the island, a New Zealand plug convertor for the computer. I think I might go ahead and get the stove with propane container. It's not as bulky as I thought it was going to be. I also bought some movies. They have these things in Chinese shops called 26 in 1's. They have 26 movies of the same type on one DVD. I bought the Denzel Washington collection. Yesterday afternoon I watched "Crimson Tide". The video quality wasn't spectacular but the whole thing was on there. I also found "Battlestar Galactica" season DVDs, supposedly all four seasons in one package. I went ahead and bought it, even though it was 3000 vatu and the cover art featuring "Star Trek" ships didn't fill me with confidence about the quality. It's missing a lot of episodes, but, like the Denzel Washington collection, wasn't a bad deal. Chris, as it turns out, is also a Battlestar fan, as is his other nearest neighbor.

People have already started shipping out to their islands. I'm leaving on Tuesday, but two girls from 22 who were posted to the Banks (those northern most islands) left a few days ago. Another big group is leaving tomorrow. One of my good friends--Josh Adeyami, hopefully I've spelled his last name correctly--is leaving tomorrow for the island of Malekula. His mom back in Georgia visited my blog today and said she enjoyed the pictures. Included in the picture to the left is (from left to right) Josh, Ryan and our language trainer George, seen here "enjoying" a shell of kava. Ryan isn't leaving until Thursday (that lucky ducky gets a couple extra days in Vila) but tonight is Josh's last night, so we'll all go out for one last shell of kava with him. The sorrow of parting, in this case at least, isn't so much sweet as bitter, green and dry heave inducing.

During shopping yesterday, Chris (the aforementioned neighbor-to-be-again) and I talked it over and decided to take Three Pledges to help serve as guidelines for our respective Peace Corps experiences. The latter two bear mentioning. Pledge #2 is to take up canoing--I mean, to really, really get into it. People in the Lamen Bay/Rovo Bay area do a lot of that sort of thing, we've heard, and it sounds like wonderful, scenic exercise. And, it would replace going to the gym rather nicely, a habit I actually do kind of miss. Chris thinks he can he even make his own canoe (though I daresay the seaworthiness of any such homemade boat will have to be irrefutably demonstrated before I'll even get in it). Pledge #3 is the "Apocalypse Now" pledge. It started off as an agreement that neither one of us should cut our hair for the entirety of our Peace Corps service, but I expanded it to a broader committment to the ethic of "going native". This is a beautiful country full of beautiful people and I think it's our duty as representatives of the United States to embrace it as much as possible and then share that with you guys back home. Granted, some volunteers have taken it to far (in my opinion). Many of them have completely abandoned the use of deoderant. One of them even consented to a circumcision by a traditional kastom doctor in a village ceremony. I heard a rumor (from reliable sources) that a few years ago, one of the volunteers went mad out their in the jungle and covered his house and himself with tinfoil. The villagers eventually called the PCMO and had him medically evacuated. Of course, my embrace of Ni-Van culture will be less fevered and fanatical. And now we have the Three Pledges to help us keep to it. Failure to comply with any of the Three Pledges by one party will result in the assessment of severe penalties, payable to the other party in the form of alcohol, kava or other sundry goods.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Swearing In Shindig; My First Head of State; Moving Day Is Almost Here; Random Pics

So, we got sworn in yesterday. I'm now officially a Peace Corps volunteer. The thirty-eight of us in Group 22 took the oath, similar--as our country director, Eddie Stice pointed out during his remarks that afternoon--to the one taken by the President, to support, defend the constitution, etc. It was a long and winding road that led me from opening my online PC application in Oklahoma in December 2007 to getting sworn in on November 5, 2009, as it was for us all (perhaps a bit more bumpy for me than most). But we made it. School's finally out.

The ceremony was held at the University of the South Pacific here in Vila. Our ambassador to the region was unable to attend, but the President of the Republic of Vanuatu was. I'm sure I speak for all of my comrades in Group 22 when I say how delighted and grateful we all were that His Excellency made time in his busy schedule for us. Pictured below is President Iola Abil giving a speech shortly after our swearing in.

So, I learned some interesting things about my aelan home-to-be. Because Epi is pretty klosap Efate, I'd assumed that the dreaded isolation might not be as much of a problem for me. Not so. My closest volunteer (a guy from Oregon named Chris) will be two hours away on top of a bigfala hill. The next nearest (a girl from Arizona named Amy) will be out on an island in Lamen Bay. Also, there won't be any cell phone reception, at least not with Digicel (the company PC uses), but maybe some with TVL, the other one. However, I don't know how eager I am to burn precious vatu on a second cell phone I won't use that much.
So, it's going to be isolated and that's making me a little nervous as my departure day approaches. Also making me a little nervous is the idea of arranging the move itself. That's an exercise in cultural integration all by itself. You don't just call UPS and have everything packed up and shipped away so that's waiting for you on your new doorstep the day you arrive. No, here's how it goes: the Peace Corps gave us a "settling in allowance" to go out and buy everything we might need for the first few months at our site. Then, we have to pack all this stuff up and figure out which ship we want to put it on. There's a schedule of the ships that come in to Vila and what islands they go to. But they don't keep regular schedules, so you have to call the ship's captain and ask when he thinks he might be there. Then, you take all your now-boxed up stuff down to the wharf at that time and date and pay like 300 vatu a piece to get it loaded onto the ship. But now the fun part: you don't know when the ship is going to get to your island, but somebody has to be there to pick up your stuff when it does. And then, of course, you have to move your stuff somehow from wherever the ship came in to your site.

So...I guess we're just supposed to hire a Ni-Van to meet the ship and help us load the stuff onto a truck and then drive it to our new homes. The Ni-Vans don't know when the ship is going to get there either but they acquire this information by way of the infallible "coconut wireless". Don't scoff: it works.

Anyway, I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to make this move work, but I've been talking to one of the Peace Corps ladies and the former volunteer in Malvasi. Here are some encouraging facts: there are two ships that go to Epi on a weekly basis and both have been rated "reliable" or "highly reliable" by the Peace Corps. The spot the ships de-cargo at on Epi is pretty klosap Malvasi, thus it won't be too far to move to my place. Plus, the Lamen Bay area has been home to many vols in the past and the Peace Corps enjoys a very good reputation in the area, thus lessening the possibility that some of my stuff might get misplaced or even "misplaced" and increasing the already good likelihood that people will want to help me.

I'm not going to be packing a lot of stuff. A lot of people, I think, are going to blow their whole settling in allowance, buying everything from gas burners to extra buckets to obscure cooking implements. I have a different philosophy, however, one that I think many more of my Group 22 comrades may be coming around to. Here it goes: this first move is going to be highly experimental--stuff could easily get lost and I don't want to gamble everything I own on something like that without some extra vatu squirrled away to replace important items. And despite some valuable guidance from my predecessor in Malvasi I don't really have any idea what I'm going to need when I get there--I don't want to spend my vatu on stuff that turns out to be unnecessary. Plus, I don't want to have to move a bunch of stuff because I am--lets face it--fairly lazy.
So, I'm going to buy a few kitchen essentials (a couple plates, silverware, a kettle, buckets and tupperware trays for washing stuff) and a lot of waet man food (peanut butter, powdered milk, tin tuna, other protein bearing stuff) and that's about it. We have our first In-Service Training in late January or early February back in Vila (I can buy more stuff then if I need it). I've decided to set that as my first benchmark: up until then, I'll be more reliant on my host family, I'll eat with them every meal, every day. After that, when my house will probably be finished, I'll become more independent. I'll still eat with them and chill and storian and such, but maybe I'll come back from IST with my own stove and one of those bigfala tanks of propane and I'll start eating some waet man food once or twice a day.

Or something like that. I'll figure it out.
Above is a photo of a typical Peace Corps class. It was held under the mango tree in Samaa.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jared Lives: Shocking New Photographic Evidence!!; Welcome to Emua

Sorry for the long delay in posting pics here. I blame the lack of internet access in Vanuatu. And my own reluctence to use computers/electronic devices since their failures invariably tick me off like almost nothing else can possibly do. Anyway, as evidenced in the above photograph, I'm alive and well. This self-potrait was taken last week, the day we got our site assignments. I'm going to the island of Epi for the next two years, the village of Malvasi (consult your maps--Malvasi may not be on them but its close to Lamen Bay). More on that later.

Here's the view from the beach in front of my host families home. I've been waking up to it every day for the past two months. As you can probably imagine, not even the hundreds of pixels my digital camera can capture can really do this place justice. Visible to the left (in the picture on the right) is the island of Nguna. I took a boat out their one day to visit the medical dispensary way on top of a big hill. It's a pretty awesome place, much like Efate but just a little more rustic. To the right is (I believe, don't quote me) the island of Pele. We had a little going away beach bash there week before last. The mamas made us something called bunia--a dish, like all aelan food--composed mostly or entirely of root crops.

We left our training village (Emua on the northeast coast of Efate island) last week, however, and went to Vila, the capital. The picture below is of their house. The window to the left is (was) my room.

The big water tank in front of my window is where we get our drinking water. The taps are omly used for bathing and washing. I learned all this by doing a community water survey. One of things I may be working on in Malvasi is the water supply.

Below and to the right is a picture of one of Emua's many churches, in this case, the Presbyterian one. Mama blong mi (my host mama) is a wonderful, wonderful woman named Rose (eerily similar to Mama blong mi long Amerika nem blong hem, which, if my Bislama is correct, means America Mom's name). She's a deacon at this church. The family is generally pretty religious. They pray a lot and most of them abstain from smoking, drinking and kava. They go to this church or sometimes the Assemby of God church down the road every Sunday.

The picture below and to the left is of the village Community Center. It's where many of our Peace Corps classes were held. Big community meetings are held here, too. I also intended to out a picture of the village Co-op on here, but evidently I didn't take one. Anyway, It's the town's grocery store. It has many of the essentials of life, including food, personal hygiene stuff (like the Chinese brand deoderant of questionable efficacy that rips up hair and leaves a rash as red and angry as that country's autocratic regime) and fresh fruit of a tropical variety. Also, if you happen to be lucky that day, you might also find some REFRIDGERATED or partially REFRIDGERATED water or even Coke.

Pictured to the left is the nakamal my brother Norman built right on the beach (pictured above, the one in front of our house). A nakamal is a kava bar, where one goes to drink kava. Kava is a strange root or plant or something that grows all over the south Pacific. People grind it up and turn it into a really disgusting green drink. If you can keep this awful brew down it does some pretty cool things to your frontal lobe, like chilling you out and filling you with a warm sense of well-being and uncharacteristic degree of sociability. It is possible to get kava drunk, though, an experience which bears an uncanny resemblance to regular alcohol drunk (though without the hangover). Drinking kava is what guys in Vanuatu do for fun, generally on a daily basis.

Here's a picture of my friend Ryan's host papa. He has a nakamal in his front yard. I have whiled away many an evening there, drinking some of that nasty kava he's holding. His name is George and he makes probably the best kava in town (except, of course, the family kava). There are different varieties and strains of kava from different islands. Every island claims to have the best, but in my personal opinion that accolade properly belongs to Malakula. Drinking kava well is a quick way to earn the respect of local Ni-Van guys and to that end I became the only white man in the town's history to drink a 300 shell at once (they range in size from 50-300).

Below are some pictures of my room at my host families house. Note the Bob Marley theme. I like his music, but in Vanuatu Marley is a god. Lots of people wear Bob Marley shirts or Bob Marley lavalavas (a sort of island skirt thing that doubles as a shawl or blanket). The blue thing over my bed is my mosquito net. We haven't gotten bad mosquitos yet...or much of any at all, actually. They're coming, though. Rainy season starts this month!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Barack; Beer Noodles; Bye

So, this is it: where the rubber meets the road. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Departure day. I'm not nearly as nervous or anxious as I was expecting to be. Of course, it has been 21 months since I began my online Peace Corps application. That's a really long time to get really comfortable with the idea of moving to a nice little hut on the other side of the world. And, as we say in Oklahoma, this ain't exactly my first rodeo: I've left home, by myself, for parts unknown to do a job I knew very little about several times before. Kalyn's campaign, my internship in DC, the midterms, the Obama campaign all qualify. In many ways, this is simply the next logical step.

The truth is, I've been bored out of my skull since the election.

Anyway, I was happy to pass my last night in Oklahoma by watching Barack's speech. I wasn't underwhelmed at all, he was clear, rousing, statesman-like. All in all, I'll be leaving America with a good taste in my mouth...literally, actually, because the other thing I did was fix the mega-fantastic culinary sensation of my own design now sweeping the finest, most stylish cafes and sophisticated ristorantes of Europe: Beer Noodles! I just had to have it one last time before I go.
I invented beer noodles one hot, hungry summer night back in 2006. It was around midnight and I was famished. There was nothing in the kitchen except beer, beef, raman noodles, a thing of fiesta style grated cheese and taco seasoning. So, I combined that unwieldy collection of raw ingredients and turned them into probably the most delicious thing that's ever been cooked. Of course, beer noodles hasn't really caught on yet. It's possible I might be the only one that's ever actually agreed to try it. My roommate at the time refused to even take a bite on the grounds that my imaginative approach to cooking couldn't possibly make up for my utter lack of aptitude and, even were they to be perfectly prepared, beer noodles would still represent a serious health hazard. But only if you believe cholesterol and salt don't promote cardiovascular health (a damn lie, if you ask me).
Anyway, so long and thanks for all the fish! J Kebs out!

Goin' Away Par-tay; The Wedding To End All Weddings; Addressing Congress: Barack's Finest Hour?

Well, we finally had round two of my going away party. It was pretty well attended and it was a lot of fun. I'm just going to upload a few snapshots, letting a picture be worth a thousand words.

To the left, I'm cutting my going away cake. I'm wearing the grass skirt my aunt got me as a joke present and my waterproof Steve Irwin hat. Last night, we had a rainstorm in Oklahoma and I went outside and sat in it with my Steve Irwin hat and my waterproof, convertible-to-shorts pants, to test them out. They worked very well.

The day after my going away party, a good friend of mine named Kalyn Free got married. I originally met Kalyn back in 2004 when I was an intern on her congressional campaign. Since the conclusion of that spirited but ultimately unsuccessful attempt, she has gone on to greener pastures: founding her own political action committee for Native American candidates, becoming an At-large member of the Democratic National Committee and suing Continental Carbon for the awful mess they created near their big sludge plant in Poteau or Pawnee or some other such place. Anyway, when most people get married they throw a wedding. When Kalyn gets married she throws a three ring circus, complete with dazzling special effects and a guest list that's a who's who of Oklahoma politics, including the Lt. Governor Jari Askins and one of the vice-chairs of the Party (I don't know how I got included in this august assemblage).

The groom was Steve Bruner, a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer and a tribal councilman. He arrived at the wedding in a helicopter...yes, a helicopter. To the sound of the "Mission Impossible" theme. I didn't think to take a picture of it, unfortunately. But just when the impression I had somehow stumbled into a "Magnum, P.I." rerun was becoming quite distinct, Kalyn arrived in the conestoga wagon pictured above ("The Bruner Schooner") to make an equally big splash. The vows were mercifully short and followed by a large fireworks display.

The reception following it was pretty fancy. Good food, good folks and (most importantly) free beer and wine.

So, a word about the president's health care reform plan. Barack is giving a big speech tonight to Congress hoping to win over enough votes to get something passed. The issue of health care reform is one that I take very personally and was one of the reasons I went to work for him during the general election. I've been pretty disappointed with his performance on this issue (and others) thus far and I'd like to believe he'll give a great, public-option saving speech tonight, but I'm expecting to be underwhelmed. On a brighter note, at the wedding on Saturday I talked to our old campaign manager from Kalyn's campaign in 2004 because he knows a lot more about such things than I do about health care. I asked him what he thought the chances of the public option's survival and eventual implementation. He surprised me by giving it 55/45 in favor.

Of course, I'm a lefty liberal so I think the public option is absolutely essential for creating real reform. Actual, I'm in favor of the single-payer system, like they have in Britain or Denmark or Spain or Italy. But, maybe real reform will have to be a much more gradual change than I'd like. Maybe he'll get some of what he wants now and come back and get the rest later, perhaps in the second term. Whatever happens, it'll surely be a lot harder without Teddy. And, if anybody can give the great, sea-changing speech we need to salvage this effort, it's Barack.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'm a refugee again; Tyson's exercise program

Well, as pf the 31st I'm officially moved out my apartment. These last ten days--now nine days--I'll pass at mom and dad's in nearby Claremore. Every time I have to move back home for whatever reason I always swear it's the last time. But this time, I really, really for real mean it. (except for when I get home from the Peace Corps; that post-Vanuatu job search will be interminable).

Above is a picture of my now former apartment. It may have been a crappy little efficiency with spiders and other insect infestations and noisy neighbors and the loudest air-conditioning unit this side of 1959, but I'm really going to miss that place. Yes, it was a hovel. Yes, the insect infestations were largely the result of the squalor I myself created with my "relaxed" attitude towards cleanliness and trash disposal. Yes, I expended literally zero effort on interior decorations, so the place had kind of a grim, Soviet-era cinder block apartment feel to it. But, I was very comfortable there. I lived there considerably longer than any other place (not counting mom and dad's). I'll miss it.
I didn't make much of an effort to clean. Sure, I made a good faith showing of mopping and vacuuming and dusting/scrubbing things, but I knew the second I handed over that $300 deposit when I moved in that I would probably never see any of that money ever again, and I made peace with that inevitability a long time ago. Towards the end of thre move, I started throwing stuff away rather than go to the trouble of carrying it to the car. I just left some stuff behind in the apartment on the theory that they'll have to hire somebody to clean the place up before the next resident moves in anyway, those people might as well have to throw stuff away I didn't have time for, too (I also left half a bottle of vodka behind to soften the blow).

In other parents have two dogs. One of them is a pug named Tyson. Tyson is a strange dog. He has many undesireable traits and bad habits: he's ugly, fat, cowardly, abysmally stupid, shamelessly sycophantic. He's also pretty much deaf. And I seriously think he's coming down with some kind of doggy schizophrenia--he periodically barks or growls at the sky (he's like a reverse watch-dog: when he barks we know nobody is there because if a stranger was really approaching, Tyson would be cowering in the dog igloo).

Of that laundry list of problems, I'm concerned with the obesity. He's nearly twice the normal, healthy weight of a pug and he pants constantly, even when he hasn't been exercising. So, I've decided to whip him into shape before I go. Today, we took our first walk around the neighborhood. We walked around a new development that just went up a short ways down Old 88 from my parents' house. As you can see, we encountered a nice little pond with a fountain thing out in the middle of it.

Really, the only form of exercise Tyson seems to enjoy and is willing to do regularly is swimming, so I thought we'd head over to the pond for a closer look.

Tyson didn't need any encouragement. He jumped right in before I could even get the leash off of him. He just waded through all the bushes and plants right next to the shore, launched himself in and took a quick little swim, lapping up water as he doggy-paddled (as is his custom in the pool, as well.

I was afraid he might run into a snake or swim clear to the other side and then go thrashing off into the underbrush, forcing me to chase after him. I don't know why I ever thought that. He never goes crashing off into anything.

I think he had a good time. And I think this is a much healthier way for him to lose weight than that doggy weight loss solution mom has started dropping into his mouth every day (I wish I was kidding about that: I think the vet saw Tyson's morbid obesity as a ticket to a cool $80 profit).

Monday, August 31, 2009

"The Churchills Already Did It"

Once upon a time, a very good writer wrote a very good biography of Winston Churchill called "The Last Lion". As I was reading it, I discovered to my delight a passage relating to Vanuatu. I include it here not because it has any specific bearing on what I'm going to be doing, but merely because it is very well written and adds a tantalizing taste of atmosphere to what otherwise might just be a couple of white blobs in the middle of a lot of blue on the map.

In March of 1938, as Hitler was preparing his Anschluss against Austria and Europe was preparing for the self-immolation that would soon follow, Clementine Churchill went on vacation by herself. One of her destinations was the South Pacific.

"At about this time, Clementine left civilization, put away the needlework, turned away from her family photographs, and forgot her straightlaced upbringing. The Rosura was headed for the most exotic islands in the world: Borneo, the Moluccas...the New Hebrides [now Vanuatu]. 'This is the genuine article!' she wrote in a euphoric burst, 'uncharted [sic] seas, unexplored territory, stark naked savages.'"....(we'll forgive her the "savages" remark, remembering she was born in 1885...."Clementine was in the presence of danger. That included physical danger; at one point she became separated from the rest of the party, lost in an almost impenetrable patch of dense tropical jungle; she was soaked in a sudden rainstorm, terrified of the lizards and snakes around her, her screams unheard until the yacht's second officer came crashing through the undergrowth to rescue her. She wrote: 'I almost kissed him.'" (pg. 262-263)

As Manchester notes, Clemmie was in a kissing mood. Understandable for a woman who was married to a man that, despite the dazzling genius and overwhelming brilliance he showed in other areas, possessed a libido that was deader than the British Empire. And so, Clemmie fell in love:

"The setting conspired against her. Cruising through tropical seas, past lush, nameless islands heavy with the scent of exotic flowers, she felt transported." (pg. 263)

Anyway, long story short, she met a younger man, a wealthy art dealer, and fell briefly in love. She soon returned to Winston and we should all be grateful she did: without her support, he might not have been able to almost single-handedly save western civilization.

But, all in all, in sounds like she had the experience of a lifetime down there.

A few years after Clemmie wrapped up her vacation, my Papa--grandpa on mom's side--joined the Navy and took a very different tour of the South Pacific. He served on a Haskell class amphibious transport, the USS Magoffin PA-199, pictured here. The Magoffin was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Papa didn't fall in love with any wealthy art dealers or get drunk on the scent of exotic flowers, but--in between getting shot at by the Emperor's finest--he did get drunk on island beer, which he reports is quite strong. He and his Navy buddies took shore leave on Vanuatu, as it was still a British-French colony in those days, and nearby New Caledonia. He told me a story about walking outside the city one time with a group of friends. It was immediately obvious once they left "civilization", as the roads became rougher and the jungle closed in. One time, he and his buds got hassled by a barefoot, French-speaking cop on a olde timey 1940s motorcycle.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Marching orders (finally!) and my Steve Irwin hat, revisited

So, last week, I finally got some more specific info on what exactly is happening with pre-service training (PST).

After a quick, day long orientation in LA, I and 40 of my new friends will board a flight to Port Villa, via Auckland, New Zealand. It's a REALLY long flight. We'll be leaving on the 11th and arriving on the 13th (I guess we lose a day in there somewhere owing to the timezones). We'll stay in Port Villa for a few days, I gather, before being split up amongst four communities on the north coast of Efate Island for most of our training. We'll be staying with host families for the duration of the two months or so PST. Much of our training will be in groups, but some of it will be self-directed and all of it will be hands-on.

After that, presumably we'll all again be split up and sent to our work sites. I'm assuming its going to be pretty much one vol per village, but they've eluded to a new practice of "clustering" vols of different specialties in the same area to better combine resources and efforts, etc. So, I might not be far away from other Americans. And, I understand that Australia and New Zealand and possibly Britain have their own versions of the Peace Corps that have active vols somewhere in the country. According to my information, all Peace Corps vols operate in Shefa and Penama provinces.

My little adopted niece, Destiny Marie Stiles, was kind enough to model my Steve Irwin hat for us. I think she's just about as cute as she can be! She and her sister, Jayden, and their parents (my best friends Jason and April Stiles) came up for a visit and a swim in the freezing cold water of my parents backyard pool.

Name That Blog!

So, the first task for any aspiring blogger is, of course, to name one's blog.

All the other Peace Corps Vanuatu blogs I've read seemed to have rather conventional names (i.e. "Joe Smith's Peace Corps Adventure", etc.). So, me being me, I decided it was vital to think of an original name that was short, witty and--if possible--that rhymes. And that is Peace Corps related. And that in some way relates to me or my characteristics. And that is also a play on words.

Well, that turned out to be a pretty tall order. I eventually settled on Vatu For My Thoughts (the vatu being the currency of my future home), but here are some other ideas that didn't quite make the cut.

1. "My Toilet Flushes Backwards!!" (referencing the coriolis effect--this was definitely my second favorite)
2. "The Corps-iolis Effect"
3. "I'd 'Sooner' Be in Vanuatu" (because I'm a Boomer Sooner from Oklahoma, even though
I'm an OSU fan)
4. "Give Peace A Chance" (trusting John Lennon's estate not to sue)
5. "Southern Exposure" (does anybody remember "Northern Exposure"?)

And others, equally idiotic.

Anyway, as I write this it is 11 days until orientation in LA!

Above, is a recent picture of me in my brand new, waterproof Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter hat. It may not look it, but the salesman assured me it's very stylish for the swashbuckling, globe-trotting adventurer set. Very cutting edge stuff, really. Or not. As long as it keeps the sun out of my face and the torrential downpour out of my eyes, though, I'll be a satisfied customer.

The following item is unrelated to my upcoming Peace Corps service, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the recent death of a great American, Senator Edward Kennedy. A passionate advocate for social justice, Ted Kennedy, I fear, is an irreplaceable loss to the Senate and the country. In 2005, while an intern in DC, I was fortunate enough to briefly meet him and have my picture taken.