Sunday, November 8, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
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.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
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.
Or something like that. I'll figure it out.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
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
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
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.
In other news...my 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.
Monday, August 31, 2009
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
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.
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)