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!

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.