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!!