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!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jared's Thanksgiving: Murder Most Fowl

On Thanksgiving, me, Amy and Chris assembled at the house of two married Peace Corps volunteers in nearby Lamen Bay. Their names are Pierce and Hannah. They're from Georgia and they're very nice. They both work at Epi High School. In Vanuatu, teachers are generally provided with on campus housing, so they live in a white man house and enjoy electricity part of the day. Pierce works in the computer lab, so he has access to a bunch of computer games and movies, though no internet.

Hannah is a rather accomplished cook. She'd promised to make chicken and dumplings for Christmas, that being one of my favorite dishes back home. So, Thanksgiving dawned brightly with the promise of white man food for the first time in what, by that point, had only been a few weeks. That morning, a Ni-Van from the school showed up with a bag. Full of chickens. There was a hole in one corner, and one of the chickens' heads was sticking out. He kept looking around and making noises and blibking his eyes.

"Oh, wow, how generous!" I must've gushed. "A new pet chicken! What a thoughtful early Christmas present from our new friends at Epi High!"

"No," she perhaps replied slowly. "That chicken's not here to live. He's here to die. And you're the one that's going to kill him."

Of course, historical purist would allege--correctly--that the conversation about the chicken didn't bear the slightest resemblance to the above dialogue. But I've decided to take some artistic license here to make it more interesting.

Anyway, there were two chickens and as the men of the holiday, it of course fell to Chris and I to kill those birds. Chris and I discussed several methods of execution. I wanted to chop its head off with my bush knife, but that idea was discarded as too messy. I now realize the wisdom of that objection, as my bush knife wasn't very sharp. We talked about drowning it or burning it, but those ideas were dismissed as too cruel, gassing it too impractical. Finally, we settled on the Ni-Van Method: grabbing the bird by its head and snapping its neck. That's what I'm trying to do in the above photo.

The murder of Chris' bird went off without a hitch. Mine...well, let's just say I hope PETA never gets wind of the tale I'm about to unfold.

As pictured above, I tried, diligently and with much enthusiasm, to slay the bird with a simple snap of the neck. I had to reach in to the bag and grasp his neck before whipping him and swinging him around like a mace. His head was really warm in my hands and I could feel him blinking on my palm. In retrospect, I wasn't using the correct, neck-snapping motion. But at the time, we all thought he was dead. Just to be sure, though, Hannah's neighbor--a Ni-Van presumably skilled in the art of chicken-killing--picked up the bird's--we thought--lifeless body and delivered a couple of karate chops to his back. He assured us this would ensure the bird's death. We now know this Ni-Van was as full of sit sit as the poor bird's intestines proved to be after we removed them later that afternoon and fed them to the pigs.
So, Hannah and I put the bird down and started defeathering him. His head was purple and on backwards. He'd have to be the Rasputin of the chicken world to survive all that. And indeed, it wasn't long before I saw some motion that oddly resembled respiration, faint but increasing.
"Hey, I think this beast is still alive!"
"Yes, that does look sort of like--"
Hannah never got the chance to finish that sentence because before she could, the chicken leapt up--it's head still on backwards and hanging at an unnatural angle--and, with a sqwak of rage, came charging right at me.
I didn't have to resort to any poetic license with that part of the story. Believe it or not, that's actually how it happened. You may be asking yourself if I have any moral qualms about torturing and murdering an innocent chicken just so I could have a delicious Thanksgiving meal. The answer to that question is an unqualified no. First of all, chickens are not innocent. They're sqwaking, pooping, abysmally stupid disease bags that crap all over my front "yard" and wake me up at 4:30 in the morning with all that incessant caw-caw business.
Plus, they were both delicious.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Random Pic Posting

Some more pics of the ceremony that necessitated the slaughter of the pig pictured in the previous post. One guy from Malvasi knocked up a girl from a different village and so she came to Malvasi to live with him. They didn't get married, though, they had some kind of intermediate arrangement. Anyway, we had a big ceremony. The guy in the outlandish get-up (skull cap, etc) is the new father--or soon-to-be father, I wasn't clear which--as they march him around. I don't know why he has to wear that costume and--oddly--neither did the Ni-Vans I talked to. There were gifts afterwards and loud string band music.
The plane pictured is the one we took from Epi to Vila on Saturday. It was really, really small. I was right behind the cockpit.

Trouble in Paradise; Jared's Thumb Assumes A Distinctly Greenish Hue; Happiness is a Sharpened Bush Knife; I Do My Laundry "In A Pan Down By The River

Okay, things are getting tougher here in Malvasi. I'm not going to lie or sugar-coat it. I've had a rough couple of weeks. But, of course, this is what I was expecting and indeed is part of the reason I joined the Peace Corps. I was beginning to worry that this was going to be too easy, so in that sense its quite a relief that the sit sit has finally hit the fan (pronounced: seet seet, I'll let you guess what it's Bislama for).

Pictured above is the view from my beach. The island is Lamen Island. Another Group 22 volunteer lives there, Amy from Arizona. The mist shrouded island in the distance there is Ambrym. A Group 22 vol named Alisha lives there. There are two volcanos on Ambrym, one pronounced Ben-Bo. Sometimes you can see them glowing at night.

Anyway, things are getting tougher. When I first arrived, I hit the ground running and I was walking all over town, meeting people and shaking hands and it was great. I was drinking and making kava and cutting ribbons and it just felt like I had a lot of momentum built up. It was fantastic. But that sort of feeling can't last and indeed several small complaints and setbacks conspired to shut it down. I'll tell you about a few of them.

This is a picture of the bush behind Malvasi. Up there somewhere is our gardens.

I got sick. I'm going to tell you all about it, confident that you won't overreact and worry yourselves into early graves or something (Mom) and that you will keep in mind that I survived, I treated myself, I didn't lose my head, I got help and--most importantly--I now have an immunity to that virus. But to tell you about this frustration, I must first tell you about another frustration.

Above is a picture of a pig they slaughtered for a ceremony in Malvasi.

We're having a water shortage. It finally rained the day I left for Vila--Saturday--there hadn't been a really big rain before that. So rainy season has been really late, which means the water supply is kind of low since in Malvasi--long story--we're dependent on rain water to drink, for the moment (there are other supplies in nearby villages should worse come to worst, though). So, I'm getting all my water out of a single well that is getting pretty low. Then one day, a kid decides to drop a disgusting, recently eaten corncob down into the well. By the next day, I had a temperature of 103 degrees and with bloody sit sit wota (diareeha, however you spell it) every twenty minutes. This went on for two days. Then, there was like a week of just regular sit sit wota. Oh, and agonizing stomach cramps. No worries, I just popped on the old sat phone and talked to a nice Peace Corps doctor who told me to grin and bear it and drink lots of water for God's sake.

Anyway, I don't want to sit here and complain. A letter to mom and dad is headed back to America where I complain in much more detail and vent and everything. I don't need to do it here. Anyway, I've got Peace Corps buddies for that, too.

I have a garden of my own, in which I have planted corn, island cabbage, three bananna trees and watermelon. I'm planning on buying a lot of seeds for other things while I'm here in Vila and planting them: carrots, tomatoes, onions, who knows what else. I go up to the garden sometimes to weed, usually with Jerry Gila and Simion or Enna. I have a picture of my garden included here.

And, no, that isn't Don Knotts holding a bush knife, it's me. I've just lost some weight. Not intentionally, of course, but it does tend to happen when you have bloody sit sit wota for any length of time. Also, I've been doing a lot of swimming (about 40 minutes a day) and I haven't been compensating with enough extra food. My drop in weight, while not precipitous and hardly the potentially cataclysmic health hazard it would've been only a few short years ago, is very demoralizing and I've felt very bad about it for a while. But, following the example of our intrepid president with his beleagured health care bill, I've decided to redouble my efforts to reverse this troubling development. I'm going to buy a ton of carb and protein-bearing foods here in Vila and ship them back to the island (oatmeal, pasta, cans of tuna and chicken, peanut butter, etc.) and I'm going to make an extra hard push to eat as much laplap and simboro and every other kind of island food until I'm back up to where I need to be, indeed not until I'm above that. I'll hit 65 kilos before my two years is up or die in the attempt. I don't care if I have to eat every dog in's going to get done.

I'm not wearing a shirt in the first place because its WAY too hot to be self-conscious.

On to more pleasant subjects. One of the consequences of the water shortage is that I have to do my laundry (and occassionally wash my body) in the river near Malvasi. It's not as bad as it sounds. Actually, once the Ni-Vans assured me there weren't any dangerous creatures living in the sometimes murky depths, I started to enjoy it. So, here is a picture of the river. The road that leads to my garden passes over it, quite picturesquely, I think you'll agree.

Welcome to Malvasi

Well, I've emerged from the steamy jungle depths for another period of basking in the sunny glow of civilization: electricity, internet, flushing toilets, white man food, refridgerated goods, etc. How I missed them all. I'll update my blog briefly now because I'm tired and sweaty and I don't really feel like it.

Anyway, above is a picture of me and my host family on Christmas Day. We're sitting in front of my house. On the left is my host papa. His name is Simion (pronounced SIM-ee-uhn). As you can see, he's not too much older than me. He's pretty cool and we actually have several interests in common. He's very curious about science and technology. We've had several long conversations about the space program and volcanos and earthquakes. He was fascinated to learn that we're supposed to go back to the Moon in 2020 and Mars in 2030. I didn't have the heart to explain the giant monkey wrench the global financial meltdown was likely to throw into these plans. I figured out how to explain about air locks in Bislama. Simion also stood for Parliament once back in the 90s as a UMP (United Moderate Party) candidate. He lost, but I think that may not have been his last campaign (fingers crossed!).

To the right is my little brother, Jerry Gila. I call him "Gila Monster". He's pretty cool. He's in the first grade and we actually have some things in common, as well. He loves white man food, especially white man food that's loaded with sugar (just like me when I was his age). He's also very, very stubborn or "hemi gat strong hed tumas", as we say in Bislama.

The woman on the end is my host mamma, Enna. She's also cool. She sometimes goes to the gardens with me (as does Jerry Gila). I have some pictures of that I'll upload later. She taught me how to cook some island food and wash my clothes in the river and all sorts of things. Her father was an MP but he died tragically on the floor of Parliament in 2000. She comes from a nearby village called Yapuna.

The picture to the left is my living room. I have a kastom house--which means a house built out of local materials, like bamboo and...I don't know, things of that nature. I didn't build it I just live there. It's filled with dust all the time because the reeds catch dust in the wind or something. But its much, much cooler than a tin-roofed white man house, which is what I lived in back in the training village.
The other picture is of the nakamal (pronounced: knock-uh-mall). It means meeting house. In Vila, it means the place you go to drink kava. This one is near the beach and is where large meetings are held.

Above, is a picture of the beach in Malvasi. Its like twenty feet away from my house. Pictured here is one of the ships that comes by every week. Its called the Kawale (pronounced COW-wuh-lay). It delivers people and cargo and carries away stuff the people in Malvasi harvest or maufacture and sell in Vila, like kava or copra (a product of coconuts that's used in the manufacture of vegetable oil).

The other picture is of my about to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of a new classroom built with a grant from the EU. One of my predecessors wrote that grant a few years ago. The classroom was at a school called Yevali, about a 45 minute walk from Malvasi. As the local white man/Peace Corps representative, I had the honor of giving a brief speech and then cutting the ribbon. It was fun and the kava afterwards wasn't half bad.