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!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part Three

After a great week in Nambwaranyut with Alex and Lucas, I was ready to move on.
I spent all night by myself on the beach waiting for the Brisk to come back through. As I've probably mentioned on this blog before, nothing--ships, planes, community meetings, not even church services--moves on a set schedule here. All is subject to the vagaries of "island time". If a Ni-Van tells you to meet him somewhere at 3 pm, you shouldn't ever show up at 3 pm. If you do that, you'll be waiting around on him for a few hours, hopefully in relative comfort beneath the shade of a nearby tree. The implication of island time is that this entire country operates on a gross approximation. When someone tells you to be somewhere at 3 pm, he or she could mean 4 pm or 5 pm or 6 pm or maybe even 2 pm. But you can be certain he doesn't mean 3 pm.
So, when I called the Brisk and they told me they would reach my area "this afternoon or early evening", I didn't even leave for the beach until half past midnight. And I still ended up sleeping on the beach all night by myself. The Brisk eventually showed up around 5:30 am. If you'll consult the map, you can follow the course we took from Nambwaranyut to Laone, Ryan's village.

Ryan works at school of sorts. Its not really a school, though, more like a vocational training center. Young Ni-Vans receive training in mechanics and hospitality and the like. Pictured here is Ryan's living room and the chicken coop he had built for his chicken project (I'll let you determine which is which). Ryan lives in what I contemptuously refer to as a "white man house". You'll note the concrete construction, ample shelf space and--most damning of all--ample electricity.

Here's Ryan and his dog Bear. The other picture is Sara Airport (visible on our map). It's virtually identical to both airports on Epi.

While I was in Laone, I went to the nakamal and drank kava with some of Ryan's male relatives (girls aren't allowed to drink kava, not an uncommon proscription in this country). I was eager to try Pentecost kava because they prepare it differently than back home. As you can see from the photograph, this man is grinding up the kava with some coral stone from the beach, as opposed to pounding it with a big bar like on Epi or grinding it was a metal machine like on Efate. I had never sampled that kind of kava before.

And here I am drinking a shell. Despite all the hype and boasting, I didn't think it was any stronger than the stuff I drink back in Malvasi. This is further proof that the strength of kava is most directly effected not by the method of preparation but by how much water is added during preparation.

Oh, an here's a picture of Lucas coming back from their garden. What a great view, huh?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part 2

Like many Peace Corps volunteers, Alex and Lucas' home is blessed with a picturesque setting amidst the rugged wilderness of northern Pentecost. Their house is actually perched at the edge of a heavily forested cliff that sort of gradually rolls down into the sea. The picture with the ship in it is the view from their front yard. The ship is the MV Tina I, sister ship of the Brisk and reputedly the nicest one in the Vanuatu merchant fleet. I've never been on it but it certainly looks bigger than Brisk. The other picture is the view from Alex and Lucas' latrine (or "smol haos" in Bislama). That's right, whenever you have to "make a deposit" down at the "office", you have this breathtaking view of the ocean and distant Maewo.

This is a picture of Alex's work site, Tari Ilo Dispensary. Her counterpart is a nurse there and Alex works with her on a regular basis. Dispensaries in Vanuatu are the most advanced medical care and the largest health facilities people in the outer islands have access to. It's not like health care back home. There usually aren't trained doctors or sometimes even nurses at outer island dispensaries. I'm not sure what the level of training there is, but on Epi the health center is over seen by a guy who--I think--has had some nurse training but certainly wouldn't qualify as an RN back home.

Here's what I look like these days. My hair is still really blond and my beard is starting to get a little out of control again (I'm going to try to find some beard trimming scissors or something while I'm here in Vila) and I broke my other pair of glasses. The nice thing about winter is that I don't have to walk around shirtless all the time anymore which is good because having to do so is embarrassing for skinny dudes like me. Winter in the tropics, I've discovered, is my ideal climactic zone: spring-like in the day, early to mid-fall-like in the evenings. Some rain but no more Biblical floods. And with the humidity summering in the northern hemisphere--primarily in Oklahoma, I suspect--it no longer feels like I live on the surface of Venus.
One day in Pentecost, we bought our lunch at the local market. Mine came with a surprise: a chicken foot, still clenched in pain from being hacked off by someone's bush knife (just kidding...probably). I elected to give the foot to Alex and Lucas' cat instead of eating it myself, but the "Oh, Vanuatu..." moment it provided me was far more delicious than any cut of meat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Weeks on Pentecost: Part One

One of the really great things about being in the Peace Corps is having almost absolute freedom to do whatever you want (as long as whatever you want doesn't require electricity or internet access). Another great thing about Peace Corps service is that it takes place within a sprawling, primeval wilderness, ripe for exploration and adventure. So, back in May I decided I would take advantage of these unique life circumstances and go for a little vacation.

Pentecost (if you'll consult your Vanuatu map) is the large, skinny island up north. Three of my very favorite Peace Corps volunteers are stationed there: Alex & Lucas and Ryan. My plan was simple and deliciously open-ended and spontaneous. Really, my plan was to not make a plan. But the general idea was I'd take a ship up to visit Alex & Lucas first for an unspecified amount of time and then go visit Ryan (mode of transportation unspecified) for another unspecified amount of time.

Alex and Lucas' site is near Nambwarangiut on the northern part of the island. You'll note the lack of roads in the general vicinity. It's a clump of little villages in the middle of the jungle, as cut off from civilization as you can get apart from Antarctica (an adventure destination my intrepid friends have actually called home as well, but that's another story).

Alex and Lucas had been in Vila for a few weeks doing PC training and such. They elected to take a rain check on the Peace Corps plane ticket in favor of the MV Brisk, the same cargo ship I took back to Epi after my own training in February. I jumped on the Brisk when it reached Lamen Bay. The guy in the picture is Lucas. He's a few years older than me and a native of Ohio. Before joining the Peace Corps, he worked at the American Antarctica base (living "on the ice" in the local parlance). He's a business volunteer, an avid gardner and an accomplished chef.

The ride on the Brisk wasn't nearly as unpleasant as last time. As you can tell from the picture of Lucas, we sat up near the bridge this time instead of down below in the filthy sardine can hold. There's was a nice breeze and considerably more leg room. The 18 hour trip from my island to theirs flew by. Early on in the voyage, we had a rather spectacular view of mighty Lopevi, a volcano just off the coast of my island whose fearful blast radius would easily encompass my little hut.
Also pictured is Alex. She and Lucas are newlyweds. They met on a hiking trail somewhere in the US South, fell in love and did a stint "on the ice" together in Antarctica. Alex is a health volunteer like me. She is also an avid gardener and an accomplished chef. She's very cheerful and funny and she reminds me of my Aunt Nancy.

Here's a picture of Alex and Lucas in their home. As you can see, it's made of the same stuff as my hut except they have nice concrete floors.