Sunday, November 25, 2007

I didn't make the crossing

I’m on the verge of a complete melt down. Today I shouted at a trainee as she walked through a session that was going on. She was the third one to do so and it was totally inappropriate for her and the others. I truly believe that the young people in this training group are some of the rudest people I have ever met but I was wrong to have yelled. The truth is I’m in very bad mental shape. I really want to stay in Vanuatu and the Peace Corps but I am losing a battle with my fear of failure, fear of isolation, lack of quality sleep and lack of intimacy. I don’t see how I can get any of that on Epi. The place is just too remote, has such a lack of hygiene and I will have no one to relate to. I have a strong desire to stay here in Mangaliliu and pick up for a volunteer that was medically separated this week. The project here is one that I have keen interest in. It is working on the World Heritage classification for the site of Chief Roi Mata who some four hundred years ago lived, died and was buried all in this area. He is credited with creating the totem system of clan marriage for Vanuatu and a great peace maker. Any if I can talk the country director into giving me the opportunity it will have several distinct advantages. One I have a very good relationship with my host family who are very prominent and with the chief already. I have a positive reputation in the village, it is a job I can do and would like to do and it is just a thirty to forty minute ride into Vila. While I’m not overly taken with Vila at least it offers a semblance of civilization which means perhaps meeting a woman to be close to and a individuals to have a good level of intellectual stimulation with.
If I don’t get the chance I may not stay. I have been battling health issues. I am on the mend but have had all at once pink eye, three infections on my legs and a rather nasty scrap on my leg from slipping while trying to help push a truck. I may well have hurt my chances because my out burst was witnessed by the head of the training staff. I did have a discussion earlier with the PCMO (medical officer) and told her my problems.
I am just not dealing with this very well. I may find myself in the US shortly.


This is a day when my systems are not altogether is an agreement. The conflict is over staying in Vanuatu and doing the job and the growth I have longed to do for sometime. That is the desire of my heart. I feel that I can do so much and grow but my mind and body are telling me to go home.
Thanksgiving night the trainees had planned for a feast to share our holiday with our family but unfortunately an old man (a former chief from the island across from us) died. So the wailing started and the plans had to be adjusted. We had our dinner in the office. Everyone created wonderful dishes. It was fairly typical. Lots of food devoured fairly quickly and then TV, in this case a DVD of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. The twenty-somethings dominate the atmosphere of the group. I stayed and watched but then more juvenile crap was proposed. I headed home. I read for a short while and then went to sleep. At about 11PM I awoke shriving uncontrollably. Struggled out of bed to put on some clothes. That didn’t help. After fifteen minutes of that I struggled next to my family’s house and asked for some help. They went and got one of the trainers and they drove up to the office. While sat in the back seat with my mama rubbing chest they called the PC nurse Jane. I was taken back to my hut given Tylenol and told to change to a lighter shirt and stay in bed except for toilet privilege. The shriving subsided but the fever was high. I had fitful sleep throughout the night. In the morning I was visited and checked by Christina (head of training) she then called Jane again and I was put on antibiotics because my left leg is hot, red and swollen. This is a result of some small scratch, or puncture that I got while on a hike through the bush about ten days ago. I thought I had taken care of it but obviously not. So in the last week I’ve had pink eye, three infections in my legs, one which has returned and now has spread up my leg and of course a slip which resulted in a huge scrap on my leg. So my body wants out of here.
What about my mind? Well I found the site that I was to be sent to totally unlivable. I have said this all before. People old, hygiene intolerable, sleep close to impossible, facilities abandoned and my supposed home in total disrepair. I had a talk with the country director on Wednesday. I told him I wanted to stay in Vanuatu but I could go back to Epi. He agreed and proposed the island across from there, Paama. I was enthused despite the fact that my first desire to replace a volunteer here at Mangaliliu was rejected. The day before I had yelled at several trainees after a third one had just walked right through a training session several of us were in. The juvenile behavior exhibited by most of these people irritates me. I am on edge a great deal by it. While I understand a certain level revelry there are too many instances of rudeness and disrespect. I know to that they are under the same pressures as me but please. When I am frustrated and have no other outlet I get cranky and occasionally snap. It is good but it is me. And so here I am in a bad state of mind. My mind tells go home. It isn’t going to get any better. There must be something else you can do to satisfy your needs.
Friday morning I struggled to the public phone so I could call Keri and Kevin on their Thanksgiving. I was weak and sick. In just a few minutes I could say so little. I had had thoughts that it might be the last I would ever speak to them again.
I had some care given be by my family and one volunteer Jacki who is 72 and is embarking on her second tour with the Peace Corps. Yet here I am sitting in the Peace Corps office having just spoken with Jane, the nurse and said just get me a ticket home.

It's Monday here in Vanuatu. On Thursday night I awoke with uncontrollable shivers. I tried to stop them by putting on clothes, but after 15 min I had to stumble to the host family's house and ask for help. I was driven up to the Peace Corps office. A call was made to the medical officer, an Australian nurse, she told them to get my clothes off and give me Tylenol and put me to bed. It took nearly a day to break the fever. It was caused by an infection in my leg. Another day later my left leg is very red, swollen and very sore. I called this morning and made a choice that despite my heart and desire, my body and mind are telling me to come home and do something different. So now I am in a hotel in Vila, have a triple cocktail of antibiotics (including one in the butt-2 times a day). I have TV, room service, AC, hot shower, phone and internet. I'm on bed rest for a few days until the infection comes down. Then they'll send me back to the US on the first available flight.
I'm sad but at a place of resolve.

The nurse told me I probably be her for a week. That’s until Sunday and then I’ll fly home via Auckland NZ or Fiji. I’m practically confined to my bed except for the bathroom and I went down stairs for breakfast but have room service otherwise. It ain’t terrible, I have a bit of cable TV, slow net access, AC, hot shower and room service w/ a small frig full of drinks. Alcohol is verboten on the heavy antibiotic cocktail I’m on. One more shot in the butt tonight but I’ll be taking them for a while. The flight will be a 24 hr ordeal. So although my leg will be swollen and red and I’ll have pressure stocking on I should be able to get back OK. I may try to cash in my ticket in NZ or Fiji and an extra bit to stay for a couple of days. Not sure if that will work or not. I’m here. Might as well see some place else.
I’m OK mentally not except I’m ready to move on. The entire training came into town to see me yesterday. I had left the training village in the morning when they were all over on a small island. It was very nice. Several remarked how good I looked now despite my leg. I have the world of doubt fear and concern off my shoulders.

Friday, November 16, 2007

To Epi and back

It’s Saturday morning. I’ve been awake since 5 AM. Heard singing and guitar playing it seemed all night. There is a big fundraiser and talent show for the community today. Unfortunately I’ll miss it as I leave for my one week wokabaot to Epi at 11 AM. I love Mangaliliu but I’m tires of training. Tired of most of the other trainees too. That in itself is a reoccurring theme. Most of them are so immature and seem to never have done a real days work in their lives. I count no more than six or seven that I would trust my life too. I only hope that they will grow from their approaching experience. Perhaps I am too hard in my expectations. But I have seen too many of them sleep through the most important trainings. Health and safety in particular. I know they too desire to get on with it.
On Wednesday in Vila the RTC trainees visited the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s nursery. Very important in that forestry for timber (especially sandalwood) has a real future I for the Ni Van’s. They can receive seedlings for free and are given instruction for planting. The problem will be getting them to see that it is a long range project. Seven, ten, fifteen years. Why do that when they can plant kava and in two to three years have vatu (money).
After the nursery we went to the Kava Store. It is more than just a store. It is a processing plant for more than just kava. Its run by Charlie Longbau, a Tonkinese (Vietnamese) who gave an excellent talk on the value of processing, packaging and export of local resources. This includes a nut tree that from which the fruit could be used for feed stock, the shell for particles board and the nut for both eating as well as medicinal purposes. It’s apparently an excellent joint lubricant and thus good for arthritis.
Thursday was the day after Halloween and the trainees created a celebration for the children of Mangaliliu. Face painting (which I did), carved pumpkins (also did one), a shark piñata which was wildly popular and of course candy for trick or treating. I stationed myself on the end of a bench under the big community mango. I had natural mango candy from the Kava Store. Suddenly I had about twenty hands thrust at me. I was in a crush. It felt like the first time I was Santa Claus at Lum School and the children rushed at me. I know how a rock star must feel as fans try to get a piece of them. I controlled the children. Told them “wan nomo”, one only. I also made any effort to teach them to say, “trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something’s good to eat”. Some got it too. At the end of the event when darkness had fallen I noticed an array of candy wrappers on the ground. I asked the children to pick them up and put them in a plastic bag I held. They willing did so with great enthusiasm and the next morning the area was very clean. These are the most beautiful people.
Yesterday afternoon I went for a short swim in the ocean (where else). When I returned a big meeting was taking place. The Minister of Lands and some ex-pats who are trying for their big land grab had come with a live pig in the back of a pickup and some other trinkets. A shallow effort at “kastom”. I was sitting in front of my hut when the chief and his wife walked by. I said hello and the next thing I knew I was involved in a two hour toktok with him. He drank kava and we philosophized about land, people and greed. He had walked out of the meeting. It forced a delay and the Minister of Land left. The delay affords the opportunity to have an attorney look over a twenty six point memorandum of understanding. Some of the villagers just want the quick money for a seventy-five year lease. They aren’t looking to the long range effects this will have on their community. They don’t understand that once a gated community or a resort is put in next door to them, those people will not want chickens, dogs and pigs running loose with their accompanying noise and the burning of bush and trash. This community will be moved right on out with the gentrification. Land is real. The people need only walk outside and gather food. Almost everything they need is right here. They practice “appropriate technology”. They pay no mortgages, no taxes on their land, no income tax, no sales tax. If they give up their land they and their children and their children’s children will be renting in slums, paying for rice, sugar and tin meat. They need education so they can understand the motive of others, the outcomes of their actions and can determine their own future. In other words, critical thinking skills.

Sunday afternoon on Epi. I am sitting at the beach of Moriu village. It is home to something around one hundred and sixty people from three tribes. The Mapuna, Ren and Kunaria. I just took a short walk south along the road. “The Road”. The only road around the island. I went as far as a recent mud slide. I had an escort of two boys (they had been told to follow me). One is Moses, the twelve year old son of the brother of the chief. The chief is my host. His name is Paramasul and I am to call him Pururvi (brother in the local language). His brother is Phillip Martin. After church where I was introduced, given a mat, and shook hands with everyone I was invited to the nakamal to meet and eat with several men including the Elder Joshua who had come to lead the day’s sermon. Joshua questions me about the PCV killed on Erromango. We carried on for sometimes. It turns out he is an old school chum of Chief Mormor from Mangaliliu. I told him of the recent storian I had with Chief MorMor and land doings. More storian. I talked about my family, California (drew a very large map on the ground), solar and wind power and more. A few of the other men asked questions but it was primarily Joshua and me.
Arrival here yesterday was a shock. For the first time I wasn’t quite sure about my coming to Vanuatu. They flight from Vila to Epi was over several islands and included one stop on Ambrym. The crew of the eighteen passenger Twin Otter was Aussie or Kiwi and they gave the shortest preflight instructions possible. “We’re taking off, read the card”. The flight was fine. It was great to look down and see the islands and see the road to Mangaliliu. There are three trainees flying along with one woman PCV all ready living there. We are met by another woman PCV that has also been on the island for four months and an Aussie volunteer. Then I’m approached by the chairman of the RTC where I am to be sited. His name is Andrew and he has a truck waiting for us. The five Peace Corps personnel climb into the back of the pickup with our cargo. First we drop off one off Evelyn (a trainee from our group) and the volunteer who lives closest to her in Laamen Bay. Then we head on down the roughest road you can imagine. Really its two deep wheel ruts that are constantly breaking up. We pick up three young Ni-Van men. We dropped one off at a medical complex with a package that may have been medical supplies. We drive through the jungle. down steep inclines and finally past the RTC campus. Total driving time with two stops maybe thirty minutes. So far so good.
The third stop was my final destination. The pickup pulled along side a rock wall and I stepped down from the truck and was immediately great by a bearded white haired man with a quite strange look in his eyes. He emitted high pitched words and twitched a bit. I was taken aback. Then I was introduced by Andrew to the chief. He is a man of fifty-nine but looks ten years older. The building was of local construction. Bamboo mat walls and thatch roofs of coconut leaves. They were not in the best of repair. Then I saw four Chihuahuas from Auschwitz. Actually puppies but horribly skinny. Then I saw the chief’s mother came walking with two canes and on the ankle of one of her feet. I thought she was perhaps the witch from Hansel and Gretel. So I have one looney, an aged chief, four emaciated puppies and a grandma straight from Grimm’s fairy tales. “Well Dale you aren’t in Kansas any more”.
The family gathered around, I was introduced by Andrew, the chief welcomed me, and I thanked him and gave him a small gift (a box of crackers, a deck of playing cards and a pen). I was treated to rice and fish. It was in a dish covered by a filthy looking towel. I had to eat some and I almost lost my stomach. After I told some things about myself I asked for a tour. The shower is a bucket of water inside a building of sorts with a filthy piece of calico for a curtain. The toilet is forty yards up a hill through some one else’s yard and I will be reliving myself over a hole in the ground. The chief and Andrew showed me of the village and although he is one of the three chiefs I think he has the worst kept home in the village. Apparently most of his property is not in the village and he has donated the RTC and a Bible school next door. Truth be told he and the family are wonderful people. I think apart from the looks of things I was tired from my very early awakening yesterday. So to cut to the chase I’m going to stay and I’ll be fine. But I’m not through with my torture yet. Pururvi/Paramasul built me a quite nice small hut. I mean the architecture is superb. There is a big raised bed, but until I awoke for the fourth time this morning at 4:30 I hadn’t realized the mattress was less than an inch thick and the raised bed was an old cargo box with slats and sand. No wonder I couldn’t find a flat spot. The chickens crowed and the dogs barked all night long. It was light so I dressed and went to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was spectacular but I had to wait for over half an hour. I wondered to myself. “Am I up to this?” I looked across at Paama island and watched clouds cross its top. I saw the bottom of Lopevi. It is the active volcano just seven or so miles away. I never saw the top of it because of the clouds. Now I do and it is constantly smoking from its side peak. Can’t wait to see a clear day and some redness and fire.
It’s Thursday morning and I have been on a roller coaster of emotions for four days. Sleep or lack there of and food edibility have had much to do with the ups and downs. Yesterday I took an hour and fifteen minute trek to the next village of Nikaura. There was a big meeting of men involved with the churches from along the northeast side of Epi. I went along with Phillip Martin my NiVan counterpart. It was an opportunity to visit with Jade the trainee from my group in Nikaura. It was a chance to speak English to someone I know and vent my frustrations and fears. Jade has another PCV jest a few minutes south and has seen her everyday and has had some opportunity to commiserate with some else. I spoke of my fears of failure. Of perhaps not being able to stay here and do the work I so want to do. How I find the food inedible and a full nights sleep impossible. She understood, although she praised the Mama she is staying with's cooking. I was invited for lunch. Wow is she lucky. Delicious crab, fresh sliced cucumber and fresh squeezed lime juice. I small talked with her mama. She has a sister in Mangaliliu that I have met. More talk with Jade and then she was feeling ill in the tummy. I left her at her school and walked back near the middle of village and sat on a canoe, as I am now, and watched the tide come in. Soon there I was joined by five young children. Smiling, curious, wanting my attention. They brought me shells, told me their names, played with my hair. Two left and the remaining three counted to one hundred, said their ABCs, months and the days. Three older boys came along and I asked them to do a play for me. They drew in the sand a large rectangle with lines through it and proceeded to play a tag game. Then I was joined by three young men. One named Graham was very talkative. He asked a load of questions. For the next three hours he was my guide. He introduced me to everyone. Everyone had to hear my three types of whistle. He showed me two dysfunctional solar systems and one generator. Showed me the nakamal. The largest on Epi. It was about twenty meters long with a center beam that ran the full length. Graham bragged how it was built all by man power. He taught me a local expression. Caucasoid (from capsized) meaning over flowing but used like #1. Everything became capcapsaed. I think he was pulling my leg as he was having some fun with me. We mimicked some expressions from each other. I was shown the community bulletin board. Later I was given the opportunity to frighten several same children just by my white faced presence. At one point I was surrounded by at least a dozen young men. Graham spoke for them and there was both laughter and some serious conversation. At one point after being asked about my two predecessors, I told them quite frankly that while I am a fun fellow, I was here to work and I wanted to be compared to no one. Judge me for myself. I am quite tired of hearing the names Mike (who went on to be the country manager in Kiribati) and Phillip has left me with a school with no students primarily because he had personality problems. Before I left Nikaura I was invited to have a shell of kava with a chief. This village has six tribes and seven chiefs. So out of respect I had the one shell. I hate the stuff. I was having to wait for Phillip Martin to finish imbibing. Finally a little after 4 PM we started waking home. It was warm, humid and the kava made me sweat profusely. We talked a bit. Me asking questions. We caught up to some school children. You must say hello and shake hands with everyone. When we got to their village Nikenuwe we followed them in and met more people. How many hands I shook I can only guess. During the day maybe a hundred or more. Finally we got back home. Phillip Martin’s wife had made me a supper. It was a plate wrapped in a towel, hanging from the rafter of the awning outside my hut. After sitting a while and cooling down, I went and took a swim (a bath or shower) with a bucket and cup. It felt great to be clean if only for a few minutes, for it was time to apply mosquito repellent all over my legs, arms, neck and face. In other words any place exposed. The meal that Raa Raa had prepared was quite good. The day before I had a conversation with her about a stomach ailment which I had feigned the night before because I just couldn’t eat anymore Laplap. I hate the stuff. I had told her how I liked green vegetables like capsicum (bell peppers) and pumpkin tops. So there was stuffed capsicum and pumpkin tops with perhaps some canned tuna and also fried bananas. It was wonderful to have been heard. I ate most of it. The NiVan eat copious amounts of food. It’s amazing they aren’t all three hundred pounds. Even food I like I can’t finish the amount they put on my plate. So I was full and then everyone else in the family came to eat. What else, Laplap. Laplap is a gluttonous mash of either manioc, yam, taro or banana. It is wrapped in large leaves. Sometime meat is inserted. Then cooked under hot rocks for several hours. They piles of it. The only time I enjoyed it was one in Mangaliliu of banana and clams. The area where the two flavors mixed was quite good. When everyone sat down to eat I was offered a plate. I couldn’t touch the stuff. I had to decline. Hopefully if I continue to not eat it they will get the message.
I have just come back from a tour of the RTC with Andrew the chairman of the RTC. It was excellent. Andrew is an elder and lives right behind the chief. We looked at the whole complex. While there is much work to do to rebuild a student body and my living quarters need a full renovation, I walked a way with high hopes. We talked for quite a while. It was open communication. I explained my needs regarding living alone. He assured me that work will be done by the time I return. I believe him. He seems sincere. He wants good things for the community and the students. We discussed schedules, potential classes, and the purpose for students to learn skills they can take to their villages where they can make a contribution. Maybe be the local electrician, plumber or mechanic. Thus they serve the community and have a strong sense of self worth. We talked about communications. My need to be seen for myself. He agreed. He understands I have a need to for some time to myself. Need some “white man” time. He said he would pass on that need to my host family. I asked him what he wanted from me. He said open communication and that he felt we had already started it. I agreed. We discussed work ethic. “Black man” style. I too believe in hard work interspersed with laughter, singing, whistling and stories. I told him that’s my way too. Well most of the time. Ala in all it was both productive and reassuring. While I have felt at times that this wasn’t for me I am feeling much brighter now.

Have just returned to Mangaliliu for the second time this week. Came back on Saturday after my week wokabaot on Epi (eventual site) and today from a village on north Efate (this same island) called Paunangisu. All of the RTC trainees went for two days and nights to this village to get training in agriculture. Not some I expect to teach, but certainly need strong awareness as I will have to create and grow my own garden. The PCVs that hosted us are a married couple and are leaving tomorrow morning for six weeks in the states and Jamaica. We stayed next door to there house on the grounds of the health clinic. They have been here for a year and a half and have a very nice two bedroom home. The grounds and the community are quite manicured. It could easily have been in Hawaii, Florida or the Carolina islands. They are looking to extend but they want are rougher more rural setting. Epi is probably just what they are looking for.
So I returned to Vila on Saturday afternoon from Epi. I will be returning in about four weeks. I had a hell of an adventure getting home too. I was up at my regular fiveish and packed for the trip back. It was arranged for the truck to come from picking up the other trainee (Jade) from farther down the road some where after 8 AM. So 8 comes, no truck. OK. 9 comes, no truck. I go sit across the road for some cooler sea breeze. 9:30 comes and so does the rain. So I move my things and myself back up under the tin roof. 9:45 comes and so does Jade and Kristen but no truck. It’s broken. So we load up and start walking to Laamen Bay (the airport is there). Along comes a truck from the other direction and arrangements are made for it to come back and pick us up after it unloads at Jade’s village. So we sit down at the RTC and wait. One hour. Another half hour. We better start walking. It should take an hour and half or so, including the hills. It starts raining again. So with packs, and other goods and the rain we start the trek. First there is a very steep hill. The road is two wheel ruts and the clay surface is slick from the rain. It’s slow going. It takes longer than expected. Somewhere along the way Kristen a veteran of four months says that some times planes arrive early and so take off just as early. At the hospital we take a water break. It’s close to 12:30, we are forty minutes away and our flight is scheduled for 1:40PM. We start walking. We arrive at the airport, a single building, not five minutes before the plane arrives. Wew!!!! I am drenched. This is an eighteen passenger Twin Otter. Once you get in the air you get cool air. Just big jets. But on this plane you can’t turn it off, just away. I’m cold and tired. My only saving grace is the British couple sitting across from me. The beautiful young redhead was actually born in Villa in her parents fourth year living here. She is very interested in the idea of the Peace Corps. She has already met the other trainee in our group who was staying in Laamen. We take off and make at stop and pick up a French couple who had flown up of Villa with us a week earlier. They nod hello. We are back in the air. Finally we arrive in Vila. I have needed to pee for over and hour. I go into the restroom and relieve myself. I look in the mirror and almost don’t recognize myself. I have easily lost fifteen pounds. All my clothes are hanging off me. It could be twenty. My face is lean and tanned. My goatee is white and I stare into the mirror. Glad the weight is gone. I know I’ll lose more too. That’s great but wow. Who am I? When I come out a New Zealander man is awaiting me. He is Robert Early a fairly famous Bible translator. I have been sent home with some of that wonderful Laplap for him. After a few minutes of pleasantries he leaves. Now the three of us decide we should take a bus to the Peace Corps office in Vila. We share it with the British couple. We are hungry, tired and just want to relax. Well it’s after 3PM on Saturday. Everything is closed. No restaurants open for Saturday evening and Sunday. Only place to get food is at the big grocery, Au Bon Marche. I want a beer too. No alcohol sold after noon on Saturday. I’m dying here. Somebody throw me a life preserver. I go to check email and internet at the office. No time truck to Mangaliliu is ready to go. So into the truck, but it stops at a bar where several other trainees are quenching their thirst and decompressing. Then we take them back to the office to get their bags. Gee I could have stayed and done a bit on the net. Nothing is working out my way. Oh well at least I’m heading back to home. Mangaliliu is a welcome site. Everyone is so happy to see us. We are thrilled to see them. Tell my story to the family and then settle in. After dinner and more time sharing, I head down to the beach area to meet some other trainees and share stories and decompress. Sunday after a very long and boring serve we all go to the beach at Mangess. More stories and decompressing. There are a few of group that we may lose. Back home to the family. Dinner and bed. Oh it is so nice to be on a smooth bed. After five weeks the bed here is comfortable. I doubt if I will ever find comfort on the bed at Moriu. So home sweet home. But wait after breakfast I am informed that the RTC trainees will be heading out for two days late in the afternoon. Truth is this training is getting more like boot camp all the time. Well in just about a month I will have a new home for the next two years. Epi here I come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween


Here it is about three on Saturday afternoon. Have a few things to report. Two about me and one about the host village Mangaliulu. It’s been a fairly lazy day. Although I got up at 6:30 Am and pushed my morning walk another ten minutes to an hour. I wasn’t hard, just the time it took. Really enjoy the start to the morning. I was up fairly late the last two evenings. Thursday night because I made a now famous batch of Kalowia bread. I purchased a half pound of raisin (sultanas from Australia) and another half pound of US walnuts. I chopped the walnuts, cut up and hand squished a dozen bananas, added the raisins and some cinnamon to the second rising of the dough and made a dozen loaves of local bread. It was a big hit among both the Ni-Vans and the PCTs and staff. I raised the price to 120 vatu. Actually the extra went directly to the family. It actually wasn’t enough to pay for the additional ingredients but I figured too much of a price increase might not be well received. I probably could have asked another 20 to 30 vatu as everyone is asking when I’m going to bake some more. Having learned the process I wanted to show Ricky (my host brother) the possibility of diversifying his craft. When we make the next batch I think we will use only local ingredients, bananas and maybe another fruit or a local nut of some sort. The only big difference in the process is that we found that the baking took about twenty minutes longer. I think because the batter was wetter from the bananas.
The baking kept me up until almost eleven. Earlier in the afternoon half of the PCTs got the opportunity to finally do some work. We all felt incredible good to get away from just classes. We used our bush knives and cleared the vines and brush from about 500 square feet of growth. Some went into the brush and came back with long thin poles. We used some to create posts and the longer ones for railing. Then we again went into the bush and came back with another kind of pole (suckers from a tree) from which we peeled the bark to make our lashing. We had just cleared a new garden area and set the fencing for it. Later we will be setting dry coconut leaves in the double rail system to keep, chickens, dogs, goats and pigs from getting into the garden. Although we probably will never taste the results the experience was refreshing.

Friday the village had a big meeting regarding won of the biggest issues affecting all of Vanuatu. Land ownership and the leasing or sale there of. This is a convoluted issue. When Vanuatu gained independence in 1980 their constitution returned land to its indigenous owners or stewards. It also made some stipulations regarding the sale of land. After having read the constitution I can say that while it starts with a beautiful preamble and philosophy of the Ni-Vanuatu’s responsibility to the country (something our US Constitution fails to do) it is fraught with lope holes and there is relatively little checks and balances in the three branches of government. Basically the legislature delivers the chief executive (prime minister). While there is a President, he is basically just a figurehead. And the judiciary has no real overriding of constitutionality of law passed by the parliament. So back to the land problem. There are now foreign investors (primarily Australian) who are throwing quick money at Ni-Vans and by passing the paramount village chief. There was a very big convention in 2006 in which a thousand recommendations were made. Those have been distilled to twenty. But as of yet they have not been enacted into law. So there is a sort of land grab going on. Right now the typical Ni-Van subsists on their land. They can feed their family, live with mortgages, little or no utilities, no property tax and give the land to their children. But if they sell for the quick buck and then they buy the truck and DVD player what will they have left? They are without the awareness of where that may lead them. Its not that there should be no development period, it is just that there isn’t enough critical thinking skills to ask the questions and look down the road.
Here in Mangaliliu the issue is even more complex. This village with the two small islands across from is a major historical site for the whole country. This is the home, death place and burial ground of the great chief from four hundred years ago, Roi Mata. Some land owners have signed agreements to sell or lease land that may endanger the potential World Heritage standing. They have gone around the chief and so there is big toktok (talk) happening. Stand by. I’ll report more down the road.

In Vila now for the day. May not be here next Wednesday. I’m heading to Epi, the island where I will be cited on Saturday morning. It is a medium size island just at the center of the Y in the archipelago. I’ll be there for either three or seven days to meet everyone, explore the layout and ascertain what I should bring back with me when I return three weeks later. I’m very excited to be getting close to the end of training and getting on with my new life. See a lot is happening in the states. World Series sweep, new Attorney General, my daughter got her first full-time job as a social worker. Life goes on everywhere. I’m loving it. Feeling real good. Up early every morning. Walking an hour and starting to feel all my clothes falling off me. My beard is now totally white. No more coloring left.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Night of the Centipede


The wind has been blowing very hard off and on for the last four days. There have even been some small showers. It is a very strange weather pattern. Some have said that there is a tropical depression over near the Solomon Islands. Just a few hundred miles away. I have felt three earthquakes in the last week. I can even tell the approximate magnitude. Comes with fifty-seven years of living in California. Some of the trainees haven’t felt of recognized them. They have never felt one in their lives. Anyway the times are strange. It is the beginning of the cyclone season in this part of the world.
I continue to struggle with speaking Bislama. I understand what is being said and can also understand it when written. But I need to start really trying to think in Bislama. The trainers have split the group into fourths in order to assist those at different levels of competency. I’m in the novice group (lowest level). Also there are the other two olfalas. I know I’m working hard. I’ll get it, but it takes much practice.
I believe I have found out which island I will be going to for my eventual work. It looks like it will be Epi. It is a medium sized island at the apex of the “Y” shape of Vanuatu. The Rural Training Center is on the north end of the island. It is a developed site, but the last volunteer there apparently had some personality problems with the locals. The staff here seems to feel I have basically the opposite personality and my sales and human resources experience should assist me in reestablishing the training center. The key word will be “patience”. Hey that’s the thing I came here to practice. Practice, practice, practice. Seems to be my new mantra.
Last night I asked my host brother, Ricky if I could assist him in making bread. He is the local baker of “local bread”. He was pleased to have me come along. In fact I did most of the work for the batch of ten loafs. He is a very good instructor. I was an enthusiastic student. It is not that difficult, in fact the work doesn’t take more than maybe an hour of labor. It is the time in between that requires “patience”. The dough is given two opportunities to rise and then there is the baking. We had time to go home and eat dinner. Then we listen as sister, Jinnet sang next door and later she came out and we storian (talked, laughed, shared). Later we strain with Eddie (PCV assigned here). He has come up to see if the news on the village coconut wireless that I, Kalowia, am making bread is correct. We determine what the profit margin is. It cost approximately 50 vatu to make a loaf and it is sold for 100 vatu (about $1). So for a batch of ten loafs about $5 will be earned for the labor. This morning Ricky came and told me that he sold all the bread in a matter of a few minutes and so he had to make another batch. Hey that Kalowia bread just flew out the door. Apparently I get noticed a lot. Who me? Go figure. Ha Ha!!
The other big news was my chasing foul and killing it. As a cultural experience the trainees were given the opportunity to capture three chickens. The chickens here run wild. It takes some work to surround one and capture it. We were really all a bunch of goofs. At one point we had a rooster trapped behind a piece of plywood leaning against a building. I reached in and grabbed its tail feather. I came out with just that, tail feather. After the three chickens were caught someone had to kill them. I volunteered for one. I tried wringing its neck but failed and had to beat its head with a heavy piece of wood. Not too easy as I held the rooster by its feet with my left hand and swung at its head. The first two times I swung I raised my left hand. It was like swinging at a piñata as it is pulled up. I got the job done and then plucked all the feathers off it. Another cultural experience. I’m sure I may have to do this again. The chickens were gutted and prepared for the next night’s five day feast to complete the mourning for the fallen PCV.


Getting to know this village is so easy. Anyone is ready to stop and talk anytime you pass by. And of course it seems everyone is related in some form or manner. So everyone here is my adopted family. I have several little ones taken me as their own. Same with Soti the dog.
Last night was a special occasion. The local French school (Ecole Publique de Roau) is less than a one hundred yards from my door. They had a fund raising all evening. Music, performance by the children and a large adult group from Lelepa, the neighboring island village were this community split from in 1983. Here we are in the middle of a storm. Heavy winds and occasional down ours interspersed with drizzle and yet the people. Nothing deterred them from the occasion.
Families showed up with plates and umbrellas. Papas and PCTs headed for the kava. Mamas dispensed the food. Laplap, rice, chicken, local bread. The children danced and frolicked. The band consisted of two keyboards. They usually tune and practice in between each number. Each number also ends abruptly. No crescendo. It just ends. Of course the PCTs and kids danced. Boys and girls don’t dance together here. They dance individually or in groups, but not coed. Adults watch. I asked brother, Ricky about this at breakfast this morning. He said Papas have been drinking kava and Mamas are too tired. One young boy was quite a mover. He danced with me, then on to some of the other fellas. I have a reputation as the dancing man. I’m uninhibited, but I think it also stems from my age and that the people here are fairly amazed at me as a bit of a phenomena. I hope they don’t see as the bow legged Captain Bligh played by Trevor Howard in The Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Bando. Anyway it was an evening of good times outside right in the middle of a storm.
Most of the trainees have left for the weekend to another island off north Efate. There may be six of us here. I have read Maarten Troost’s book Getting Stoned with Savages. While it is familiar because over half of it is about Vanuatu I didn’t find it nearly as much fun as The Sex Lives of Cannibals. I macramed a decoration on another trainees hat. A creative outlet. I then pasted together a banner for my mama. She has been away a whole week. Because of the weather she be gone an extra couple of days. She is definitely missed. Of course the dynamics of the household is quite different. Aina, the daughter in law is able to speak and laugh with out mama around. No wonder brides cry at their weddings here in Vanuatu. They are going to have to live with there in laws and that must be pretty tough.
This morning it was raining and blowing hard. I decided to storian for a couple of hours with Papa. I got down on the floor. I am served my meals at the table, sometimes he sits there with me. Sometimes I’m alone and the rest of the family is on the floor. So I climbed down and it created a whole new experience. Suddenly I was even more assessable to the three little girls. They crawled on me, played ball, shared toys. While I was talking with Papa about a multitude of things the little ones felt comfortable with me. This is a very good object lesson. You need to get to someone else’s level in order for them to accept you. Soon I’m going to have to do that in my new home. We have been in country for four weeks. It seems like more. Everything has slowed down. I am eating slower. I’m taking my time with everything I do. While we have classes and they should start at certain times, they inevitably don’t. We get done what needs to be done. I feel very at ease.
I just came from dinner. It was corn bread, buttered local bread, crackers and orange leave tea. I ate the corn bread. Took the crackers for later and drank a cup of the tea. I’ll have an apple in a bit. While I ate Jinnet played with her three year old Joana. They laughed, tickled, played a form of patty cake. It was so easy. I was there watching. They knew it but didn’t take much notice. This was their time together. It is amazing how easy they all are with so many in such close quarters. The house is approximately eight hundred square feet. Six rooms. Four of them bedrooms, with a fairly wide central hall. Almost half of the house is the open living room and half walled kitchen. Although I haven’t seen but glimpses of one bedroom through the curtained doorway, I assume that one room is Mama and Papas, one is Ricky, his wife and the two children’s, on is Jinnet and Joana’s and the other is Willie’s. They have privacy. But can you imagine eight people in that space. Cooperation, respect, love and patience.

I had another great opportunity to observe and experience more cooperation, respect, love and patience this afternoon. The brothers and sister of my papa came here from Vila to discuss the arrangements for an upcoming wedding. There were five siblings (the youngest does live on Efate) and a couple of others from the next generation and then several children ranging from three to maybe fourteen. I had just come back from a nice long walk and I was asked to come meet the family. After introductions I was asked to tell about myself and then I was asked to sit with the family as they discussed the wedding plans. Although I didn’t understand most of what was said it was easy to ascertain the outstanding listening skills that were being used. Everyone got their say. No arguing. They worked towards a complete consensus. During the discussion one younger boy, perhaps twelve controlled the very young ones. Two teenaged girls were working in the kitchen, boiling water for tea and cutting the local bread that Ricky had made. They then served it with the usual butter and peanut butter on it. The discussion started with a pray and ended with one. They discussed the date and why it had to be on a Wednesday. Apparently the will be some sort of holiday that coming weekend and the grooms family has some people from outer islands that need to be accommodated. Accommodating is what they are. They must make it work for everyone. And they did so. The United Nations could surely learn from this example.

It is raining very heavily. It has been for almost 20 hours. Yet life goes on. It just after lunch. Outside my window my sister in law is washing clothes. Right out in the rain. Scrub, scrub goes her brush. Over under the roof of my family’s porch is the chief, Papa, and three other men. They are talking away. Storian. It is a big part of the man’s role.
Everyone is back from the weekend trip. Two third of the group left and it was a pleasure to have so little exposure to Americans. It’s not that I don’t like them but I am tried of them. I know I need more training, especially in Bislama but I so desire to immerse myself in Ni-Van culture.

Boy did I have an experience last night. I had just finished dinner and was leaving the family house. As I went to put my sandals on I grasped the door jam. It felt like I had been poked by a high voltage wire. The pain seared through my thumb. I had just been bitten by a centipede. It was “wan bigfala sor”. My thumb began to swell. I stuck it in some hot orange leaf tea. Wrong thing to do I late found out. I walked up to the Peace Corps office. June there took an onion and rubbed the swollen thumb for about ten minutes. The pain went down considerably. Twenty four hours later my thumb is still a bit swollen and sore to the touch but the onion did the trick. It was actually the second bite by a centipede this week. The previous own was a baby not even a half inch long and I swished it as I bite me. A little white flower oil and It was fine. Last night Ricky found and killed the big culprit. Or so he thought. This morning after I came back from my walk I asked to look at it. It was actually only half dead. By half I mean two inches was hanging from two more inches that still wiggled away. We picked it up with a stick and brought it out where I ground it into the coral.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Peace Corps Mourns


Yesterday was a day to not be forgotten. Early in the morning the entire training group loaded into buses to go to Port Vila to attend the memorial services of John Roberts, a PCV who was accidentally killed on the island of Erromango. We arrived at the hospital and drove around to the back where men from our village (John had trained there two years ago) had stayed with his body since its return from Erromango. It is the custom that the dead not be left alone until they are buried. John was being kept in a refrigerator storage container. On the door was draped the Peace Corps flag. It of course was a somber seating. Cars and buses started to arrive with Peace Corps staff and other PCVs. Then a pickup truck arrives with five mamas from Erromango. They came in a receiving line to our head nurse Jane who had flown by helicopter to retrieve John. The first mama was crying heavily. The women kneeled on the mat in front of the container and began to cry and wail. It was the most heart wrenching sorrow I have ever witnessed. There was a building next door where apparently someone else was lying in state. A group of men had been sitting outside the building. The same wailing started inside there. The mamas in front continued for at least five minutes, and then the three stood up and took a break. Two continued but a bit lessened in intensity. After a few minute they all started again with the mama who must have been his host pounding her fists on the container door. A Peace Corps pickup truck was backed up to the container; the white coffin was carried by eight men, including PCVs from the same group and men from the training village. The pickup lead a procession through Vila, past the Peace Corps offices and to a church. The church was a fairly large A framed building with open sides. There were maybe two hundred people in attendance. Included was the Prime Minster, the President and First Lady of Vanuatu, the entire staff of VRDCTA (the NGO managing the Rural Training Centers), many PCVs, PC staff, Mangaliulu villagers and Erromango village family and their chiefs. There was a great deal of speaking and prayers, some hymns, a slide presentation of John from his group and the obituary by the PC Country Director, Kevin George. John was the only son of a farmer and school teacher in Nebraska. He had graduated Nebraska-Lincoln and joined the Peace Corps in 2005. He was an only child and when Kevin George said his parents had lived their lives through their only son I personally lost it. I couldn’t help but think of my children. How as a parent I want everything in the world to be right with them. How I revel in their smallest achievements. How I feel anguish in their smallest pains. How can one even begin to feel the loss of a child? It is so unnatural to have a child pass on before the parent. Having buried a grandmother, both my parents and a wife I know grief. But that poor couple in Nebraska must be in torture. I can only hope that they have strong family, friends and community support in this time. Certainly they must know that John was successful in his endeavors here in Vanuatu. They had visited him at his site. Well that is a tough way for our group to begin our training. Three weeks in country. Too much.
Today is another day. I am accustomed to awaking sometime around 5 AM now. That probably represents seven or eight hours of sleep. Although it is not undisturbed sleep. I am having dreams. They have moments of violence. This is a side effect of the malaria medication I take. They are not nightmares but they are not pleasant either. I wait to go back to sleep. I do for a bit until the rooster crow and I can see some light coming through the eaves. Then I get up and take my morning walk. It feels good to stretch my body and be alone. But this morning I had an escort. A white dog who has been around a lot (aren’t all the dogs around a lot?) started to walk then run ahead of me. I gave him no attention but he took off on the trail and would get maybe fifty yards in front of me and then stop and look to see if I was still coming. Sometimes he would go off the trail and when I passed he would come back on and run ahead of he again. He there all the way out and all the way back. When I got home I decided to give him a half a peanut butter sandwich which I had in the hut. The other dogs made an appearance but I shooed them away. This was Soti’s reward for his company. My sister in law, Aina told me his name and that he was Norten’s dog. Soti is probably Shorty. Norten is a young man who is always with the family. He is a cousin of some sort. Soti is sniffing around behind me now. I guess I’ve been adopted again. I’ve always said “dogs and little kids love me”. Well some has to. Ha Ha!!!

Yesterday was the quietest, calmest day I may have ever seen. The village is in the midst of five day mourning. It will conclude on Tuesday with a feast. Until then no one works. I had my walk, I finished reading The Kite Runner, I read the Newsweek cover to cover, I had a couple of visitors for a bit of conversation, walked to the ocean (four minutes) and had a conversation, played with the little boys, danced to LaBamba and made a few adults laugh, I had a nice lunch. I met of young woman from Minnesota that was coming through the village with a German man and French woman. They were coming from the beach. He asked if he could by some mangos from the tree. Thought the tree was mine. I told him I’d check with my host family. The young woman had seen the Peace Corps truck and asked if I was the PCV. She had just finished her tour in the Ukraine in 2006. We had a nice conversation. I informed her of the recent tragedy and our status here. She was excited to discover the PC presence. She said it made her day. She is here for four months teaching at a French school in Vila. I read some more, put on sunscreen, walked to the ocean (four minutes), had another conversation, and went snorkeling. Saw a turtle and lots of fish, came home and rinsed off and changed clothes. More reading, some writing, downloading photos, and then a walk to see the sunset. The people are just quiet and calm. Most of the other PCVs went to Mangess Beach. So few of them are around. Some conversations. The children play. There were no church services yesterday. The pastor was on the island of Lelepa for this Sunday. There was singing just after sunset in the church. Children running around. I had a conversation with the chief as I walked home. He was in tok tok with papas. It’s all about the mourning and the five days to the feast. I came back to fried bread for dinner. Sorry just not my thing. I ate two small pieces and went to my hut. I turned on the laptop, downloaded those photos. Read the camera manual. I hate manuals but discover a lot out the camera that I didn’t. Amazing!! What did Jack (35 year old Taiwanese-American engineer) say the other day about my power inverter? RTFM. Read the fucking manual. Hate a couple of cookies and an apple. I buy a supple of apples for just such an emergency as tonight’s dinner. I start reading The Best Baseball Stories from Sports Illustrated that Tom Farris gave me. It will be a good in between other books reading. Went to sleep maybe around 9PM. I can’t tell time any more. It really doesn’t matter much anyway. I was awaked by another bad dream. Zombies. Went outside to relieve myself and make sure I wasn’t going back to the same dream. I'm not going to take the Methaquine anymore. I’ll start taking Doxicycine, which is a daily dosage instead. This morning is starting off as quite as yesterday. Thank goodness we get to go to school.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A different kind of day


It’s Friday morning at the end of week three. I started walking in the morning this week. I get up at 5:30AM. Do I have a choice? Early to bed and when the roosters begin to crow forget about the snooze button. Actually they start crowing a bit earlier but I wait until it’s light out. I get out of bed, open my window, climb into some shorts and T-shirt, open the door and greet the world. Still don’t Mama up. There is little activity as I start walking. At first I did a circuit around the village. Takes about eight minutes and five “malbongs” (good morning). Then I ventured down the jungle road to the beach. I get as far as a pumpkin patch and turn back. This morning I decided to go up the road towards Vila (the city). Did I say up? Ten minutes and was breathing hard. I forgot that we come over a mountain to get here. So it was uphill. I will have to work on my breathing and get smaller and stronger. Anyway I like the morning walk. Saying malbong to everyone I see. Everyone smiles and say “Malbong Kalowia”. I am easily recognized and have a bit of a bigfala reputation already.
Speaking of reputations. I believe that several of the twenty something volunteers see me as the epitome of what they idealistically see as what’s wrong with America. It is a generation gap. It is not important that I cross it. I’m not here for them but for the Ni-Vans and myself. If I need to work with them I’ll be able to. Although I desire to get smaller and calmer in both size and personality, there are times when my experience and personality take over. When something must get done, I’ll do it.
Night before last the training team made an experiential testing of all the women trainees. There is a local courting phenomenon called “creeping”. A boy or man comes to a girl’s window at night to attract their attention and see if they can begin something. Unfortunately when it is perpetrated towards a white woman it can be disturbing as well as possibly dangerous. So the trainee staff staged a creeping exercise. The women had several reactions. One screamed, another cussed, most ignored it and a few even slept through it. Apparently each host mama was supposed to be there to inform the woman of the exercise soon afterwards. Unfortunately several didn’t. In the morning there was much talk and consternation. When the security director, Relvie arrived to give her talk on the subject she was greeted with less than thrilled women. They came to understand and recognized the importance of their individual reactions but it took a lot of discussion. Again much like military training or scuba diving or really anything it is important to have a taste of the possibility. Pull off the gas mask and experience the gas, have your air cutoff in a pool before you venture into open water.
Last night I cooked dinner for my family. Their first taste of Italian American cuisine. I had an audience as I chopped mushrooms, onions and bell pepper and sautéed them. Boiled the ziti penne pasta, crated cheese and fried hamburger (amazing how little fat in it). With a bottled spaghetti sauce mixed into it all I placed it in the oven. Sliced the bread loafs long, a strisel of oil and some of Rudy’s (Cera Una Volta chef in Alameda) green salt. Into the oven at the last few minutes. Then I served it. I think it was a success. Papa had three helpings.
Well it has been quite a day and it’s only 3 PM. We arrived at the community mango tree for classes at 9 AM. Brenda the Assistant PCMO arrived a few minutes later. She came with disturbing news. A PCV named John had died yesterday on Erromango (one of Vanuatu’s smaller islands in the south). John was 24 and was concluding his serve in just a month. He and a villager were accidentally killed when a large limb of a tree came crashing down on them during a community work project. This is a sad day for the Peace Corps community. John had trained here in Mangaliulu. The village has shut down for the day. No classes, no work. People just sitting around communing. We had a prayer, some questions and everyone started to find ways to deal with the news and the rest of the day. Five of us decided to take a wokabaot up behind the village. We didn’t get to the top of the hill but we did find the water system for the village and later walked through some jungle gardens. After our regular lunch prepared by the mamas I was talking with Jacki (our senior at 72) when two of our trainers came to inform us of the plans for services tomorrow in Vila. We went to let others know. Although none of us ever met John we will all go in for the service.
My host mama, Winnie left for a week trip to Ambryn a short while ago. Winnie is the secretary of the PWMU (Presperterian Women’s Mama’s Union) and trip is a very big event. Papa was taking her into Vila to catch a ship that will take up to twenty hours to get to the destination. It is not a luxury liner. From what I understand it will be very crowded and she will probably have to sleep on deck. She had a bundled mattress, her suitcase and a bundle of coconut straw to sell as brooms. Earlier in the week I had given her a simple book bag and a pen and note paper. After breakfast I also gave her a small flashlight. As the truck arrived to take her, Papa and a few others to Vila and incredible send off occurred. There must have been thirty people, mamas, papas, and children come to see her off. Everyone shaking her hand and wishing her a good journey. Her two granddaughters (3 and 2) were both crying. Totally inconsolable. The last thing she said to me was that I should stray to far down the roads on my morning wokabaot. So sweet.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Week One and Two--Boot Camp


It’s Saturday morning and I’m two weeks in Vanuatu, six days in Managliliu. Yesterday I came down with some stomach problems so I refrained from dinner and lay down. I lay down for about twelve hours. When I finally ventured from bed and my hut I was comfortable enough to partake of bread and hot water. Totally my choice. I have spent the suing three plus hours doing the following. Reading about sixty pages of The Sex Lives of Savages (boy am I glad Peace Corps shut down Kiribati and I wasn’t sent there) and playing guard duty to the village exit. My hut is about forty feet from said exit. Thus as each truck (three or four), wheel barrow, or walker has passed I have given them a wave of passage. Okay I have also taken a couple pictures of a particular tree and its fruit, pushed Joanna, the three year old niece, in the tree swing, chased an errant wind blown wash basin, transferred pictures from camera to computer and sorted a few papers. Oh yes I had a friendly gecko drop down on me while I was reading. I flicked him or her off and used an expletive deleted.
Yesterday it rained quite a bit. Sometime drizzle, sometime torrents. It certainly kept down the flies. Not so right this minute. So I’m going to stop typing and start moving around.
So I went for a little walk. I got pikinini-nabbed by five little ones. They wanted me to take them to Survivor Beach. The beach where Survivor: Island of Fire was filmed. Just a little stroll through the bush. Thirty minutes into it we turned towards the beach and took the beach road, so to speak. Along the way we passed a few adults. Some coming from gardening. Bananas, taro leaves, island cabbage, coconuts and firewood. The children, four boys and a girl joyfully pointed out the plants. The jungle was dense as we traveled the road. Two tracks from both car wheels and walking. The children knew the way. When we arrived there were seven or eight other PCVs already there and ten or so other local children. The children immediately hit the water and swam, except on little fellow named Willie. He sat near me. He was afraid of the water. Finally after my borrowed sunscreen had time to take effect I encouraged Willie to go into the sea with me holding him. He clung tight. Eventually I loosened his grip and through encouragement he took to the water. Before the day was over he was swimming under my legs time and time again. I played in the water with five or so children. Splashing and later I became a raft that they pulled and pushed in and out. The children are all so natural and easy to play with. Most children are unless there parents have been sitting on them. Let them be and they find their way. After three hours I rounded my crew up and we began our hour trek home. We talked and made funny noises. The two older boys had caught half dozen small crabs. They gave them to me to take home for cooking. I forgot to eat them tonight.
Day before yesterday I was awaken at 5AM by a taping on the tin wall outside my bed. It went away and then a few minutes later it came back. It went away again and once more returned. I got out of bed and looked out my window. No one in sight. I returned to bed. The tapping returned again. I put on my shorts and went outside, walked around the hut. No one. Had I forgotten to get up for the days event. No other volunteers in sight at the community mango tree. We have been told of a local practice of some men where they creep around a woman’s house. “Creeping”. Was I being creeped. I told trainers I was. I was joking. Finally Richard told me it was a gecko. I have become famous for being creeped by a gecko.


Tuesday night. I’ve just come from my host family’s house. I had dinner and Mama and Papa worked hard with me to talk bislama. I really have little trouble hearing or reading and understanding the language. But I must work very hard to speak it. It is a matter of thinking in bislama. It is like being a three year old. I understand most of what’s said but can’t express myself. Very inhibiting. It’s not easy for someone as loquacious as me to have to struggle to talk.
Yesterday afternoon I went snorkeling with two PCVs and a couple of village boys (maybe 10-12 years old). It was a long swim, perhaps ¾ of a mile. The water was fairly clear, we had a small storm come through the night before and it had stirred the sea a bit. The water is very comfortable. I spotted a couple of interesting fish. A lion fish which looks like it has feathers all around its neck and a small dark blue fish with concentric white rings around its side. Today I asked a PCV who is part of the reef management team about it. She went to the book. It’s a type of angel fish. I stayed fairly close in to the shoreline. I had to swim to catch up with the other fellows. I had an escort in Richie (a boy). Noa, a PCV from Hawaii had a spear and we caught up to Eddie, the village sited PCV (also from Hawaii) who was on his canoe. Noa spotted a fish under some coral and Eddie speared it. It turned out to be a puffer fish. It ballooned up and was wedged in the coral. Eddie couldn’t remove his spear because of its barb. It took a good ten minutes and a number of dives by each of us to finally get the fish out. Then Eddie used his knife to carefully cut the spear from the fish. The puffer is covered with sharp thorns. As he worked at removing the spear the fish began to emit blood from its gills. It died during the process. The boys said it would be good “kakae” (food) so it was keep. The sun was close to setting and the boys were a bit cold so Noa, the boys and I went ashore to walk back to the village. As we walked for a few minutes we turn back to watch the sunset. Eddie in his canoe was on the horizon. It was a classic scene. No camera doggoneit. There will be many other opportunities I’m sure. The fish must have weighed twenty pounds. We took turns carrying it on a metal rod that John (the other village boy) had. We walked maybe five hundred yards along the shore to where the fresh water comes to the ocean. Noa and I rinsed in it, and then we turned inland and walked the rest of the way through the jungle. It is the road to survivor beach. Good workout for the day.
The training program here is excellent. Well most of the time. Today was one of the better ones. We had one of the PCMOs (medical officers) in today and they always do an excellent job. We really will need to our own doctors when we are on site. So there is lots of training in health issues, emotional as well as physical. Of course we have daily language classes. There are cultural classes. Yesterday we had a wokabout to learn island food. Trees and plants that sustain the locals. Island cabbage, papaya, bananas, taro, manioc (cassava-tapioca comes from it), other nuts and fruit. We had demonstrations on cutting down a banana tree, planting island cabbage and pulling the manioc roots out. All this on a path through the jungle. We are also getting training in teaching and development methods and strategies. Today a PCV named Susan, who has been here for three and a half years gave an excellent workshop on workshops. Workshops are the primary way to deliver assistance and training. During the session we had several very good student directed learning experiences. The finally was four different presentations on the use of visual aids. One group created a song, as did mine, did a pantomime and a third a skit. All were excellently creative. These are some very dynamic young people. We are in only our third week on training. At the end of ten weeks we will be ready. I hesitate to say it is like Marine Corps boot camp, but honestly it is, sans the mental and physical torment. We must be prepared to do the job.