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.

1 comment:

Virginia said...

My spouse and I are RPCVs (Ukraine 2005-2007) so I read with interest about your chance encounter with another RPCV whom I may know...no clue who she is from your blog. Perhas you will e-mail me. I am also a mother who lost my adult son and so I found your remarks especialy powerful. Thank you for your depiction of the funeral and the events...Virginia vjpulver@pulverpages.com