Published: March 28th 2009March 25th 2009
View from the boat as we were heading to Ambae
Hello all! Yes, this one is coming to you live from Port Vila as we are back in the capital for training and heading back in about a week. Even though this will seem out of order as there are still blogs I have written and sent for my sister to post, I'll go ahead with a few little news and tidbits and trust you all to put them into context with the letters yet to come via snail mail.
Coming back to "civilization" was quite a process. For weeks, we've been making lists, phone calls, and plans on how to best maximize our time and access to internet, groceries, and phone. We started about a week before on a tums regimen; twice a day to coat our stomachs for the meat and dairy that we planned (and now really are) to gorge on once there. Daily ice cream is justified when you go for months without any, right? I joked with my host mom that we were getting stressed just thinking about coming to Vila. Many of our family and friends sent us with money and errands for us to run, since it is rare for anyone from the
At the airport
Notice the chicken bundled in a coconut-leaf basket and the scale. Yes, we have to be weighed before getting on the plane.
island to have the money to come into the capital. We're going for everything from new memory cards for cell phones to slate board paint for the rural training center.
We planned to fly out last Thursday, so Sandy came down Wednesday night to be closer to the airport. And cut my hair. Anyone who passed by was mortified that I was going to cut it, but I kept telling them how hot it was and how hard it was to dry once wet. My host mom and sister sat on the porch as inches of my hair fell to the floor, interested in the "fashion" she used to cut my hair in layers and confused by the razor tool she used to give it a frayed look. I just explained that it was "blong flas nomo" or "just for show" (thanks Aunt LaDonna for keeping me stylish!). My little brother laughed and said that the hair on the floor looked like pig hair when they boil hot water and pour it on the dead pig's skin to remove it before cooking. Thanks for the compliment? Anyway, after watching Sandy work, now my host mom thinks she can cut
Time for the pamplamoose.
my hair and volunteered to do it next time. Good thing Sandy will be close by just in case.
So, with the hair cut and bags packed, we sat on the porch and debated whether or not the plane would come. The last weeks flights had both been canceled and with the strong rains (which aren't a surprise, but one can hope) we were doubtful. We slept through yet another storm and got up around six to phone the airport to find out if the flight would come. Our boarding time was 9:55, with an hour truck ride to precede it, but the agent there wanted us to wait until 9:00 before he would know if the flight would go or not. With island time factored in, this was definitely too long to wait, so we jumped in the truck and tried our luck.
Sure enough, we got there and found out that the attendant hadn't cut the grass in weeks, and THAT, not the rain, was keeping the plane from being able to land. So, bummed that we would have to wait another 24+ hours for meat and ice cream, we headed back to the house. But
Here's the mail
It sometimes fails
But when it finally comes we wag our tails
and we always are excited for: Mail!
there are some men with connections in Vanuatu, and it's all about who you know. We jumbled back on the truck, unloaded the luggage on the porch, and were just getting ready for a good pout when and teacher from the school came by and said we could get in his motor boat with a guy selling phone cards from the Digicel mobile phone company, who also had planned on going on today's flight, and go to Ambae (the island we can see from our beach). Sandy phoned a volunteer from our group on Ambae, Rachel, and she told us we could sleep there and that yes, Ambae had ice cream. What more did we need? Into the boat (which, incidentally, I had watched the teacher bail out with a plastic bucket earlier that morning) we went, luggage and all, and set out for fateful island that determines whether or not we have mobile network.
The beginning of the trip was cool. Seeing Maewo from the ocean was a new perspective for us; it seems much longer that way! We could also see Pentecost stretching to the south as well. A couple dolphins joined our boat for a while,
Just cause we don't have that many pictures of us together, we posed for one at the hotel.
quite an exciting sight! But, the excitement and novelty lasted about twenty minutes, and the boat ride, estimated as a 45 minute trip, took two hours. In the sun. In a silver boat that not only didn't protect us from the sun, but magnified it. Do you think we thought to bring sunscreen in the frenzied change of plans from plane to boat travel? Do you think that the Ni-Vanuatu need sunscreen and happened to have some on them? No. So, we putted across the ocean, willing the fuzzy outline of Ambae to take form and come within reach of our vessel.
At one point, the motor died and the guy driving joked that it was a good thing Digicel has such good coverage now, that all "man Maewo" used to drift all the way to Santo when their motors were no good. It was at this point that I noticed he was hand pumping the gas with a grenade sized squishy thing the whole way. Needless to say, with more time to plan, we would have sought a better boat. But with ice cream on the mind (oh, how good it would have felt to melt over my dry and burning skin...), we were on a one way trip off the island.
But, we made it. On the black sand shore waiting for the truck to take us to Rachel's house, Sandy clawed into a pamplamoose to rehydrate and raise our blood sugar. We were too hot to realize that at 1:30 in the afternoon we were famished. At Rachel's, we unloaded our stuff in her house and took a short tour of town before she headed back to her office. We saw trucks (plural) on the roads (plural) and got confused by the multiple directions and intersections that one could go on a truck. Good thing we were easing into the is civilization thing. Then she pointed out the ice cream store. Who knew heaven was a wooden shack with a white ice cream cone spray painted on the door. We thought of our dairy-less diet for the past months and opted for lunch first, then ice cream. She left us walking towards a restaurant (gasp), which she had promised would offer at least two entrees, both of which would include meat. And chilled water. Oh dear, overload in the making.
Sure enough, we stepped into the restaurant to hear music and an electric fan and see a shelf full of freshly baked bread. The chalkboard menu boasted an omelette, chicken, or stew. Justin asked what kind of stew, and the waitress replied "Bullock" or beef. Incredulous, I asked if it was real meat or just the flavoring. At this point, the waitress said something that translates in my mind like, "Where did you people come from?" I'm sure she looked at our white skin and couldn't understand why we were so pumped about bread and meat. When we told her Maewo, she understood.
Lunch and ice cream were divine. We then sauntered through a store and enjoyed the fact that we could walk through it's aisles and look at stuff at our own leisure, instead of just ordering what we wanted from the counter. Like I said, it's a good thing we eased in to all these luxuries of civilized life. We ooed and awed at the multiple flavors of jam and brands of dish soap in the store. Back in Rachel's house, we were exclaiming things like "Hey! Her computer is plugged into the wall!" "What, you mean like she has electricity?!?" "I'm actually standing up in the shower!" "She can leave her toilet paper in the bathroom!"
We enjoyed a few movies and dinner at the same restaurant that night and headed to Santo on a flight the next day. Our lay over in Santo was about five hours, so we spent the day in the even bigger city, Luganville. This time we re-visited the internet and hamburgers and ice cream (again). We poked through the Chinese shops too, picked up burned versions of multi-movie DVDs to take back to site. We found LOST season 4 and are crazy excited to get back into that addiction! That night, we flew to Vila and had one last splash of things to assimilate to: hot showers and air conditioning. I'm telling ya, spend a few months without some of this stuff and when you come back to it, you will feel so pampered. After about half an hour in the hot shower and then laying under the sheets of an air conditioned hotel room, I felt like I had just come from a $100 massage. Lovin' it.
I have crazy flashbacks of just last week, walking down a white coral road lined with coconut trees, carrying a tray of purplish-gray laplap for my host sister, and jamming out to mobile phone ring tones with my little host brother; pausing every once in awhile to bust out in dance when we were sure no one else was looking. That scene just couldn't happen here, mainly because there is so much music everywhere that the 25 second ring tones are not that cool, and the roads have way to much motorized traffic on them, and everything is just "fas fas tumas" (moving way too fast) for little moments like that to happen. Boo.
So for the next few days, instead of envisioning us in the island jungle eating taro mush and sweating bullets, know that we are treating ourselves daily to AC, ice cream, meat, cold drinks, ice cream, hot showers, electricity, ice cream, internet, and ice cream. During the days, we are having mini-training and check in sessions, connecting us with the resources we think we can use at our sites for the next few months. And, best of all, connecting with other volunteers and hearing about their sites, trials, and times. It's still shocking to hear how different our experiences and even small differences in the culture from island to island. And there is something about other volunteers who really can relate to one anothers' stories. We spend most of our evenings chilling under a natangora (leaf) roof in the court yard of the motel and storying over drinks and novel snacks like crackers and cheese, apples, and chocolate. Telling the stories and even putting up the small collection of photos on the blog makes me nostalgic to get back to, dare I say, "home."