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Published: November 29th 2008
Isaac & I
Chillin' with my host brother.
Here is another blog to hold you over for a few months.
While all of you in the States were celebrating Thanksgiving, Justin and I were swearing in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (before, we were at the status of "trainee"). Everyone in our group was given a coordinating island dress or shirt to wear at the ceremony. It kind of felt like we were part of a big wedding, all wearing coordinating bridesmaids and groomsmen outfits. My family added an extra special accessory to my attire for the day - a scrunchie made of coordinating fabric! It is so funny to see how the host mamas try to sort of one up each other in regards to their host kids during their last few weeks in training, spoiling them with extra accessories or special food.
The ceremony itself was held in the community church. Pretty much the whole village came, as well as some current volunteers and surrounding chiefs and people who had helped us with our training. It was a pretty full house. The ceremony included speeches by the Minister of Education, Peace Corps Vanuatu Country Director, our training manager, and yours truly. That's right; I got
Host Mama is adjusting Kaltafa's "salu salu" (lei) for the swearing in ceremony. Not quite a suit and tie, but close up.
to give a speech on behalf of our training group. My speech was in Bislama! Another key part of the ceremony was that we all had to stand and repeat an oath to officially become volunteers. Afterwards, we had a huge meal! All of the families in the community pitched in and brought food. It was almost like Thanksgiving in Vanuatu, except there was not any of Grandma's cherry pie.
Even though training is over, I would like to bring up an important aspect of life in our training village that was interesting to observe. Because of all the added attention that Hat Island is bringing to the village, as well as it's history of having Survivor filmed there, Mangaliliu has a unique dynamic in that there is quite a bit of Vatu (the national currency) circulating in the village. The people are attracted to the idea of having money to spend and some are even selling their land to outside developers for what is actually a very low price. Developers like the idea of building hotels or bungalows close to the historic Hat Island. The jobs of many volunteers often include talking to community members about the long
Alice * Sandy * Justin * Me
All the new volunteers who will be moving to Maewo.
term drawbacks that selling the land could have: namely that they will not have land to grow food on or to build houses as their village grows.
It is hard admit, and for that matter explain, that the same "white man" that come as missionaries and volunteers also have the capacity to exploit resources that could really cause some long term damage. There is a huge push in the capital for "custom economy" to be reinstated, which would ideally cut out currency completely. That will probably not fully happen, but the program will help educate people. The big idea that they try to communicate is that you cannot eat, wear, or sleep under Vatu, so it has no practical purpose. Especially in the outer islands, introducing Vatu is a rather touchy subject. During training, we talked with other volunteers about how to be an assett in the community without contributed financially. They suggested that instead of offering to pay for something, such as a meal, to bring something such as sugar or wood. It is true brain candy to try and justify to what end money is necessary.
This issue is a really tough one for me to
Thanksgiving Island Style
Definitely a 10 for presentation, don't ya think?
stomach because part of me wants to share all of the resources and knowledge that exist in the world with Vanuatu: to them get connected to the internet, to make books more accessible, etc. But, all of those things come with a price, literally as well as metaphorically. Computers and their maintenance, as well as keeping a good, current stock of books and whatever other type of development you can think of probably cost money, especially if it is dependent on importing goods from other countries. Also, globalization and the spreading of knowledge isn't limited to the "good" stuff. Concepts like materialism, violence, and body image cannot be filtered out of an information exchange. Knowledge is power, but that power can be used for good and bad. It is hard to find the balance of wanting to open up loads of information to people and yet not wanting to spread certain trends. It's a huge key to be talking with people about the pros and cons of everything and trusting that it is the right thing to do to empower them to make their own decisions. And that is the most sustainable approach in the long run.
After the ceremony and a big feast, we danced in the rain to celebrate!
said, on Maewo the access to Vatu is rather limited. There are a few stores that sell basic goods, but many of them run off of a credit system. Although Vatu is used as a reference point, it is often completely cut out of the system. For example, paying school fees is one thing that requires Vatu. But, some schools also develop a system for paying with goods, such as a yam is equal to 50 vatu, water taro is equal to 100 Vatu, etc. That way, parents can "pay" school fees with goods from their garden. Similarly, sometimes teachers are "paid" in goods such as bread or sugar.
This may be our last blog entry in awhile. We'll be on Maewo until the end of March when we will come back into town for what will be like an in-service training. Until then, we probably won't have access to a computer. To give you an insight to some of our daily adventures, Justin and I compiled a list of "New Normals" that we assimilated to in Vanuatu. Now any time you wonder what we're up to, you can probably choose one of the things off the list and
The morning that we left, all of the host families (and then some) made a huge line and we all shook hands or "kissed" (touched cheeks and kissed the air) everyone.
get a good idea.
Any day in Vanuatu could include:
- cold showers/bathing in a river or ocean (the Bislama word "swim" means to shower and to swim, because they are both considered to be pretty much the same thing. So, you can "swim" in the ocean and be considered just as clean as if you "swim" in the shower)
- reading/eating/writing by kerosene lamp or flashlight
- sharing living space with geckos, lizards, rats, and crabs
- hand-washing and air-drying clothes and dishes
- having daily access to seafood (including fish, crab, and shrimp)
- waking up to a cacophony of roosters
- reprimanding dogs with the French verb "kaushay" (sp?)
- paying for phone calls
- sweating all day
- "island time" - the mindset that things will happen eventually, why rush?
- Superclass instant coffee + powdered milk + powdered chocolate + sugar + hot water from a white thermos with a peacock painted on it
- jarring truck rides (there just aren't enough roads for there to be standards...)
- children singing shamelessly at the top of their lungs in local language
- daily screen-saver-worthy vistas
- questioning the intentions of every white person you
Ready for Maewo
Sandy and I are ready to enjoy the abundant waterfalls on Maewo!
- assimilating to the concept of strong women in frumpy dresses
- being accepted for having unshaven legs
- deepening respect for living off the land, tradition, and all things local
- always carrying bugspray, a liter of water, a book, medical supplies, and toilet paper
- broadening our scope of what could be used as toilet paper
- looking up at a clear, new set of constellations, framed by banana and coconut leaves
- seeking sustainability
- getting used to the metric system equivalents for temperature, weight, and writing date-month-year
- über treating every little medical nuance
- going for weeks without looking at our own reflection, then becoming reacquainted with your facial features unexpectedly in a public bathroom
- being fascinated with all things cold
- renewed reverence for good tasting beer and ice cream
- questioning the ultimate goal of education, religion, currency, Western civilizations, and the human race (ideally one at a time, but they seem to overlap)
- realizing the relativity of time
- appreciating snail mail ten fold
Happy Holidays to you all, and again, thank you so so much for sharing and contributing in our excitement while we are away. We love your letters and pictures, and have plans to create a "mural" of mail art on one of our walls with all of the exciting visuals. Keep us informed of all the "small" stuff, we love remembering what is included in a typical day back home!
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